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

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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 on the Go Play Listen website)

  • 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…

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  • 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

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  • 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.

Originally posted at Punch Board Media