Board game Top 10: The best obscure board games you’ve probably never heard of

The box for Orbital - one of my favourite obscure board games

Welcome to my list of the best obscure board games in my collection. More than 20,000 games carry a ranking on Board Game Geek (BGG), the world’s best board game resource.

Of course, there’s a lot of rubbish in the lower numbers. Including Monopoly (20,341) and a bottom three of Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders and Tic-Tac-Toe (20,348). But for various reasons there are also some gems down there in the depths.

It’s impossible for BGG to get the list ‘right’, but it does a pretty good job. Games need a certain number of public votes to rank at all. But they need an awful lot to get a rating purely based on public votes. So, between the times you get enough votes to start to rank – but not enough people to give an accurate figure – the gaps are filled in with 5s. So, from then on, any ‘real’ ranking your game gets above 5 (out of 10) will increase your overall average.

The majority of games in my list below suffer from lack of exposure. They just didn’t get enough votes to reach critical mass on BGG, so are likely to remain in obscurity. As an example, my own Witless Wizards has an average rating of 6.5 – pretty good for a light game. But as it has only had 81 votes, it’s actual BGG ranking is 5.5, putting it in a miserly 10,775th position (boo!).

My Top 10 best obscure board games

I’ve ignored games such as 5 Colors (AKA 5521) and Sarkophag (AKA Little Devils) which have editions with different names higher in the rankings. The games are purely in order of BGG ranking.

I also note that the majority of these titles come from my previous five visits to Essen Spiel. I do a lot of research into Essen each year, so tend to find the games I think I’ll like and largely ignore the hype – hence finding a lot of undiscovered gems. I so hope to get back there this year!

(All links below go to my full reviews.)

  • 19,986th Wyvern (2 players, 30-60 mins, 1994) This is an old Mike Fitzgerald CCG. It died on the vine under the weight of similar games released when Magic started booming. But I really liked it. There’s a nice hidden card element, adding a clever extra dimension. You can probably get a bunch of cards cheap as chips, if you do some digging.
  • 12,775th Lembitu (1-2 players, 45-60 mins, 2015) I’m not big on co-ops, but there’s something about Lembitu. It’s simple and not really big or clever – a definite guilty pleasure. Roll dice to move the invading hoards, then deal with them. It works well solo or with two, especially. And the art is great, while there’s some genuine Estonian history behind it.
  • 10,380th Orbital (2-4 players, 60 mins, 2018) At its core, this is a simple ’tile-laying to score points’ game. But what makes Orbital stand out is the clever tile-buying system that seems to make every choice strategic and agonising. If tile-laying games with a really tight economy are your bag, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Into the top 10,000, like a bullet…

The box for The Romans, on my list of best obscure board games
  • 8,024th Adventure of D (1-2 players, 30-60 mins, 2010) I don’t remember how I came across this, but it’s a self-published small box fantasy adventure game. It has a great card system I’m surprised wasn’t picked up by a bigger publisher. The art isn’t great, but the gameplay has kept it in my collection for longer than many posh games have lasted.
  • 7,153th The Romans (1-4 players, 2-3 hours, 2019) The Ragnar Brothers have a long list of underappreciated games. And sadly, this ended up being their last. It’s a long, involving euro game with some ameritrash elements. But these are nicely muffled by having a single dice roll affect all players, sharing out the misery pretty much equally.
  • 6,621st Zombie Tower 3D (3-4 players, 60-90 mins, 2015) Like co-ops, but hate the alpha player problem? Then this is the game for you! A physical tower divides each player, limiting what you know about each other’s movements. Get what you need, and get out, before the zombies get you. A really inventive experience that looks brilliant on the table.
  • 5,818th Adios Calavera (2 players, 30 mins, 2017) This is one of my absolute favourite short abstract games. The idea is original, the artwork lovely and there’s even some variety in the little box. If column inches on my blog meant anything, this game would be massive. But sadly, it seems I’m largely shouting into the void on this one. You fools!

The best obscure board games – just outside the top 5,000

  • 5,428th The Court of Miracles (2-5 players, 45-60 mins, 2019) Probably my least played favourite of recent times, largely because it needs 3+ players to sing – but it arrived shortly before lockdown began. It’s a gorgeous game of ever-changing area majorities, allowing for clever combos and plenty of interaction within a fast, tactical environment.
  • 5,380th Eternity (3-5 players, 30-40 mins, 2016) This was recently reissued as Anansi, which is just as great (I just prefer the art in the original). It’s a trick-taking game with evolving trump suits and a need to match your won tricks with collected tokens -allowing you to duck out of placing to tricks by discarding a card instead. A must-try for T-T fans.
  • 5,185th The Sanctuary (2-4 players, 45-60 mins, 2017) This original euro game uses cards as worker placement spaces. But their random placement also allows players to get extra actions, depending on free cards to their left and right – adding a great tactical element to the placement. It’s an unpolished gem design wise, but gets enough right to stay on my shelves.

As always, I’d love to hear your own additions to the list – I’m always looking for interesting new games to check out! Please do comment below.

Isle of Cats board game: A four-sided review

The Isle of Cats board game is a tile-laying game for one to four players, taking 45-90 minutes to play. There are two versions in the box, with the family game easily accessible for ages 8+. The other is more gamery, incorporating drafting. But after learning the basic game it isn’t a massive step up in difficulty.

The rather tenuous theme sees you rescuing a variety of rare cat breeds from an island before it is taken over by some evil king, or something. What it boils down to is: draw polyominoes (with cat art) from a big bag, and try to fit them on your boat (board). The ‘boat’ has seven rooms and a bunch of rats – the filling/covering of which will avoid negative points. While fulfilling goal cards and batching cats in colour (breed) groups gives bonus points.

There’s quite a bit of stuff in the rather oversized box. You’ll find 30 cute wooden cats, more than 200 cardboard tiles, five boards, a large cloth bag, 200+ cards, a handy (if poorly laid out) scorepad and pencil. Unfortunately they’ve gone for text over iconography, and used a blocky font which isn’t easy to read and makes the cards ugly. But it doesn’t slow things down too much. The component quality is about average, and I very much liked the artwork. But they’ve gone for a fantasy-ish sheen for the cats, which won’t appeal to everyone. But the artwork is undoubtedly high quality.

Please note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions I have only been able to play this game two-player and solo. If you’re looking to mainly play it with more, please bear that in mind when looking at the opinion sections of the review.

Teaching the Isle of Cats board game

I’ll talk about the family game first, covering the basics of both versions, then talk about what the full game adds. Because unlike games that can’t decide which version is best, to me Isle of Cats offers two solid options.

Each player begins with a seven-room ship (player board) they’ll try to fill with cats and treasure. In each of five rounds, four cats per player are drawn from the bag and placed face up on the table. There is also a set of ‘common treasures’ (non-cat tiles) and Oshax tiles (‘wild’ cats) available. The cat bag also included uncommon treasures. If drawn while adding cats, they’re put with the other treasures. So you always start with four cats each available.

In the family version, each player is dealt three family cards during setup. You choose two and discard the other. These simply give you a secret way to score end game points. And can be anything from getting X numbers of a certain colour of cat; or scoring for your largest cat family; to covering all your rats; or having lots of cats touching the edge of the boat. You’ll all also score points for cat families (touching cats of the same colour); while losing points for visible rats and uncovered/filled rooms.

In turn order, take a cat and place it on your boat. The first can go anywhere, but after that they have to touch (orthogonally) one of your other tiles. Each player also has five maps drawn on their boat, in the colours of the five cat breeds. If you cover one with the matching cat, you also get to place any one of the treasure tiles on your boat. And that’s it.

The advanced version

In the standard game you add a deck of 150 discovery cards and the fish tokens needed to pay for them. In each round, players get 20 fish (added to any you have left over). You then draft seven cards, keeping two and passing the rest on until you all have a hand of seven. You can now pay to keep as many of those seven as you wish (they cost from 0-6 fish), discarding the rest. Each player must then play any ‘lesson’ cards they kept (the equivalent of the scoring cards in the family game). Face down if personal, or face up if they’re public (meaning all players can score them).

Players start with one permanent cat-catching basket; so you can always take one cat per round (fish permitting – see below). To get more, you’ll need to keep some rescue cards. These have extra baskets on them, but can also contain boots – which determine turn order each round. Players then take cats in this new turn order, with the big change being you also have to pay fish to catch the cats. When drawing them from the bag, half are put either side of the turn tracker – with the ones to the left costing three fish, but the ones to the right five. So you can’t afford to spend all your fish on cards.

Finally, players can play rare find or oshax cards – allowing them to take additional treasures as well as wild cats. Finally, there are also some ‘anytime’ cards which give all sorts of bonuses. Anything from extra fish or permanent baskets to bonus cat picks, or adding more cats to the available selection. Scoring is much the same – and of course, high score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: The Isle of Cats board game definitely has a whiff of Kickstarter. From the oversized box to ‘please everyone’ attitude (two versions, plus solo, plus gimmicky theme). But unlike most of its ilk, it gets away with it. Sure, there are design mistakes an established developer would’ve ironed out. But for Sarah and me it has enough charm to overcome these issues (more on which below).
  • The thinker: Nothing for me here. I’d actually rather play the family version as a nice filler. Except that it comes in a minis-sized game box. The standard game has too much added luck, despite the drafting. While the extra faff makes it longer and fiddlier. Draw no baskets? Get no extra cats. And no way to mitigate? Not for me.
  • The trasher: I quite enjoy Isle of Cats, but there’s not as much interaction as I’d like. There’s little to no chance to hate draft as the cards are very general. And you don’t know what players are going for. While when taking cats, anything you do to deprive others is unlikely to give you much of an advantage. However, the limited number of cats available each round does add a nice tension as you try to fulfil your own goals.
  • The dabbler: Love it! Love the cats, both wooden and drawn. Love that the game box has a target for your cat to sit on – and a page on BGG to share your cat pics! And love the simplicity of the family game, that you can teach anyone. And also enjoy the meatier version, which adds some tactical play and tougher decisions – great for slightly older children and a new challenge for everyone.

The solo version of Isle of Cats

This plays similarly to the advanced version. Each turn, you reveal one of a deck of five cards which match the cat colours. The AI will score points per cat on your boat of each colour, but more the earlier they are revealed (ranging from 5x to 1x). So colours chosen gets extra emphasis. The AI also gets three of its own lessons, revealed at the start, which will score depending on your final situation. This will discourage you from certain tactics. For example, the AI may score points for your strongest cat colour, encouraging you to diversify.

At the drafting stage, you twice draw five cards and keep three – then get the top card from the deck for a hand of seven. Once you’ve paid for cards you want to keep, a card is revealed from the AI’s own basket deck. The first card flipped tells you how many other cards you’ll flip (so, baskets) and also the total boots it has this turn (for turn order). Each card in the deck also has instructions, so then on in the turn you flip cards and follow them. This will see you discarding cats and treasures (discard cat 6 etc), or exchanging the order.

The draw works well, the lessons rule out options nicely, while the AI basket system works well to mimic other players’ taking turns. Overall it’s a good system which soon becomes rule-check free, while being fast to set up and execute each turn. And it also has a good way to ramp up the challenge, as you can add extra (and harder) lesson cards to the AI.

Key observations

The family version of The Isle of Cats board game is a delight. Good looking, accessible and smooth playing. But it comes in a massive box, which includes 200 or so cards you’ll pay for but not use. The one-player experience is solid, but I doubt many will but this just for the solo version. Which means the standard version needs to hold up. Which it only kinda does.

Most complaints centre around luck/randomness and balance levels, which seem exacerbated by the ridiculous and unnecessary 150-card deck size. Good luck shuffling it into something akin to useful. Card usefulness ranges from almost always useless to always keepers. And the drafting style implemented simply doesn’t fix that glaring disparity. So what you end up with is a more clunky version of a game you still can’t take seriously as a gamers’ game. Again, oh for a proper developer to smooth those edges.


While I see why they made different cards cost different amounts to keep, the poor card design means you can’t really prove what you’re paying for. While some may argue designers should be able to rely on players being honest, I think it’s a stretch. And people can make mistakes – especially when the font is a bit crap. If they’d put the cost in a colour-free box in the corner of each card you’d be able to prove cost – but they didn’t. The system is simply poorly conceived. And could’ve been fixed by development of the mechanic.

So what you have is a pretty, fun, but unoriginal family polyominoes game with a fantasy cat theme. This will appeal to many, and has done very well. Fair play. On top of that is a successful solo variant using the advanced cards well. The luck can still suck, but its a solo game – that is often built into the mix and acceptable to me. I enjoyed it. But the more complex version is hard to love, unless you can overlook some pretty glaring design flaws.

Oshax tiles from the Isle of Cats board game

Conclusion: The Isle of Cats board game

While I’ve probably come across as pretty torn on my opinion of the Isle of Cats board game, it has proven itself a keeper. Sarah loves the art and enjoys the game. The family version is pretty quick to set up and plays fast, giving a nice Sunday morning filler experience. I’d certainly recommend it for families, if price isn’t a big deal – but it might be worth showing the artwork first. It’s a big old box/price tag for a basic polyominoes game if your family doesn’t fall in love with the cats themselves.

But I’m not sure how much the advanced version will get played. As long as Sarah keeps requesting the game, I’ll let her decide which version we play. The advanced version isn’t broken – it just lacks any sign of polish. But if the game doesn’t get requested much, it won’t be long before it ends up on the trade pile. And that will partly be down to the ridiculous amount of shelf space it uses. For me, with limited space, a box this big really has to have more game in it (or Sarah as its sponsor) to survive the regular game culls.

Clement showing a complete lack of interest in the Isle of Cats board game

Board game Top 10: Roll and write games

Welcome to my Top 10 roll and write games. These do exactly what they say on the tin: roll some dice, then write down the result. They were popularised in the 1960s with the massive success of Yahtzee. But like the rest of the hobby, kind of stuck in gear for the next 40 years.

The mid 2000s saw the mechanism reintroduced to hobby gamers with the likes of Catan Dice, Roll Through the Ages and Dice Bingo. But they were really put back on the map in 2013 when Qwixx received a Spiel de Jahres nomination. And there has been a steady (and pretty overwhelming) stream of them released ever since.

Most commonly, roll and write games tend to slot into the ‘filler’ category. The games tend to be fast, cater for a higher than normal variability of player numbers, and have simple rules. Plus they’re usually quick to set up and come in small boxes. Making them perfect to pop in your bag if there might be a gaming opportunity almost anywhere.

What the flip?

I’m also including ‘flip and writes’ here. They basically use the same core idea as a roll and write, but uses cards instead of dice. This can be used to decrease/control the randomness. But also to increase the amount of options available for the designer. The first was probably Traxx (2015), and right now they’re still quite thin on the ground. But it’s a great concept and there have already been a few big hits – especially Welcome To. So expect lot more to hit the shelves in the next few years.

For links to digital versions of some of these games, scroll to the bottom of the page. The only ones I couldn’t find were Traxx and Dizzle – so let me know if you know of versions and I can add links. Thanks!

Note: Both Welcome to and Cartographers list themselves having a player count of 1-100. This is technically true, as they come with 100 sheets in the box (which you could laminate for replayability). But that’s true of many of these games – so I’ve left the gimmick out.

That's Pretty Clever dice, one of my top 10 roll and write games

Top 10 Roll and write games

10. Traxx
(1-4 players, 15-30 mins, 2015)

Players draw a path on their board, a 60-ish space hex grid. Each board is the same except the start point. They are made up of six different colours, with nine spaces also containing a number. In each of 15 rounds a card is flipped containing 4-5 colours. Players draw a line through as many of the colours as they can. But all lines must extend from one end their initial one. Numbers you pass through score points. But all uncovered spaces lose a point. And that’s it. Simple, but surprisingly replayable. And you can teach it to anyone.

9. Roll Through the Ages
(1-4 players, 30-60 mins, 2008)

This is at the heavier end of the roll-and-write spectrum. As well as the standard score sheet and dice you get nice wooden peg boards for each player. You use this to track various resources used to build developments and cities, create monuments, and feed cities. While largely just a resource conversion game, its variety comes in the developments. There are 13 in total, letting players diverge in their strategies. But the dice mean it is very much a tactical game too. Despite the name, it share nothing but theme with Through the Ages. Players take it in turns to roll dice, making the game a lot longer than many here.

8. Qwixx
(2-5 players, 15-30 mins, 2012)

Qwixx is perhaps even simpler than Traxx. Each player has a sheet with numbers 2-12 in yellow and red, and 12-2 in blue and green. You mark off as many numbers as possible – but can only mark them left to right. One player rolls 6 dice (1 of each colour plus 2 whit dice), and each player marks off the sum of the two white on any line they choose. But the player who roles can add one white die to any of the coloured dice, marking off the total in that colour instead. Mark as many numbers in each row to score points. A fun, light, filler game.

7. Steamrollers
(1-5 players, 30-45 mins, 2015)

Steamrollers sees players drawing lines on their sheets to connect cities, after which they can deliver goods (cubes) along those lines. The twist is that a central board has the actual cubes on. So you’re competing to deliver those cubes before your opponents. Some special abilities that can move between players add extra interaction, making this a game where you really have to keep an eye on your fellow players.

6. Utopia Engine
(solo, 30-60 mins, 2010)

While many of these games can be played alone, this is one specifically for solo game fans. And better still it is a free ‘print and play’ game, available here. It has a similar feel to games such as Roll Through the Ages and Nemo’s War, where dice are used to mark off sections of your sheet relating to special abilities or objectives. So if that sounds like its up your street, you really have no reason not to check it out!

Top 10 Roll and write games: The Top 5

5. Reina Knizia’s Decathlon
(1-4 players, 45 mins, 2003)

Decathlon is another free download (available here). But that’s not why it’s so high on my list. Where many modern roll-and-writes take the games in new directions, this keeps that old Yahtzee style ‘push your luck’ vibe and applies it to a bunch of simple dice games. But they do manage to give the feel of the various events of an athletics decathlon. Check out my full review of Decathlon here.

4. Cartographers
(1-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2019)

As you may have guessed, this flip-and-write sees each player creating a map on their sheet. Cards reveal polyomino-style shapes you can add to your sheet, as you try to match your map to various scoring cards. But a nice twist sees bandits popping up, where you swap sheets so your opponents can make your life more difficult. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s somehow a very satisfying experience.

3. Dizzle
(1-4 players, 30 mins, 2019)

Dizzle ticks so many boxes (no pun intended). You mark off spaces on your sheet to score points. It’s simple, has interaction and push-your-luck, plus you’re invested in every moment. And it has four different sheets in the box to add replayability – with four more available as an expansion. The interaction comes from a shared pool of dice. After the initial roll, you take one each clockwise. But if you don’t like them, you can reroll – at the risk of losing one you’ve already placed. For more details, check out my full Dizzle review.

2. Welcome To
(1-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2018)

Another flip-and-write, this time planning out a new town’s houses in 1950s America. The art is a real selling point, but the game is smart too. The cards are numbered, and players try to give each house a street number from left to right on their boards. But each number is paired with a random ability, making the decisions on which number to take much more difficult. Add in shared scoring objectives and you have a great game. Check out my full Welcome To review here. It also has various expansions available, adding little extra rules.

1. That’s Pretty Clever
(1-4 players, 30 mins, 2018)

This is seen a gamer’s roll and write, as it has a little more going on. But unlike games such as Roll Through the Ages, it still keeps the standard abstract feel of the genre. Five of the dice colours match sections of your sheet, but each of those areas scores differently. So often need different numbers at different times to be useful. But areas also interact with each other, triggering opportunities elsewhere. It really is pretty clever. Check out my reviews of both That’s Pretty Clever and its more complex sequel Twice as Clever.

Sheets from That's Pretty Clever, number one in my top 10 roll and write games

Play some of my Top 10 Roll and write games online

Check out some of these games for free, online, at the websites listed below:

Qwixx and That’s Pretty Clever (as ‘Ganz Schon Clever’) have official apps on both the Apple Store and Google Play. That’s Pretty Clever is also available on Steam.

I hope you enjoyed my Top 10 roll and write games. If you think I missed anything crucial, please do let me know on social media or in the comments below. I’m always looking for new games to try! And if you enjoy this type of post, click here for loads more of my board game top 10s.

Tales of Glory board game: A four-sided review

The Tales of Glory board game box artwork.

The Tales of Glory board game is a fantasy themed tile-layer for 2-5 players, lasting up to an hour. The box says for ages 10+, but gamer kids a little younger could probably get to grips with it. There is only a small amount of hidden information, so discussing options is easy during play.

The game was released with a whiff, rather than a bang, in 2018. The initial run was dogged with production issues and the publisher didn’t exactly cover itself in glory sorting them out.

This is a shame, as Tales of Glory is a slick and fun little family game. And while not overly thematic, the fantasy idea works to gel the mechanisms together. You’re essentially piecing together your character’s adventuring legend: the places they’d been, the battles they fought, and the prizes and powers they achieved. But basically, it is an abstract puzzle.

And those production problems are very much behind them. The iconography is simple and clear and the cartoony artwork first class. Which is what you’d expect from Small World/Seven Wonders artist Miguel Coimbra. In the box you’ll find a small tile board, 76 cardboard tiles, 40 cards and well over 200 cardboard chits. The quality is excellent throughout. For what you get the box is slightly oversized, but it has a good insert – and at around £30 it is good value for money.

Teaching the Tales of Glory board game

The game lasts 10 rounds, with players claiming then placing a tile in each. Each player starts with a different character (start) tile, which also gives them some starting resources. Everyone gets some money (used to buy certain tiles – usually characters and places). And you may also get some initial combat and magic tokens, which represent your prowess in the adventuring arts. These are mostly needed to ‘pay’ for creature tiles; but unlike money, they’re not spent. Think of them as you gaining combat experience. And you’ll get some potions – used to make up the difference if you don’t have the skills you need.

Each round, a number of tiles are placed onto the adventure board. Players have a deck of cards equal to the number of spaces on that board (six or eight, depending on player count). Simultaneously, players choose which tile they want (each space is numbered) and put the matching card face down on the table. Then everyone flips their card and (in player order) takes their tile. If two or more players pick the same tile, it’s first come first served on player order. Anyone missing out gets their pick of what’s left after all first choices have been taken. So no one misses out – and there are always plenty of tiles to choose from.

Telling your tale of glory

All tiles have a ‘right’ way up, and must be placed as such in your tableau. Each also does or doesn’t have a connector; and again, like must meet like. Some connectors also have half a key on them. Get keys on both sides, and you’ll be able to open a chest on one of the two tiles (these contain various bonuses). And connectors may also have rewards directly printed on them; sometimes automatic, while others may need you to connect to a specific type of tile (monster, treasure etc). In addition, the tile itself will usually give you some sort of benefit. Generally, characters give skills; monsters and treasures stuff; and places give benefits when you link them to other tiles.

Each player also starts with a couple of bonus tiles. If you meet the placement criteria, these can be added as extras on any of your turns. And, of course, many tiles also give you points. Some are immediate, while others will accumulate (score X points for each X tile you have in your tableau etc – you know the drill). Finally, there are four ‘majorities’ trophies players compete for: combat, magic, potions and coins. Whoever has the most in each category takes the token at the end of the game (all who are equal first get the same points). And yup – highest score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Some games just have an X-factor that defies description. The Tales of Glory board game doesn’t bring anything new to the party. But is incredibly slick, from the rules to the production. It’s quite simply satisfying. No, it never rises above that. But still manages to be a joy to play. You always feel like you can do something, and that something will be cool. But at the same time, you want to do more. By the end you look at your little tableau and see towns, creatures you defeated, and friends you got along the way. And loot, of course. Lots of loot. It just presses all my nerdy buttons. And I make no apologies for that.
  • The thinker: There is some little strategy here, and some thought goes into taking and placing the right tiles. But this is not a game that will win awards for depth. However, it is a perfectly pleasant experience and at 30 minutes for two players (once you have it down), and very little setup, it fits nicely into the ‘enjoyable filler’ category. Especially as the different strategies seem well balanced.
  • The trasher: With five players, I enjoyed Tales of Glory. Battling for turn order becomes important and you genuinely worry about getting the right tile. Trying to go for a different route to your opponents then has real merit, and sometimes denial is a solid tactic (as no tile is intrinsically bad). But at lower counts, it loses that tension. With two or four players, even if you don’t get the tile you want, you get to pick from five others. So there’s almost always something pretty reasonable. This takes a key tension away for me, so I only really enjoy it with the maximum player count.
  • The dabbler: Great game! The cartoony art is super cute, and it plays fast and fun. There’s a nice feeling of trying to work out what other people want. And placing your tiles to get clever combos is a nice little challenge. This can be a little frustrating at first, but after a few plays you get the hang of it. And it becomes really satisfying when the right tile comes up just at the right moment. It’s not thematic, but if you use your imagination it does tell a story. So for me it is a definite winner.

Key observations

Tales of Glory has two potential issues for me: fragility and longevity. The fragility is evident in the sheer number of tiles that need to be available in each round. There is an enviably large number of routes to take for such a small, light game. But for that to work, you need a lot of choice. Which unfortunately takes the tension out of the clever yet simple auction/draft mechanism. I still really enjoy it, but a few less choices would’ve really ramped this up. I guess the designers thought the game was more in making a cool tableau, than in the fight for tiles. That’s fair enough – but I think they maybe skewed slightly too much the other way.

Which bring us to longevity. Sacrificing tension for variety may hurt the game. Tension keeps players coming back, over and over. I’m thinking of games such as Coloretto, 6 Nimmt, or No Thanks. I think they had the chance to make that kind of impact here. But instead, we got a few more ways to score points. That’s fun, don’t get me wrong. And I’m still really enjoying it after five plays. But I’ve kept those plays spread out. And wonder, without expansions (which don’t seem forthcoming), if this would survive the closer scrutiny of regular plays. Because the different ways to score points aren’t that different.

Finally, it’s always risky putting a fantasy theme on a clearly abstract puzzle game. I don’t mind at all, but there is the danger of people picking it up expecting one thing and getting something else. I don’t see this as a valid criticism, at all. But it is going to happen if you put a dwarf with a sword and a dragon on the box – then give people a tile laying brain teaser.

Conclusion: Tales of Glory board game

Despite a few worries about how long the relationship will last, right now I love Tales of Glory. The gorgeous cartoon art and simply, puzzley play have won me over. And the game is also the perfect length (including simple set up) for what it offers. If you enjoy light drafting and tile laying games, I would urge you to check this one out. And if you like a bog standard fantasy them pasted on op, even more so. It found its way into my last annual Top 40. And I can see it staying there for some time.

Gods Love Dinosaurs board game: A four-sided review

Gods Love Dinosaurs board game box

The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is a family board game that is suitable for 2-5 players and takes around an hour to play. The box says for ages 10+. But I’d say eight-year-old gamers, maybe even younger, will have no problems.

You should largely ignore the title and prominence of the ‘D’ word on the box, monster fans. Because this is an abstract game about ecosystems, not dinosaurs. You’ll be laying tiles into your own tableau, then populating them with creatures (mainly rabbits, frogs and rats). Then occasionally you’ll let the few predators you’ve collected (eagles, tigers and the odd dinosaur) have a bit of a munch on them. Someone clearly did their marketing homework.

But it does have some pretty nice T-rex bits in the box, as part of a set of 200 wooden creature meeples. The prey ones in particular are pretty small, but they work well enough on the table. You’ll also find a small board, almost 100 tiles and a little volcano standee. The artwork is abstractly cartoony and is colourful without getting in the way. While the limited iconography is clear throughout. At around £40 it feels just about reasonable. But if I’d had to have a stab in the dark, I’d have guessed a price point nearer £30.

Teaching the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

There are a few concepts in Gods Love Dinosaurs that may be new to family gamers. And it would be easy to play badly and end up with very few points. But there is no hidden information. And what you’re doing makes thematic sense. So it will be easy for a half-decent teacher to walk everyone through the first game. After that, it should be plain sailing.

You start the game with a circular seven-space tile containing one of each ‘prey’ (rabbit, frog and rat), plus a dinosaur in the middle. In play, you take it in turns taking a tile from the animal board and expanding your tableau. They don’t need to match up in any particular way, but matching terrain types makes sense. Most of these hexagonal dominoes tiles have an animal on one of their two spaces. When you take one, you place an animal of that type on the allocated space.

The animal board has five columns (with two/three tiles in each, depending on player count). When a column is empty, the animal pictured at the bottom of that column activates for all players. If it’s a ‘prey’, that specific animal type multiples. For each you have, you can add one extra on an adjacent space – as long it is the right terrain type. If it is a ‘predator’, move each you have up to their movement limit. For each prey they eat along the way, you get a new predator of that type. And the viscous circle of life goes on.

Do the dinosaur

In addition to animal activation, a dinosaur starts the game occupying the left-hand column on the animal board. If that column is activated, players’ dinosaurs also activate after the animal. They eat any prey they move through (but you gain nothing). But if they eat any predators, you gain a dinosaur egg.

Dinosaurs must also stop on special mountain spaces. And if you’ve freed up that central space on your start tile, you can spawn a new dinosaur at the start of this dinosaur phase. More dinos equal more eggs – and dinos/eggs are worth a point each. As that’s the only points there are, it’s pretty important. But on the flip side, anything that can’t feed dies. so if you put too many dinos out and don’t get your animals going, they’ll starve and die. Aww.

After dinosaurs activate, the board is refilled with tiles and the dinosaur moves to the next column. There are four stacks of tiles (presumably to keep an even-ish distribution of animal types throughout the game). And when you can’t refill the board, the game is over.

An image of an eagle set to its its prey in the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I love the idea behind Gods Love Dinosaurs and looked forward to it. And the game is well produced. But beyond the artwork it lacks personality. Because unfortunately it’s a theme that demands a level of interesting gameplay this rather linear abstract fails to deliver. Everything works. With each tab fitting sleekly into its slot. But there is no game arc and no variety, leaving little of interest for a gamer over multiple plays.
  • The kids: We love dinosaurs! And the pieces are cool. It’s fun to make new rabbits and rats and then have the tigers and dinosaurs and that eat them up. But you must be careful where you place the tiles and have enough creatures so that everything can eat otherwise some of your animals may die. It is a hard game and there is a lot to think about. But it is really good fun and I want to play it more and beat dad.
  • The trasher: The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is purely tactical. Because there is only one strategy (collect eggs and dinosaurs). In a two-player game, this makes things nip-and tuck. You have some level of control, so can create shortages and trigger animals when it is of little use to your opponent. But with more players control is lost and it can become of a bit of a luck fest. More about making the most of what’s available than anything else. But even with two, games tend to get rather samey and predictable. OK, but not really for me.
  • The parents: This is a pretty good family game. We could easily teach it to the kids, but it also offers us a bit of a challenge. Sadly it isn’t very educational, except for a very basic demonstration of how an animal ecosystem works. You’d think they could’ve put a bit more in the box in that respect. And it isn’t a game we’ll reach for if the kids don’t request it. We enjoyed the first few plays, but the decisions aren’t really interesting enough to keep us interested if its just the two of us. But it’s certainly one of the better options on the kids’ shelf!

Key observations

Adding dinosaurs to the game, and then pushing them in the title, may well have been a mistake. Because it adds an expectation that the finished product in no way meets. It’s a pretty clever and workable abstract design, but not an exciting aggressive one. This is a game of clever tile placement and resource management. Some find that fun, but it’s not ‘FUN!’ fun. This is particularly frustrating as there are so many ways they could’ve injected some personality into the mix. But they chose to use none of them.

The lack of game arc is particularly galling. I’d hoped the ‘A-D’ tile sets may have injected this, but instead they’re only there to enforce the status quo. So every player is always getting prey, then predators, then feeding to then dinosaurs for points. This means the real game is in starving players of options by taking the right tiles at the right time. But behind that the multiply, eat, repeat engine just chugs along relentlessly in the background.

Even some of the positive (8+) reviews say the game has a single strategy and may become repetitive. But this is in part what can make it a great family game. While the tile draw brings a bit of luck, largely it’s a game of meaningful decisions in terms of tile placement. This means parents will be engaged. But the kids don’t have any extra levels to get to – meaning they’ll be catching up their parents first in terms of ability. They’re going to enjoy eating the animals too. So it can really work well in this environment.

One final issue we had was around the scoring system. There are precious few points and play is pretty linear. Which meant all our games were close. In fact, several were draws. This points to a game that is too well balanced, which may well explain a lot of the criticisms above. Also, the tiebreaker gives the win to the player who went latest in turn order – which just seems pointless and irrelevant.

Conclusion: Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

Ultimately, for me as a gamer, Gods Love Dinosaurs was a disappointment. As we started playing it felt like a good mix. I love a good tile-layer and the (actual – not dinosaur) theme worked. The first game was fun, learning what we’d done wrong and looking forward it fixing it. And fix it we did, in game two. By the end of which the cracks were beginning to show. Game three was actually pretty boring – which is when we reached out to get the family vote. Luckily, kids dig it so the game will go to a good home. Which is great news.

But I don’t buy I’m not the target audience. I love a good family game. I’ve got over 150 plays of Ticket to Ride under my belt. Fifty-plus of Carcassonne. And there are plenty more light games on my shelves. Those family games offer a little extra something. Whether it be variety, or extra levels you can reach with repeat plays. Or, with the best examples, both. Of course, those games benefit from years of expansions. And the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game has so many ways it could be expanded. But for me, at least one of those should’ve been explored in the box. Because as it is, it’s lacking that crucial spark.