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5 Games that Shocked Us into Loving Them

We all have those games. We all have games that, for some reason or other, we expected to be one thing but that turned into something completely different when we came to play them. These are games that are bought with one thing in mind, or bought on a complete whim, before something turns expectation on its head and our opinions get flipped like a flapjack in a washing machine.

Recently, my girlfriend and I got talking. It may come as no surprise that we talk quite often, and this time it was about games that shocked us when we opened the box. We hadn’t quite realised just how many there were – until now, when I find myself narrowing it down to a list of five for the sake of a concise article. Games can be quite shocking.

For this article, when we talk about shocking, we don’t mean in a bad way. This isn’t like seeing an elderly man flash you in the street. Instead, we are talking about a pleasant shock, like finding a fiver in your pocket, or like hearing the sound of rain on a conservatory roof, or like the feeling of a tumble-dried pair of socks. Okay, that’s just nice, not really shocking, but you get the gist. Socks, not flashers.

Here is a list of five games that shocked us in a pleasant way.

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Sub Terra

#1. Sub Terra

When you playtest a game at an expo it is always a risky purchase as you don’t know if the game will hold up in a prolonged session. When you see one playtested, and don’t want to wait to play it yourself so you just buy it, then that is an even riskier purchase. This is, I hasten to add, exactly what we did with Sub Terra when we purchased it at the UKGE last year. From what we could see, it looked like a cool game, the box was cool, the people selling it were cool, it seemed like a good buy.

This is especially risky as one game we purchased the day before turned out to be a massive disappointment when we played a full session, and we had actually tested that prior to purchase.

That being said, when we broke Sub Terra out of the box it turned out that it played like an absolute dream. The game, designed by the relatively unknown Inside the Box, felt high class. It felt weighty and well made. The gameplay itself didn’t break any boundaries, but what it managed to do, and this is something remarkably difficult for a board game, is build tension. It is a horror game that actually makes you feel on edge, like you are in a constant state of heightened danger. It’s just superb.

I’ve actually written a full review of Sub Terra. You can read it here. Alternatively, I also wrote a strategy guide that you can read here.

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Castles of Burgundy

#2. Castles of Burgundy

For want of a better way of saying it – Castles of Burgundy is not a good looking game. The pieces are cheap. The whole game has the feeling of having been cobbled together in PowerPoint. That is not an insult to the designer, but instead more a comment on the production quality of everything in the box.

We bought it because everyone raves about Castles of Burgundy, and nearly everyone says the same thing – first impressions are deceiving, but you should save your reservations until you actually play the game.

Just wow. Castles of Burgundy is not only considered one of the defining points in the development of games coming out of Europe, but it is also considered one of the greatest games of all time. Considering it came out in 2011, it looks like a game that came out in 1990; however, the gameplay is so smooth, the placement of tiles so well thought through, and the turn structure so refined that Castles of Burgundy can safely be a staple for board game shelves around the world.

It is also currently number 11 in the BGG top 100, which is insanely high, showing that substance beats style any day of the week. I promise not to do this after every article, but I have coincidentally also written a review on Castles of Burgundy that you can read here.

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Nefarious

#3. Nefarious

Nefarious is a game I don’t think I have ever written about on this blog apart from on the page where we list all the games we own. It was an impulse buy at our second UK Games Expo back in 2016.

In Nefarious, you play the part of an evil genius looking to take over the world by inventing the most nefarious inventions. To do this you need to manage your henchmen and actions, as well as generate enough coins to be able to fund your hairbrain schemes.

I suppose what helped with Nefarious is that we never really had any expectations of what it would be like. Instead, we went in feeling neutral about it. Since then it has become a game that is close to our hearts for a number of reasons.

Nefarious is an easy to learn and quick to play game that places you in the middle of a somewhat unique economic simulator. You generate money, you build things, and you zap people with a giant laser beam.

For us, Nefarious is the board game equivalent to a baggy jumper. It’s comfortable, it is lovable, and it keeps us warm on long winter nights.

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Unfair

#4. Unfair

So, this is the most recent game on the list (I only reviewed it two days ago) but the statement stands. For some reason, and I am yet to understand why, Unfair gets okay reviews but generally (as a kind of rule) not amazing reviews. This is actually why I put off buying Unfair for so long. Who wants to spend over £40 on a game that only averages 3.3 stars on Amazon?

Well, to be honest, we shouldn’t have taken other reviews into account as Unfair is one of the top contenders for the “best game we have played this year” accolade. This theme park game is often slighted for its take-that component, and yet as a simple building game, it seems to gain a lot of credibility. If you want to just play a building game, and not put all the other players down, then Unfair is just incredible. It has everything you need from a theme park simulator and more.

Unfair is bright, colourful and deserves a place on any board game shelf. It is so much better than the Amazon reviews collectively give it credit for, and because of this it really stands out. Unfair was shocking in how good it was, compared to the perception of the game that exists on the internet.

It goes to show – don’t believe everything you read online folks….

….oh…wait…

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Multiuniversum

#5. Multiuniversum

Another impulse buy, Multiuniversum has (hands down) some of the best and most imaginative artwork we have ever seen in a game.

This was a strange one. Myself and my partner decided, at the UKGE, to hold an unofficial contest. We wanted to see who could get the best game for £10 or under. To this day we are still debating who saw Multiuniversum first and so who it is attributed to. Either way, we are glad we bought it as it has proven to be a really fun little game.

For a while, Multiuniversum was a game we would break out almost every evening. It has a really fun theme as you are scientists, working at CERN, who have accidentally opened portals to other versions of reality. You have to close them all off as quickly as possible. It all sounds simple (well kind of); however, actions are highly limited. Each turn you can only do what your hand allows, and then you have to do it within the confines of a set collecting game as you collect all the criteria needed to close a portal.

Yes, it is chaotic, but it is also really enjoyable, and it has certainly become one of our favourite small box games of all time. It is really fun to play. A review of Multiuniversum was actually one of the very first articles I wrote for this blog. You can read that review here.

So, there we have it. We could go on for a while, easily listing five or ten more games, but since I am writing this insanely late at night we will probably leave this here for now.

Do you agree with our list? Which games have shocked you over the years? Good or bad? Let us know in the comments below.

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20 Comments »

  1. Castles of Burgundy is definitely an awesome game. I played it fairly early in my gaming career and have always loved it, though I play it so much online now that I haven’t played it at the table in a couple of years.

    Probably my biggest surprise is Subdivision. It has the same look as Suburbia but it’s by a different designer. I had heard lukewarm things about it. But I found it on clearance at a local game store and bought it on a whim.

    And it’s actually pretty good!

    I mean, a 7.0 on Boardgame Geek for me, but I’ll definitely play it and I still own it. It’s not awesome or anything, but much better than its reputation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Castles of Burgundy is one of those games that just excels. It is such a well thought through game, and it is kind of easy to see why so many people have fallen in love with it. It was arguably the first game that taught me that a game doesn’t need to look like a big production piece if it plays really well.

      I’ve never even heard of Subdivision – what kind of game is it? I’ll keep an eye out 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • If you’ve played Suburbia, there are definitely similarities. This time, though, you’re filling a subdivision of land (your play sheet) with buildings, parks, lakes, etc and streets that will allow you to connect them to the main road going around/through the subdivision. Each round a series of building tiles are dealt out, and then you roll a die. You choose one of the buildings to draft and have to place it on a space with the symbol that you rolled. Or you can spend a coin to place it anywhere.

        What I like is the building activation. You don’t activate it when you place it. Instead, you activate the building you placed it next to. Activation effects depend on what type of building it is. You can place a couple of roads, some sidewalks, a park, a school, etc.

        I really enjoyed it. I think I’ve played it 4-5 times now, and would like to play it again so I can do a review.

        I can call it “Bezier’s Least Wanted” 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    • I must admit, I think the reviews are unfair (no pun intended). Unfair is a really fun game, especially with a smaller number of players. We haven’t played it with the full five but I can see how it may drag at 25 minutes per player.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sub Terra sounds very interesting. It is always tricky buying at an expo. We bought the game ” this war of mine” at Essen Spiel last year and I absolutely love that game! Wonder if you’ve heard about it?
    Great review Luke!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have heard of This War of Mine, in fact it came up just the other day. I haven’t got around to playing it yet though. Presumably, you would recommend it – but what in particular do you love about it?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well for one it is co-op. Secondly its a post apocalyptic setting, which I love. The script is amazing because there are so many storylines or outcomes. The game is completely random you can get really far in the game and then suddenly everyone is dead. Or you can die within 20 minutes of the game.

        So far we haven’t been able to beat the game 😂.

        You have a scriptbook to follow and depending on the die you roll or what characters are in your group, the scriptbook jumps to various pages and different scripts you’ve got to read out loud.
        (Sort of like a quest story book where you say, I go right (then go to page 50) / I go left (then go to page 46.)

        Its very veerryy time consuming but totally worth it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • It’s a good sign that you are still enjoying it, even though you haven’t beaten the game yet. So it’s kind of part game and part choose your own adventure book? That sounds really ace 🙂 when you’ve completed it – will you then know how to beat the game or is there enough randomness that it will change each time?

          Liked by 2 people

          • Way too much randomness. One thing we have learned so far is that collecting food and water is very important.
            In the game each day has a certain routine, drink water and explore thr house you live in with your group of 3 People. Then its time for exploring a location outside (which is also random) but 1 person stays behind in the house in case tresspassers or a stranger comes by at night. Then the explorers come back home with or without loot (you have a weight capacity. Certain characters can carry more) and either your house is still standing or taken over depending on what happened to the person who stayed behind.

            One time we managed to burn the house down…. thanks script.

            And then the day cycle starts all over again. If you don’t have enough food or water to keep your group alive they can become depressed and each character has their own storyline.

            Sorry for the long comment but you can probably now tell why we havent beaten the game 😂

            Liked by 2 people

            • Long comments are always welcome. And that sounds amazing. I imagine it takes a while to play though – how long are we talking? I love a good asymmetrical board game me 😁

              Liked by 2 people

            • Loooonngg but its easy to “save the game” so you can continue later. The game contains a lot of plastic bags where you can put your characters in plus all the loot you collected so far. That way you can easily continue your game.

              Because it can take up over 2 hours. Perhaps even more. Or less than an hour if you are unlucky and everyone dies within the first day 😂 its that random

              Liked by 1 person

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