When I was in college I remember the phenomenon of the hidden gem. That band that no one had ever heard of that had that sound that everyone needed to hear. The movie that was hilarious that was special because only you and your two friends knew all the punchlines to your inside joke. The funny thing about this trend for me was that the music and movies and video games that I found were cool until everyone else thought they were cool, and then I became jaded with them because they were too mainstream. Oh the mindset of our younger selves…it’s enough to drive one crazy.
A few things have changed since I was in college about 5 years ago, including my taste in music. (By the way have you heard of a band called Lord Huron? Man they’re great you should check them out.) I’ve also gotten married, had a daughter and discovered an addiction that borders on the need for an intervention known as tabletop gaming. Hook line and sinker I have gotten involved in playing, collecting, researching, discussing, and reviewing tabletop games. The funny thing is, I’m still looking for the hidden gems. I hear plenty about the award winning games that top the geek lists but I’m still searching for those games that might have flown a bit under the radar or never really garnered the attention I think they deserve.
I’ve discussed a few games recently that I think are really fantastic and not discussed enough due to the heavy hitters, but today I want to feature one in particular. The game is called Treasure Hunter. I played Treasure Hunter for the first time at BGG Spring in Dallas and absolutely fell in love with the game from the first hand of cards. This game is rated right under a 7 on BGG and I feel it should be a bit higher. The designer is Richard Garfield of Magic the Gathering fame. Treasure Hunter is a drafting game and if there’s one game designer who knows how to do card drafting it’s Richard Garfield. The artwork is fantastic, the component quality is very good, the gameplay is light but strategically interesting, and the playtime is usually under an hour even with six players.
In Treasure Hunter you will have three phases in the game followed by a fight with some Goblins. Over five rounds players will draft cards from a hand of nine. (Drafting a card means you look at a hand of cards you receive, pick one to keep, and then pass the rest to your opponents. You then take the cards given to you by your opponent, and repeat the process until the cards have all been picked.) You will compete with other players over a minimum and maximum treasure in a Blue, Green and Red landscape, and then try to escape with your treasures through a cave of waiting Goblins. The treasures that you are competing for can be worth either positive or negative points. Whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins! This game is easy enough to explain but has enough depth of play to make it very interesting, especially at higher player counts.
What is it that I like about this game so much? I really enjoy drafting games. I’ve enjoyed 7 Wonders and Magic drafting previously but it’s hard to get other people in my family to engage in those two gaming experiences. Treasure Hunter has an approachable light hearted feel that doesn’t scare my family away, but is an engaging strategic drafting experience that provides me with the type of play I love. There is also a clear cut goal in this game. Get the most money.
Now this is an interesting goal because of the different strategies you can employ. In each area there will be two options for treasure; potentially good or potentially bad. This in itself creates an interesting strategic problem to solve. Blue for instance may have a minimum treasure worth twelve points and a maximum treasure that will give you negative four points. This means that you might try to draft cards that keep your overall number in blue very low. You have to be careful though because if other players draft shrewdly, you may be passed a blue ten, or eleven as your last card. The last card handed to you has to be kept. Now there are cards that can cancel out bad cards that are handed to you so there is a way to draft defensively to prepare for the ram rodding that you are bound to receive. All of this thought goes into a seemingly simple game if you want to be strategic, or you can simply try for the highest treasure.
You can also try to collect just money cards. In each hand of nine cards there may be a card that is worth a dollar or two or three. If you draft nothing but these cards you may miss out on the treasures that other players fight over, but over the course of the round you might have collected 10 to 20 points from money alone. You can also collect treasures that provide a one time use bonus. So for instance you may win a treasure tile that increases your dollar payout by one or two times once per game. You could collect that tile, draft nothing but money and then cash in a 30 or 40 point round.
You could also try and collect nothing but dog cards. After all players have tried to collect treasures, there are goblins that will try to steal some of your money. If you collect dog cards, they will defend you from these goblins. Each goblin has a strength of one or two or three (sometimes higher with expansions). If you collect dog cards with the strength that matches the goblin cards, you will pass by them without having to pay any money. If you don’t have dog cards that provide enough strength you have to pay the goblins the amount listed on their tile. The cool part is, whoever has the highest strength of dog cards will collect all of the goblin tiles, and any money that has been paid to them. So one round if the treasures are very attractive, players may forget about drafting dogs. You could then swoop in, collect all the dogs and collect all of the money the players have to pay out. Pretty neat move huh?
There are also special cards that you can draft to provide bonuses and change your power in each color etc. I’ll spare the details on those to try and keep this from getting too boring! All of this is to say that for a game that is rated as a 1.8 out of 5 in complexity on board game geek, this game provides plenty of depth. Whatever approach you might take to the drafting mechanic this game will work wonderfully with your playstyle. Now I know that drafting games aren’t for everyone but this one has been a hit with most everyone that I’ve introduced it to. Some of my friends are pretty picky when it comes to tabletop games as well so that’s saying something. The arguments that I have heard against this game are:
- The game can be repetitive – My response to this is that some of the highest rated game of all time are very repetitive in their mechanics, but if the mechanics and gameplay are solid this isn’t a problem but a benefit. This game has very good mechanics that I haven’t gotten tired of yet after over twenty plays.
- The other criticism I heard from one of my friends was that “there’s not any strategy to this game”- my response to this is that it’s absolutely false. There is randomness to the game based on what cards are dealt to each player, but reacting to that and adjusting is the strategy. This creates such tension for the player and trying to determine if a bad card will be dealt to you and managing that risk is supremely strategic in my mind.
- Some people say the game can be too long – My response is that if 45 minutes is too much time for a board game that plays up to six then you aren’t going to like many board games.
At the end of the day this is going to be one of my go to games for a quick, fun play that can accommodate a larger group and provide plenty of player interaction. This game hasn’t lost its luster after a good amount of plays for me, and I don’t see it happening soon. I would highly recommend picking up Treasure Hunter if you are a fan of fantastic designs. I’ve included a how to play video at the bottom of this post so you can see how the game flows and looks on the table. With any questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org and until next time I’ll see you at the table!