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Top 6 Underrated Gems!

Underrated Gems Feature

There are more than a few games out there these days, which makes it hard to play them all. Which in turn means that some get missed. We asked our bloggers to share their favourite overlooked game.

Bloodborne - Callum P

Bloodborne: The Card Game is a game we love. The component quality is superb, the gameplay is excellent, the art is thematically beautiful... and yet, we don't know many people who've had the pleasure of it! Which is a shame, as the game is more than a repetition of the Bloodborne video game (and that's coming from a big fan!). It's a semi-cooperative, card game for 3-5 players

The concept is simple, you and your competitors work together to defeat beasts. On your way to a boss enemy. Like in the video game, you're on a "hunt". Every monster is a threat, and attacks immediately. But if they escape it can be equally as bad! You take turns to whack the enemies with whatever you've got at your disposal, one hit per player. All cards are chosen simultaneously and you're almost relying on your "cooperators" to play their part. Whoever lands the final blow gets the rewards, but if no one kills it, it attacks! You earn rewards for the number of enemies you dispatch, but not dispatching any out of spite can be dangerous. Players also earn Blood Echoes as a currency to enhance themselves and gain more cards.

Bloodborne The Card Game is a game of reading your opponents and making use of what they may have done. If they're going to take out the beastie, do you want to be spending a valuable card? Probably not... But if you don't contribute and the monster escapes, are you going to suffer more? Absolutely. The game makes superb use of several mechanics without ever being overwhelmed by any. It also hosts a whole batch of boss enemies to have as end goals, meaning its replay-ability is enhanced there too! Also, thematically, it's got some superb artwork and excellently made components. The worry is that the theme is going to put you off of a gem of a game. Don't let it! As far as semi-cooperative, card games go, this is a real treat!

Oriflamme - Nick W

I can't remember exactly how I heard about Oriflamme but by the time Airecon rolled around I was on the look out for it and find it I certainly did! Oriflamme quietly won the 2020 As d'Or - Jeu de l'Année Winner in France and gathered some attention from that. I'll be honest - I wasn't even aware of the award before that point!

The game itself is a 3-5 player card game. Each player has a set of 10 identical cards. You start by shuffling them up and randomly discarding two cards each face down. Before your turns start players decide which way the cards in the line will resolve - left or right. In phase 1 of a round each player will take turns to play one of their cards face down in the line. The only rule is it must be to the left or the right of the existing cards in the line. In phase 2 you resolve the line in the previously decided direction.

If a card is face up you simply resolve it's action. This will usually remove other cards or earn you influence. If a card is face down the cards owner will choose whether to flip the card face up and activate it or place an influence from the supply on it while it's facedown. Any cards with influence on go to the owner of the card when flipped. The player powers really make Oriflamme a winner. The way they interact with each other allows you to bluff and double bluff the other players. There is also a standalone expansion coming this year that can be mixed in with the base game for even more variety! Check it out!

Mission Red Planet - Thom N

I feel it’s a little bit cheaty saying that saying that Mission: Red Planet is an underrated game. It’s currently sitting at number 252 on boardgame geeks list of the best games of all time which is hardly in amongst the weeds. But, in my experience whenever I ask people if they’ve played it, they never have. And whenever I play it myself, I’m always left thinking, why am I not playing this game more often?

Mission: Red Planet is an area control game where the players will be trying to place their astronauts onto different locations on Mars. If a player has the most of their astronauts in an area at one of three scoring points in the game, they will net themselves a big stash of  different resources which are worth points at the end of the game.

To get your astronauts on the board you need to play out one of your character cards which will let you place your astronauts onto one of the various ships on the way to the different parts of Mars. Each of these characters also have a unique ability that range from allowing you to move your astronauts on the surface of Mars all the way through to blowing up rockets, making sure your opponents can’t get their people to the red planet. Add some secret missions and cards that change the way different sectors score and you’ve got yourself a very replayable game.

Everytime I play Mission: Red Planet I’m shocked at how quickly it is over; a game generally can be played out in about an hour. It is a game that always leaves you wanting more when it is done and because of how quick it is to play it’s hard to argue with just resetting the table and playing again.

Small Islands - Matt T

Small Islands is a one to four player tile laying, territory building game designed by Alexis Allard and published by MushrooM Games. At the start of a round players will select, in secret, an objective card (this will depict a mission and a reward). Then they will draw and place tiles from a supply into a communal landscape. Each tile will have a combination of land and water in differing orientations and proportions. The tiles will also have different symbols on them which relate to the objective you are trying to achieve. After a certain number of tiles have been drafted then a player can end the round by placing one of their available ships. Players then get to choose if they want to place one of their “house” pieces on a completed landmass to score points. Once the fourth ship has been placed the game will end. 

I love the choices in this game and I can’t understand why it has flown under the radar. People say good things come in threes and that is certainly true with Small Islands. Draft one out of three tiles. Play one out of three tiles. Choose one out of three objectives. Players can even choose when they want the round to end. There is a basic and advanced mode. In the advanced mode you get to choose the mission and reward from separate cards to form your own objective card. 

How you score is also very interesting in Small Islands. You can only score points by placing your house on a completed island that you meet the requirements for. This offers some interesting push/pull tension in the game of when and where do you place your house. You only have eight houses the whole game and you can’t score again if you already have a house placed on it or if you run out of houses. I love this scoring mechanism and it is this that really elevates it as tile laying game for me. To top it off - it looks gorgeous. 

Underrated Gems Mythotopia

Mythotopia - Carl Y

When I last wrote about an underrated gem, back in May, I banged the gong for Riverboat.  A 2017 release, designed by Michael Kiesling, creator of Azul - which definitely doesn't feel underrated. This time I turn my attention to Mythotopia, a 2014 release by game designer Martin Wallace. Better known for bringing us games like: Brass Birmingham, Railways of the World, and AuZtralia.

Mythotopia is a fantasy themed, area majority game, which is driven by deck building and hand management. The aim is to pick up victory points by meeting certain conditions. Three of those conditions are fixed: Building Cities, Castles, or Roads. Three are randomly chosen from a selection of Victory Point cards.

To fulfil this objectives (and take any action), you will be playing cards from your own deck. Each region of the gameboard is represented by a card, and produces either Gold, Food, Soldiers, or Stone. Your deck will be made up of actions cards, drafted during the game; and cards for the regions you control. If you gain control of a region, you also gain the corresponding card; likewise, if you lose control of a region, you lose the card. I really like this mechanic. All the actions are straightforward - but you will inevitably want to stack your deck with regions that produce specific resources, to fit your strategy. You will need to plan where, and how you expand, and an eye on the regions that give you most value.

I really rate Mythotopia, gameplay is really well thought-out. Admittedly, it doesn't look great, but the gameboard and cards are clear. If you like area influence and/or deck-building in a game, I would recommend you take a look at Mythotopia.

Wendake - Tom H

Due to an ever-growing market, some games – many of them amazing – get bullied out of the limelight. So this is me standing on a pedestal, shouting about Wendake! Danilo Sabia produced a real gem back in 2017. Wendake is an Euro-style action-selection game about 18th century Native American tribes. It’s medium-heavyweight on the Euro-style strategy scale. The main thing I adore about Wendake is its marvellous, oh-so-clever 3x3 grid mechanism. I enjoy it as a brain-crunch so much; I wish this game got a bit more love!

As tribe chief, you begin with nine actions you could activate on your turn. Among these, you’ll want to farm and trap beaver (resource management); you’ll want tribal masks (set collection); you’ll want to spread out and claim territories (area majority). These nine action tiles sit in your own 3x3 grid. You get to trigger three of them, but they have to be in a line (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal). 

Once activated, an action tile flips face-down. (Meaning, you cannot repeat its primary action for now.) At the end of the round, the bottom three tiles slide out of your grid. You keep two and remove one, swapping it for an upgrade of your choice. Then you place these three tiles back in, face-up, at the top of your grid. You’ve re-jigged the alignment of the action tiles, not to mention you now have new, variable player powers over your rivals. You’ve get a fresh, unique grid each round. Your choices for your next three actions evolve.

You’ll earn points in four categories (Economic, Military, Ritual, and Mask). A neat, modular twist is that you won’t score points in all four tracks. Two get pitted against each other, while the other two also battle it out. You only score points in the two tracks in which you’ve scored least. This means you cannot afford to ignore anything in Wendake!

I’ll admit there’s some iconography to grasp, but I can forgive that. Wendake is for serious Euro gamers, and they eat iconography for breakfast, anyway…