10 of the Best Underrated Games

15 April 2024
With so many board games released every year, there are so many hidden gems which can get missed or don't get the recognition they deserve from tabletop gamers. Join us as we highlight a few of those underrated games that have kept us playing over the years.

Written by Chris Lowry 

Every year thousands of new games are released. Even here at Tabletop Gaming, where we review hundreds of them, it can be difficult to keep track of the brightest and best titles - let alone gems from the past that everyone else has missed! It's understandable, then, that some truly great games (often smaller, indie games) may go under the radar and left unrewarded by the critics. 

1. Sol 

Sol - So we've ruined the sun, and now there’s a rapidly diminishing time left before the solar system is uninhabitable? Great! In Sol you compete to delve deep into the sun’s core, generating enough power to escape; yet doing so further hastens the demise of our mother star! It's a chunky, satisfying competitive euro, with a beautiful companion booklet completely nailing the theme. Out of print for several years, there was a recent and very successful repeat Kickstarter earlier this year; watch out for this one.


Content continues after advertisements

2. Cairn

Cairn - I don’t like Chess much. It feels too studied, too much like a competition on who can memorise procedure. Cairn ticks many similar boxes, but also has a funky action flip that makes planning very difficult. When you take one of the three moves; you flip over the move tile, presenting an opposite action to your opponent. So if someone plays a piece onto a white tile, the next use of that action must be onto a black tile; if a piece moves diagonally, the next move will be orthogonal. Even the point scoring flips, changing between two different win conditions, and megaliths are placed on the board each time a player scores, adding a new rule or ability. Cairn combines these elements to make a duelling tussle that has the freshness of responding to luck, but is entirely triggered by your opponent’s choices.


3. Star Saga

Star Saga - For the fans of dungeon crawlers, but who like a little more sci-fi in their sandwich, you could do a lot worse than Star Saga. It comes with oodles of miniatures which can be used in other Mantic games (especially the incredible Deadzone). It also has an excellent solo mode, added years before the idea became mainstream, and several expansions adding new adventures and letting you build your own varied escapades. The mercenary skill and equipment advancement is fast and flavoured enough to bring an enjoyable extra element to campaign play, and you can play it co-operatively or with one player running the dungeon against everyone else.


You can buy the Space Alert board game from Amazon

4. Space Alert

Space AlertThese days Czech Games Edition are probably most well known for Codenames, plus the evergreen Galaxy Trucker, but one of their earliest titles is a oft-overlooked treasure. Space Alert is a thoroughly unique game that’s aged well and still has plenty of madcap charm. Similar in some ways to Captain Sonar, players work as a team to operate a space ship, but here the challenge is in operating a ridiculously idiosyncratic machine whilst taking precise actions in time order. You can try to fire the lasers at the aliens, sure; but did anyone remember to power up the reactor last turn so there's actually any energy to power the guns? The chaos unleashed after the real-time element finishes is always hilarious, and the rulebook is a work of creative comedy genius all its own.


You can buy the Space Alert board game from Amazon

5. Acquire

Acquire is a venerable old game (see our BGG The First Ten article on page 10) but it frankly deserves the space in every home where a Boring-opoly variant currently sits. Players compete to buy shares in companies, whilst placing tiles one-by-one on a shrinking commercial market. It pays to be the majority owner - sometimes it’s even worth buying shares in a company you know will get junked the very next turn! It might sound like a drawn out 18xx experience, but it's actually fast, tight and plays the same length with 2 or 6 players. Acquire is fifty years old now; if you haven’t played it you need to, there’s no excuse.


You can buy the Acquire board game from Amazon

6. QE

QE stands for “Quantitative Easing” - if you recognise the term, it dates you to having political awareness back in the 2008 financial crisis. It refers to Governments printing money to plug short-term economic woes. In the game you act as different governments, buying out companies in a blind bidding process with no ceiling or real funds required. Want to bet £300? Fine. Want to bet £7 billion trillion? Also fine. The only penalty in the game is that whoever spends the most overall goes bust. I've never played a game where you can accidentally promise more than the GDP of the entire earth and still lose an auction.


You can buy the QE board game from Amazon

7. Lords of War

Lords of War is an utterly out-of-print card game that pits Warhammer versus Chess in a paper-based format. Play cards onto a 2D grid, each with a rank and attack direction, whilst trying to kill elite leaders or a larger number of rank-and-file troops. Superbly designed, with a perfect blend of strategy and the type of luck that requires you to adapt to situations, it sadly got lawyer-bombed by a large Nottingham based company and disappeared without a trace. That said, game packs are still available in stores across the UK, and you literally only need a single box to play - you should pick it up whilst you still can.

8. Shoot for the Stars

Shoot for the Stars
Big Potato releases around 500 party games every year, and it might have been easy to pass over Shoot for the Stars; that would have been a mistake. It’s a trivia game that’s widely accessible without being childishly easy - “How many Prime Ministers have had names beginning with G” or “How many smarties will fit in an empty baked bean tin” - and combines it with a very inclusive betting system; select between “I'm out, this is too high”, “I think it's a higher number…” or “Not sure, I'll stay in and see if you were right”. Allowing players to ride on the coat-tails of the winner (or loser) keeps everyone engaged. It’s short, snappy and impossible to be a know-it-all at - I've never had a game outstay its welcome.

You can buy Shoot for the Stars via Amazon 

9. Dawn of the Zeds

Dawn of the Zeds - I got the second edition of Dawn of the Zeds, back when Victory Point Games still laser-burned their own games. I was living in rural Africa, and it was a breath of crunchy, thematic solo zombie genius. We used to call titles like this “Ameritrash”, after a largely USA approach of mechanics built heavily around telling a story. The genre had its downsides, but I usually found them earnestly charming, and this is an example of one of the real successes of the movement. Is it the only game to let you use a dog as a Player Character against hordes of zombies? Not by a long way, but it’s definitely my favourite (Sorry, Dead of Winter!).

You can buy Dawn of the Zeds via Amazon 


10. Vineta

Vineta - I played Vineta once with some friends in 2014, then bought a copy and promptly forgot all about it… until this year! A shame, because it’s simple but brilliant; an island is sinking, each player has a colour of meeples and an area they want to save. Through a number of turns of blind betting, bluffing and unexpected card play, you eventually learn who was secretly green all along, somehow managing to save 5 of their people and crush everyone else. One of those where the magic is the interpersonal conflict generated by otherwise simplistic mechanics.


No comments