“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” you’ve heard it said, and you take this saying to heart each night under cover of darkness at the junkyard.You never know when you’ll find that piece that will complete someone’s collection, and you never know when you’ll have to leave empty-handed. If you know how your fellow Dumpster divers operate, you just might be able to score big in the junkyard. So grab your burglaring gloves, backpack, bike, motorcycle, car, or truck and see if you can discover some unexpected treasures.
How It Works
Unexpected Treasures is a simultaneous action selection game for three to six players. Players are Dumpster divers in search of high-valued goods that can be resold or of goods that complete specific missions. Whoever has the most points when the mission deck runs out is the winner.
Each player begins the game with the same set of six cards, numbered 0-5, and a random contest chip. Players shuffle the mission deck and reveal cards until the number of items on the cards equals or surpasses double the number of players in the game. They then add one tile from the drawstring bag to the center of the table (the junkyard) for each item pictured on the mission cards.
At the start of a round, each player chooses one of their action cards and plays it face down. Once each player has chosen an action, players reveal them simultaneously. If any players played the same numbered card, they compare their contest number. The lower contest number gets to go to the junkyard while the higher number stays home altogether. (The players then exchange contest numbers.)
The numbers 0-5 determine both the order in which players can go to the junkyard and the number of items they can take from the junkyard. (For example, the 1 will go to the junkyard before the 3, but can only take one item. And so on.) The only difference here is the 0, which is the thief card. The thief goes first and may take items from any players who will be at the junkyard this round. After players take items from the junkyard, they may turn them in on their turn to claim any face-up mission cards on the table.
Once players have completed their turns, the junkyard is replenished, and the game continues until the mission deck runs out. The player with the most points (measured based on goods collected and missions completed) is the winner.
Trash or Treasure?
Let’s get this out of the way first: Unexpected Treasures is not a very good name for this game. When I’ve suggested to my friends, “Hey, we should play Unexpected Treasures,” their first thoughts are Hallmark trinkets and rustic craft goods and bad Lifetime movies and all that goes along with these images. Needless to say, the name does not provide an ideal first impression. But what’s in a name? Once I push them to sit down and try the game, they realize that Unexpected Treasures is an excellent filler title (especially with the right crowd) that offers interesting decisions in a short playtime.
Unexpected Treasures is another in a long line of filler games that involve getting inside other players’ heads. What separates Unexpected Treasures, though, from, say, recent titles like Coup or Love Letter is that with no player elimination, the stakes are lower. Now, Unexpected Treasures lasts a bit longer than individual rounds of Coup or Love Letter, but it also has a built-in catch-up mechanism that works: when players choose the same number, the player holding the lower contest chip gets to use their action and the other stays home. Then the players swap contest chips, so the next time they butt heads, the tie will be broken the other way. This is a wonderful way to resolve the conflict, and it keeps even players who have a hard time judging what others might do in the game.
I like the tension the game provides, particularly when more players are at the table. The game scales from three to six players, but I think four or five is probably the sweet spot for most groups (six can be frustrating, but some groups will love it). The tension comes in that there are limited “treasures” at the junkyard, and there are only six actions to select. When more people are at the table, there’s a greater chance that players will step on each other’s toes and choose the same action. While this can be frustrating, that’s also what keeps the game interesting, and it incentivizes guessing correctly. The contest chips will eventually break ties in a player’s favor, but better still is not having to come down to contest chips. It’s not uncommon to see players choose one card, then choose a different one before the big reveal. I love it when games foster this kind of investment in the outcome.
This tension creates some great moments of double-think. There are only twelve items in the junkyard. If I play the 3, I’m guaranteed to get something–if I’m allowed at the junkyard. But 3 seems to be a popular action. If I choose the 5, I’ll only get two items from the junkyard. But that’s only if every other number gets played, which seems unlikely. Then again, Caleb tried that last turn–will he try it again? Or maybe I should just try to steal things? Velma has a lot left over from the last round. Then again, what if she doesn’t make it to the junkyard this round? The game itself has very simple rules, which allow these kinds of decisions to take center stage. And because of the simple rules, the barrier for entry is low, which is one of my requirements for filler games (at least, the kind of filler games I always keep in my backpack).
Yet despite the simple gameplay rules, the game’s upkeep is a bit fiddly at times, and will especially seem so to non-gamers. Items are added to the junkyard after each turn by turning over new mission cards and adding the number of items pictured on the cards until the junkyard total is at least two times the number of players in the game. Huh? Okay, it’s not that difficult, but in my games, when I tried to explain this to my fellow gamers, I had to explain it over and over again, and I think there are some who are still in the dark as to how this is done. Similarly, the thief role (0) allows the player to steal items equal to the number of players who will go to the junkyard this round. This isn’t tough either, but it was one of those things that kept coming up. “How many do I get to steal again?” These things are not deal breakers in the least. You may want to just take care of these upkeep matters yourself if you’re introducing newbies to the game. (It’s a simple enough game otherwise to introduce in just about any setting.)
Unexpected Treasures has excellent components for being a small-box game (though the MSRP of $20 reflects this). The game box is the same size as Friday (so not exactly pocket-sized, though still small enough to slip into backpacks and bags), and everything fits well within it. The mission cards and action-selection cards are on oversized stock, which are fun to hold and easy to see across the table. The game comes with thick tiles and a drawstring bag to make for easier mixing and choosing. (The bag, tile backs, and color scheme are, of course, green, a nod to the game’s designer.) I also love the art of this game. While Unexpected Treasures is not as thematic as, say, Twilight Imperium, it makes more thematic sense than just about any filler game I’ve played, and the art helps this quite a bit. The role cards 1-5 feature various collection tools–a backpack, a bicycle, a motorcycle/sidecar, a car, and a truck–that make sense. A person who just has to grab a backpack may be the first to make it to the junkyard, but the backpack doesn’t allow that person to hold much. Conversely, a player who rents a truck will be able to haul a lot away, but at the expense of getting there after the junkyard has been picked clean. I think the theme works very well here.
When talking about the gameplay above, I mostly focused on the action-selection aspect. The reason is that’s the heart of the game. The set collection that takes place isn’t the interesting bit (though it’s not unwelcome or poor, and there are some small risk-reward decisions to make). I liken the game in this respect to Citadels: Citadels is an excuse to play with the role cards; the building is just a means to score. Similarly, Unexpected Treasures is all about the simultaneous action selection; collecting goods and completing missions is simply the means by which players are evaluated in their efforts.
Unexpected Treasures is not my favorite filler (that award would probably go to For Sale and FlowerFall, jointly), but it’s my favorite filler of this genre. The game may be frustrating for players who have trouble anticipating their opponents’ moves, but it’s not as frustrating as games that require this and rely on player elimination to determine a winner. If you’ve been kept away by this game’s title, I would encourage you to look past it. You just might find an unexpected treasure. (See what I did there?!)
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing us with a review copy of Unexpected Treasures.