Top 10 Small Games – Part 2

Tichu Hand

Maybe you’re going on holiday and you want to bring a few small games with you, but luggage space is an issue.  Maybe you’re travelling on a train and need a small footprint game to while away the hours.  Sometimes, only a small game will do!  But which ones are best?

Earlier in the week, I covered the bottom half of my Top 10 Small Games.  Today we finish the list by looking at the top 5.  These are the best small games in the world!  Well, in my opinion…

7 Wonders Duel5. 7 Wonders Duel

This is a two-player-only game based on the classic 7 Wonders.  Interestingly, the original 7 Wonders had a two-player variant in the box, but it wasn’t great.  The purpose-designed 7 Wonders Duel really is great though.

It retains a lot of the best aspects of 7 Wonders (card drafting, set collection and a short play-time), but it also adds a really nice spatial element to the game.  Instead of passing hands of cards backwards or forwards, you pick cards from a layout in the middle and when certain cards are chosen, they reveal other cards underneath.

Another great addition is the multiple win conditions.  You can win with the most points as per usual, but it’s also possible to win if you get 6 different Science cards or by having 9 more military shields than your opponent.  It means you really have to watch what your opponent is doing and provides a nice amount of tension.


One Night Ultimate Werewolf4. One Night Ultimate Werewolf

I used to play the original Werewolf game when I was a student and always had a great time, but it could be long – particularly with larger groups (although I still enjoy it even now!).  One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a much smaller (and shorter!) game that provides much the same experience.

It’s a classic social deduction game in many ways: some people are secretly allocated the role of werewolves and they have to deflect suspicion away from themselves and try to implicate one of the villagers.

During the Night phase, everyone closes their eyes and one at a time people wake up and perform some kind of action which usually involves either looking at or moving around people’s role cards.  During the Day phase, you discuss who did what, who knows what, and then vote to kill the werewolves.  It’s so much fun!

Tichu3. Tichu

I grew up playing cards with my family and card games are always great for holidays.  Tichu can almost be played with a standad set of playing cards – it just has 4 special cards that you don’t normally find in a standard deck.  Tichu is my favourite ‘traditional’ card game and if you like card games, you should definitely check this one out.

It’s essentially a partnership ladder-climbing game.  You really want to play with four players (two teams of two) and players take turns playing higher ‘sets’ of cards (singles, pairs, runs – you have to match the first set laid) into the middle.  When players can’t play any higher, everyone passes and the last player to play wins all the cards in the middle.

You get points for winning certain cards, but in many ways it’s much more important to try and get rid of all your cards first.  If you and your partner both go out before your opponents, you get lots of points.  It’s the kind of game you can play round after round of for hours on a lazy summer afternoon.  There’s a bit of a learning curve – the strategy is counterintuitive at first – but this gives it plenty of longevity.

Patchwork2. Patchwork

I really wasn’t expecting to like a game about sewing buttons on a patchwork quilt, but this one has really grown on me over the years.  It’s a short, two-player game that has a lot more strategy to it than first appears.

Players take turns to select a piece of patchwork that costs a certain number of buttons (which are victory points) and a certain amount of time.  If you run out of time, your game is over, but the other player can continue taking pieces until they run out time.  You then have to fit your chosen piece, Tetris-style, onto your patchwork quilt.

There’s a little bit of engine building as you increase your button income throughout the game, but the tension between spending victory points and spending time to acquire pieces is perfectly pitched.  Some pieces are definitely better than others, depending on your situation, but figuring out which ones they are is tricky!  It’s so well thought-out.

Hanabi1. Hanabi

Where would a Top 10 list be without Hanabi?  My favourite game full stop, this packs a huge punch for its size.  It’s a co-operative card game that doesn’t allow you to see your own cards!  You can see everyone else’s cards and you have to give clues to them to get as many cards played into the middle as possible.

The thing I love most about it is the subtle communication required.  You are very limited in the clues you can give, so you really need to think carefully for each one.  Every time someone gives you a clue you end up thinking, “What do they really mean with that clue?”

I play with a set of conventions that allows for much more sophisticated communication than you’d expect just looking at the rules and it’s been great experimenting and developing the set of conventions that we think work best.  If you’re looking to invest a bit of time in a deep, strategic card game, this one pays dividends.  It’s fantastic!

Can you think of any small games that I haven’t mentioned that would be in your Top 10 Small Games?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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