By and large, the board game community at boardgamegeek.com is quite accurate about what games are good and what games are not so good. I will begrudgingly acknowledge that even if I do not like the game that the game has deep strategy, a cool theme or what have you. But there are some overlooked gems at BGG. There are also some games which our group by and large ignore because of the Cult of the New. Here is a brief list of some overlooked gems.
Nautilus is a steam-punk Jules Verne inspired game. Players add onto an underwater city, adding research modules and habitation modules. Players will manage their money (which is quite scarce) in order to obtain the relics of Atlantis, the scoop on rare organisms and getting bonuses for having highly trained technicians in the city.
The game is a solid 7 by my reckoning with a possible nod to 8. Unfortunately I haven’t played the game since 2013. The Muskegon Area Gamers have been largely ignoring it for a year or two.
Nautilus is an overlooked gem by the masses as well. Despite its slightly above average rating of 6.43 on BGG, most critics panned the game as “too long” or “too much randomness”. This has not been my experience.
The game lasts about 1 hour, maybe an hour and
15 minutes. This is about right for a good, tight strategy game. And the randomness in the game is all subject to mitigation. Players can mitigate it or they can risk it, seeking high rewards for high risk. This is perfect for an exploration game.
Verdict: Overlooked and underplayed. Get it to the table STAT!
2. Gone Fishing!
I detest fishing. Always have. When I came across Michael Rieneck’s game “Gone Fishing!” I was certain it would be dull.
Boy was I wrong!
This little filler is a perfect two player asymmetrical game. One player takes on the role of the fishermen while the other player takes on the role of the fish. You cast your line, decide how long you will fish in that spot, then reel in the big one. After your fishermen have spent the day fishing, you swap sides. Whoever scored the biggest fish is declared the winner.
The game features some deduction and intuition along with hidden movement. This is true in much of Rieneck’s work. And it works quite well here. That is why I was surprised by the ill reception the game has received from BGG.
BGG rates Gone Fishing! at a frosty 5.33, below the average rating of 5.5 which games accrue automatically upon entering the database. How could this be?
Well, BGG’ers do not like memory games. And Gone Fishing! does have a memory component to it. And I will stipulate that the memory component is the least attractive part of the game. But that alone shouldn’t cost this game, should it?
This game can be added to any game collection that needs a 20 minute filler for two players. And it’s going for about $10 + shipping so the price is right.
Verdict: Overlooked gem.
Klaus Teuber’s games always seem fun when you read the rules. But they have habitually left me disappointed. Settlers of Catan, Settlers the card game, Anno 1503 and Elasund come to mind. All of them seemed neat when I read the rules. All of them disappointed me when we played. They all seemed fun for the first 30 to 45 minutes. But the games lasted for an hour to an hour and half. That’s a problem.
Then I played Entdecker. It is the best Teuber game I’ve played. By far. Entdecker is a lot like Nautilus. Both are exploration games, both give players the ability to mitigate luck by spending resources and both require a tight pocketbook to be successful.
But Entdecker works completely differently than Nautilus mechanically. The outcome is very satisfying. I love the artwork. The tiles are drawings of island chains from flyover height. It helps sell the theme. You really feel like you are exploring the island chains of the New World.
The board game community has given it a decent 6.60 rating. I would give it a solid 8. Unfortunately I have not played Entdecker since 2010! A whopping five years ago!
Verdict: Overlooked gem. I need to rediscover America.
In Emanuele Ornella’s “Martinique”, players take their band of pirates to the eponymous island in search of booty and trinkets. By moving pirates from space to space, you will pick up trinkets or a map with coordinates to the big treasure. The person who finds the big treasure is the winner. If no one finds the big treasure then the person who has collected the most valuable trinkets on Martinique is the winner.
The theme of Martinique is completely pasted on. There is no high seas adventure here.
But mechanically the game works very well. Exceptionally well. The game is played over two stages. During the first stage, players move their pirates from space to space to pick up tiles. These tiles could have a map on them or a trinket. Trinkets are kept in order to score points. The map is used to find the big treasure.
After you have moved all of your pirates and can no longer move them, the game progresses to the second stage which is the guessing/deduction part.
At set up, two of the map tiles are removed from the board and used to determine the grid coordinates of the big treasure. At game’s end, players get four guesses as to where this treasure is. If you found some pieces of the map then you know some coordinates where the treasure isn’t and can make an informed guess.
This may not sound like a great idea but boy does it work well. You can hedge your bets by taking some map pieces. You can ignore that aspect of the game and collect trinkets. You can bluff during the guessing part of the game to trick your opponent. It’s got a lot going on for a 25 to 30 minute game.
Yet BGG gives is a lukewarm rating of 6.35. Because of this, copies are available for sale for $10 give or take. I would encourage you to pick up a copy if you don’t own one. It is a very good game.
Verdict: Overlooked gem.
Navigating dangerous rapids and falls while collecting gems is the theme of Niagara. Players have two canoes they use to move to and fro. Players program their movements at the beginning of the round. Then reveal and execute them one by one. After all moves have been made, the river moves down stream a distance equal to the smallest programmed movement played that turn. This could mean that canoes are pushed off the river, costing you the gems you already harvested.
Niagara is a beautiful game. The artwork is good and the components are gorgeous. Similar to Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, you will use the game box itself as the game board. The elevated surface allows the canoes to literally fall of the edge.
One of the charms of Niagara is the fact that there is no randomness. All the variables in the game are controlled explicitly by the players. Throw the right movement into the game at the right time and your opponents will be hosed. Try to get cute and get the pink gems (the hardest in the game) and you could fall of the edge.
There are three victory conditions: collect one gem of each color (five total), collect four gems of one color or collect seven gems total. This allows you to change your strategy to the realities of the board.
Despite the game having tremendous visual flair and no randomness and even winning the Spiels des Jahres, the BGG community gives this game a stingy 6.4 rating. Sluggish sales means you can pick up a copy for around $30.
Verdict: Overlooked gem; haven’t played since last summer.