With the holiday season here, it’s time to think about spreading the joy of the season. With board games! We’ve compiled a list of games which will make excellent gifts, and divided them into categories. Looking to buy your hardcore gamer a present? Need something for a light game fan? Hoping to get someone new into the hobby? We’ve got suggestions for all of them! So take a look at our list and then head to the local or online game store of your choice!
Games for the Serious Gamer
Let’s be honest – the serious gamer can be one of the worst to shop for. They’ve probably got an extensive collection, have strong opinions about games, and tend to buy games all the time. Nabbing a game that isn’t in their collection can be challenging, so we’re going to try to keep these recommendations on the newer side of things.
Mombasa was my surprise hit of BGG.Con 2015. The first thing I noticed is that this game will play differently every time you bring it to the table. The card for sale will show up in different ways, your opponents are going to take different approaches, and the available books are going to dictate your card buying.
There’s a good deal of thought that goes into each turn of this game, and you’re rewarded for your actions. Unlike some games where you have to build an engine to rely on, Mombasa lets you work towards more general goals while keeping a close eye on what the other players are heading towards. And the card play mechanic with active and resting piles is fantastic, and something I haven’t seen before.
Perhaps most importantly, there are so many different ways you can approach this game. I’ve seen victories where the player diversified themselves to a great extent, flying under the radar for the win…and I’ve seen juggernauts that have dominated in one or two aspects of the scoring. It’s really up in the air. And it’s REALLY good.
Fury of Dracula
Long out of print, Fantasy Flight Games finally brought this classic back to the masses in the past few months. With one player taking on the role of Dracula while the others play the hunters attempting to bring him down, Fury of Dracula does a great job of showing how hidden movement can really make a game shine.
The newest edition actually makes a few changes which bring an overall improvement to the game, most notably in the combat system, which was a bit clunky in earlier editions.
If you know of a game group which really enjoys ganging up on each other, this will be the game for them. This one is a bit longer than some, especially the first few times, but the ability to switch off control of Dracula from game to game makes this a game which will get table time for many sessions.
Designer Vital Lacerda is well known for his meaty games, and this one is no different. Like most of his games, The Gallerist has immersive themes and mechanics which lead you to feel like you are actually running an art gallery. Gameplay seems like it would be simple, as you’ve only got four spots which you can place workers on…but there’s a lot more to consider with each action. It’s a fantastic discovery process as you see what the various options are for each spot.
And the game is simply stunning. The production quality of this one was top-notch and it’s going to draw attention every time it hits the table. Speaking of it hitting the table, don’t drop this bad boy – it’s a heavy game in a massive box. That sucker could do some damage.
Not everyone wants to devote a couple hours to a game every time they play. Sometime there’s just a need to sit down, play a good game, and wrap things up without feeling like your brain leaked out of your ear. These games are going to be your mid-level titles, giving a good experience without eating your entire evening.
Originally released in the Ukraine as Tajemnicze Domostwo, Mysterium made it’s way to a broader release this fall. This game is cooperative, but with a twist. One player will take on the role of a ghost, with the others acting as psychics. The ghost is attempting to use cards to send “visions” to the psychics about a foul murder which was committed that is preventing the ghost from finding rest.
While this sounds easy, the cards are reminiscent of those found in Dixit – beautiful, but VERY open to interpretation. This makes the psychics try to interpret what the ghost was getting at with their picture of a woman crossing a bridge…and fail. Repeatedly.
This one is a lot of fun, and the cooperative aspect really lets players help each other out when they can’t seem to find their way. Of course, it happens frequently that everyone is wrong…but that’s half the fun!
Isle of Skye
This tile laying game is set on the Scottish island of the same name, where players are chieftains attempting to make their clans grow and flourish. With tile laying as the core mechanic, this one features a neat little auction system where players lay three tiles out for all to see and then secretly assign a price to each. Once price are revealed, some tiles are discarded and the rest purchased.
It’s a fun game which features bonus tiles that get swapped out every game – so you’re going to have a different set of bonuses to work towards each time. Isle of Skye is an interesting game which is simple enough to teach to anyone while still offering strategies that will reveal themselves with each new play. Be forewarned that there is a degree of randomness to this one, so it’s not for those that abhor luck.
Another one that snuck under my radar, Dice City is a neat little city building game with a dash of dice-based worker placement lumped in there as well. Players will roll five dice, assigning each to the appropriate spot on their player board. Each spot is occupied by a building which will provide resources, victory points, or military strength.
As players take their turns, they will purchase new building to cover up the old ones and make their city more productive. Planning each turn out takes some thought, and you have to improve on your base buildings as resource storage is very limited. You’ll find yourself needing to pass on dice you would have liked to use because the resources would have gone to waste.
For those looking for player interaction, you are allowed to wage war on your opponents, heading into their cities to deactivate some of their buildings while earning victory points for yourself. A fun game for those looking to toss some dice around!
While this one could fall under the moniker of a party game, I’ve never seen a game so widely played by so many people since I joined this hobby. My review of Codenames pretty much tells you how I feel about this game, but there’s a better reason to get this game…
This game can be played by anyone, and with anyone. Hell, it can be played almost anywhere you’ve got the room to spread out 25 cards. And with the app? You don’t even have to worry about the key cards. You’ll be able to play this over and over again because even if you’ve got the same words out there as last time? Your key is going to be different.
Codenames will be a great addition to any gamer’s collection, and many hours of fun will be had.
Games for Creating New Gamers
This category, which might be referred to as “gateway games”, is the one I get asked about the most. Giving a board game to someone can be a tricky business, especially if they haven’t played anything beyond your standard Hasbro games. You need to make sure you don’t overwhelm them, so consider your audience. I know most of the titles here are older, but they are here for a reason – they are widely available and they have a low entry point. This is exactly what you want for a gift to a new gamer.
Ticket to Ride
In the 11 years since hitting the shelves, Ticket to Ride has seen a number of new versions and expansion maps come out, which is a testament to the game’s popularity. These variants will often change some things about the game which add something new while keeping a familiar base.
Combining a simple rule set, a set collection mechanic which most people will grasp quickly, and interesting gameplay, Ticket to Ride will be an excellent start to a new game collection. Personally? I’ve given this game as a gift no fewer than five times.
If you want to draw people in to a new experience, you have to make it look good. Colt Express does that, and then some. The game is comprised of several three-dimensional piece, including a train which you will move your characters back and forth along as the game progresses.
This game will introduce several concepts to new gamers: variable player powers, action programming, and a modular board setup. You could explain this game to a new player in about five minutes, and there are expert and two-player rules included for those more comfortable with the game.
Definitely on the lighter side of games, Colt Express will have players laughing as they forget which order they’ve played their cards and groaning as the Marshal puts yet another bullet into them. A great choice for those looking to mess with their friends.
Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
Originally released in 1982, Survive has seen a resurgence of late after Stronghold Games picked up the publishing rights. Introducing an action point mechanic and having a modular board setup, this one will start to introduce concepts which are found in more intricate games.
Survive will tend to be more confrontational than most games, so make sure the recipient is comfortable with a little friction in their games. After all, you can bet that someone is going to send a sea serpent after their boats. And that someone might be you.
While Survive sees players trying to send sea creatures after one another, Pandemic puts players into a cooperative game where they work together to try to save the world. Cooperative games are a novel concept to most new gamers, and few do it as well as Pandemic.
Along with the cooperative aspect, Pandemic will add player roles and action points into the mix, providing a nice building block for budding gamers.
The gameplay in Pandemic is solid, the choices can be agonizing, and you’re going to lost a lot at first. Strike that. You’re just going to lose a lot. It’s a game where players are going to find themselves taking shots at the game over and over again just to feel that first rush of victory.