Here’s a huge secret: not all board games work for all people. If you’re not entirely new to the hobby, it must have happened to you: you just came home from the store, with that huge box game that everybody around you, from your favorite hobby youtuber to your grandma’s new boyfriend, has been raving about. It was expensive, but it was most likely worth it…? Everybody loves the game, so what could go wrong, right?
It turns out, a lot could go wrong. After years in the board gaming hobby, I can say that “seals of approval” of my favorite reviewers only guarantee that the game is not a pure cash grab. Whether it will work for me and my gaming group is a completely different story.
And a game working for you or not, depends on a huge amount of factors. It can be your personal taste with some genres or mechanics, it can be your mood (or board game fatigue) at the time you tried the game, or maybe it simply didn’t click for the group you tried it with.
Bottom line, the list below is very personal. It’s not trying to be a judgement of the quality of these games (this list, after all, is also based on the popularity of these games, so I know for a fact that they have a huge fan base), or of the reviewers who convinced me to try the games (same reason. Given the praise these games receive, they are objectively good).
If anything, this is just a strong reminder that averages, rankings, reviews, etc… should only be used as another hint for your next board game purchase, but should definitely not be your only decision factor.
The list below is in no specific order, although I can say the very last one was probably my biggest disappointment of them all, simply because of the contrast between the praises the game has received, and my actual experience.
1. Dominion and 7 wonders
Alright, these two games have nothing in common, so why am I lumping them together? It’s very simple: I bought these two games at the same time, when my wife and I were looking for something fun to do at home on rainy days. I practically knew nothing about board games at the time (except for maybe a bit of experience with Catan, Magic the gathering, and extensive tabletop RPG experience in my youth), and I don’t even remember how I got the recommendation. But I seem to recall both were recommended to me as very solid gateway games for beginners.
We tried Dominion first. My wife, who’s usually not a gamer, won easily. I had no clue what I was doing. I actually loved the experience. I could sense there was a lot of exciting strategies to learn and get good at the game. But, somehow, that was the only time we ever played. Being the gamer of the two of us, I tried not to push too much for games. I was hoping my wife would be the one asking to play again, but that never came (yes, explanation coming below!).
As far as 7 wonders was concerned, I opened the box, read the rules, then packed it back, to never open it again. It looked exciting, but also way too complex for us.
I promised myself we would play these games again, but shortly after that, we got our first kid. Then more followed. And these two boxes collected dust, as my wife and I simply didn’t find the time to play games together again, for a long time.
The games are not to blame in this case. I’m sure 7 wonders and Dominion are great games (although to be clear they left that bitter taste of a time of my life where I had zero time, so I never tried them again), but we tried them at the worst possible timing, right before the birth of our first kid. The next time we would end up playing board games together again was when I decided to find some we could enjoy with the kids as well, 5 or 6 years later.
So, yeah, bitter memory for 7 wonders and Dominion. The games are not to blame, obviously, but this is an example I love, to emphasize that sometimes, a board game not working for you is simply a matter of timing/where you are in life.
2. The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth
My gaming “group” of 2 tried Journeys in Middle Earth shortly after we were done with our Gloomhaven campaign. We were looking for another campaign-style game, and the game was getting glowing reviews. At the time of this writing it sits at number 90 on Boardgamegeek, so it’s clearly a loved game, by none other than Fantasy Flight.
After playing 3 (or was it 4?) missions, neither of us wanted to keep going. We found everything about this game pretty boring, and very generic under the LoTR veneer. (LotR itself, due to its success and being reused so much, also feels generic to me nowadays, tbh). The app integration was well done but somehow we didn’t like the feeling that we were doing half a video-game, half a board game.
I’ll have to say, the mechanics of Gloomhaven have spoiled dungeon crawler style games for us in a big way, and Journeys in Middle earth was our “rebound relationship” after we finished the Gloomhaven campaign. It’s not you, it’s me. But it’s you, too, behind all the app makeup, you’re very generic, sorry.
3. One Deck dungeon
One Deck Dungeon is not excessively highly ranked on boardgamegeek (rank 717 at the time of writing), but it’s a staple of the solo community, and it’s been recommended to me countless times. One Deck dungeon is a dungeon crawler/boss battle using a deck of cards for the dungeon/items and some dice to resolve combat.
When I first tried the game I was excited, and I truly enjoyed my first playthrough. But after dozens of sessions, I find that game to be tedious (too many dice), punishing in early levels, repetitive, and way, way too long for what it provides. In my experience, a two-player session lasts about 90 minutes, which in my opinion is 3 times what it should be. I’ve tried a 3-player session once, we stopped at the 3h mark, nobody enjoyed it.
The worst is that my 10 year old son loves this game. He keeps asking me to play the game, but that’s the one game in our collection for which I’ll unconditionally say “no”. There’s no way I’m subjecting myself to this pain again. For some reason I bought the expansion (Forest of Shadows), and it hasn’t helped in my experience. One Deck Dungeon quickly grew old for me.
I apologize to fans of the game. I think it would probably be ok (not great, but ok) if sessions didn’t last so long.
I was on the fence when I purchased Aerion, but the oniverse games are always showing up in rankings for solo gamers, and, being a huge fan of solo gaming, I decided to give it a try. I have to say I was definitely not a big fan of the art and the associated theme prior to trying it, but I was hoping good gameplay would compensate for that.
It did not. The gameplay of Aerion is pretty good, but I just really don’t appreciate the art of this game. As a result, my brain instantly ignores the theme and just focuses on the mechanics of the game, which is ok but not enough for me to be excited when I play this game.
Aerion is an ok game. It will probably stay in my collection. It’s just not one I’m super excited about, mostly because the art/theme doesn’t speak to me. I think Onirim could have been a better choice for me, but now I’m reluctant to spend more money on this specific series.
5. Aeon’s End/War Eternal/Aeon’s End Legacy
This one is a weird one to put in there because I’ve actually played the heck out of the Aeon’s war games with a good friend. I believe we’ve played All content and expansions for Aeon’s End, War Eternal, and Aeon’s End Legacy.
The Aeon’s End series is a good series of cooperative games, involving a boss battle and deck building. It has a few original concepts, in particular the fact that you do not shuffle the deck when refilling it from your discard, which makes discarding order pretty significant.
The disappointment for us with the Aeon’s end series was mostly that we didn’t want to replay it after having played each hero and/or villain once. In theory, the game has significant replayability given that you get different items in the market, and can pick different heroes to face a boss, but in practice the replayability comes mostly from the bosses in our experience, and facing one of them was not exciting enough that we wanted to replay it.
Another issue we had was playing Aeon’s end legacy, as it felt we were starting “lower” than a regular Aeon’s end game, only to level up progressively, in order to finally reach the level of regular mages in Aeon’s end. It’s like Aeon’s end legacy is a tutorial for Aeon’s end, which end roughly when you think it’s going to finally begin. Contrast that with Pandemic legacy, which starts as a regular Pandemic game, only to add layers of fun and complexity as time goes through.
Don’t get me wrong, we had some level of fun with Aeon’s End (except Legacy). But the replayability was not there for us, and after a total of roughly 15 hours of play, we shelved it. 15 hours of play is not bad, but considering this includes all games and all expansions, the “bang for your buck” value was not there for us.
Aeon’s end also suffered from comparison with the games we had played around that same time: gameplay wise, it didn’t compare well to our experiences with Gloomhaven and Arkham Horror LCG. Aeon’s end Legacy paled in comparison to Pandemic Legacy. As a deckbuilder with a strong theme, we preferred Alien Legacy Encounters.
6. A Feast for Odin
A Feast for Odin has been at the top of the rankings for several years now. At the time of this writing, it sits at number 22 on BoardGameGeek’s ranking.
A Feast For Odin was my first Euro game in a very long time, and certainly the first “heavy” one I ever played. I had tried Anachrony before that but never went pas reading the rules.
A Feast for Odin is an expensive game, but it looked big and promising. A disclaimer here that I only ever played it solo, because it’s regularly recommended as a great solo game (and I don’t know anybody who would want to play such a massive game with me).
Somehow it didn’t click for me. I never felt I was immersed in the theme, I felt the amount of choices was a bit artificial, and to be honest just playing to try to beat my own score grew old quickly. I’m certain this game shines with the right group of people, but as a solo experience it was disappointing for me.
I’ve since learned to appreciate other euro games as a solo player (Scythe being a recent example for me), when their theme appealed to me more than the viking one. It’s interesting how a theme applied to very similar mechanics can completely do or undo the experience for me.
I should probably revisit A Fest For Odin in the future, now that I have more Eurogame solo experience under my belt, but at the time I tried it, it really didn’t work for me. I was disappointed considering the price of the game, and sold it fairly quickly.
7. Magic the Gathering
I’ve played Magic the Gathering a lot, in my youth, and more recently, both in physical and digital form. The MTG Arena free-to-play program is a blast and “fun” to play if I’m in the right mood. MTG is probably the board game I’ve played the most in my life.
So how did it end up on this list? Two reasons:
First, I hate myself for the amount of money I’ve poured into the game, for the wrong reasons. I’ve bought lots of booster boxes, including collector ones, in the hope of getting “the” card out of a pack. Not that I had decks I wanted the card for, mind you. I just wanted the thrill of opening booster packs. And I hated that “gambler” attitude the game got out of me. I hated that I accumulated a bunch of useless cards that I will never play, that I cannot sell (nobody wants them), and that I somehow refuse to throw away. The game cost me an insane amount of money (by far more than any other game I own, even expensive Kickstarters) and uses too much shelf space. I hate myself for buying so much MTG content that I don’t use that much.
Secondly, I hate how I behave when I’m playing MTG, in particular on MTG Arena. It makes me angry to not reach the next ladder level, I get angry at my virtual opponents for losing my time every time I fall one rank, and I keep wanting to play, not necessarily because I enjoyed the game, but because I always want the next “reward”. I truly hate that aspect of me that MTG Arena reveals.
MTG is probably a great game. But to me, every time I come back to it, it feels like a nasty drug addiction I have to get rid of.
I kind of like Azul. It’s an ok game. And that’s why it’s in this list. Because the game gets so much praise left and right, the gap between that praise and my own experience is huge. I like it. I just don’t seem to see what other people see in it.
With that being said, I’ve been considering buying it for a while now, if only to verify whether my family will “see” that spark which seems to evade me about Azul.
That’s all I’ll have to say about Azul. I don’t dislike the game. It just let me with the feeling that it’s an ok game and that’s it.
9. Imperium Classics
I’m hesitant to put Imperium Classics on this list, as I have received it only a few weeks ago, and, I’ll be honest, I only played a couple of games (solo). The game has been touted as a “must have”, in particular for solo or 2-player games, in 2021, by so many reviews. I was hyped, and it’s a game I paid a lot to get my hands on, given that it was out of stock in many places.
This is another example of the game not living up to my own hype. I think the reviews are partly to blame here, but I should know myself by now. Imperium classics is probably a good game. It just doesn’t work for me. And I’ll probably write a full review after I’ve played it more, but in a few words:
The art, which so many reviewers have praised, is not one I’m a big fan of. It’s ok, I guess, but is not “great” to me, I don’t really like the cartoonish aspect. The gameplay is fine, but I feel like there are many things happening that don’t amount to “much” in the end game. Picking one card over another in the market doesn’t seem like it’s going to make a huge difference in my gameplay. The solo AI is fine but I don’t feel like I can interact with it much. But, above all else, the game is a table hog and overstays its welcome by a good 30 minutes in my experience. What should be a 45-60 minutes affair can go on for 1h30, sometimes 2h. And that’s playing solo or 2 players! I can’t imagine how long it would be with 4 players.
To be honest, this game could turn into a big positive surprise once I have a few more games under my belt. Or, it could turn into once of my worst disappointments of the year.
10. Sleeping Gods
Let’s be transparent here, Sleeping Gods is the reason I created this list, and the reason for this article.
I have rarely been so disappointed in a game that had all the features of something I should love. Exploration, combat, long (15h+) campaign, cooperative game, great looking art (for me), strong theme of adventure… wow!
I’m not sure where to begin, so I’ll go with the longest lasting bitter taste that game left in my mouth: in the 15 hours we played, the game felt like a cycle of doing one uninteresting quest to retrieve a useless item or 2 gold coins, followed by 2 to 3 turns of trying to rest to get the crew operational again, spending the item or coins we just got (and, more often than not, actually spending more than what we just made). Every single useful action in this game costs resources that are really hard to get, whether it’s crew health, coins, planks to repair the ship, or food. We were stumbling from one place to another, just trying to stay afloat (literally and figuratively). Toward the end, we were begging the game to end our misery and just kill us, but that’s surprisingly difficult to achieve, as the game manages to constantly let our crew live just enough to survive to the next round, but not in a way that we are strong enough to actually succeed at most challenges.
Each battle against an opponent would leave half of our crew exhausted, with negative statuses such as poison, and ad close to no health. It costs money and time to get their health back, but getting money usually requires to take some specific actions that exhaust the characters again.
The quests, and the writing, were hinting at some grandiose story ark which never really happened. As somebody mentioned in a review, Sleeping Gods is a game of side quests, which to us were not interesting. We are not the heroes of that story, just random NPCs being pushed from one dumb mission to another.
Another thing needs to be said for the rulebook. After 15 hours of play, we still constantly had to refer to the rulebook, and found it very tedious to look for any kind of information.
We stopped right in the middle of our campaign, after 5 sessions. Nobody in our play group is interested in playing Sleeping Gods ever again.
I’ll leave with some quotes I found on BGG ratings, which echo my feelings about the game:
“We played for many hours and the promise of cool things stills feels like it lurks below the surface – but I’m too tired to keep digging”
“Combat is long and arduous, majority of the game is just a grind, and I never got into the story.”
“enjoy Grind: The Boardgame for the next several hours, as you limp your exhausted crew and mangled ship from one critical carrot and wood plank to the next. If you do this for five hours, you *might* by total luck stumble across a totem.”
“Combat is tedious and goes along perfectly with the rest of the “treading water” gameplay. You just spend all of your resources and hope to deal enough damage. After combat you have to go back to trying to build up resources again. Boring, repetitive, tedious.”
Writing this list has given me another kind of “epiphany”. The nature of this hobby, which brings a mix of mechanics, arts, themes, and social interaction, makes it very difficult to always be sure you chose a game that will work for you, and very easy to make purchases you will regret. I don’t think there is an easy way around “trying to see if I’ll like it”. As a result, it’s probably always a great idea to try a game (at your local club, or on Tabletop simulator, see it played on youtube etc…) before you splurge. I know that for me though, it’s always a bit of a pain to see spoilers before buying a game (in particular with campaign games, or games you can only play once).
Which board games that were a letdown for you, considering the praises they got from the community? Let us know in the comments below.