Your favorite obscure games
May 18, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite obscure games?

Video games, table-top, rpg books, or even family games;
obscure, slept-on, ephemeral; idiosyncratic;
I want to know more about them.

Why were they so fun? Why didn't they find a bigger audience?
Did they break new gaming ground?
Can they still be purchased (if that's applicable)?
Have they been replaced with modern versions?
posted by hpliferaft to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (59 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Rash at 12:26 PM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Settlers of Catan.

The basic version is fun, but get really easy/boring after a while. The expansion packs make the game totally awesome and much more challenging. Really fun to play with 4-6 people. Don't know why it doesn't have a bigger following; probably because it's a German game and the rules, especially once the expansion packs are added, take a while to explain to someone who has never played.
posted by ttyn at 12:33 PM on May 18, 2009

Still cherish my copy of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Best mystery game ever. Didn't catch on mainstream (never had a chance, really) because the entire gameplay is pretty much nothing but reading. But awesome.
posted by jbickers at 12:33 PM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Neverhood, awesome claymation, cool music, just funky all around.
posted by sageleaf at 12:35 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Farkle - until a recent resurgence in marketing of a purpose-made farkle-set, was a very annoying game to play, because dice are most often sold in sets of 5, and you need 6 dice to play farkle. Once a game gets going, it can involve a lot of happy yelling, lots of opportunity to use someone's greed against them.
posted by nomisxid at 12:37 PM on May 18, 2009

Back in 2002, I wrote this about Hardwar.
posted by ODiV at 12:41 PM on May 18, 2009

TradeWars 2002

Think of TradeWars 2002 as a simple prehistoric version of Eve Online without the time commitment. You usually got a set amount of turns per day where you could focus on trading, planet development, corporations, bounty hunting, or general exploration. You could play with good or bad intentions and reap the associated rewards.

It's probably still available somewhere to play via telnet or SSH, but it was one of my favorite BBS games to play.
posted by seppyk at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tomba! for PSX was a very obscure game that blended so many aspects of platforming, problem solving, just great gameplay.

Mischeif Makers for N64 was another obscure video game I enjoyed in my childhood. It was strange and everything had a face...
posted by saxamo at 12:46 PM on May 18, 2009

I don't know how obscure it is, but Pokemon Mystery Dungeon for the Nintendo DS may be a game that adults have slept-on. It's basically Nethack with graphics and some properties of Pokemon battle (e.g. water attacks are super effective against enemies that are fire-type, etc.). It feels light and has just a touch of strategy (like Nethack). It's a great "snack" for when you have a craving for a bit of dungeon crawling without too many strings attached.
posted by ignignokt at 12:52 PM on May 18, 2009

Settlers of Catan.

The basic version is fun, but get really easy/boring after a while.

I think this depends largely on who you play against.
posted by ignignokt at 12:53 PM on May 18, 2009

Personal Preference.
posted by box at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2009

posted by bonobothegreat at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by easy_being_green at 1:02 PM on May 18, 2009

The Haunting Starring Polterguy
~for Sega Genesis
posted by sswiller at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2009

Pit is something I haven't heard of outside of my local circle of friends, 2 of whom know it through their (unrelated, in any way) families. It requires a dedicated/branded deck, which may be the problem. Also, it's enough like other standard deck card games that people may be happy to play those instead. Still available.

Eat poop you cat and the "drawing version" of exquisite corpse are two games I've only played once or twice, but wish I played weekly. Minimal materials necessary, just a critical mass of creativity. Definitely still available.
posted by knile at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2009

My favorite obscure video game is Skitchin' for the Sega Genesis. The game was very similar to the popular Road Rash series, and used the same engine, but with motorcycles replaced with inline skates and the added titular ability of hanging onto the rear bumpers of cars. Overall the game still had all of the elements that made Road Rash fun (the racing and combat) but added more interesting gameplay elements such as dealing with increasingly difficult obstacles in the road, carefully timing slingshots off of cars, avoiding getting hit by traffic, and doing tricks off of ramps. The weaving through traffic as gameplay element especially wasn't used as effectively in other games until much later with the Burnout series.

I'm not sure why it was such a commercial failure. EA definitely wasn't very comfortable on a legal level with the game's content, because they felt the need to add a 30 second unskippable warning at the beginning of the game telling kids not to actually try anything they saw in the game. It was also released in a pronounced dry spell for "extreme sports" games that wouldn't really end until Tony Hawk's Pro Skater became a huge hit at the end of the '90s and inspired tons of imitators. I myself had never seen or heard about the game until I randomly bought it in a bargain bin somewhere. The Road Rash series that spawned it had several sequels made it onto all of the next generation consoles, but Skitchin' was the only game of its kind. Used copies of the original Genesis carts are still around, and I'm not sure if it's legally available on any of the modern systems that play classic games via emulators.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:05 PM on May 18, 2009

6 Nimmt! (also known in English as Category 5 or Slide 5)
posted by mkb at 1:07 PM on May 18, 2009

Slept-on games? Where should I start? I'll limit myself.

Board games: the GIPF series. Six interlinked abstract strategy games (well, seven, but TAMSK isn't officially part of the series anymore, having been replaced by TZAAR). They take place on grids of triangles and hexagons instead of more traditional squares, and that makes a lot of difference.

PS3: Valkyria Chronicles. A good mix of real-time and turn-based strategy; the most imaginative artwork I've seen in a game this console generation.

Wii: Zack and Wiki.

DS: too lazy to link all these, but: Shiren the Wanderer; Panzer Tactics; Etrian Odyssey.

N64: Rocket: Robot on Wheels. A very cool platformer with what I remember as having unique mechanics.
posted by Prospero at 1:09 PM on May 18, 2009

Wii: Boom Blox
X360: Pac-man Championship Edition
DS: Clubhouse Games
PS2: Mad Maestro
GC: Bomberman Jetters
XBX: Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
N64: Mario Golf
PSX: Bushido Blade 2
posted by box at 1:16 PM on May 18, 2009

Terrace . Maybe people were just embarrassed by the "As Seen on Star Trek: the Next Generation!" sticker on the box.

I also found the Pyramid games (from the makers of Fluxx and Chrononauts mentioned above) like Icehouse and Marian chess an interesting idea, but couldn't get anyone to play with me. Boo.

Is Abalone obscure? The board game, not the mollusk.
posted by bartleby at 1:16 PM on May 18, 2009

Monster Cards
posted by hworth at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, a few more, for consoles I didn't mention in my previous post:

PS2: Bombastic; Mister Mosquito
GC: Gladius
PS1: Arc the Lad series
posted by Prospero at 1:30 PM on May 18, 2009

The Farming Game

This is a favorite board game in our family. I grew up on a farm, but I believe it would be entertaining to anyone. It's similar to Monopoly yet different at the same time. I think that it is a pretty good representation of what it's like to run a farm. The cards are well-written and the gameplay is quite competitive. It probably did not catch on because it looks kind of hokey upon first glance, the topic is kind of niche and the giant caricature on the cover is freaky.

Here's a hint if you decide to play: invest in fruit as soon as you can!
posted by bristolcat at 1:31 PM on May 18, 2009

I like Set -- simple rules, good for any age. Also, you might want to check out Matthew Baldwin's annual review of games.
posted by Killick at 1:37 PM on May 18, 2009

Scotland Yard.

Awesome fun. The tickets are too easy to lose though =/
posted by fearnothing at 1:46 PM on May 18, 2009

Sky Odyssey for the PS2. VERY arcade-y flight sim where you can't just fly up in the air for very convenient reasons (ridiculously dangerous wind conditions) so you have to fly through narrow, twisting canyons and through caves and between tree trunks on a quest to find an ancient, lost tower full of secrets.

Graphics were very "early PS2" but damn, I loved that game. Great combination of gameplay and mood. Check out the videos.
posted by Naberius at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2009

posted by gabrielsamoza at 2:02 PM on May 18, 2009

Do card games count? Euchre has always been super popular in Ontario but I'm not sure if anybody else plays it all that much.

It's a very social game, there's not a huge amount of strategy involved, new players can pick it up quickly and for those reasons, it goes very well with booze.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:03 PM on May 18, 2009


So obscure even google couldn't help me come up with anything about it.

Basically, it's an awesome word game requiring a minimum of three players. Let's call them A, B, and C.

A starts out by choosing a word without telling anyone what it is. The longer, the better. Say his word is dinosaur; he tells B and C the first letter (D). Now B and C have to think of words that begin with D. Once B, for example, thinks of a word beginning with D, he tries to describe it to C and if C understands, he yells "CONTACT ONE TWO THREE" and then they have to say the word together.
Example situation: B has thought of the word dog. He says to C, "A common household pet". He could even say "Skip" if that's the name of his dog (as long as there are no inside jokes and stuff involved because it ruins the game. Everyone has to be able to understand the definition). C gets what he means and yells "CONTACT ONE TWO THREE" and together they both yell "DOG".
While they are doing this, A has the opportunity to sabotage things for them by yelling out B's word before C gets a chance to yell "CONTACT ONE TWO THREE" and then the word. If so, B and C keep thinking up different words beginning with the letter D. If, however, B and C have done the ritual and said the word together before A did, then A has to give them the next letter of the word, in this case i.
Now B and C have to find words that begin with 'di'. This continues until B and C manage to guess the word.
If persons D and E are also playing, they just join in to B and C's team, shouting definitions and trying to guess. And of course the players only need one other person to say their word, not the whole group.

Imaginary Scenario:

A: D!
B: Common household pet...
A: dog!
C: successor of pokemon...
A: okay, DI.
B: the ___ stole my baby!

etc, etc.

It's a long explanation but it's a very uncomplicated game and loads of fun to play! My friends and I became addicted a few months back and every time we meet up at least 15 minutes are spent on Contact.
posted by alon at 2:11 PM on May 18, 2009 [9 favorites]

posted by sanka at 2:13 PM on May 18, 2009

Cave Story! Free for Mac and PC, soon to be released on Wiiware. It's one of my favorite games ever - a total masterpiece. The graphics, music, story... none would be notable on their own, but together... it's some kind of crazy alchemy. It's a textbook example of how to do a video game correctly - not too long, not too short, varying locations, high replay value, intuitive controls, pretty but not distracting visuals, great bosses, a perfect gem of a story (I once heard it described as "something you'd see in a children's puppet show," and that's pretty accurate)... I could go on praising the game for a long time. Anyway. Go give it a try.
posted by Rinku at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jeff Minter's Revenge of the Mutant Camels!

"The game features a host of bizarre enemies, including: British telephone boxes, Polo mints, exploding sheep, skiing kangaroos, guys sitting on flying toilets and even the jet plane controlled by the player in Attack of the Mutant Camels and a wave of Jeff Minters. In versions other than the Commodore 64 version, a variety of power-ups are available, including ecstasy tablets (for a turn of speed), spliffs (to fly over life's troubles) and apples (because they're good for you)."
posted by aquafortis at 2:21 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Talisman is a board game I used to play way back. It's made by Games Workshop and I think it has some ties to the Warhammer universe, but it has a much simpler set of rules. It was pretty classic boardgame style, so each character had a miniature and was trying to make his way to the end point, but the game had a lot of unique flavor to it and just enough of an RPG element (i.e. level and stat advancement, gear, etc.) to get you involved and committed to your character. Not sure if they still make it, but I'm sure its available on ebay.
posted by KilgoreTrout at 2:46 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, where to start...

Video games:

Fear Effect (1 and 2) - really neat PS1 game with sometimes really risque cartoony action and an interesting take on Chinese mythology.

Board/Card Games: Seconding Settler of Cataan, and also Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. I totally forgot about the latter and that was a wonderful nerdy game. Additionally:

Anything by Tom Wham, who made lots of silly but amazingly fun games for Dragon magazine back in the day - King of the Tabletop being the most notable;

The Mystery Rummy series published by US Games Systems.

RPG Games: Space: 1889 - a fascinating take on RP systems based on Jules Verne-esque science fiction. Just marvelous.

And of course there's Nobilis... probably the most sophisticated, mature, erudite, and probably unplayable RPG ever created. The book alone is a work of literature.
posted by elendil71 at 2:53 PM on May 18, 2009

Seconding Fluxx. It's basically a card game where playing different cards changes the rules or goal of the game (e.g. drawing a different number of cards on each turn, needing to be in posession of a different set of cards to win, etc). I've played both "classic" Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx, and both are a lot of fun.

Also, thanks for the link, Rash. I had no idea about the Monty Python "flavor"!
posted by rebel_rebel at 3:00 PM on May 18, 2009

I was a huge fan of Little Ninja Brothers (NES) and Super Ninja Boy (SNES) when I was a kid. Haven't played them since, and in hindsight they're probably extremely politically incorrect, but they were weird and fun. Goofy, unconventional multiplayer action RPGs.
posted by naju at 3:01 PM on May 18, 2009

Lyle in Cube Sector.
Covert Action by Microprose is still incredibly fun to play.
posted by Glow Bucket at 3:10 PM on May 18, 2009

Tiddly Winks is easy to find and buy, so I'm not sure how obscure it really is, but I've often received blank looks when telling friends about it. The history is kinda neat; started in England in the 1880s, later adopted by Cambridge and some other universities which spawned official Tiddlywinks associations (all for a little game where you hunch over the floor and flip plastic chips into a cup). My dad's old set was some official Tiddlywinks association approved one and had a very proper rulebook inside. As I recall, the main fun for my family in Tiddly Winks was using the lingo and putting on one's best imitation British accent during gameplay: "I'm going to squop your wink with my squidger!"
posted by wundermint at 3:13 PM on May 18, 2009

I have a deep love of the Delta Green materials for Call of Cthulhu.
posted by Artw at 3:14 PM on May 18, 2009

The Aweful Green Things From Outer Space what a goofy game. And Snit's Revenge.

For a truly epic game, The Republic of Rome is intense.
posted by Max Power at 3:19 PM on May 18, 2009

Galactic Attack! An awesome Apple ][ game that alternates levels of shoot-em-up with levels of strategy.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:20 PM on May 18, 2009

Food Fight was a huge hit for months in my junior high gaming circle.

It was the perfect intersection of strategy board game & teenage cafeteria shenanigans, and kept us playing for weeks.
posted by Aquaman at 3:36 PM on May 18, 2009

I like the card game Set, which one can find out about here. Not sure how popular or obscure this game is, but I personally haven't encountered too many people who know about it.
posted by illenion at 3:55 PM on May 18, 2009

Check out "Hidden Gems" at Racketboy.
posted by Otis at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2009

posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:33 PM on May 18, 2009

Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but interesting, nonetheless. Here are two obscure verbal games, ideal for long car rides, or better yet, public transportation where you can weird-out your fellow passengers.

1. "No E's" - Nobody is allowed to say any word containing the letter 'e'. Try and keep conversation going for as long as possible. Mind-numbingly difficult.

2. "Questions". As per the Tom Stoppard play.

And if you're really a glutton for punishment:

3. Combine games 1 and 2.

These games are obscure because they are hard.
posted by schrodycat at 6:22 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, Bruno Faidutti writes a periodical feature called Ideal Game Library in which he discusses a lot of games I've never heard of.
posted by ignignokt at 7:03 PM on May 18, 2009

Aw, man, shoulda waited a second before posting. There's also Hobby Games: The 100 Best which is a great collection of essays by accomplished game designers about board and card games that they feel strongly about. Some of the games they write about are not at all obscure, like D&D and Magic: The Gathering, but they also talk about intriguing out-of-print games like Cosmic Encounter.
posted by ignignokt at 7:07 PM on May 18, 2009

Ace of Aces (Handy Rotary Series) was the bomb! Two player dogfight (planes, not puppies). Each player had a book. Each page had a picture of the view from a plane's cockpit and a row of symbols representing various maneouvers at the bottom. Under each symbol was a number. You'd each choose your move and tell the other player the number. They would then go to that page in their book and look up the number under the move they had made and turn to that page of the book. You would do the same and the resulting pages would give the new positions for the planes after the moves.

Badly explained but really, really cool. I still have the books if anyone wants to come over...

Ohh, and APBA Man, but that's a good time.
posted by qldaddy at 7:17 PM on May 18, 2009

posted by GPF at 11:09 PM on May 18, 2009

These two aren't super obscure, I guess, but I sure can't find anyone to play with:

1) Knightmare Chess. Chess purists tend to hate it because it futzes with the rules; non chess players aren't enthused enough about chess to bother having a look at it. The only real market it has is Chess dabblers like myself.

2) Over the Edge. RPG in a Bill Burroughs/Illuminatus Trilogy-ish setting. Rules are more or less a variant of FUDGE.

Go is obscure? Really?
posted by juv3nal at 11:26 PM on May 18, 2009

StarFleet Command, StarFleet Command II and the Orion Pirates expansion. It's a starship combat "simulator", where there are literally dozens of variables and systems to manage to pull out a win, and the ships maneuver for advantage in a combat that usually takes several minutes or even tens of minutes to resolve, instead of mere seconds like most twitch games.

Oh yeah, there was a StarFleet Command III, but in an effort to expand its appeal they dumbed down the interface and complexity, making a game that was still too involved for casual players, and an abomination to fans of the series, so nobody liked it.
posted by barc0001 at 12:51 AM on May 19, 2009

Infantry Online, a pre-counterstrike "capture the flag" game running a Twin Peaks map. Hard to say what I love so much about it: it's difficult. The controls are impossible (ten fingers for fifteen weapons and six movement buttons will do that). It's cliquish and juvenile. But it's fast and it's hard.
posted by NekulturnY at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2009

Xenogears was a PS1 game made by Square. Most people don't dare touch it because 1) it's crazy long, 2) it covers as many controversial topics as possible, 3) Part II is boring. It still has outstanding graphics and music reminiscent of Chrono Trigger.

In terms of real-world games, Diplomacy. It's the shy half-brother of Risk that doesn't know how much people like him. The advantage over Risk is the deep feeling of paranoia as you negotiate and lie to your friends. MetaTalk is working up some games if you want to join in.
posted by spamguy at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2009

posted by gakiko at 2:43 AM on May 20, 2009

One of my favorite "obscure" video games is Maniac Mansion for the NES (well, that's the only version I have played, censored though it may be). When it comes up in conversation, it's like a bonding moment when I find that someone else also remembers it, and sometimes it leads to busting out my NES to relive the magic. Playing it also reminds me of the old Sierra games, which can produce similar bonding moments (Space Quest, King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry...).

Someone mentioned Tradewars 2002 up above, and I definitely second it - many hours of my adolescence were spent playing that game on the BBSs that I hung out on. Freshmen year of college, I introduced a friend to it when I found a telnet server online.

On the boardgame side, I recently had fun introducing my girlfriend to Stratego, but in my book, that's a little more classic than obscure. We've also introduced Apples-to-Apples to most of our friends and family who weren't aware of it, and now, everyone seems to have their own set, which means we no longer have to pack it when visiting family over Christmas. :)
posted by mysterpigg at 9:34 AM on May 20, 2009

Fluxx is great. Set is great. Gloom is great.

More mainstream, Apples to Apples, Waterworks, Mille Bornes, Settlers of Cataan.
posted by talldean at 6:02 AM on May 22, 2009

Many Faces of Go

Xcom UFO Defence on PS1
posted by kapu at 2:30 PM on May 22, 2009

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