These games may not be hitting the table as often as the newer, shinier games, but they should be! Give these hidden gems a chance because the story is strong, the gameplay is fun, and the player interaction is wholly immersive.
This game was one of the first that I really fell in love with. I’d been playing games for years before Tokaido, but I played it at GenCon while it was still a prototype and the lovely, peaceful, charming, and beautiful game stole my heart. I love the light story and enchanting locations the players take as they journey along the East Sea Road in Japan. It’s a casual game of positivity: players collect panoramas along the route, visit the hot springs, buy souvenirs, have random encounters, donate at the temple, and eat delicious meals at the inn. It is worth noting that when you have a five-player game, you might be blocked from visiting certain desired locations and that can be frustrating, but the artwork in this game will soothe your hurt feelings. This game is on the lighter side and the theme and charm will win you over and keep you coming back. Players move their pawn to their desired location as far along the path as they want, but be warned: you’ll want to stop at every single destination because you don’t want to miss out on the journey. I love the content that the expansions have added to the base game and I always play with The New Encounters, Matsuri, and Crossroads.
I’ll tell you one thing about myself: I’m no sleuth. But that doesn’t keep me from diving headfirst into a good crime story packed full of mystery, intrigue, and detective-ing (yes, I’m making that up). Most detective games are a little bit too hard for me and my husband to figure out, but Chronicles of Crime was just right. I appreciated the ease of getting started playing Chronicles of Crime with the app, and what’s even better is you actually get to investigate a room, looking for clues through these glasses that you attach to your phone and physically move to “turn” around in the room. It’s engaging and very immersive. You have to be selective, though, in what you choose to explore as you don’t have unlimited time and guesses to figure out the mystery. This game is great for a team as it’s cooperative, and don’t worry when you’ve eaten up the five scenarios in the base game. There are plenty more app stories to download and expansions to satiate the sleuth in all of us.
Speaking of mysteries: Are you looking for an atmospheric dive into mystery and horror with the help of your friends? This game takes place in the Arkham universe, which is full of thrills and chills, perfect for the fall season. Also, in the second edition of Mansions of Madness, an app runs the game for you. It sets up the scenarios, reveals all the mysteries, presents the objectives, and operates the monsters so that one player doesn’t have to play as the “dungeon master,” so to speak, and everyone can get in on the action. And as investigators, each player is going to navigate among many locations set up on the table, so there’s still bits and chits to move around the board during each scenario. My favorite part of Mansions of Madness is the story that you and your friends uncover and how immersive the theme and mood is. The in-game puzzles are probably my favorite part of the experience with the app. It is super fun to feel like you’re really picking a lock to a display case holding an ancient tome by completing a Klotski challenge. Fortunately, you’re all on the same team, so you win together or lose together and it’s always possible to go insane before either of those happen.
Rarely does a game come along that is not only fun to play, but is fun to read the rules for. This game is funny, too, and I can’t seem to get over the theme and story in Dungeon Petz. Each player runs their own pet shop for dungeon lords and you have to build up your resources, food, and pens while caring for and entertaining the cutest little monsters! As if that cute attack isn’t enough, players will then show their pets to earn prizes. At the end of the round, everyone will then attempt to sell their pets to the best suited customer or sell them on the black market. Dungeon Petz is an involved, strategy game that needs time and space to play. And don’t be fooled by the wonderfully creative artwork: this is a hearty worker placement, action selection, hand management game that just happens to have balls of yarn, poo piles and crazy mutations. Try not to fall in love with your adorable meat-eating, diseased, and bored little pet before you sell it off for gold, because money is all that really matters for victory. The fun, fantasy theme is on a new level in Dungeon Petz and I know you’ll immediately fall in love with the story and graphic design.
This game is not for everyone because the story world is serious and dire, but if you have some good friends and don’t mind playing a really hard game, The Grizzled might be for you. This is a cooperative card game that simulates surviving in the trenches during WWI, but that isn’t where the theme and story ends. As the game progresses, players will start to develop negative personality traits that affect their game play. As well, they must also play threats from their hand, attempting to avoid playing the same threat thus overwhelming the entire team. The real challenge lies in the game’s restriction of the players to talk about what’s in their hand. Some cards even prevent speaking entirely, thus crippling the cohesiveness of the team. But don’t lose hope! Players can also give inspiring speeches to motivate their fellow soldiers and pass support when it’s needed. Playing the Good Luck Charm at just the right moment might save the day, resulting in the signed armistice and peace! It’s an intense and heavy game with hand management and press your luck mechanisms, but the story is the heart of The Grizzled. I’ve never won a game of The Grizzled, but every game has been worth the attempt. Perhaps my friends and I will reach peace someday, but until then, we’ll stay in the trenches with each other, fighting side by side in one of the toughest games I’ve ever played.