Issue 10: Great games in small boxes — a board game gift guide
In which I talk about some of my favorite games that might fit in a decorative, oversized sock.
Whether you’re looking for a small gift with a hard price limit, know somebody who just loves small-box games, or need something to put in a stocking for your favorite of you children, this list is for you.
I’ll focus on more recent games here — with bonus points if the game came out in 2020, though honestly nobody’s keeping score — so do expect some recency bias in this list. That’s fine, right? Yeah, that’s fine.
(Oh, and, uh, obviously some of these games will be bigger than a small stocking. There’s not much I can do about that. Sorry.)
At its core, Cactus is a small version of the excellent Japanese dexterity game Tribe, but it’s been distilled into a delightful little box with some beautiful components. In Cactus (and Tribe), you’re rolling a die, picking an ornament of some sort, and stacking it on one of five cactuses on the table. Sound easy? It’s not. Unless you’re good at games like this, maybe. I don’t know. I’m not, but I love them anyway.
None of his games come in big boxes. Check out Tokyo Jidohanbaiki for a whole slew of clever games with tiny components, or Tokyo Coin Laundry for even more of that same idea. Or check out Tokyo Washi Game, a game that actually comes on a roll of washi tape. Who’d have thought?
Encased in a small wallet, Tussie Mussie is a card-drafting game that plays in just about 15 minutes. You’ll offer one of two flower cards to their fellow players — one face-up, one face-down. You’ll then keep the one the player next to you didn’t take, adding it to your collection. Play well, and you might get your opponents to pick up cards that won’t help them earn points. Play poorly, and you might trap yourself in a helpless position. Elizabeth Hargrave really did a nice job with this game.
Button Shy makes a whole lot of great wallet games, like Sprawlopolis and Seasons of Rice, among many others.
Deep Sea Adventure
One of the coolest small-box games to date has to be Deep Sea Adventure, a competitive push-your-luck game about diving for treasure in the ocean. If you get too greedy, you’ll miss out on getting treasure or have to be pulled back up without it. See, there’s a shared pool of oxygen, and you’ll use more of it if you’re carrying more treasure. If you can’t cooperate, you’ll lose out to extremely cautious players. If you cooperate too much, you’ll leave yourself vulnerable to a player making a run for it.
Oh, and the box? It’s very small. Give it a look.
Another great game from Oink? A Fake Artist Goes to New York, a clever drawing game that has just a bit of deception, a bit of skill, and a lot of laughs involved.
Ultra-Tiny Epic Galaxies
This is a game with some strategic depth, but it’s packed into a deck of cards with a handful of dice and other pieces, too. It’s really packed in there. In this game, you’re trying to visit planets in a bid to explore faster than any other player. It has a nice ‘following’ mechanic, giving you something to glean from other players’ turns, which is quite welcome here. The original game, Tiny Epic Galaxies, isn’t exactly a huge box — but this one is just, well, ultra-tiny. Neat.
Looking for more Ultra-Tiny Epic games? Gamelyn also makes a super-small version of Tiny Epic Kingdoms that’s worth a look. Or if you’re willing to go a little bigger, check out Tiny Epic Galaxies instead. It’s a great game.
This made my gift list for 2020 already, but this is a great game that packs a lot of great gameplay into a small box. It’s a deck-building game that takes the idea and lends it a bit more competition over cards you didn’t use when you had them available — and as a result, you’ll have to weigh suboptimal turns with a longer-term perspective. Also, there are pizza tokens. (I guess I should have led with that, huh?)
One of the more outlandish games on this list, The Mind is a low-communication game of playing cards in ascending order — and by low-communication, I mean that it’s a no-communication game, because you’re not allowed to speak to each other, make gestures, pretend-sneeze. Anything. You can’t do it.
It sounds like this game doesn’t work. It does.
You might also consider The Game, Illusion or Qwinto from Pandasaurus — they’re all very good, at a great price point, and come in small boxes.
Abandon All Artichokes
Just like Fort, this also made my list in Issue 9, and for good reason. Abandon All Artichokes is a fantastic “deck destruction” game that turns the classic deck-building mechanic on its head. Instead of trying to get great cards to add some game-winning gold to your deck, you’re trying to get rid of cards. To win, you have to shed your deck completely of artichokes. Combine it with a perfect tin, adorable art, and a theme that sneaks up on you, and you’ll really enjoy this one.
Another great small game from Gamewright: Sushi Go!, a fun and accessible take on card drafting. Looking for something more challenging? Try Rolling America or Metro X, two great roll-and-write games that will test your mettle.
If you’re looking for something for the gamer in your life who owns too many games already, why not consider one of these options, instead?
A nice shirt, hat or mug from Teebletop, who produce some very nice, classy apparel and accessories for gamers that doesn’t look too over-the-top
Upgraded meeples from Meeple Source, which has a wide variety of beautiful little pieces to make your games pop a little bit more.
You know those bags that come with games that rarely give you enough room to store the components? Find some beading bags at a local craft shop or online — you can never have too many of those. (Actually, I might have too many of those. Do you want to take some of mine?)
Join me next week as I talk about games that are slightly bigger than a small-box game but most definitely smaller than a big-box game. (Or maybe something else. We’ll see.)
Any games I missed that should be on this list? Let me know by leaving a comment, or reply to this email (if you’re subscribed, that is. If you’re not — well, you know what to do!)