Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 6 Thinky Filler Games

Kudos to Edward and Amanda over at Heavy Cardboard for covering their own Top 6 Thinky Filler Games. I loved hearing about a good number of games that I hadn’t played yet, and have at least one of them that I am definitely going to be checking out here in the near future. It got me to thinking about my own set of filler games in my collection and which ones would be classifiable under their criteria:

  1. A game you wouldn’t normally go seeking to play at a game night
  2. A game playable in under 45 minutes (roughly)

The first of these is the biggest weight for the criteria, and rules out more games than I expected. I also had to consider the likely playtime at higher counts than 2-players with games that play more than 2. This might be a list I choose to revisit every year or so, with so many games out there that I haven’t played. There are two games on here that are, arguably, fringe games. There is some gray area, but they both should fall in these two categories. Even though I really enjoy them, I wouldn’t go to a game night just to play one of them.

Honorable Mention: Biblios – This game came so close to being in the top list, but I had to draw the line somewhere and I felt my one play of Hanamikoji simply presented far more meaningful decisions than this one. I love Biblios and the choices presented as you look at each card, but a fair amount of luck plays a factor because you simply don’t know what the next cards you’re looking at will be. The two phases of this game work well together to present a nice amount of depth, as you want to prepare for the auction in the first half of the game. And then, once the auction comes around, you need to be wise in your purchases so that you hold the majority in a few colors without overspending to get them. I always enjoy playing this game because it rarely feels like playing a filler, something you’ll hear me mention often when it comes to games like the others on this list.

6. Hanamikoji – Full disclosure: I’ve played this game only one time so far. But in that one play I was able to experience the depth of the decisions contained in this game. It is, without question, the best of what I’d consider to be a “micro game” in terms of the number of cards/components. I really love the tough decisions that come with having four actions at your disposal and the need to play each of them once per round. The order in which you do those actions will dictate how the rest of the round can play out for you, as each turn you get one more card into your hand. Having a secret card adds some uncertainty about who will end up with a majority on that number/color. Removing two cards from the round amplifies that uncertainty. And the other seven cards that end up in your hand? You’ll only play four of them on your side, and your opponent will get three of them. The more I reflect on the actions in this game, the more I love them. This is a game that may leap higher on this list as soon as I get some more plays of it.

5. Eight Minute Empire: Legends – This game certainly doesn’t play in eight minutes, but it falls firmly in the filler category. There are so many simple elements in this game, yet they combine together to present an excellent overall experience that contains more depth and requires more thought than you’d expect. In fact, it wasn’t until I sat down and wrote my review of the game that I fully understood how much I enjoyed this game. This game provides an experience that is bigger than the box would indicate, yet does so with such simple mechanics to where almost anyone can play the game and feel like they are doing well. The points are so hard to come by in this game that you feel like every turn’s decision matters, and your pool of coins are limited to where you really need to be wise about when to make that splash purchase that costs 2 or 3 of your coins.

4. The Speicherstadt – This game is deceptive. The name is clunky and funky to those of us in America. The board doesn’t looks that fantastic, and the coins feel like cardboard with some stickers on them, much like those gold coin chocolate candies. The theme is far from memorable. Yet in spite of all of these things, this game blew me away the first time I tried it. So much so that the next time I brought my wife to a game night, I insisted she try that game (thankfully someone different brought their copy of it that time). It isn’t a game I’d go to a game night to play (although I’d gladly play it if this was being set up…depending on what else is being set up at the time), and it definitely can be played in 45 minutes with a set of people who know what they are going and are not prone to AP. The decisions you have to make in this game are so hard. Money is tight. Your meeples are few. The cards you’ll want to buy are many, but you can only have a shot to buy a few of them. And the meeple placement to drive up the price is s stroke of pure brilliance. This is the game where I went from winning with enough points that I “went off the board” because it didn’t go high enough, to losing with negative points on my next play. And I had a really good time both times, enjoying the thinky nature of this game.

3. Battle Line – I had a really hard time placing this game. I had it wavering between #2-4, and ultimately decided to place it in the middle of the list. It was a game on Edward’s on list at Heavy Cardboard, and I couldn’t agree more with what he said about the game. There is so much potential to get in your opponent’s head in this game when placing out cards as they’ll start to wonder if you have those exact cards you’d need in order to capture that flag. The tactics cards are an added element that allow you to break the rules in some ways and also enable you to have extra of a certain number or color if needed, should you get the right card. Yet you also can’t hold them, because the flag can be lost if your opponent can prove there is no card in the Troop deck that can provide the victory. I expressed my love for this game in my recent review of it, and this will remain my favorite 2-player-only filler when I want to pull out a game that makes me think.

2. Kingdom Builder – This is the game that could be argued against placing on this list. After all, this one comes in a big box. But, in my opinion, it definitely fits the criteria listed before: playable in 45-ish minutes and a game you wouldn’t go to a game night to play. I’d certainly play it while at a game night, but it wouldn’t be that feature game I’d want to spend my evening playing. I really love this game, and the limitation of one card in your hand is part of what adds to the thinky nature of this game (which is one of the things I discussed at greater length in my review). Your placement, especially in the first rounds of the game, dictates how your game will play out in many of your games. Deciding which power(s) to go after first is vital, and will either help or hinder your game. Having three scoring conditions, which change from play to play, add replay value and also influence your placement both early and late in the game. There will be the occasional game where a bad string of draws can hamper your late game, but the majority of plays with this game end up being a near-ideal thinky filler.

1. The King is Dead – This is the benchmark that all future fillers will be weighed against. I taught this game to two friends. We immediately played it again and the game was intense. Silent filled the room as we weighed each action and its possible repercussions. With only eight actions available over the course of the entire game, and the removal of a cube from the board every time a player takes an action, this game takes the area control genre and flips it in a way that I positively love. What action you choose matters. When you play it matters. What cube you remove and from where matters. This game can be as thinky as you want it to be, and with the right three people this is a fantastic game to play. Yet it can also be taken as a “lighter” game if you want to play it a little more casually with someone who isn’t as intense about finding that right time to play the card from their hand. It works fine with two, as mentioned in my review, but is best with three. Any time I need a 3-player filler this will be one I’ll consider pulling out because it is that good and that fun.

So there you have it, my top 6 (actually 7) thinky filler games. They aren’t nearly as heavy as some of the ones on Edward and Amanda’s list, but there are some here that I think would give a really good, heavy experience when played. Much bigger than you’d expect to get out of a filler.

What are some of your favorite thinky filler games?

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