Small Box Games - The Most Bang for Your Buck
Inspired by Epic Gaming Night’s tweet asking “What’s your favorite small box game?”, we decided to put together a quick list of our favorites! Small box games can be defined as board games that fit into a smaller-than-average box and usually slide in at a lower price point than most games. They tend to be lower-complexity games that don’t take a lot of table space (although not always!) and are generally good as “fillers” (games to play before/after larger games), gateway games, or ice breakers.
Starting with a quick party game, A Fake Artist Goes To New York (hereafter referred to as Fake Artist) is a fun party game for 5 to 10 would-be artists. This is one of my favorite drawing games in that it’s completely accessible to even the most unskilled artist; you are only required (and allowed) to draw one line on your turn. The idea of the game is that everyone except one person knows the thing they’re supposed to be drawing as a group, and in a style similar to Spyfall players are required to root out the “fake artist”. Each round plays in about 10 minutes and makes for some hilarious artwork you can keep afterwards.
On a more serious note, The Grizzled (which we’ve talked about in our Theme podcast) is a co-operative game in which players play as french soldiers in World War I. This isn’t your standard military game however; the theme is keeping each other alive and sane while the horrors of armed conflict happen around you. Despite the macabre theme The Grizzled is a great co-op game that fosters communication and teamwork in a way that most other co-op games dream of. The “At Your Orders” expansion adds missions to the game, spicing up the replayability and challenge.
For Sale is a light-hearted auction game of real estate buying and selling. Players find themselves entering the housing market bidding against each other for properties, which in the 2nd and final round are subsequently flipped for (hopefully) a profit. The winner of the game is the player who made out with the most cash! For Sale is a nice light 20 minute game that can be played around a conversation without being too intrusive, but the auction provides enough player interaction to make the game interesting.
On the opposite end of “unobtrusive gaming”, Love Letter is an engaging game where you attempt to guess what cards other players have in an effort to eliminate them from the round and deliver a love letter to the princess. While the theme may be uninteresting to some (and it’s been rethemed a dozen times), the way each of the 8 roles on the 18 cards play against each other creates a surprisingly deep game. Players will find themselves naturally drawn to the card-elimination and guesswork of the game and even though players can be eliminated, rounds themselves often don’t last more than a few minutes during which you can spectate the mind games between your opponents.
Hanabi is a co-operative puzzle game where players have to play the cards in their hand in order from 1 to 5 across 5 different suits. Sounds simple? How about we add the fact that you can’t see your own cards! Players have to give each other clues about the suit or number of each of the cards that other players are holding within a tight allocation of clues; the game is as much a memory game as it is an optimization puzzle that easily keeps the up to 4 players engaged.
Race for the Galaxy is easily the most complicated game on this list, but the replayability, mechanics, and theme make it well worth the investment to learn. RftG has each player attempting to lay claim to the galaxy by controlling a number of planet and tech cards, each of which augments their further actions. In addition the game has an interesting action selection mechanic - think of something like Puerto Rico’s role selection, but everyone selects the roles simultaneously. The game is full of cryptic symbols that, once understood, make for a smooth experience despite the complexity of the interaction between cards in your tableau and the actions played. Add the 6 or so expansions available and you’ve got a great game that rewards multiple plays.
No Thanks is another unobtrusive card game for up to 7 players. No Thanks gives players a hand of cards, and the option to take a card in play, or say “No Thanks”, passing the card onto the next player (and reducing the value of the card by 1 using a chip). The idea is that you want the lowest score at the end of the 30 minute game, managing your -1 chips as well as the cards you eventually are coerced into picking up. The rules of the game are simple and the game stays out of the way enough that it shapes up to be a fun social activity.
While I haven’t played Condottiere, Adam and Ryan insist that it should be on the list, so I’ll do my best to summarize it. Condottiere is a bidding game where the objective is to control 3 adjacent or 5 total provinces of Italy. Control is gained by increasing your bid (military power) or playing cards that mess with the game state in various ways; think of how the flare and artifact cards work in Cosmic Encounter. The winning player then gets to claim the province, and also decide which province will be next up for grabs. There’s definitely elements of bluffing and negotiation present in this area control game, and at a 6 player 45 minute game it seems to scratch a lot of the same itches that large strategy games can, but in half the time.