Lunchtime Board Games

Lunchtime – I get to unshackle from my workstation, lumber outside, turn my pasty face upwards and squint in the sunlight. I can also grab something to eat and sometimes I can play a game or two with friends.

Two or three days a week, I bring my lunch from home and spend the majority of the lunch hour playing games in the cafeteria with one or more of board-gaming friends. For me, it is a better stress-buster than leaving the office and going out to eat somewhere and have been buying games that fill the Lunchtime Game Criteria, which is:

  1. Time – Can be played in 50 minutes or less. I am not taking into account particularly slow players or analysis paralysis issues.
  2. # PlayersDoesn’t require more than 2 players but preferably also plays up to 4 players.
  3. Setup – The game sets up and puts away quickly. Time to teach the game to new players is not considered when determining the speed of setup.
  4. Box – The smaller, the better because small boxes fit in my laptop bag without having to leave things at home like, you know… my laptop.
  5. Fun – The game has to be fun and preferably plays well with 2 players.

Some of my lunchtime games

Here are some games we’ve played at lunch. It’s far from an exhaustive list and your mileage may vary. I’d love to hear what games work out well for you in a similar situation.

Star RealmsStar Realms is a great lunch-time game for 2 players. We can get in a couple of games during lunch and far and away, we’ve played more Star Realms than anything else. We have all of the Crisis expansion but the base game is solid and the expansion is not required unless you want to add some variety after repeated plays.

Time – 20-40 minutes
# Players – 2 players. It has an option to play teams with 4 players if you have two sets of cards.
Setup – Fast, shuffle and play. Less than 2 minutes. We use a scoring app on a smartphone.
Box – As small as it can get for a deck of cards.
Fun – We think this is one of the best deck-builders out there.

Cthulhu Realms – It’s Star Realms with a Cthulhu theme. I like it fine, but favor Star Realms because of the expansions. I admit that the art on the Cthulhu Realms cards is great. It also plays 3 or 4 players with one set of the game (unlike Star Realms).

Time – 20-40 minutes
# Players – 2-4 players.
Setup – Fast, shuffle and play. Less than 2 minutes.
Box – Small.
Fun – a solid, simple deck-builder with a lot of replay value.

Mr. Jack Pocket – A smart deduction game for two players. One player takes the role of 1 of 9 characters on a 3×3 grid of tiles, and the other player must eliminate all of the other character possibilities, identifying who Jack is impersonating before the turns run out.

Time – 10-20 minutes
2+ Players – 2 player only
Setup – Fast.
Box – Very small.
Fun – Surprisingly fun and clever game that is short enough for multiple plays in a hour.

Tiny Epic Galaxies – Players roll dice, building up resources to buy planets and attack each other.

Time – About 15 minutes per player (i.e. 30 minutes for a 2 player game)
# Players – 2-5 players
Setup – Fast, about 3 minutes.
Box – Very small.
Fun – I think this is one of the best Tiny Epic games so far. A lot of fun choices to make. I enjoy it more with 3 players than 2, and hesitate to try 4 players at lunch because of time constraints.

Love Letter (any theme) – Perhaps the quintessential lunchtime game, it’s hard to imagine a more versatile game in such a small package.

Time – 10-15 minutes.
# Players – 2-4 players and plays well with all player counts.
Setup – Fast. Shuffle, deal and go.
Box – Small. Depending on the version, it might be a little bag holding the cards and tokens.
Fun – Very fun game and easy to teach but some may have an issue getting past the theme.

Flip City – A deck-builder with double-sided cards. Each turn, players buy new building cards or opt to develop an owned card, flipping it over to the other side and changing its abilities. Brings some fresh play mechanics to the small deck-builder genre.

Time – About 15 minutes per player (i.e. 45 minutes for 3 players)
# Players – 2-4 players.
Setup – About 3 minutes.
Box – Small.
Fun – It’s a challenging game and I think it’s a lot of fun. AP players may not be able to finish this one in a lunch-hour.

Tides of Time – A card drafting game for two players with pass and play and an interesting scoring mechanic. There are only 18 cards in the game but each is unique, so it will take a play or two to familiarize yourselves with them.

Time – 10-15 minutes
# Players – 2
Setup – Fast. Shuffle, deal and go.
Box – Small.
Fun – Once we knew the cards in the game, it was engaging and fun.  There is more to this one than initial plays indicated.

The King is Dead – King Arthur is dead. Players are members of King Arthur’s court and are playing influence to a map of Britannia in an effort to gain influence and use their power to benefit the factions and determine who the next king will be. A smart little diplomatic, area-control game.

Time – 30 – 50 minutes
# Players – 2-4
Setup – Sets up in about 3 minutes.
Box – Full size – larger than I would prefer for a lunchtime game.
Fun – The game is dry and strategic, with interesting choices to make and scoring usually being close.

The Grizzled – A difficult cooperative card game about survival in the trenches during the First World War where players win or lose together. Very thematic with excellent artwork.

Time – About 30 minutes
# Players – 2-5 (but must use a dummy 3rd player if there are only 2 players)
Setup – About 3 minutes
Box – Small
Fun – Very challenging and we have yet to win a game. The heavy theme about dealing with the constant threat of death is a bit of a downer.

Splendor – A popular card drafting, set collection game. Players collect gem chips in order to buy cards on the tableau and build up prestige points. First player to 15 points wins.

Time – About 30 minutes
# Players – 2-4
Setup – About 3 minutes
Box – Full size but needlessly so and the components all fit in a single sandwich bag so the box can be left at home.
Fun – It’s a dry game with little player interaction but it’s also very engaging. Not a lot of table-talk when we play Splendor because everyone is planning their next actions.

Dungeon Roll – A push your luck, dice-rolling game where players attempt to go as deep as possible in the dungeon, amassing treasure and defeating monsters. If they are unable to complete a level they started, they lose everything they collected that turn.

Time – About 10 minutes per player (i.e. 2 players would take about 20 minutes)
# Players – 2-4
Setup – About 5 minutes
Box – Small and looks like a cool treasure chest.
Fun – It’s a light, fun game. I think it is best with 2 players, with the off-player rolling the monsters so there is no down-time.

Dice Masters – There are several themes – X-Men, Avengers, DC, Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a collectable dice-building game where 2 players face off and battle each other.

Time – about 15 minutes.
# Players – 2
Setup – Can take a while if you’re deciding what the setup will be. Best if you have your setup decided before you sit down to play.
Box – Depends. We had a tackle box for all the dice, so it was pretty big.
Fun – This wasn’t my kind of thing but I can see that people who like CCGs would like this.

Eminent Domain: Microcosm – A quick deck-builder for two players. Each turn you take a card into your hand from the supply, then you either play a card and carry out its instructions, or pick up your discard pile to refill your hand. Each card also has a scoring condition on it, and to win you’ll want to maximize those conditions. This game is probably best known for the awful rule sheet it came with. BGG has clearer rules available to download.

Time – About 15 minutes
# Players – 2
Setup – Fast, about 2 minutes.
Box – A deck of 34 cards.
Fun – It’s a fun, engaging game and knowing what the cards in the deck are is critical when it comes to scoring. Speaking of how scoring is done, it’s a kludge but gets easier after you’ve played a couple of games.

Province – A tiny worker placement game for 2 players

Time – About 15 minutes
# Players – 2
Setup – Fast, about 2 minutes.
Box – This was Kickstarter microgame and came in a plastic bag or a DIY, tiny box.
Fun – As a game, it has something to offer but the size of the board and pieces are so Lilliputian and it just feels fiddly. The iOS app is much better than the actual Kickstarter game, imo. I understand that they are planning a deluxe version with a larger board and pieces. 

Likely, someone will look at this list and wonder how I overlooked a popular game like Coup.  I didn’t.  I have Coup in my collection and I like it just fine, but Coup is a game where deception is key to doing well, and I’ve found playing games where you are tricking each other may have repercussions that carry over into other aspects of life.  I would rather be overly cautious than cause distrust with my colleagues, no matter how peripheral it may be. 

There are some games that we have not tried yet but are on the shelf and ready to go. These include 7 Wonders Duel, Condettiere, Battle Lines and Space Hulk Death Angel the Card Game. I’m sure to continue adding more games to our lunch-time lineup.

What games do you play at lunch?

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