Game Curious? Here Are 5 Under $15 To Try.

Posted by Amoebite, January 22, 2017 02:59pm | Post a Comment

Monopoly Deal

- By Chris Curtis

In tabletop gaming parlance, a “gateway” game is a title that is accessible and fun to new players, hopefully sparking their interest in trying other modern games. It should be easy to learn and teach, it should play reasonably quickly, and it should be fairly light-hearted and not too intensely strategic. Here (in no particular order) are five titles we stock at Amoeba Hollywood that fit the bill! They’re all inexpensive to boot, with none over $15.00. These games all have interesting mechanics and provide compelling choices for each player on every turn. You still will encounter a bit of the “luck of the cards,” but not at the expense of strategy. These titles also have solid visual design and quality artwork and components, along with interesting themes. But should a particular theme not interest you (maybe you don’t care for Tolkien-derived fantasy scenarios), don’t let it put you off from trying a particular title. Themes are usually essentially window-dressing for a quality game; effective mechanics and gameplay are what ultimately make or break it. Should you have any questions about rules or procedures, a wealth of information is available online, including video tutorials.

A final note: though all of the games on this list can be played with only two players, they are better with three or more. So let’s dig in, shall we?

Love Letter1. LOVE LETTER

This Japanese delight, designed by Seiji Kanai, launched a movement of “micro-games” - games with minimal components in compact containers but full of deep playability - after versions in English and many other languages were released. The premise involves getting amorous messages to the Princess, and earning tokens of affection from her. Only 16 cards are used, and the rules are direct and straightforward. Everyone is dealt one card. On your turn, take another card and play one of your two. Each card, however, interacts or affects the other cards in different ways, and it is here that skills of strategy and deductive reasoning enter the picture. With so few cards in play, you can start to make educated guesses as to what your opponents hold. This is the game that brought your humble blogger into the world of modern games, as its brilliance of design and efficiency is truly impressive. Most of all, Love Letter is actively fun and involving, and its quick rounds allow for speedy changes of fortune. Amoeba Hollywood carries the original edition, as well as a charming Adventure Time re-themed version. From the same designer, we also stock the quick two-player duel Braverats.


Another small game that originated in the Land of the Rising Sun, this fantasy-themed title offers the Welcome To The Dungeonexperience of delving into an intimidating monster-filled dungeon. For each round, one of four adventurers is chosen to the be the escort or guide for the harrowing excursion, and they each have different weapons and abilities. On each turn, a player may add an additional monster to the dungeon, or take the monster out of play (while simultaneously weakening the adventurer by removing powers or armaments). Ultimately, the dungeon will become so dangerous that players will elect to pass their turn. When all but one person has passed, he or she will have no choice but to enter and face the creatures within, often with a seriously weakened adventurer. Suspense and laughs ensue! Can the explorer make it out alive? Ultimately, this is a game of “chicken” whereby you can make the dungeon miserable for your opponents (or perhaps easy for yourself), but pushing your luck too far could have dire consequences! Welcome to the Dungeon is the original game, released in 2013. Welcome Back to the Dungeon came out as a sequel of sorts in 2016, and plays nearly the same as its predecessor with a few minor rule tweaks (and a different set of adventurers). Geek that I am, I own both, but if forced to choose, I’d go with Welcome Back, as the slight variations (helpful monsters!) make the game a little more interesting. But they are both awesome, with amazing art and nice components. It’s best, though, if you avoid singing “Welcome to the DUNNNN-geonnnn” Axl Rose-style throughout the game. People get annoyed. Not that I’ve had any experience of that nature. A-hem.

Timeline3. TIMELINE

This simple-to-learn game, which originated in France, impresses nearly everyone who tries it. Up to eight players take turns laying cards in a shared chronological timeline. On one side, the cards feature events like “Invention of the CD” or “Discovery of Pluto” or “Release of Jaws,” while the other side indicates the year the event occurred. The date side is not revealed to any players until the card is placed in the timeline. If the card is placed correctly, it stays in place. If it is placed in the wrong spot, the player takes an additional card. Of course, as the game progresses and the timeline fills up, finding the right spot for your card becomes more challenging, though noting Timelinewhat cards the other players hold in relation to your own can be helpful strategically. The first person to get rid of all of his or her cards is the winner. A streamlined trivia game with no pointless dice rolling, it typically runs around 20 minutes. While not an “educational” game, you will definitely learn something new every time you play, and plenty of the cards provoke interesting conversation. There are many different editions (Discoveries, Inventions, Americana, Music & Cinema, etc.) and these can be mixed up if desired to add variety.

Two fun spin-offs utilizing the same basic concept are Cardline and Storyline.


Monopoly often evokes the warm fuzzies when remembering childhood fun, but the spell is broken for Monopoly Dealmost of us when we try the game again when we’re a bit older. Its playing time can be painfully long, luck plays an overwhelming role, and players can be knocked out of the game well before it is over. Despite its many flaws, the game still exerts a powerful hold on the American imagination, and has come to represent American Capitalism to the world, which is ironic considering Monopoly was derived from a game designed to illustrate the perils of monopolies and predatory ownership called The Landlord’s Game (read The Monopolists by Mary Pilon for the often surprising, sometimes sordid tale). Monopoly Deal has only a tangential relationship to the original game, but this inexpensive little gem distills all the fun elements of the venerable classic into a fast-playing card game while jettisoning the chaff. Instead of being a slave to endless dice rolls, you get to make meaningful choices on every turn. Even though luck still drives a lot of the game, its fast pace and entertaining “take that” qualities (certain cards allow you to steal cards from your opponents or foil their plans) can make it a hoot to play. This is an ideal gateway game, cheap and cheerful, and since most people know the basic concepts of regular Monopoly, it is much more approachable than other modern games, and can appeal to everyone from kids to grandparents. Playing it reveals how effectively game mechanics and design have been streamlined and improved in recent years.


Another remarkably efficient micro-game is Coup (comprised of just 15 cards and 50 space age “coins”). CoupSet in a dystopian future world run by corporateers for profit (hmmm, maybe not so far in the future…), the game puts you in the middle of the governmental intrigue as all players turn their inner Machiavelli up to 11 in their quest for power. The deck is made up of five types of character cards - three of each - and these characters all have unique abilities, either to one’s own benefit or to hinder opponents. Each player is dealt two cards, kept secret, and may use the powers of those cards. Or the player may blatantly lie and claim he or she holds another card and claim use of its powers. Here is where the fun and hilarity really start, as doubt takes hold and accusations fly. If a player is challenged for suspected lying, and was indeed being untruthful, this player loses a card (or “influence”). If the player was telling the truth, though, the accuser must lose an influence. Any player losing both cards is eliminated. Typically, games with player elimination can feel unfair, but Coup plays so quickly that those forced out will be back in a new round lickety-split. It’s oddly enjoyable attempting to bluff and lie to friends and family members, even if your best poker face is still unconvincing. It’s also fun seeing alliances develop to target players close to victory. If the character interactions seem confusing at first, there are some useful “cheat sheet” cards to help you out on your first few plays. But like all the titles on this list, the rules are reasonably basic and easy to get your head around. If you’re hungry for more, a solid spin-off set in the same world is Coup: Rebellion G54, which adds many new characters and abilities to the mix.

Happy gaming!

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Amoeba Hollywood (867), Games (10), Tabletop Gaming (8), Tabletop Games (8), Board Games (6), Chris Curtis (7), Love Letter (2), Adventure Time (4), Welcome To The Dungeon (1), Timeline (1), Monopoly (1), Monopoly Deal (1), Coup (1)