So often you see reviewers on the internet comparing the value of a game to a trip to the movies for a family of four and as the prices of the games they are reviewing rise, so do the optional extras for that movie trip, adding popcorn, petrol, babysitting and Robert Downey Jr.’s residual checks to make the maths work out.
So I took a quick look through my own games collection to see what ten great games I could find that actually do cost less than the price of my own recent cinema visit costing eleven of your british pounds.
So here we go, in alphabetical order because all of these games are great.
Braggart is a little card game that costs around £9 Gameslore. The second edition of the game, which is the one you can buy right now, has a few additional rules and balance tweaks but either offer a fun experience.
In Braggart you play as characters in a fantasy pub telling tall tales of your exploits. The player who tells the best tale scores the most points. All of this is achieved with cards, depicting the various story elements in comically drawn images. Players begin the round by drafting new cards from a face up row and then players in turn order, either boast, by playing cards to the table or go to the bar and draw more cards.
When a player boasts they must play a foe and deed but can optionally add scenes and results to increase the strength of their boast. The other players however can call them out by playing liar cards and swapping out story cards to change the boast. In this way you go from “Mightily slaying a fearsome dragon” to “Wetting yourself in fear of the village chicken.”
This game boasts laugh out loud moments as players string together unlikely, comical, or even saucy stories, which can be enhanced by players adding their own roleplaying and storytelling to the narrative. It’s not the most strategic game and repeat plays will lessen the laughter overtime, but it's one that any game group will get a kick out of for less than the price of a movie ticket.
So, Citadels currently has two versions available on the market, so this is a bit of a cheat, because the version that you can get for a tenner is the Classic version and there’s nothing wrong with the classic version, it’s the version I own and have played dozens of times, but if I were to actually be looking to pick this one up I’d likely spring for the pricier revised edition which has nicer artwork and three times the content.
However, Citadels is a game of role selection and city building where all the players are competing to build the best city by having varied districts and high scoring buildings. This is done by players drafting cards from a common pool of roles secretly. Each role grants that player a special power, perhaps they gain more money, or can build more cards, or perhaps they can assassinate other players or steal their cash.
Because the roles are drafted in secret and in turn order, each player has different information about exactly what roles are in the round and this leads to bluffing and doublethink which makes Citadels a tense and exciting experience.
Love Letter is a classic “micro game”. These games utilise a minimum number of components, but pack a relatively deep experience. In Love Letter’s case there are 18 cards and a handful of tokens. Love Letter has more editions than perhaps any other game outside of monopoly, so you really can take your pick of theme. For me classic Love Letter however holds a special place in my heart and in particular the z-man games deluxe edition which plays up to 6.
In Love Letter players are each dealt a single card. On their turn they draw a card and then must play one of the two cards in their hand. If they play the princess for any reason they are eliminated from the game. The game ends when one player remains in the game or the deck runs out and the player holding the highest card wins.
Love Letter is a game of bluffing and deduction as players try to work out how best to eliminate their opponents around the table. And while this is a game of player elimination, the rounds are so short that everyone will be back playing in a few minutes. Love Letter is such a clever game in such a small package and you owe it to yourself to try it out.
Ohanami is available right now in German on amazon for £9.98 and the game is entirely language independent so it absolutely qualifies for this list.
Ohanami is played over 3 rounds, each round a new scoring condition is added to the game. In round one only blue cards score for 3 points each, in round two green cards score for 4 and in round three grey cards for 7. However, the previous scoring rules remain in effect, so a blue card played in turn one is worth 9 points, while the same card played in round 3 would only be worth 3.
Each player is trying to build a japanese garden by playing out cards in front of them. Each player has three gardens but can only play cards into a garden that are of a higher or lower numerical value than all the cards already in that garden. As you play out more cards you limit your options to play until eventually you might no longer be able to add cards to your gardens at all.
The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner. This game is so serene, with its gorgeous artwork and a stately play pace that it feels more like a zen relaxation activity than a game. But with it’s simple rules and tough tactical choices, this make a great next step game for players that like traditional card games and want to venture into the board gaming hobby.
Rhino Hero comes in at a mere £7.99 and really brings some table presence with it. In this simple card stacking game from Haba, players are looking to get rid of all the cards from their hand, they do this by stacking them into the tower in the centre of the board. Each card you play dictates how the next player must add their cards to the tower, as well as whether they need to move Rhino Hero.
The Rhino Hero meeple is a little wooden pawn that is moved up the tower, adding some serious weight to one side or the other, unbalancing the structure as players try their best to keep the tower from toppling.
The first player to get rid of all their cards or to be holding the fewest cards when the tower inevitably collapses is the winner of the game.
Rhino Hero, while primarily a kids game, works just as well with adults. The tension ratchets up as the tower grows and everyone loves to watch the whole thing come crashing back down to earth. For me, while Rhino Hero is a fun experience, the gameplay is a little too lucky and unbalanced, so I’d probably recommend Rhino Hero Super Battle instead, if you have the budget, but both are still in my collection.
Stak Bots is an excellent little card game that comes in three different flavours. Technically they can be played as standalone decks but I’d recommend new comers start with the Grey deck before moving on to either Red or Yellow. Stak Bots comes in at £9 and you can pick up all three decks from Dogeared Games directly for £22.
Stak Bots is a direct conflict game of tactical card combat. Each player has a stak of delightful robotic battlers, each of which has a strength and a special power. On their turn a player draws a new card and then can attack, play new bots, or scrap cards from their staks. When a player’s stak runs out they are defeated and the last player standing is the winner.
While the basic card play of Stak Bots is fun, the game really comes to life when you start to play with the module toggles. Our personal favourite way to play is dual Stak mode, which increases the number of options and choices on your turn dramatically, as well as the robotic carnage. However, the designer has introduced over 60 ways to play meaning Stak Bots is incredibly varied and there’s always new types of game play to explore.
While this game might look like it was drawn by a toddler with access to clipart, it is actually a very endearing design that can be zany and random, but with a deeply cutthroat streak a mile wide.
Like with Citadels, Sushi Go is a little bit of a cheat. While you can pick up this superb little card game from Gamewright for around £10, the best way to play the game is actually Sushi Go Party which triples the content for double the price.
Sushi Go is a drafting game from famed designer Phil Walker Harding. Players are attempting to draft sets of sushi items to score the most points. Each turn a player drafts a card from their hand before passing the cards to the next player. When all the cards have been drafted the round is scored. After three rounds, the player with the most points is the winner.
Sushi Go is so incredibly simple, but still offers enough choices to make it an interesting filler, even for hardened gamers, but one that can be enjoyed by younger children and grandparents too.
The Crew barely needs an introduction, as the winner of the converted Spiel Des Jahres in 2020, however you can grab this award winning card game for the princely sum of £11.50 at the time of going to press. While “The Quest for Planet 9” is the edition that has garnered the laurel wreaths of fame and fortune, the follow up edition “Mission Deep Sea” is the current critical darling.
In either edition of the game you play as members of a crew, working together to solve a mission with limited communication. While this sounds cool and thematic, the Crew is basically a trick taking game, like whist or hearts, but instead of competing with each other players are working cooperatively. Each mission has a set of goals that increase in difficulty as the game progresses. These goals basically revolve around the order in which certain cards can be won in tricks and by whom.
The Crew then is like someone took whist and added an xbox style achievement system. Games are quick and easy, especially if you already know how trick taking games work, and as you work through the missions the game keeps delivering harder and harder challenges.
Wolfgang Warsch’s The Mind stretches the definition of “game” to it’s very limits. This is barely an activity but it is addictive. In The Mind, players cooperatively try to play cards from their hands in ascending order. But they do it by communicating only through the power of psychic thought.
That’s right, The Mind is basically a guessing game of who is holding what cards. Sure the rules claim that if the players really concentrate their minds will sync up and they’ll be able to flawlessly predict when to play their cards, but it’s actually just sheer luck!
When I pulled this one out at a recent game night it was with a certain amount of trepidation, but it was actually very well received, with multiple repeat plays being requested. Is it a game that you need in your collection? Probably not, but it is one that might surprise you.
Closing out this list we have possibly the smallest and cheapest game on the list. You could buy Timeline and still have enough cash left over for a bag of popcorn and a bottle of fizzy pop.
Timeline is a very simple game, each player is dealt four cards and they must play them face up to the table in the correct chronological order. First player to get rid of all their cards is the winner. The cards are played to a central timeline and as the game progresses the game grows more difficult as the timeline grows longer and the gaps between events become shorter.
Knowing if Terminator was released after man discovers fire is easy enough, but was it before or after Rocky? Timeline boasts a whole slew of flavours to get excited about, Inventions, British History, Music and Cinema and they can all be mixed and matched for a more varied experience. Pop this one in your pocket and play it anywhere, with any one, in 5 minutes or less!
Honourable Mention - Mijnlieff
Andy Hopwood’s award winning classic abstract game, comes in at a few bob more than the price of a cinema ticket, but it smells fantastic. Mijnlieff has its roots in games like tic tac toe, but it is so much more than that.
This two player abstract is about trying to make lines of your own pieces, while preventing your opponent from doing the same. The trick is though that each piece you play dictates how your opponent must play on their turn. Straights and diagonals allow your opponent to play in line with your piece, while pushers and pullers either prevent or require your opponent to play next to you.
Games of Mijnlieff are quick and simple, yet full of crunchy, thinky decision points. Plus the game can be taught in under a minute as we prove in this video!
What great games in your collection cost less than a trip to the movies? Let us know down in the comments.