You know the game. It’s locked away hidden behind Terraforming Mars or placed deceptively inside an empty expansion box for Mansions of Madness. Whatever that dark gaming product is, it’s your secret love, your dark romance amongst the gaudy shelves of the latest hotness avalanche. We here at the Board Game Quest bunker agreed it’s time for our writers’ hidden affairs to come into the light.
This list is for all the games that we just can’t believe we love. Whether it’s the wacky theme, the mechanical weight, or it’s just not something we want to bring to game night, these are the games that we love to play despite… whatever it is that screams we should hate it.
Board Games That We Shouldn’t Like… But Do!
Clans of Caledonia (review)
Chosen by Tony:
If you look at my gaming shelves, you’ll see a large variety of thematic games. From Deep Madness to Batman: Gotham City Chronicles to Star Wars Imperial Assault, I love a game that draws you in with its theme (and art). It’s not that I don’t ever try those bland, pasted-on-theme euro games. I’ve played Castles of Burgundy (🤢 ) quite a few times, and my hate for it is a running bit on the BGQ Discord channel. I’ve tried Agricola, Puerto Rico, and Wingspan and thought they were all… fine. And don’t even get me started on the snoozer that is Coimbra. Yet occasionally I stumble across a euro game that just works for me. And that’s Clans of Caledonia. This game is everything I don’t usually look for in gaming: a slapped-on trading theme, economic markets, cube pushing resource management, art that I can best describe as “fine”, and no story to tell at all. Yet somewhere in between the somewhat asymmetric clans, boards with the “pull something off to reveal a bonus” and the ever-changing goals, I found myself having a ton of fun. This one snuck up on me from behind and clubbed me with the fun stick. It could be that each clan lets you approach the game just a little bit differently, which helps to make every play a little unique. I don’t pull it off the shelf often, but it’s a game that I’m always willing to play. Now that doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up my membership to the “dice chucker fan club”, but I’ll happily join you anytime for a game of Clans of Caledonia.
Chosen by Tahsin:
I’m a guy of two great loves: theme and mechanisms. I see games as stories, and the best games take players through a story using their mechanisms. It also matters how well dressed the story is. So, it’s incredibly shocking to me that a game like Brass should ignite such excitement in me. I can’t perfectly lay a finger on why the mechanisms are so interesting. Maybe it’s the loan mechanism that has your company teetering on the verge of bankruptcy every turn. Maybe it’s the gorgeously designed board that evokes such a flavor of the time period. Or maybe it’s because it feels like Ticket to Ride on economic steroids. If you’re a fan of economic games and you haven’t given this a try, you’re missing one of the games that has few nay-sayers when rising to the top 5 of the BoardGameGeek ratings.
Chosen by Chris:
Every board game player has an individual tipping point when the amount of luck built into a design starts to impact the overall enjoyment of a game. For me, this tipping point usually comes pretty quickly—sometimes right when I see how many dice a particular game has. Naga Raja has all the trappings of such a game: Random goal markers on the board that don’t get revealed until it might be too late, a few take-that powers, and a whole bunch of dice. (They’re not dice-shaped in Naga Raja, but don’t be fooled… they’re dice.) But against all odds, this two-player game has enough interesting choices to overcome its more chaotic elements and is also quick enough to not outstay its welcome. There’s also the unique way the Fate Sticks (again: they’re dice) are acquired and used on every turn. It might not be the most unique or memorable game I’ve ever played, but Naga Raja is a game I almost passed on even trying and I’m glad I didn’t.
Chosen by Dylan:
As one could tell based on reviews I’ve written and games I’ve recommend in Top 10 and other Quest Lists, I’m not one that gravitates to thematic dice chuckers. But when I was gifted Arcadia Quest in 2018, it seemed like an odd choice. Until I was told the game isn’t a cooperative dungeon crawl, but a competitive slugfest against each other and NPC monsters. That, combined with some fantastic gear drafting between scenarios, controlling three drastically different characters at a time, and the potential for hilarity, Arcadia Quest is the perfect storm for games outside of my wheelhouse.
Cosmic Frog (review)
Chosen by Andrew:
A game with a lot of combat resolved through dice rolling. Turn order shuffled into a random deck so maybe you’ll go forever without your turn coming up? Events that can trigger and take away the special power you’ve been carefully utilizing all game? None of this sounds like something that my gaming group would like. But when the theme is two-mile-tall frogs consuming parts of planets and carefully disgorging them into a very specific pattern to maximize victory points? I mean, Cosmic Frog was way more fun than it had any right to be. I highly suggest running the short version of the game so it doesn’t overstay its welcome and you really can embrace the chaos of immortal god-like frogs. Also, rarely in gaming do you get to talk about your gullet and disgorging things so that is an obvious bonus.
Apocrypha: Adventure Card Game (review)
Chosen by George:
So generally I am not a lover of deck-building games, especially games that have awfully written rule books. Apocrypha takes those aspects but for some reason I find myself wanting to keep diving into the scenarios with different saint characters. Why? Honestly, I think it is the theming. The idea of having to battle classic monsters and cryptids across different locations with different win conditions appeals to me on a horror fan level. Over time the game implements RPG elements as characters succeed or are defeated after each scenario, allowing each session to feel consequential when you decide to bust out the box to your game table. For all its flaws I keep wanting to play it over and over, which I honestly shouldn’t want to do…
Dice Throne (review)
Chosen by Alex:
A whole lot of dice-tossing with swingy gameplay and a pasted-on theme is not exactly the way to my gaming heart, nor is the very concept of a two-player dueling game that is essentially a race to zero hit points. However, there’s something about Dice Throne that I find absolutely enthralling and secretly really enjoy playing. I don’t know if it’s the completely derivative characters, the really top-notch components, or just the fact that it’s a gussied-up Yahtzee, but there’s something about it that I really not-so-secretly enjoy. The quick playtime and virtually endless combinations of character matchups also make Dice Throne a guilty pleasure that I am not ashamed to admit that I really enjoy.
Chosen by Jason:
I do not like ugly games. There, I said it. What constitutes as ugly varies from person to person. Two years ago, a friend taught me a game whose color scheme could be defined as “sleepy”. I was not excited about playing it. It looked as bored as whatever theme was attached to it. I honestly could not have cared less about it. But after we started playing Hansa Teutonica, I got into it. It was a really enjoyable game, and I was ready to play it a second time. Which of course hasn’t happened yet. But it proved to me that ugly games can be fun. I’ll just have to take someone’s word for it. Because I’m not ready to sift through a bunch of ugly games to find a good one, but I have no problem blindly playing a pretty looking one. Funny how that works isn’t it?
Chosen by Michelle:
Every now and then my FLGS has random games in clearance that don’t move fast enough off the shelves. I generally have zero faith that the games that show up in clearance are worth a shot, but I saw Karesansui about four years ago and decided to buy it. My sweet spot price for random purchases is $10, so the rest is history on why I even own this game. I was surprised to find that I loved it! Cutthroat Zen gardening? Really? Yes. The game barely inched past a 6.5 out of 10 on BGG, the minimum player count is 3 but plays up to 6, the box is clunky and it’s just a really ugly game. However, it’s the only auction game I own with set collection and a punishing NPC “Feng Shui Master” that evaluates your garden regularly. Anytime I get the chance to bring this out, especially when we have game nights where enough people want to play at the same table, we have a blast hating ourselves, hating each other, and hating an entity that isn’t real. This game is probably the least Zen now that I’ve described it but totally worth it if you enjoy scary abstract games.
Chosen by Brandon:
It never should’ve happened. All the warning signs were there. The race to finish first. The in-your-face take-that built into the card play. The less-than-inspiring artwork. Even the luck of the draw. Yet where Innovation stands out overshadows much of the negatives. So, we keep bringing it to the table. Through a series of rounds, each game organically develops its own brand of intriguing combinations via multi-use cards and tableau building restrictions. Each session is wildly distinctive and can range from players being destroyed by an opponent’s good fortune to a tight battle for the final achievement card. While extreme variation is typically a no for us, the over-the-top nature of the card powers keeps us enthralled and wanting to revisit this more and more. This game does something unique if players can agree to embrace its chaos—it takes an interactive and luck-driven system and makes it fun to explore.
Railroad Ink (review)
Chosen by Spencer:
If I was given the pitch for Railroad Ink for the first time today, I’d be pretty reluctant to try it. First, it’s a roll-and-write. I don’t enjoy many of those. One of the glaring issues with these games is the lack of player interaction, which I generally want a heavy dose of. Second, this is a spatial puzzle game. I don’t usually find those engaging. I find no joy in Tetris. Finally, a train theme? Snoooooooze. However, I tend to roam the exhibitor hall of Gencon with a pretty open mind. When there’s an open spot for a demo, I’m not too picky. I sat down for a full game of this one. I walked away fairly unimpressed. Then, it kept creeping into my mind. Within the next 48 hours, I picked up a copy. A few years later, I’m approaching 30 plays, and I seem to take it everywhere with me. Not to mention all the expansion I have. I still can’t explain it.
Chosen by James:
I love beautiful art, high production values, and games loaded with theme. Sounds like Everdell, right? Sort of as most of the games I love are ameritrash and miniature heavy dungeon crawlers where I’m all but smashing plastic toys together while making sound effects. Everdell, unlike most of the games in my collection, is serene as you build a bucolic little village filled with cute anamorphic animals living their best lives until someone tosses them in a dungeon to free up a space in their tableau. The gameplay stands apart in my collection as it combines worker placement and tableau building in a way where you really must optimize your actions to complete objectives, especially in solo mode. There’s no fighting and minimal conflict; it’s just a nice time gathered around the Evertree. There are also enough expansions to make CMON go “that’s enough” so you’ll have tons of replay value for people looking to spice up the base game.