Top 10 Big Games in Little Packages
Now, this could mean different things for different people, is a Carcassonne box a little box, sure, compared to Gloomhaven, but for me, that’s a pretty normal sized box, so it has to be smaller than a that size to be considered. Plus there are a lot of games in really little boxes, almost Uno sized that do pack a big punch, of course, I need to play some more of them.
In terms of ranking, I picked games that I felt like having a bigger punch for the size they were higher on the list, even passing some games that I liked better. This list is about the depth of game that you can get and really the depth of decisions that you have in the game. These are also going to be all games that I have in my collection, because remembering the size of every game that I don’t have can be tricky.
10 – Ganz Schon Clever
One of two roll and write or flip and write games on the list. A lot of them offer interesting decisions, and I probably could have put more on the list, but I also just did my Top 10 Roll and Writes. I think Ganz Schon Clever really provides and interesting puzzle to try and figure out. The reason it’s lower on the list is simply because you can figure out the puzzle. From that point on with the games in the series, it’s about how well you can optimize the puzzle. That, however, is still fun, and still offers a challenge. I am glad that I’m keeping track of my scores, just to see what numbers I can try and beat in the game.
9 – Skull
Some might find this game as an odd one for the list. It’s a push your luck bluffing game. That might seem too simple, but there is depth there as well. In Skull you are putting down either roses or a skull into your own pile, and eventually someone will open up a bid. Such as, I can flip four tiles without busting, then everyone bids, but the trick is, you have to flip all of your tiles first. You need to be able to read the people who are bidding to see if they are bluffing and they have a skull in there, or not, because you know you don’t have a skull, you can get through their stack and a high number of cards. Or, you might be bluffing by bidding to make someone else thing you don’t have a skull in your stack, when, in fact, you do.
8 – Silver
I’m going to say every version of this game, and all the combinations there of give this game a lot of staying power and a lot of bang for a small box size. There is also strategy to how you play as you try and figure out what cards you have in your village and how many points you have and also figure out what your opponent might have so you can call for scoring at the right time. There’s strategy to how you put in cards into your village, what cards you give your opponent, and how you manipulate the size of your village. Like Ganz Schon Clever, there is a puzzle you can figure out, but there are four versions of the game, each with different sets of cards numbered 0 to 13, and you can mix and match, so that’s a ton of different options you have and a ton of different puzzles.
7 – Say Bye to the Villains
Say Bye to the Villains is an extremely hard cooperative game. You are Samurai who are going to fight against some Villains in ten days. You are building up your health, speed, and attack, but also trying to figure out what the Villains are up to, so that the correct Samurai are assigned and can beat the correct villains. What makes this game feel so big is that you can’t quite do everything you want in the game. You are always pushing your luck with that last villain that you aren’t quite sure you can beat. I also like the strategy that goes behind either having enough health to survive an attack or enough speed to attack before a villain. The game is one that I have yet to beat, but I still really like the challenge.
6 – Hats
Welcome to the Madd Hatters tea party, you are trying to collect your best hat collection. This game twists off of normal card playing games. Normally you play cards in your hand to score or manipulate placement of things, but in this, you are placing them down on the table at the tea party. You then take the hat that was there. The rules for placing a hat are simple, it either needs to be the same color or the higher number. At the end of the game, the hats score based off of where they are on the table. The challenge comes in setting it up so that you can score at the end of the game in the hat colors you want, so leaving one of that color out that someone else can’t take so that you can score, but also collecting enough to score well. The balance is great because you mess it up, another player might remove the last pink hat from the board, and now all those pink hats won’t score. Or maybe, instead, the make it so the lowest scoring pink is now one point instead of six. It’s a fun and chaotic hand management game.
5 – Onirim
The only true solo game on the list, Onirim is my go to for a fast solo game. The basics are simple, play down three cards of the same color in a row and don’t have any matching symbols next to each other, you get to put out a door card, get six out you win the game. The big part of the game comes with the key cards. These cards are extremely powerful and can be used for a lot of things. You can play them down as another symbol to get out a key, you can hold onto them and use them if a nightmare comes up, or a door of that color comes up, or you can dig through the draw pile with them. The strategy for how to use them can go all over the place, and depending on the game state, you might need to do one over the others. Plus the game, in the Second Edition, comes with a lot of modules as well to add in more and different challenges, but those are all just a few cards.
4 – The Lost Expedition
Another cooperative game on the list, The Lost Expedition’s game play is interesting and challenging. The big part comes from the adventure that you are on, and how you go on your hikes, or explorations for the day to reach the lost City of Z. A lot of cooperative games an alpha player can take over the game. In The Lost Expedition, it gets around that issue by players not being allowed to discuss what card they are playing. And the order cards are played changes depending on morning or evening. In the morning, you can pick and choose your path, which means the cards go in numerical order, at night it’s whatever order the cards are played in. After that the group discusses and spends resources to go down the paths they have created, always trying to push closer to the city. There can be a lot of good discussion in this game and lots of hard decisions.
3 – Hanamikoji
Hanamikoji is a very simple game. You have four choices of actions per round, and you do each of them once. You play down a card face down that you’ll use to win favor, two face down to not use to score, three face up and your opponent picks one, or two sets of two face up and your opponent picks one. Each player wants to win the favor of four Geisha so that they will grace your restaurant or eleven points worth of Geisha. Which cards you present to your opponent are always a pains taking decision. You want them to be equally as good for you no matter what your opponent picks. But, you don’t know all the cards your opponent has, what cards your opponent has played face down, or what card isn’t in the round. I feel the struggle hoping that I won’t give my opponent the game every time I play Hanamikoji.
2 – Hanabi
Hanabi is an odd game, but one that makes you think a lot. The challenge of this game comes from the fact you can’t see your own cards. And you, as a collective, are trying to put down fireworks in ascending order for three different colors. That seems impossible, but you give each other clues. The downside is that the clues aren’t as specific as you’d want. If my hand is a red three and four, a green two, and a blue one and two. A clue could be, “That card is a one” or “Those two cards are blue” or “Those two cards are twos”. We only complete one one through five of each color, so we need to give good clues, but you point out all the cards of a color or a number. As the player who receives the clue, that means you are keeping track of all that information in your head and by moving cards around in your hand. Clues are also a limited resource, so eventually you discard cards to get clues back, and that is a risk as well. Extremely challenging, Hanabi plays fast and has a lot of game to it.
1 – Cartographers
My number one big game in a small package is Cartographers, my other roll and write, or flip and write, game on the list. Cartographers shines because of it’s scoring. I talk about it a lot for that reason. In Cartographers you score four different scoring cards, A through D, but in any season you only ever score two of them. So Spring has you scoring A and B, then Summer, B and C, Fall, C and D, and Winter, D and then A again. You really need to plan out and balance your scoring. If you focus too much on one of them, you might not score well in other rounds. For example, if you focus too much on A, you might score poorly in Summer because you aren’t scoring B, but then come Winter you’ll score A again, so there’s an interesting balance of how you place everything on your map to score. I always feel like my time scoring for card Bis wasted, but without it, I’d have two early bad rounds. The game has a whole lot more thought to it than it’d seem.
There are other games I considered as well. Letter Jam, a Hanabi like word game is amazing, but I considered it just a bit too big. Draftosaurus and Fruit Picking are family-weight games that pack a little bit less punch but are great as well. And on my shelf are so many more games I need to try, like Claim, The Crew, Arboretum, which I’ve heard packs a big punch, and more. What are some of your favorite small games that pack a big punch?