Small Box, Big Game!

For board gamers, there is little so precious as shelf space, that beautiful real estate that lets you know if you’ve got room for a lovely new game. As game boxes seemingly continue to get bigger and bigger, it’s time to give a shout out to some of the real heroes of a collection, the small boxes that still pack a big punch.

THE RED CATHEDRAL


Publishers Devir are 100% committed to the good fight. They’ve released a series of great games that could easily have justified a bigger box but have stuck to their guns and put them all in their super shelf friendly ones instead. The latest of these to get rave reviews is “The White Castle” which looks fantastic but I’m yet to play that so instead I’ll follow the colour & building naming strategy and instead turn your attention to The Red Cathedral. This is a proper chunky bit of heavy Euro game goodness that uses dice drafting from a rondel to get the resources you need to build the titular Red Cathedral (it’s that famous building in Moscow that’s in all the   films)

It’s definitely not an entry level game but the difficulty level is nicely balanced, the rules are pretty easy to pick up but with good strategic depth. Great art, great components and the chance to impress Ivan the Terrible with your building skills, what’s not to like?

AGE OF GALAXY

Look, it’s not a catchy name, is it, but the follow up to Age of Civilization (which is where the title comes from) shoots for the moon and isn’t far off landing it. The designers went all out to take on one of the biggest boxes on the market, the space 4X games like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse, and shrink it right down to pocket size. And truly, it’s a tiny box! You’d barely fit three mice in there, and mice are smaller than you remember.

I’d taken “Age of Galaxy” on a holiday with some pals, purely because of how small it is, but we were super impressed when we got it to the table. In it you’ll take on different alien races all spending their space cubes on different actions. Each turn a new sector of the galaxy is revealed with new planets to explore. Combat is sparse but effective but the real meat of the game is in finding weird combos with your hand of cards and those oh-so-important but oh-so-rare space cubes.

If you want to head to space to build a golden age of science, and maybe shoot some things, all in a box that is almost too small, then you’ll love the badly named but very fun game, “Age of Galaxy”

SET A WATCH


Of all the games to take up shelf and table space, dungeon crawlers are surely the biggest culprits.

Behemoths of games boxes, these things spill over with plastic dragons and vast expansions in distant lands you’ll probably never get around to playing. This is a shame, as they are amongst my favourite games but Gloomhaven and Oathsworn alone could sink a ship. Step forward “Set A Watch” which scratches the itch perfectly and all neatly in a box whose lid doubles as the game board (who doesn’t love that?)

In it you’ll pick a team of four classic fantasy adventure heroes and look to survive a series of waves of enemy attacks. It’s fully coop, the enemies are all cards that explain what they do, you roll dice, assign them either to powers or as direct damage, and any creatures you don’t smite go into the pile for the big final fight. The characters work differently enough that you definitely have to make plans together around the table – sure, you could Chaos Blast that bear, but what if the Beastmaster trained him to fight the goblins further away?

When I first played it I was fooled by the box size into thinking it would be a quick, throwaway game but there’s some real decision making and long term planning involved in surviving it to the end. Random enemy card draw can see you sometimes wiped out turn two or sweep to a fairly comfortable win, but the journey is always good fun. The third and final expansion just landed on my doorstep THIS WEEK.

The expansions are very much a “more of the same” vibe so really you only need that first one but I’m excited to see what new powers we get to wield, and better yet, I don’t need to swap anything out on my shelf to fit it in!

CITADELS

This game will always hold a place in my heart as one of the ones that got me into the hobby. It’s an old
game now by modern standards but I still love it.

In Citadels you’ll be competing to build the most impressive medieval city state. At the heart of it is a brilliantly simple hidden role mechanic, every player will secretly take a card which is who they are this turn and gives them the special action of that card, be it get more money build more buildings or, crucially, assassinate or steal from another player… if only they can work out exactly which card the player they want to stop has chosen. This all leads to some brilliantly dramatic reveals when it turns out the merchant wasn’t even in the game that round or, better yet, the architect has been foiled, again!

Games are short, rules are simple and strategies are fairly light, but I think it sneaks in as a big game only because I can and have played it multiple times late, late into the night. A bigger box version was actually released but the publishers have realised their error and gone back to a lovely shelf friendly version.

 

And finally, because they’re only little, let’s squeeze two more quick ones in!

A beloved civilisation building card game with, I kid you not, art so bad you’ll make a strange noise when you see it, INNOVATION sees you try and build up from prehistoric times up to the space age all via strange, endless combos of weird tech. Archery, pottery and lasers? Will that be the winning combo? It’s quite a daft game at times but with huge depths of strategy and replay-ability, just, you’ve been fair warned about the artwork. And it would be amiss, nay grossly negligent of us to not tip a hat to the TINY EPIC series of games that have many different iterations, spanning space, dungeons and dinosaurs to name a few, all aiming for the big game small box experience. Their hit rate can be a bit up and down but TINY EPIC GALAXIES is well loved and TINY EPIC DUNGEONS can feel like a proper old school dungeon crawler.

Written by Tom Bell.

If you want to pick up any of these games, check if they’re in stock at Zatu. Buying them there supports No Rolls Barred via our affiliate partnership. Read more here.