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There are a lot of board games out there today. There’s a board game for almost any combination of theme and gameplay you can think of, from a deckbuilder about sneaking your way around a dragon’s lair to a heavy, hours-long strategic game about running a fast food franchise - and everything in-between.
The number of games available to play mean that many of them inevitably overlap in one way or another, be it in terms of rules, setting or theme. Everyone’s played at least one fantasy dungeon-crawler with the classic human/elf/dwarf/wizard party and a game about surviving the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu mythos, right?
Most unique board games
- Q.E.: Bid any amount - but not too much! - in this one-of-a-kind auction game.
- Millennium Blades: Open boosters, build decks and trade for powerful cards to win tournaments in a unique simulation of the trading card game hobby.
- The Mind: A card game that lets you form a psychic connection? There’s nothing like The Mind.
- Nyctophobia: Escape a killer in the terrifying horror game you play without sight.
- The Perfumer: Sniff out a victory from real smells in this fragrant board game.
- Magic Maze: Race against the clock to rob a fantasy shopping mall and without speaking a word in a co-op game like no other.
- Yeti in the House: Hide-and-seek gets an inventive update in this charming and utterly original game.
But among the thousands of familiar releases are a number of board games that are like no other. The most unique board games combine truly original gameplay with settings that break the well-cast mould. That could be something completely unexpected, or a fresh twist on something you’ve seen before - either way, the result is a distinct, one-of-a-kind experience.
We’ve gathered together seven such experiences that are among the most unique board games you can play. They vary wildly, from an auction game where anything goes to games that deliberately take away your sight and speech. The one thing they have in common is that they’re unlike anything you’ve ever played before.
An auction game like no other, where you can bid anything you want (yes, anything)
Auctions, in life and in games, are relatively simple. There’s something for sale, and each person has the chance to bid the highest amount they want - or can afford. Deciding whether to stick to your guns in a bidding war comes down to what you think the thing for auction is worth, but also whether you can even afford to offer that amount.
But what if there was no limit to what you could afford? That’s the question posed by Q.E., an auction game like no other. In this highly unique board game, players bid on companies worth different victory points at the end of the game. The trick? The players are national banks, so they can bid literally any amount of money. After all, if they need more cash, they can just print it.
Of course, there is a downside to bidding big. Although you can write any amount - from pence and cents to billions and trillions - to triumph at auction, if you’re the player who spent the most money at the end of the game you can’t win, no matter how many victory points you have.
If that wasn’t unique enough, designer Gavin Birnbaum originally released Q.E. - which stands for the much less catchy Quantitative Easing - as a limited-edition set of handmade wooden boards and pieces. Since then it’s seen a wider release as a more conventional boxed game, though its gameplay remains just as singular.
2. Millennium Blades
A trading card game simulator that’s as unique and engrossing as its inspiration
In trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, playing the game is only part of the appeal. Players spend just as many - if not more - hours customising their decks, collecting rare and valuable cards from booster packs, and learning the latest game-winning trends of the competitive scene, known as the meta.
Millennium Blades isn’t a trading card game. Instead, it’s a board game about trading card games - every aspect, both on and off the table. In the game, players are collectors of Millennium Blades, a Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon-like fictional trading card game that exists in the game’s universe. The game comes packed with hundreds of cards that mean everything you need is in the box.
Like real trading card games, players spend their time building their collection by opening boosters and constructing decks. Except that all of that is part of the board game itself, as players trade their cards to amass the most powerful cards ahead of tournaments. The aim is to make your way to the top of the rankings by putting together the most effective decks and winning tournaments. You can even play multiple linked sessions that see you compete for a place at the world championships.
While those you’ve ever collected a trading card game will feel right at home, Millennium Blades’ clever game within a game structure makes it unlike anything else on the tabletop. While its fictional game may not exist, you’ll find yourself just as hooked as its real-life counterparts.
3. The Mind
Develop your psychic powers in this one-of-a-kind social card game
Normally, silence during a game night isn’t a good thing. When it comes to The Mind, however, silence is the key to one of the most entertaining and unique board game experiences of recent years.
On paper, The Mind appears simple. Each player is dealt a hand of random numbered cards. The group must work together to play the cards in consecutive order in the middle of the table. Easy, right?
Except that nobody is allowed to communicate what they’re holding, and there is no fixed turn order - anyone can play their next card whenever they want. Play a number higher than a card in someone else’s hand and you’ll lose a life.
As the levels increase, players must play more and more cards - making it harder and harder to judge when to play your next number. There’s a 65 on the table, and you’ve got a 77 - could someone else have something between them?
When everything comes together, the players form a psychic-like connection without speaking a word, entranced by trying to read their friends’ minds and figure out whether they should risk their next play.
Part card game, part social experiment, The Mind is utterly one-of-a-kind. Its unique nature means it won’t be for everyone, but those that get into its mindset will find something magical.
Don a blindfold and escape a killer in this singular horror game
Created by designer Catherine Stippell, who was inspired by playing board games with her blind uncle, Nyctophobia is a horror game in which only one player can see the board. This player takes on the persona of a terrifying killer - an axe murderer or evil mage in the original, or a vampire in a spin-off - who chases the players through a dark forest as they try to escape.
To survive their ordeal, the players - who can wear blackout glasses to take away their vision - must use their sense of touch to navigate the forest. Nyctophobia’s unique board features 3D pieces that represent the rows of trees and each character. The players are able to feel around their current space to try and identify a route to safety by communicating with their compansions, while the hunter pursues them space by space.
By taking away the players’ sight and forcing them to rely on feel, Nyctophobia is a unique dexterity game that introduces the confusion and terror of being chased in the dark - for real. If you’re after something different for your next Halloween game night, you’ve found it.
5. The Perfumer
Smell your way to success in a test of scents and sense
Many board games call upon the power of players’ imagination. Evocative artwork, expressive writing and immersive gameplay can all add to the sense of being in a game’s world rather than looking at pieces of cardboard and plastic. The Perfumer goes one step further by bringing the board game’s scent-based theme to life with real-life smells.
Each of the game’s cards is printed with a fragrance that corresponds to the ingredient on the card. The players must use their sense of smell to collect, identify and combine the right scents, completing orders for specific perfumes to earn points. The ingredients can be found in different parts of the world, with players taking their turn to move between regions and pick up the scratch-and-sniff strips.
As well as scoring points for completing orders, the players can earn bonus points for working out the secret combination of smells used during a game - a bit like Cluedo, but for your nose.
The Perfumer’s use of smells in its gameplay makes it unique in board games. While you’ll still need to use your brainpower to figure out the fragrances on the cards, there’s no need to imagine what each ingredient will smell like - you can catch a whiff for real.
6. Magic Maze
Dash around a shopping mall in real-time, but without making a peep
An unfortunate party of fantasy adventurers have lost their gear, leaving them unable to embark on their latest quest. The only option for the empty-handed heroes? Nick what they need from the local shopping mall. They’ll need to be quick before security arrives though!
Magic Maze’s gameplay is as unique as its theme. To fit with the limited time the heroes have to pull off their heist, the game is played in real-time against a ticking sand timer that lasts only three minutes. Making things even more difficult is the fact that each player can only perform a limited set of actions - for instance, moving the characters in a specific direction, using an escalator or turning over a new map tile. Oh, and nobody can talk, so you’ll need to work together to complete all your objectives against the clock without speaking a word.
All of this adds up to a chaotic, fast-paced co-op game where players must pay attention to their individual tasks as well as the team’s shared goals. While communication is limited, the box includes a big red pawn that can be energetically used to get someone’s attention - best hope it’s not you.
Magic Maze’s frantic race against the clock and challenging restriction on what players can do and say makes it a uniquely exhilarating experience. While individual runs may not last long, each crams in a lot to think about and do - it’s an exhausting but exciting experience through and through.
7. Yeti in the House
Hunt for the yeti - or sneakily conceal it - in a unique twist on hide-and-seek
Originally created for a Japanese art festival, Yeti in the House puts an inventive spin on the classic game of hide-and-seek and uses your whole house as its board.
One person hides the adorable yeti meeple somewhere in the house and takes a picture while everyone else stands by an also-adorable miniature mountain. In a deceptive twist, the yeti-hider also conceals two footprint tokens in places that the search party might mistake for the yeti’s hiding place, and can edit the photo as they like to mislead the searchers.
Once the yeti and footprints are hidden, the searchers get a look at the photo of the yeti’s hiding spot and must guess where it is. If they guess the location of one of the footprints instead, they lose. If they find the yeti, the searchers win.
Yeti in the House comes from the mind of Naotaka Shimamoto and publisher Itten, who’ve made a name for themselves with a number of unique board games, including road-balancing dexterity game Tokyo Highway and pendulum-swinging challenge Stonehenge and the Sun. Few are more unique than Yeti in the House, which turns its minimalist contents and rules into a highly entertaining update of hide-and-seek.
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