There are so many popular mainstream board games like Monopoly, Clue, and Catan that dominate the market. But there are also lots of lesser-known niche games beloved by small but passionate fanbases. Here I’ll review and compare a few of these cult-favorite titles:
Gloomhaven is a cooperative dungeon crawl board game released in 2017. It’s essentially a fantasy-themed choose-your-own-adventure tactical combat game. Players cooperate as wandering adventurers taking on jobs and improving their abilities.
Gameplay takes place via scenario cards that present different combat challenges. The combat system involves playing ability cards to determine player actions and initiative order. There are 18 playable character classes, each with unique card decks and abilities to unlock.
A major draw of Gloomhaven is its persistent world and campaign system. The story changes based on the outcomes of each scenario, and characters gain experience and loot that carry over between sessions. This gives a sense of narrative progression rarely seen in board games.
The game features extremely high production value, with detailed miniatures and thick double-sided map tiles. Set-up and teardown can be tedious due to the sheer volume of components. expect a single scenario to take 1-2 hours.
Kingdom Death: Monster
Kingdom Death: Monster funded via Kickstarter in 2013, raising over $2 million. This cooperative survival horror game pits players against nightmare creatures in a bleak dystopian setting.
Gameplay revolves around hunt and settlement phases. During hunts, players cooperate to take down monsters using a unique battle system involving dice rolls and ai decks. After successful hunts, survivors bring resources back to the settlement to craft new weapons and armor.
The appeal lies in the tense, strategic battles and feeling of long-term progression as settlements grow. Expansions add even more variety and content. The game features disturbing, stylized artwork by designer Adam Poots.
Components are incredible but expensive. The base game costs $400 due to the sheer volume and quality of miniatures, cards, and tiles. Games take 1-2 hours per hunt and settlement phase. This is not a casual experience, but offers deep strategic play for dedicated groups.
Vast: The Crystal Caverns
Vast: The Crystal Caverns, released in 2016, is a highly asymmetric game in which each player has completely different goals and mechanics. The Knight wants to kill monsters, the Goblins want to escape, the Dragon wants to hoard treasure, and the Cave itself works to collapse and thwart everyone. There are no turns – all players act simultaneously trying to achieve their win conditions.
This creates an utterly unique gameplay experience. The level of asymmetry means each role provides a fresh, new experience. No two games will ever play the same. There is also a strong psychological element as players try to think from different perspectives.
Component quality is moderate, but the gameplay more than compensates. Vast offers a creative, innovative concept unseen in most mainstream board games. Games can last 1-2 hours depending on the chosen roles. It also supports up to 5 players with expansions.
Overall, these cult favorites provide deep, strategic experiences unattained by mass market board games. Gloomhaven offers an epic fantasy campaign. Kingdom Death provides tense horror survival. Vast delivers an asymmetric psychological thrill. They are more complex and costly, but deliver originality and replayability for hobby gamers.