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, once again, I’ve decided to continue my tradition making a few recommendations to make it easier for you to include games in your holiday gift-giving.
And this year, I also decided that I would not repeat any games from previous lists. Below you will find 25 new games that I think would make truly excellent gifts. But most of the games from the last two years are also still available, and I would continue to recommend them wholeheartedly as well. So, in conjunction with the list below, also consider the games from last year and the year before.
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 recent favorites include:
Telestrations – This is sort of like the old game “telephone”, where you whisper a phrase from person to person and see how it changes, except that you’re switching between writing a phrase and drawing it between every person. So the first person in line draws a picture of the phrase, and then the second has to look at the picture and figure out what the phrase is, and then the third looks at #2’s phrase and draws it, and #4 interprets #3’s drawing. It’s fun and silly and quick, and is the best new party game that I’ve played in the last couple of years. If you want to try out a free version, you can play the parlor game “Eat Poop, You Cat”, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before.
4-8 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $25-30 – Available at Barnes & Noble and online
Word on the Street – Letters are lined up in the middle of a 5-lane street on the board, and teams take turns playing tug-of-war with the letters by coming up with words to satisfy randomly-drawn categories. You come up with a word and spell it out, pulling a letter towards your side as you name it. If you pull a letter off the board, you keep it, and the first team to score 7 letters wins! It’s a quick and fun word game that almost anyone can play, and it’s gone over well most every time I’ve pulled it out.
2-8 players divided into two teams, 20-30 minutes to play, Cost: $17-25 – Available in hobby game stores (Hypermind), online, and occasionally at other retailers
Cloud 9 – This is a great little game of pushing your luck as you and your friends take balloon rides. Jumping out guarantees points at the level you’re on, but staying in the balloon may earn you more if it doesn’t crash. This game is fast-paced and fun, and is enjoyable both by families and more serious gamers looking for a quick filler. You can also check out my full review if you’d like more information!
3-6 players, 15-30 minutes to play, Cost: $18-25 – Available in hobby game stores (Hypermind), online, and occasionally at other retailers
Bezzerwizzer – This is a new take on a trivia game, where you get to choose which categories will score you the most points each turn. Plus, there’s a way to answer questions that other players/teams missed, so you can sort of “steal” their points as well. The crazy name comes from the fact that it was originally published in Denmark.
2-4 players (or more with teams), 45 minutes to play, Cost: $25-30 – Available pretty much anywhere (Target, Wal-Mart, toystores, and online)
Fictionaire – Fictionaire is actually a line of four different little games packed in what look like cigarette boxes. Each one is a slighty different category for a bluffing game very similar to the classic game Balderdash. They’re cheap, fun, and very portable!
4-7 players, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $7-10 – Available in hobby game stores (Hypermind), online, and occasionally at other retailers
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.
Forbidden Island – This is probably my overall top recommendation this holiday season. Forbidden Island is closely related to Pandemic (my favorite game), and is actually a cooperative game played by 2-4 players. Everyone works together to find four special treasures on a cursed island and then escape before the island sinks. It’s a really excellent game, it looks incredible, and it beats the socks off of anything else available for even double its retail price. In my opinion, every household should own this game.
2-4 players, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $12-16 – Available in Barnes & Noble, hobby game stores (Hypermind), online, and occasionally at other retailers
Tobago – Tobago is a very unique and gorgeous game about finding and digging up treasures on a tropical island. The coolest thing is that players actually work together to build maps for each of the four treasures by playing clue cards, and everyone that contributes will get a share of the booty. This is probably Gwen’s favorite game, and just picked up the Golden Geek award for Best Family Game. You can also check out my review for more information.
2-4 players, 60 minutes to play, Cost: $36-$55 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
Qwirkle – Qwirkle is sort of a mix between scrabble and dominoes, where you place tiles next to each other trying to put together sets of like shapes or colors. It’s incredibly simple to learn, but is still fun and challenging. Nice for couples or as a family game.
2-4 players, 45-60 minutes to play, Cost: $20-25 – Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball – This is a very simple baseball-themed card game that’s actually been around since the 60’s. The cool thing is that despite how ultra-simple and quick it is, it still manages to create a game experience similar to real baseball. If you know any baseball fans, or people who just appreciate a nice, simple card game, this is a really good choice.
2 players (with a variant for 4), 15 minutes to play, Cost: $10-15 – Available in hobby game stores, online, and occasionally at other retailers
Bananagrams – I’m not a big Scrabble fan, but Bananagrams actually makes that sort of word game pretty fun. It’s a fast-paced, interactive game of putting letters together to make words, which actually gets more fun with more players.
1-8 players, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $15 – Available pretty much anywhere games are sold
Monopoly Deal – Hasbro has developed a series of card games that are related to some of their classic boardgames. Monopoly Deal is one that I’ve had some fun with, which keeps the basic ideas and feel of Monopoly, but boils it down to 15 minutes or so. There’s a lot of luck involved, but for the time investment, I think it’s still a lot of fun. I’ve also heard good things about Scrabble Slam as well, but haven’t gotten a chance to try it yet.
2-6 players, 15-20 minutes to play, Cost: $5-7 – Available pretty much anywhere games are sold
Carrom or Crokinole – These two games are a whole other level of family games. Both are dexterity games where you flick wooden discs across a board with your finger. I think that this kind of game is extremely entertaining, but they also require a bit more of a financial investment to get into. Ultimately, though, these are the kinds of games that a family could play for years and years, and some of the boards are heirloom quality, so I think that they’re definitely worth the money.
Crokinole is probably the easier of the two games, because you’re just trying to flick the disc itself to make it go into the central area of the board. The real twist is that if any opponent’s disc is on the board, you have to make contact with it first, or your piece is removed. Prices can be pretty astronomical for custom-made boards, but Mayday Games has recently imported some nice quality boards that are very affordable ($135).
Carrom is very similar to billiards/pool, except that you flick the striker with your finger rather than using a cue stick. Some of you may be familiar with the American version of carrom that’s been around for a long time, but this is a lot different, both because it requires more skill (again, since it doesn’t use a cue stick) and the boards and pieces are a lot better quality. BilliBoards carries boards starting from about $85, which I think is an absolute steal for such a fantastic game.
2-4 players, 30 (Crokinole) or minutes to play, Cost: $85-400+ – Available from the above retailers and some other sources online, or find someone who makes custom boards
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.
Go Away Monster – This is the perfect “first game” for any child. Even though my daughter is only 2 years old, she has been able to easily pick up on this awesome little game. You basically just take turns pulling pieces out of a bag, and if it’s a piece of your room, you put it on your board. But if you pull out a monster piece, you yell “Go Away Monster!” and throw it back into the box. It teaches kids to take turns and share, as well as letting them show the monsters who is boss!
2-4 players, Ages 2+, 5-10 minutes to play, Cost: $8-12 – Available at some hobby game stores, children’s specialty toy and book stores, and online
Rory’s Story Cubes – This isn’t actually a game, but is rather a tool for telling stories together. Rory’s Story Cubes is a set of 9 dice that are covered with all sorts of little pictures that you roll and then have to weave together into a story. Whether as a family activity, a way to kill some time on a trip, or in a classroom, I could see this “game” really providing a lot of fun and entertainment for kids of all ages.
1-8 players, Ages 8+, 5-20 minutes to play, Cost: $6-8 – Available at Barnes & Noble, hobby game stores (Hypermind), children’s specialty toy and book stores, and online
Harry Potter: Hogwarts – I haven’t actualy played any of these LEGO boardgames, but they sure do look cool. I looked around BoardGameGeek, and this Harry-Potter-themed game was the highest-rated of the LEGO games there. Others decent ones include Orient Bazaar, Pirate Plank and Atlantis Treasure. And heck, even if the game it terrible, at least they have some LEGOs to play with!
2-4 (varies by game), Ages 8+, 30 minutes to play (varies), Cost: $8-40 (depending on which game you want) – Available pretty much anywhere games are sold (depending on which one you’re looking for) and online
Guess Who Extra – This is the classic deductive game of trying to figure out which picture your opponent has chosen by asking them all sorts of questions about details of the pictures available. But this version is really cool, having 3 double-sided boards and a neat electronic carrying case.
2 players, Ages 6+, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $20-30 – Available pretty much anywhere games are sold
Sherlock – This is a really cool little memory game with a nice twist. Players get to keep moving around a circle of cards as long as they can remember which cards they land on until they either can’t remember (ending their turn) or land on a card that they’ve already revealed that round (claiming it as a point). It’s cute and entertaining, and kids can usually beat mom and dad without any cheating!
2-5 players, Ages 5+, 15-20 minutes to play, Cost: $7-15 – Available at Barnes & Noble, hobby game stores (Hypermind), children’s specialty toy and book stores, 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. You can check out my series on Modern Boardgame Basics if you’d like more information about this type of games, and below you’ll find some of my favorite games that I think would make great gifts this holiday season!
Macao – Macao is definitely one of my favorite games from last year, and is currently even in my top 10 favorite games. The game uses a really cool dice mechanic which forces players to choose between getting a few resources now or a lot of resources later, and has a lot of opportunity to put together synergy between cards that you draft each turn. It’s pretty heavy and strategic, but also forces players to react and adapt to what the game and ther other players throw at them.
2-4 players, 90-120 minutes to play, Cost: $30-45 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
Endeavor – Endeavor is about the age of discovery and colonization, where players guide the great powers of Europe to expand their influence all over the world. The theme is very abstracted (which some people complain about), but I think that it’s still quite well done. It gives a lot of room for players to try out different strategies as they play, but also rewards efficiency and good player interaction.
2-5 players, 80 minutes to play, Cost: $33-50 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
The Settlers of Catan – It’s a little hard to believe that I haven’t included The Settlers of Catan on this list before, because it’s the main game that tipped off the modern game revolution back in the mid-90’s. Settlers is a game of collecting and trading resources so that you can build roads and settlements on a newly-discovered island. The cool thing about it now is that it has reached a significant level of penetration into the greater culture, and is pretty easy to find these days. Be careful in buying this for someone already into modern boardgames (since they probably already have it), but if you or your family are looking to take the next step into slightly more complex games, this is a great place to start.
3-4 players, 45-60 minutes to play, Cost: $36-42 – Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
Peloponnes – This is an interesting auction game about building up different peloponnesian city-states. Players make choices about which tiles to purchase each turn, which give them different resources and population. But in addition to building up their cilivization and scoring points, they have to prepare for five disasters that will strike at some point in the game and be able to feed their people. It’s nice for a group or solo play, and you can check out my review for more information.
1-5 players, 45 minutes to play, Cost: $45-$60 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead – If you’ve read World War Z, this boardgame is just like that. Each player controls one of the 5 regions of the world trying to fight off the zombie apocalypse long enough to develop technology that will let you survive. The game is pretty solid, so I’m comfortable saying that anyone significantly interested in the whole zombie-apocalypse theme would probably have a great time with it.
2-5 players, 3 hours to play, Cost: $37-50 – Available at hobby game stores (Hypermind) and online
Castle Panic – In this game, the players work together to defend a castle from invading hordes of goblins, orcs, trolls, and other special monsters. The real twist, however, is that while players can all lose together (if the bad guys take over), only one player can win by killing the most monsters. So there’s always a cool tension between wanting to help each other and survive versus setting someone else to win the game.
1-6 players, 60 minutes to play, Cost: $23-35 – Available at Barnes & Noble, 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 Tuesday Morning and the Season’s Buffet Chinese restaurant.
To buy these games online, here are some sites that I recommend: