Give the Gift of Gaming! The 2009 Holiday Gift Guide!!!

Games make such fantastic gifts, but sometimes it can be difficult to find a really good one, and especially to find the right game for the right person.  So, for the second year in a row, I decided to make a few recommendations to make it easier for you to include games in your holiday gift-giving!

Party Games:

Almost everyone likes a good party game.  These games tend to focus more on simply having a good time rather than presenting a brain-hurting strategic challenge .  They can often accomodate large numbers of people, are quick to learn, and encourage lots of talking, laughing, and general hilarity.  Some of my favorites include:

Wits & Wagers – A trivia game for people who aren’t good at trivia.  Each round, players write down numerical answers to a trivia question.  Then, the answers are arranged in order and everyone can bet on the one that they think is closest to being correct.  It rewards good trivia knowledge, as well as being able to make good estimates and knowing the other players.  Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun!   

2-20 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $30 – Available at all Target Stores, at hobby game stores, and online

Catch Phrase – Cross Password with Hot Potato and this is what you get.  Teams pass the word-giver thingy back and forth each time they get a word, trying not to be holding it when the buzzer goes off.  If you like word games at all, this is pretty much a sure-fire hit!  I’m still partial to my old-fashioned manual version, but most people just love the electronic one pictured to the left. 

4+ players divided into two teams, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $25 – Available pretty much anywhere

Say Anything – From the same people that make Wits & Wagers, Say Anything is a game where you can either see how well you know others or get to know them better.  It’s a light-hearted game about what you and your friends think. 

3-8 players, 35 minutes to play, Cost: $25 – Available at some Target and Barnes & Noble stores (click here to find local stores) as well as online

Balderdash – This is still my favortite party game, and if you or your friends enjoy being creative and having fun, then you’ll enjoy this, too!  It’s all about making up believable explanations for silly words, movie plots, ridiculous laws, obscure initials, and what odd people are famous for.  With the right group, it’s absolutely hilarious and will spawn memories for years to come!

3-6 players (or more with teams), 60 minutes to play, Cost: $30 – Available pretty much anywhere

Dixit – This is a quirky little game where you describe and try to identify specific cards.  The cards, however, are covered in this surrealistic, storybook art that is both beautiful and somewhat disturbing.  Play is somewhat reminiscent of Balderdash, but much quicker and easier.
3-6 players (or more), 30 minutes to play, Cost: $25-$35 
– Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

No Thanks!
– An extremely quick and simple card game that still makes you think.  Players start with an equal number of chips, and on you turn you either take the card in the center of the table (which you generally don’t want) or put a chip on it.  It’s so fast and fun that you will never play just one hand!

3-5 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $10 – Available in hobby game stores (Hypermind), online, and occasionally at other retailers

Family Games:

These are some games that the whole family can play together.  Unlike most mass-market “family” games, these are all just as much fun for the parents as they are for the kids.

Sorry Sliders – A really nice little dexterity game where players slide or flick little pawns at a target area sort of like in shuffleboard.  The pawns have ball-bearings in their bases to help them slide better and to keep them upright.  If you don’t really like Sorry!, don’t worry, because the only thing they have in common is the shape of the pawns.

1-4 players, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $25 (although I’ve seen it as low as $15) – Available pretty much anywhere (Target, Wal-Mart, toy stores)

Ticket to Ride – A truly great family game.  Players collect sets of train cards to claim routes between cities and complete their route around the U.S.  It’s simple enough for almost anyone over the age of 8 or so to pick up, but is still fun and challenging after many, many plays.  It’s a beautiful game with really nice pieces that will last for years to come!  There are actually several Ticket to Ride games, and here is my review of the series.

2-5 players, 45 minutes to play, Cost: $40-$50 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind), some bookstores and toy stores, and online

Yahtzee Free For All – This is a great twist on the traditional dice-rolling game which is, quite surprisingly, a heck of a lot of fun!  Instead of just writing down your score each turn, you claim cards from the middle of the table.  Even better, other players can steal them from you if they beat your roll!  It’s quick, easy, and a lot of fun, especially with 5 or 6 players. 

2-6 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $15-20 – Available pretty much anywhere (Target, Wal-Mart, toy stores, etc.)

– This is a really good game about purchasing animals to go in your zoo.  It’s cute as can be, but still has some interesting gameplay that will engage adults and children from about 8
years or older, and it’s has won several awards.  Check out my review of the game here!

2-5 players, 45 minutes to play, Cost: $40-$50
– Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

10 Days in the USA – A simple tile-collection game that is both fun and educational.  Players try to tie together a 10-day trip through the USA, where every tile in their journey links to both tiles on its left and right.  This is actually a series, also including 10 Days in Africa, 10 Days in Europe, and 10 Days in Asia so far…

2-4 players, 20-30 minutes to play, Cost: $16-20
– Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

– Think Tetris: The Boardgame.  It’s all about making the pieces fit like you want them, and in this game, sometimes you actually want to leave certain spaces empty.    

1-4 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $35
– Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Doodle Dice – Another dice game that I have fun with.  Instead of normal dice, however, these are covered in 6 different shapes that you put together to form little “doodles” that match cards dealt out to the table.  When you get one card of each color, you win!  It’s similar to Yahtzee Free For All in a lot of ways, but the cute and unique dice make it a different experience.

2-6 players, 20-30 minutes to play, Cost: $10-$20
– Due to limited commercial success, it can be hard to find.  Sometimes available at book stores (B&N) and toy stores (where it may be on sale for really cheap), but easily findable online

Children’s Games:

Again, if you’re tired of all the traditional children’s games that are as boring as watching paint dry for adults, these might be the answer you’re looking for.

Tier auf Tier
– A great little stacking game where you place animals of different shapes on top of a crocodile.  The player to get rid of all their pieces first, wins!  The unique shape and utter cuteness of the animals make the game interesting and fun for all ages.

2-4 players, 5-10 minutes to play, Cost: $20 – Available at some hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Gulo Gulo – It’s a game about stealing eggs from a nest, but what’s really cool is that you actually have to pull the little egg pieces out of a nest without setting off the “egg alarm”.  Little fingers tend to be better at this, which means that you don’t have to “throw” the game to your little ones.  In fact, you’ll have a hard time competing with them at all!

2-6 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $45-$50 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Rat-a-Tat Cat – This is a quick little card game where you’re trying to have the 4-card hand worth the least points each time.  The twist is that you can only see your two outer cards at the start of the round.  It’s educational, fun, and anyone over the age of 6 can understand how to play.  

2-6 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $10-$15 – Available at Barnes & Noble, educational supply stores, and other places

Giro Galoppo – A horse-racing game where the board is set up different every time!  Players all have an identical hand of movement cards, and secretly pick which one to use each turn.  Very fun and addictive, and fantastic wooden components that will last forever!  Good for kids and adults ages 5-6 and up. 

2-5 players, 20-30 minutes to play, Cost: $45 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Castle Keep – A tile-laying game where the goal is to either complete your castle or completely destroy an opponent’s.  It’s fun, addictive, and good for anyone 8 years old or older.  By the way, GameWright makes a lot of really good children’s games which are readily available, so feel free to check out others. 

2-4 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $15 – Available at Barnes & Noble, educational supply stores, and other places

Kids of Carcassonne – I haven’t played this yet, but it’s supposed to be a nice adaptation of the popular strategy game Carcassonne for children ages 4-10. 

2-4 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $30 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

The aMAZEing Labyrinth
– This is the classic game of moving through a maze of constantly-moving tiles.  It’s got some real strategy involved, and is easy to scale for different ages by giving more or less objective cards.  
1-4 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $30 – Available at educational supply stores, toy stores, hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Advanced Strategy Games:

So, if none of these seem just right for you or your gift target, and you think that a greater challenge may be called for, these games may be just right.  Or if you know that they are already interested in modern boardgames, these will be right down their alley.  Below are some of my favorite games that I think would make great gifts this season!

Pandemic – One of my all-time favorites!  This is a cooperative game where all the players work together to discover the cures to 4 deadly diseases threatening the human race with destruction.  It’s quick and very addictive, where losing makes you want to play it even more!  You can check out my full review here.

2-4 players, 30-45 minutes to play, Cost: $35 – Avail
able at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Small World – This is a fantasy-themed game of conquest where dice actually does not play a huge part.  Players cause various races to rise and fall as they fight for control of a world that is just too small!  This game is very easy to learn, scales well for all of its suggested number of players (2-5), and is a lot of fun!

2-5 players, 80 minutes to play, Cost: $50 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Steam – This is a complex but elegant game of building railroad connections and delivering goods.  Steam includes both basic and standard rules for different levels of difficulty, both of which are a lot of fun.  It is the latest revision of the very popular Age of Steam system.

3-5 players (as packaged, but expansions are available for 2-6 players), 90-120 minutes to play, Cost: $55 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

– I almost didn’t mention this one, because it’s not really one of my favorite games.  But I am in the definite minority about it, since this game has won pretty much every major award available over the last year.  Dominion is a card game where players build their own specialized deck through play, and there are already two expansions available to provide almost infinite replayability.  If you like thinking card games or have a history with Collectible Card Games, then this is a good choice for you. 

2-4 players, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $45 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Cosmic Encounter
– This game is a game-geek classic from the 70’s, which was recently reprinted and updated.  It is a light game of cosmic battles, bluffing, and negotiation, and is, more than anything else, an absolute blast to play.  

3-5 players, 60 minutes to play, Cost: $50-$60 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Roll Through the Ages – This is acually a dice game that is fun, but which still has some real strategy!  Players use the resources they roll to advance their civilization through building cities, developing advances, and constructing monuments.  And, like many other dice games, it can actually be played as a solo game, which is very nice when other gamers aren’t available.  It’s a nice addition to any gamer’s collection!  

1-4 players, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $35 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online

Buying These Games:

For each entry, I’ve tried to give you some indication where you might can find these games, but sometimes that can be affected by availability and other factors. 

My favorite place to buy games is Hypermind, the local hobby game store in Burlington, NC.  It’s located on South Church Street in the Rosewood Village Shopping Center right between the new Tuesday Morning store and the Season’s Buffet Chinese restaurant.  If you are more oriented towards the Apex/Cary/Raleigh direction, I also highly recommend All Fun & Games in Apex. 

To buy these games online, here are some sites that I recommend:

  • Amazon – You can find almost anything on Amazon, including many of the games on this list. 
  • Funagain Games – Huge selection of games, especially hard to find imports
  • Game Surplus – Great service and fast shipping
  • Thought Hammer – The newest games at great prices
  • Time Well Spent – Excellent family and children’s games selection
  • Gate Play – Slightly smaller inventory, but focuses more on people new to the boardgame hobby. 

    Also check out the holiday buying guide at BoardGameGeek.  If you have any questions about any of these games or want additional suggestions, feel free to email me at


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