5 Deceptively Simple but Brilliant Board Games
Not all board games have to be complicated. Sometimes the simplest games are the best, and can offer complex strategy within an incredibly fantastic framework. Yes, games like Trickerion, Twilight Imperium and Dominant Species are good, but sometimes you just need to remember the beauty of the basics.
Today we thought we would take you through five games that are deceptively simple. These are games with innate beauty behind how easy they are to pick up. For each I will give a very quick overview of the rules before telling you how deep the game can go. Each one delivers way more than you would expect from what it says on the tin, and each one is definitely worth a play.
Skull is a game we picked up at the very end of 2018 after playing it with friends. In the game all players are dealt a two sided mat and four coasters. On three of the coasters are flowers, and on one coaster is a skull.
Each player will place their coasters on their mat one at a time. At any point a challenge can be called, with the challenging player saying their challenge and a number. The number denotes the number of coasters they want to turn over.
All players can raise the challenge or (effectively) fold, and when only one player is standing they must turn over the number of coasters they said. If they only turn over flowers, they win the challenge. If they turn over a skull, they lose the challenge and a random coaster. The first player to win two challenges wins the game.
Skull mixes several different aspects to make it a thrilling and entertaining game. Firstly, it has an aspect of bluffing and reading the other players, a bit like Poker. You need to figure out when others are bluffing and when you should raise the challenge or fold. Secondly, it has an aspect similar to Russian Roulette. Where this may not be the best comparison, Russian Roulette has a risk element where you can be your own demise. This is similar to Skull as you decide what you want to turn over.
We really enjoy Skull as it has all the elements that make a good game – strategy, a bit of luck, fantastic artwork, and a lot of playing the other players.
Age of War
Age of War is a dice game released by Fantasy Flight and set in Feudal Japan. In it you roll dice in the hope to take over castles and strongholds.
There are a series of castles on the table, all in different sets. Each has their own requirement that must be met (through rolling dice) to take the castle over. There are eight dice in the game, each with a set of sides different to normal dice – these are samurai, 1x foot soldier, 2x foot soldier, 3x foot soldier, cavalry, and archers. You roll the dice to fulfil a line of requirements on a castle.
If you manage to complete a castle, you get to keep it. At any point you can also try and steal your opponent’s castle by rolling an additional samurai. Each castle is worth a different set of points, and those points are what you are playing for. You can reroll at any point, but you remove a die from your hand every time you do. Dice remain on the castle you allocate them to during your turn.
There are a few really good dice games out on the market, and Age of War is (by far) one of the simplest. It is highly thematic, and recreates the idea of Feudal combat beautifully within the medium.
Mathematically, Age of War is a really interesting game. The odds and numbers behind the scenes make the game far deeper than it initially appears, and yet the game itself remains as simple as you want to make it. I, for one, really enjoy it and welcome it to the table almost every time it is suggested.
Okay, so get this – The Mind can, very thankfully, be summarised in a few sentences.
In The Mind there are a number of levels. Depending on the level, you are dealt a certain number of numbered cards each. Without talking about the cards, without hinting about which cards we have, and without giving away in any way what our cards have printed on them, we must play our cards in numerical order. Sounds simple, right? Well, it really really isn’t.
The Mind was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2018 and for fairly good reason. It is a remarkably simple game, and yet mastering it take a lot of time and patience. You need to develop a strong connection with the players you are playing with in order to understand the subtleties in how they behave when they believe it is their turn. You need to watch and wait for those slight ticks and subconscious inclinations that can let you know whether you need to play.
The Mind is the ultimate game for playing with and playing the other players.
It is this, this level of meta, that makes The Mind so interesting, and it is also down to this meta that means it will never get boring.
Tsuro is also known as the Way of the Path.
Based around Chinese philosophy, Tsuro is a game that is set aside from the other games on this list because, in a way, it is not about beating the game but rather seeing where it takes you.
In Tsuro you play as a pawn on the edge of a board, and you are dealt a series of tiles. The tiles denote the way in which your pawn must travel, comprising of a series of squiggly lines. You play a tile (in any orientation), move your pawn to the end of their path on the tile, and move on.
The goal of Tsuro is quite simple. You must always move your pawn to the end of their line, but there are two conditions. Firstly, you cannot crash into someone else. Secondly, you cannot move off the board. If you do either of those things, you are out of the game. The last one standing wins.
Tsuro is a beautiful game, with a very simple premise. It is enjoyable to play and, underneath it all, it is also quite a relaxing game.
Spyfall. Spyfall is a fantastically simple game and one that helped get me, for one, into gaming.
In Spyfall a series of location cards are dealt out to all players. All of the location cards have the same location on them, with different job roles in the bottom corner, bar one. One player just gets a card saying “Spy”. Since none of the players know who the Spy is, it is up to the players to try and figure out who the spy is, and it is up to the spy to try and figure out the location everyone else is at.
This is superb, and relies on players questioning each other to try and find out who is who. It is challenging at times, and can result in hilarious moments around the gaming table.
Spyfall is one of those games that everyone should play at some point. There are other, more complex, Social Deduction games out there, but for simplicity Spyfall is hard to beat. It is quick and easy to learn, but it is difficult to master either being a spy or an average Joe.
Spyfall is a fantastic entry level game and a superb entry into the Social Deduction genre.
So there we have it – five games that are deceptively simple, but that are definitely worth your time.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the list? What games would you add on? Let me know in the comments below.