GamerChris Holiday Gift Guide – 2014!

GiftGuideBanner 2014

Christmas is right around the corner, and as I’ve done for the last 6 years, I want to help you all make giving and playing games a bigger part of your holiday celebrations!  And as I look around in bookstores, toy stores, and even most of the big box stores these days, it’s easier than ever to find really good games to share with others.

The biggest “problem” is that there are so many games nowadays that finding the best ones can be difficult.  But of course, that’s why you have me!  So take a look below to see 28 different games that are all pretty widely available that will hopefully be right for almost anyone on your list.  And while the formatting of the older lists is all a little screwy, you can also look back at the older lists (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008) for over a hundred more suggestions!

Party Games
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This is my hardest category to find new suggestions for. With all the cool new stuff happening throughout the rest of boardgaming, party games haven’t come nearly as far. So instead of more traditional “party games”, most of my suggestions are more “games that you might bring to a party”:

pic1828796_lgOne Night Ultimate Werewolf – If you’ve ever played some version of the Mafia/Werewolf game, this takes that basic idea of trying to figure out who the bad guys are in the group and condenses it down to 10 minutes of crazy negotiation.  It’s one of the best short-form social deduction games out there, and if you like that style of game, this is a must-try.

3-10 players, 10 minutes to play, Cost: $25 – Available in Barnes & Noble/Books-a-Million, hobby game stores, and online

concept-box-webConcept – Concept takes the basic idea of a Password/Charades-style game (trying to get your teammates to guess a word or phrase) and twists it around, because instead of using words or actions to get your point across, you use the images on the board.  By putting cubes and tokens onto certain pictures, you can convey some pretty complex ideas, and win or lose, it’s a pretty cool experience.

4-12 players, 40 minutes to play, Cost: $40 – Available in Books-a-Million, some hobby game stores, and online.

coup3dCoup – Coup is another social game where bluffing and second-guessing are the core activities.  While in the same ballpark as something like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, it also has a lot of differences, because instead of being on teams, everyone is for themselves.  You try to keep your opponents guessing as you switch between bluffing and telling the truth to take different actions, eventually trying to eliminate all the other players and claim the crown.  It’s quick, brutal, and kinda mean in a really fun and light-hearted way.

2-6 players, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $15 – Available in Barnes & Noble/Books-a-Million, hobby game stores, and online

BangDiceBang! The Dice Game – So you have a Sheriff, his deputies, some outlaws, and a Renegade all fighting over a town.  All the lawmen want to take out the unsavory types, the Outlaws want to kill off the Sheriff, and the Renegade wants to face off against the Sheriff alone to take his job.  But the problem is that no one except for the Sheriff reveals their true intentions, so you have to figure it all out based on how they roll and use their dice each turn to attack other players.  It’s another social deduction kind of game, but this one is a little more on the wild and crazy side due to the dice rolling and special powers that everyone has.

3-8 players, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $18 – Available in

cardline-globetrotterCardline – Much like Timeline that I’ve mentioned in the past, Cardline is a very simple game about putting things in order.  Whether it’s the geographic location of cities, the size of animals, or who knows what else they’ll come up with, you can find one of these games to tickle your interest.

2-8 players, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $15 – Available in Barnes & Noble, educational toy stores, some hobby game stores, and online

Recommendations from previous lists: Tapple, WordARoundReverse Charades, Timeline, Time’s Up: Title Recall, Anomia, Word on the Street, Telestrations, Cloud 9, Balderdash

Childrens Games
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Children’s games are ones that are simple enough for very young kids to play with adult help, or for older children to play by themselves.  Especially with my girls getting a little older now, it’s become very important for me to find some really solid children’s games to play with them. Here in the U.S., it can still be pretty difficult to find anything more than the same old re-published mess with a new media tie-in that has always been around, but here are a few ideas that might be a little better to try:

BugsintheKitchenBugs in the Kitchen – This is a wild and crazy game where all the players are trying to catch a bug that’s running around in the kitchen.  What makes it amazing is that the bug is sort of actually alive and moves around the board! (Don’t worry, it’s just one of those mechanized HEXBUGs, not a real, live bug).  You get the bug to move towards your trap by twisting these little gates (made from forks, knives, and spoons) on the board to make a pathway that will hopefully lead into it and away from the other players, and the first player to catch 5 bugs is the winner!

2-4 players, Ages 5+, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $30– Available in some hobby game stores and online.

RhinoHeroRhino Hero – The point of this game is to get rid of your cards.  But what makes it cool is that you only get rid of them by building up this house of cards in the middle of the table and then moving the little, wooden Super Rhino figure up higher and higher as more floors are built.  If you make the house fall, you lose and the person with the least cards left wins!  But if you can make it to the top and empty your hand, you win!

2-5 players, Ages 6+, 10 minutes to play, Cost: $13 – Available some places online and especially from the publisher at HabaUSA

EnchantedForestEnchanted Forest – Enchanted Forest is a classic children’s game where you move around looking for different storybook characters and items hidden under cute little plastic trees.  But since the trees are put back after you look at them, there’s also a big memory element of remembering where things when you need to find them later in the game.  So for a memory game that has a lot more game involved than most, it’s a great choice with a wonderful theme.

2-6 players, Ages 6+, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $25 – Available in educational toy stores, some hobby game stores, and online

zingoZingo – This is a simple Bingo variant that uses pictures instead of letters and numbers. And to avoid the need for a caller, it has a neat little tile shooter device that spits out picture tiles.  If you need that tile for your board, you have to shout out its name before anyone else.  It’s very simple, and even comes in versions that use different media characters.

2-8 players, Ages 4+, 5 minutes to play, Cost: $20 – Available pretty much everywhere (big box stores, toy stores, game stores, and online)

doodlequest_Doodle Quest – This is a very unique game where players move through a series of quests to score points.  Each quest requires you to draw something to meet a challenge, but what’s interesting is that you actually do your drawing on a separate piece of clear plastic that you then lay over top of the challenge board to see how well you did.  For example, if it’s a maze on the quest board, you would need to draw the path you would take on your plastic sheet, and then lay it on top of the quest board to see if you made it through.  This is a game that I’m pretty excited about, and hope to possibly get for my girls this Christmas!

1-4 players, Ages 6+, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $28 – Available in educational toy stores, some hobby game stores, and online

Recommendations from previous lists:  Fastrack, Ghost Blitz, Loopin’ Louie, Spot It, Take the CakeGo Away Monster!, Rory’s Story Cubes, Sherlock, Animal Upon Animal  

Family Games
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Family games tend to be a little more complicated or involved than children’s games, so they are most appropriate for slightly older kids (starting at age 6 or more) and work really well for adults to play with children:

AugustusRise of Augustus – Even though this game has a Roman theme and a few other bells and whistles, at its core it’s basically a bingo-style game.  One player pulls tokens from a bag that tells you which kind of symbol you can cover on your cards.  The real decisions in the game, however, come in the fact that you have at least 3 cards that you’re working on, and that completed cards both give you points and give you abilities that may make it easier to complete the other cards you have left.  It’s a really fantastic game that plays quickly and continues to impress me.

2-6 players, Ages 8+, 20-30 minutes to play, Cost: $40 – Available in some hobby game stores and online

CamelUpCamel Up – This adorable camel racing game just won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in Germany.  The actual race is pretty random and chaotic, but what makes it fun is that the player choices comes in making bets on how the race will go.  And when camels land on other camels along the track, they actually stack up and then can move together in the future.  So if you’re looking for an attractive, light racing game, this might be right up your alley.

2-8 players, Ages 8+, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $45 – Available in Books-a-Million, some hobby game stores, and online

gravwellGravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension – Gravwell is another race game, except this time players are trying to escape in their spaceships from a black hole in the center of the board.  You start each round by taking turns drafting cards that will help you move, but which also have letters on them.  So then on each turn, everyone chooses one card at the same time and flips them over, and they take effect in alphabetical order based on that letter.  What makes it even cooler is that cards don’t just move you along the track, they usually either pull you towards or push you away from the nearest other ship, so trying to guess the order that they will play out in is really important (because you can easily end up moving backwards if another player’s ship moves before your card takes place).  It’s got a little higher-level thought and guessing in it, but is still pretty light and plays quickly.

1-4 players, Ages 8+, 20 minutes to play, Cost: $35 – Available in Barnes & Noble, some hobby game stores, and online

TtREuropeTicket to Ride: Europe – The original Ticket to Ride is probably the best family game out there, and this European version is now more widely available as well.  In both, players try to collect and use colored train cards to claim routes on the board to connect cities.  Points are scored both for claiming the routes and by completing Route cards that give you a goal of linking together two cities that might be very far apart.  The advantage of the European version is that it also includes an extra rule that keeps players from being blocked out of routes, which makes it a slightly “nicer” game.  The only disadvantage is that most Americans probably don’t know the geography as well (which could, of course, be a nice opportunity as well!).

2-5 players, Ages 8+, 60 minutes to play, Cost: $50 – Available in Barnes & Noble, most hobby game stores, and online

SoCShadows Over Camelot – This is a relatively light cooperative game (meaning that players work together to fight against the game instead of each other) about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  Players use their actions and special powers to collect cards, complete quests, and fight against the forces of darkness to win the game.  And to really raise the stakes, there’s even an option to include the possibility that one player might be a traitor to Camelot, who is secretly working against the rest of the group.  It’s a really fun game that can be played on many levels and which has a lot of excitement that your family and friends can face together.

3-7 players, Ages 10+, 90 minutes to play, Cost: $60 – Available in Barnes & Noble, most hobby game stores, and online

DnDStarterDungeons & Dragons Starter Set – This item is a little different in that it’s not a boardgame.  A brand new version of the classic roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons just came out this year, and they have released this extremely affordable starter box that has everything you would need to introduce it to your family or friends.  As someone who was dramatically influenced by a similar starter set many years ago, I’m excited to see something like this available again.  And just in case you have heard crazy or scary things about D&D in the past, let me assure you that it’s just a fun tool for being creative and making stories about heroes, monsters, and cool fantastic places.  If you and your children like to read or watch fantasy stories, it’s something I really think you need to try out.

2-6(ish) players, Ages 9-12+, 2-4 hours to play a session, Cost: $20 – Available in most book stores, hobby game stores, and online

Recommendations from previous lists: Hanabi, Mice and Mystics, Forbidden Desert, King of Tokyo, PitchCar, Survive: Escape from Atlantis, TsuroTobago, Qwirkle, Sorry Sliders, Ticket to Ride

Stocking Stuffers
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These are generally small form games that are easy to set up, quick to play, and don’t take up too much room on the shelf (or in the sock!):

SushiGoSushi Go – This adorable little game is all about collecting sushi to score points.  Each type of sushi scores in a different way, so you have to make some decisions about which ones you want to get to make them work together well.  The way you get these cards is through a “draft”, where you start with a hand of cards and choose just one of them.  Then you pass the rest of the cards to the next player while the player on your other side passes you the rest of their hand.  This is done over and over until all the cards are taken, and then you score.  It’s really fast, fun, and just too cute for words!

2-5 players, Ages 8+, 15 minutes to play, Cost: $15 – Available in Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, most hobby game stores, educational toy stores, and online

PandemicContagionPandemic: Contagion – It’s definitely a stretch to include this as a Stocking Stuffer (because the box would definitely stretch out any but the largest stockings it’s put in), but I wanted to find a place for it because I’m really enjoying it a lot right now.  Players actually take on the roles of virulent diseases that are threatening humanity, and spend actions each turn to draw cards, increase their abilities, and infect cities.  While being pretty quick and approachable, there’s still a lot of decisions to made, and I think it’s got a lot of meat for how long it takes to play.

2-5 players, Ages 13+, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $30 – Available in Books-a-Million, some hobby game stores, and online

DiamondsDiamonds – Diamonds is a brand-new trick-taking game that has its roots in things like Hearts or Spades, but also has some really cool twists that really change up how you approach the game.  It still feels like a traditional trick-taking game if you enjoy that sort of thing, but it also feels new and different.

2-6 players, Ages 8+, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $25 – Available in some hobby game stores and online

FooterFruitPairs – Pairs is more than just one new game, it’s actually a whole new style deck of cards that already has dozens of different games that you can play with it.  Most of the games center around the idea that getting a pair is a bad thing, but I’ve already tried out 5 or 6 of them, and there’s also a lot of variety in what different designers have done with it.  Plus, there are several different art styles for the deck ranging from fruit to pirates to goblins.  It’s impressed me enough that I hope to see a deck in my stocking on Christmas!

2-8 players, Ages 10+, 5-30 minutes to play, Cost: $10 – Available in some hobby game stores and online (especially at Paizo.com)

BuildersThe Builders: Middle Ages – The Builders is a simple card game where you collect Worker cards that will give you the resources and abilities you need to construct various Building cards.  You have a limited number of actions, have to manage your money, and be as efficient as you can to score enough points to win before you opponents do.

2-4 players, Ages 10+, 30 minutes to play, Cost: $18– Available in some hobby game stores and online

STI_boxSail to India – This incredibly small game is made up of just a deck of cards and a few wooden cubes, but it has the weight and depth of a full-sized euro-style board game.  Players use their actions to sail their ships, discover new cities, claim good, build buildings, and develop technologies, choosing the path that they believe will let them gain the most prestige and win the game.

3-4 players, Ages 12+, 60 minutes to play, Cost: $20 – Available in some hobby game stores and online

Recommendations from previous lists: Love Letter, Clubs, The Walking Dead Card Game, No Thanks!, Biblios, Divinare

Advanced Strategy Games
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“Advanced” can certainly be relative, but the hallmark of these games is that they tend to be a little too complex for children, require real thought and decision-making to play, and take a little longer to play.

SSuburbiauburbia – This is a city-building game where players buy buildings to add to their suburb to increase their income, grow their reputation, and hopefully attract more residents.  The really cool thing is that these buildings usually interact with the buildings around them (and sometimes even further away) to do cool things.  This game, more than any other, gives me some of the feel that I used to get playing SimCity and other things like that.

1-4 players, 90 minutes to play, Cost: $60 – Available in Barnes & Noble, some game stores, and online

EH01_3Dbox-LeftEldritch Horror – This is a heavy-duty cooperative game set in the HP- Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu mythos of the 1920’s.  Players take the role of investigators racing across the globe trying to learn more about and eventually thwart the plans of evil people, fight horrible monsters, and keep arcane horrors from beyond time at bay.  If you like the stories and theme of the Cthulhu mythos, I think this is far and away the best game to immerse you in that world.

1-8 players (but don’t play it with more than 5), 180 minutes to play, Cost: $60 – Available in Barnes & Noble, some hobby game stores, and online

Imperial AssaultImperial Assault – This is a Star Wars game where one player controls the forces of the Empire while everyone else plays Rebels trying to infiltrate their base.  It’s got lots of cool, plastic miniatures, has a number of scenarios to play through, and can even be played as a light miniatures skirmish game.  Yes, it’s expensive, but for the gamer in your life that loves Star Wars (and really, who of us isn’t), it’s a really cool gift.

2-5 players, 90+ minutes to play, Cost: $100 – Available in some hobby game stores and online

FreedomUndergroundRRFreedom: The Underground Railroad – On a completely different note, Freedom is a historically-themed cooperative game about helping to free slaves by moving them up the underground railroad and into Canada.  This game handles a very sensitive topic beautifully, and manages to be both a truly excellent game and to be an emotional window into the life of those brave slaves and conductors.  It’s a little heavy, but well worth the financial and emotional investment.

1-4 players, 90 minutes to play, Cost: $70 – Available in some hobby game stores and online

PFACG - RotRL_The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game – This game is a bit strange.  It’s a card game where players have a unique deck and special powers much like you would in a fantasy roleplaying game.  But what makes it really cool and different is that it’s played over a series of up to 33 different adventures, during which your characters abilities and the cards in their deck get better and better over time.  For a group, family, or individual looking for a long-term game that they can come back to over and over again, this is a really cool cooperative experience.  And you can now either get the original version or the new pirate-themed Skulls & Shackles version.

1-4(or 6) players, 30-60 minutes to play, Cost: $60 – Available in Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, some hobby game stores, and online

F5 Tribesive Tribes – Days of Wonder typically has more family-weight games, but Five Tribes is a little bit more complex.  It’s a really cool game where you move workers around an array of tiles to trigger different actions that let you do all sorts of things to score points.  It’s pretty easy to pick up and play, but there can definitely be some deep thought in figuring out what is the best move.  Plus, I always like it when a game has different strategies to try out, and Five Tribes is wide open when it comes to that kind of choice.

2-4 players, 60 minutes to play, Cost: $60 – Available in some hobby game stores and online

Recommendations from previous lists: Firefly: The Game, Compounded, Spyrium, Sentinels of the Multiverse, The Manhattan Project, Lords of Waterdeep, Puerto Rico, Pandemic

Buying
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I’ve mentioned in each description where you might find it, but here are some resources to help you locate some of the more obscure titles:

Hobby Game Stores (local to my area, anyway):

Online Game Stores:

  • Amazon.com – Amazon and/or their sellers have almost everything on the list, but it often costs a little more than most of the other stores below
  • Cool Stuff Inc. – Really low prices, great service, very rapid shipping especially for the Southeast US (my preferred online game store)
  • Game Surplus – excellent service, sometimes have rare imports (I’ve had good experiences with them before as well)
  • Miniature Market – I hear good things, especially about prices, but I’ve never used them myuself

3 Comments

  1. Mdubsd

    Well thought out list. Gravwell is a sleeper fun game. Ugly, but fun.

Comments are closed.