I was browsing the Zatu best sellers list recently and looking at the top 10 there are some really solid games in there. People are buying good stuff! A few of the bloggers started talking about these games as well as suggesting some alternative games that offer a twist on some of these best-selling games. So, I’ve wrangled a few of them in to write some words about what they think is a great alternative to some of the Zatu best sellers. Here are our top 5 alternatives to popular board games.
Carl Yaxley: When brewing potions gets too much, maybe it’s time to try life at sea!
Like Quacks of Quedlinburg? Try Port Royal!
Hello readers. When I consider alternatives to Quacks of Quedlinburg, Clank! immediately comes to mind. Both are low-complexity, 2-4 player, family-friendly games with similar playing times. Like Quacks, Clank! combines elements of push your luck, variable setup, and deck/bag building into its gameplay. If you like Quacks, I'm sure Clank! will already be on your radar, which is why I've opted to highlight another game: Port Royal.
As with Quacks, push your luck is a key part of Port Royals Gameplay. Both are great family games and good gateway options for new hobbyists.
Port Royal is for 2-5 players, with a play time of around thirty minutes. In terms of complexity, it's very light. The game can be taught in five minutes, and a playthrough can easily be wrapped up under thirty.
You play with a 120-card deck. Each card is worth one coin and may depict a person, ship or expedition on its front. Cards in players hand are only used as coins, all players begin with three. The remaining cards form a face-down shared deck.
During a turn, the active player reveals cards from the shared deck until they choose to stop or go bust. They may then hire people, for points (and abilities), take a ship for gold, or take an expedition (providing points and gold). If a player reveals two ships of the same colour, and cannot fight one-off, they go bust, ending their turn immediately.
A player is limited on how many cards they take, from those revealed. Leftover cards are always offered to opponents before being discarded. The challenge is to manage what cards you pass on, and your gold, so you can pounce on offered cards. The first to twelve points wins!
FavouriteFoe: Does the idea of laying out tiles give you nightmares of that one time you tried to redecorate your bathroom? Have a rest with this cosy blanket, it’s covered in cats!
Azul….Azul……Azul…… So pretty they made it three times!
Actually, scratch that. With extra expansions in the form of Crystal Mosaic and Glazed Pavillion (coming soon) and even 5211: Azul Special Edition card game adding to the mix, there is more than a fist full of Azul on offer to suit most abstract, puzzle, tile-laying game fans!
Now, I love Azul in all its forms. The components are gorgeous, the colours are vibrant, and the strategy in each iteration is as unique as it is sharp. In fact, Azul: Summer Pavilion is in my personal top 10 and still going strong as one of my top 5 anxiety-busting games of 2020 (which you can read here). I honestly couldn’t imagine my collection without it. In fact, I am already salivating at the thought of the expansion to further extend the brilliant strategic gameplay despite Asmodee releasing zero preview information!
But what about those days where I just fancy something else? A lateral move into a game just as puzzly and vibrant. One with tile laying, set collection, and a serious shot of fierce strategy and clever tactics, but isn’t any of the Azul options.
For me, the choice is simple; Calico, a beautifully crunchy game designed by Kevin Russ and illustrated by Beth Sobel. And whilst this game may look cute and colourful, it like Azul, often plays out like a catfight in a back alley.
You see, Calico is a gorgeous game all about placing tiles to build a quilt good enough to attract some very fussy felines, and earning points boosting buttons along the way. In addition to satisfying those contrary cats, there are also special pattern/colour objectives to be fulfilled. Sounds simple, but those designs will have you scratching your head and staring intently at your board as you try and work out which tiles will satisfy one objective without destroying your chances of attracting cats, sewing buttons and the other goals.
With a communal pool of tiles from which to pick your next tile, just like Azul, Calico, can also be a hate drafter’s dream. And, depending on who your opponents are, a game might be a claws-out brain-burning brawl or a meditative multiplayer solitaire affair if you’re in the mood for a more relaxed experience.
Ultimately, Calico is as addictive and strategic and as versatile as it is clever. With satisfying gameplay from a comprehensive solo campaign through to an all-out sewing showdown with up to three other hot-headed haberdashers, this game feels just as crunchy as Azul. In fact, it might be considered the cat’s whiskers when it comes to abstract tile-laying games!
Fred Cronin: When you don’t feel like fighting diseases, maybe fight a Frankenstein instead!
If you’re anything like me then you will be fed up to the hind teeth of everything pandemic related. With everything going on, I’m sure many of you will be wanting a break from the madness that is life in an actual pandemic. “But wait! What do I do that if my favourite game is Pandemic?” I hear you cry. Well, luckily for you I’m here to help! If you’re a fan of Pandemic, but want something new, then Horrified is the perfect game to try out.
From Ravensburger, Horrified takes the fun of Pandemic’s base ideas and mixes them with a delightfully ghoulish theme. Now, instead of fighting strains of deadly diseases, players come together to vanquish some of the world’s best-known monsters. Now isn’t that better! On a more local scale than Pandemic, Horrified sees up to five players move their characters, collecting items and completing tasks to vanquish the blood-curling monsters in play. From the Invisible Man to the Bride of Frankenstein, each monster brings with it unique challenges that need to be completed before they can be defeated. To vanquish Dracula, for example, players must find and destroy his four coffins, by collecting the right coloured items.
Not only does Horrified come with six monsters to choose from, but each one has a different difficulty rating. This means that there’s a monster combo for every occasion, no matter how challenging a game you want. If you are a fan of Pandemic and looking for something new to try this lockdown, I can wholeheartedly recommend Horrified, for a terrifyingly good time!
Callum Price: Are the birds that wake you up in the morning keeping you from playing Wingspan? Maybe it’s time to head to the shed to build something to keep them away!
Wingspan is awesome. Incredible even. You manage resources, deploy birds and build an engine to gain points. However, what's unique is that you effectively build three engines across the different habitats birds can live in! There's a lot to contend with and it can be intimidating at first. Also, not everyone's a bird fan... so my alternative to the superb bird board game is Gizmos! Gizmos is an engine builder of the purest definition.
Gizmos is an engine-building game. On a turn, you take from a run of energy marbles. This in turn allows you to purchase more machine elements to build more parts for your machine. Gradually, a machine becomes more useful to players, allowing them to chain effects together and collect benefits from taking certain energy marbles. Each machine gives you victory points and having the most at the end of the game claims a win
For me, Gizmos by CMON is the engine builder I use to both introduce the mechanic and to challenge someone's ability to within it. For those less savvy with the techno-jargon, an engine builder is a game where you put resources in to get more out. You collect resources, spend them through the use of cards to trigger effects, then purchase and add components to the machine. One resource could easily become eight through some clever triggers and actions! Despite this, it never becomes overly difficult or overwhelming. You trigger what's applicable and you control what's added to the machine.
I also love the aesthetic and feel of this game. Using marbles instead of tokens as recourses is a huge yes from me. And because each machine triggers separately based on an action taken means you can chain several together easily and make for some impressive moves! You can also store some cards for later and can improve the number of energy marbles or stored cards you can have through specific cards gained. It's awesome! If you're not a bird lover or prefer something more pure without all the extras on top of engine building, I'd recommend Gizmos every time!
Thom Newton: Do you spend a lot of time building French countryside? Maybe you’d enjoy building some Scottish islands instead!
Like Carcassonne? Try Isle of Skye!
For me, Carcassonne is one of the pillars that hold up the modern gaming hobby. It gave us the meeple after all. It’s a game that I absolutely love and own stacks of expansion modules for to keep it fresh. But sometimes, you may want to play something similar that the expansions just can’t provide. So in terms of alternatives to popular board games, for me, that game is Isle of Skye.
This game shares a lot of similarities with Carcassonne with regards to how it looks, but they can play quite differently in places. Whereas Carcassonne is accessible to new players, that is not really the case with Isle of Skye. But this added complexity brings some excellent mechanics to the table!
In Isle of Skye, players will be building up their own tile-based kingdom. Each game will have 4 different criteria being scored at different points in the game. This works very similarly to Cartographers if you’ve played that. The tiles can have roads, mountains, seas or buildings on them as well as all manner of animals. These are generally the features you will get scored on.
Where Isle of Skye really separates itself from Carcassonne though is in how you get those tiles. Rather than pulling them face down from a stack, you’ll be buying them off of your opponents. Each player will draw three tiles and secretly allocate some of their money to set a price for two of them and choose one to go back into the bag. Players will then go around the table buying tiles from each other.
Price setting is very strategic, you want to make sure people buy from you, otherwise, you lose the money you used setting the tile price. But set it too low and people will take advantage of your generosity. Or maybe you want to make sure nobody buys from you as you get to keep any unsold tiles for yourself.
This is a cracking tile-laying game with a smattering of auctions and variable scoring. It feels fresh every time I play it and I’d say it’s a great alternative to Carcassonne.