Filler games are like the mashed potatoes or the sticky rice of the tabletop games industry. Perhaps most people don’t get hyped out of their minds for a single filler game, but everybody notices when they’re missing from the gaming meal. If you’re trying to get infant gamers to consume new-to-them games and enjoy this hobby, your odds of success are much better if you place a simple filler in front of them rather than a complicated entree. When you don’t have the time or stomach space for an entire gaming feast, a filler can make for the perfect satisfying snack.
These games are essential to filling in the cracks and crevices of one’s board game collection, and so I’ve set out to determine my top 10 recommendations for filler games. While there are far more than 10 fantastic options to choose from, this list will serve as my most reliable team of fillers for anyone and everyone. As the term “filler game” has the potential the cover a wide range of possibilities, I’ve narrowed down my selection criteria to the following…
To make this particular Top 10 Filler Game list, the game must be:
- Compact in size and scope
- Consistently playable in under 30 minutes
- Fast and easy to teach
- Playable with a range of player counts
This criteria means that loads of 2-player only games that are otherwise solid filler games are out of the runnings. This means that killer compact classics that tend to go longer than 30 minutes such as Arboretum, Condottiere, and Stick ‘Em are out. And tragically, this also means that the non-compact Crokinole won’t be sneaking its way onto another one of my top 10 lists. But worry not, this criteria still leaves us with plenty of good stuff to explore, and explore we shall! In no particular order, my top 10 filler games are the following…
Archaeology: The New Expedition
A great filler is most commonly a card game, and Archaeology: The New Expedition is the first of many such titles on this list. While Sushi Go and Barenpark are designer Phil Walker-Harding’s most popular creations, I personally prefer the quick turns and push your luck collecting that Archaeology provides.
Players spend turns digging at sites and trading with the marketplace for the finest of items in hopes of selling lucrative sets to the museum. The problem is that sets take time to build into something massively profitable, and the longer you wait to sell your artifacts, the more likely you are to lose them to a thief or a sandstorm. Archaeology: The New Expedition hits the spot at any player count from 2-5, with any player type from grandma to gamer, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, making it an easy addition to this list.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
We here at Bitewing Games have covered The Crew from front to back and head to toe, which ought to hint at how much we love it. For those of you who already know and love this game, my substitute recommendation is simply the upcoming The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. For those of you who are not familiar with this widely acclaimed cooperative, trick-taking card game, here are two great places to start:
It’s a coaster! It’s a frisbee! No…. It’s Skull! Skull is a pure bluffing game composed entirely of what looks like drink coasters. Each player receives 4 round cardboard coasters and 1 square cardboard coaster. The round coasters act as your hand of cards that are played one at a time facedown onto your square coaster. Three of these round coasters display roses, but the fourth displays a skull.
As players take turns adding one coaster facedown to their own stack, during their turn a player can instead declare a challenge. This challenge takes the form of a bid where the highest bidder must flip that many round coasters (starting with all of their own) in hopes of not revealing a skull. If they manage to avoid catastrophe, then they flip their square coaster to display and flaunt the fact that they are one more victory away from winning the game. Yet the other way to win is to be the lone survivor, as players will lose one of their round coasters each time they flip a skull (their own or someone else’s), and once you’ve lost your final coaster you are out of the game!
Skull is both tense and hilarious as players try to outwit each other. The moment I secretly add my own skull to my facedown stack, I’ve now set up a trap for my opponents. But the best way to spring the trap on them is to make them believe that my stack is safely stocked with only roses. Yet if I raise the challenge bid in an attempt to give off that impression, and nobody else raises my bid, then I’ll very quickly have egg on my face when I flip my skull and writhe in my own mess.
Speaking of tense auctioning games, Skull won’t be the first on this list and For Sale won’t be the last. For Sale somehow sneaks its way onto nearly every list that I make. So while I apologize to those who have heard me endlessly rant about it, I couldn’t leave it off the top 10 filler games list! Seriously, I tried to block it out of this list just to get a little more variety into my recommendations, but I’m not a barbaric criminal, so here it is, back on my list.
If you’re hungry for more details and thoughts about this reliable filler game, I suggest you check out any of the following options that strike your fancy:
- #14 of my Top 25 Games of All Time
- Our Top 10 Family Games podcast episode
- 10 Games to Enjoy Amid a Quarantine
- Episode #4 of my Tabletop Tastes Series: Crunchy Meaningful Decisions
It’s time to get spicy with a brand new release which will be near impossible to find once the current stock runs out. Good thing we have the icy coast to curb the heat of this recommendation. If you’re reading this post, then it’s likely that you already got an eye-full of my first impressions of Whale Riders last week. While Whale Riders is the largest game to make its way onto my top 10 fillers list, the box is still deliciously slim and the gameplay is unbelievably quick. Dr. Knizia and Grail Games have crammed a beautiful big box board game experience into a simple, rapid, tight race of efficient mercantilism. When I can setup, teach, and play this game in under 30 minutes, and have a blast from start to finish, you better believe it’s gonna end up on this list.
The Mind is the second and final cooperative game to end up on this list. While it’s not much of a looker, what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in price and novelty. Yet even after many plays, the novelty of this game of gut-feelings hasn’t worn off for me. Perhaps because it emphasizes the interaction and unison between myself and my teammates over anything else, and the emotional rollercoaster it takes us on is always refreshing. Check out Kyle’s recent 3-minute review to learn why it might be a hit for your group as well:
While Oink’s other top-tier publications feel closer to party games, Startups stands apart as a tight card game of investing in startup companies. The catch is that your investments will only pay off if you have the most cards of that company, otherwise you’ll be forking over points to that majority owner at the end of the game. It’s a refreshingly simple game, yet it has elements of bluffing, risk-taking, and climactic reveals. The fact that it’s a big pile of tokens crammed into a tiny box somehow adds to its charm.
Biblios is thematically about building a library, but the the star feature here is the two-act play of donations and auctions. During the donation act, players take turns drawing a few cards: selecting one to keep, one to set aside for the auction, and the others to donate to opponents. Once the deck runs out, players use their formed hands to bid on each card in the auction pile.
This jockeying for cards is all part of a quest to have the highest sum of cards in a particular category, thereby earning the points (shown on the dice) of that category at the end of the game. But if one person is pummeling everyone else by spending big on blue and red points, then crafty opponents can seek to decrease the value of those colors by bidding on cards that reduce any dice of their choice.
By allowing players to be sneaky, clever, and conniving, Biblios remains a solid option even 14 years since its release.
Lave Letter has been in our collection longer than any other game on this list, and it remains one of the best of its class. Like For Sale, it has received countless mentions across our blog posts and podcast episodes. If you’re looking for a strategic competition, then you’re likely to be disappointed by the amount of luck within Love Letter. But if you’re coming for some bite-sized, light-hearted fun, then you are in the right place.
I always appreciate a solid, simple card game with a bit of luck and nice fistful of strategy, and Parade hits that sweet spot for me. The gameplay here feels closest to Arboretum but is less cutthroat and agonizing, more light and breezy. Yet there’s enough decision space lurking underneath to keep me engaged.
This pretty little game features Alice in Wonderland artwork with the characters forming a parade of cards behind the draw pile. The rules are a little wonky to explain, but basically players are trying to avoid taking cards from the parade by adding the right card from their hand to the end of the line. The problem is that you frequently have to take a hit and end up with some point scoring cards in this game where points are bad.
Selecting which cards to play when is a unique and engaging challenge. Yet another twist comes in the end-game scoring, where the player with the most cards of a single color gets to convert those cards to 1 point each (instead of their printed values). So you end up with something like a game of chicken that quickly unfolds into a desperate struggle to erase one’s own points. And because any card from zero through ten can be the best card to play, depending on the situation, Parade manages to keep itself fresh and interesting throughout.
3 Bonus Filler Games
Well if you’ve made it this far, then I think it’s safe to assume that these kinds of “filler” games are up your alley! And if that’s the case, then this segment is an extra special bonus just for you. We here at Bitewing Games need your help to bring a bundle of three killer filler games to the world. This bundle is known as Reiner Knizia’s Criminal Capers Collection, and it features Soda Smugglers, Pumafiosi, and Hot Lead.
Each of these 20-minute games was hand-picked from Dr. Knizia’s fresh batch of brilliance and is being brought to life by our wildly capable friend and illustration partner, Paul K. Halkyon. We’ve been having a blast playing and testing these as we prepare to publish them for you. But none of these games will reach any tables without the support of Kickstarter backers who share our passion for clever Reiner Knizia designs, refreshing filler games, and affordably classy productions.
We’re scheduled to launch this Kickstarter campaign later this summer. But if you want to follow or support this project now, then subscribe to the Bitewing Games newsletter and spread the word to any friends or family who may share your interest. We intend to make a big splash with Reiner Knizia’s Criminal Capers Collection, but joining our newsletter will ensure that you don’t miss out; plus we have even more exciting things in store beyond this collection. Thanks for your support!
Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share experiences that, much like a bitewing x-ray, provide a unique perspective and refreshing interaction.