First, let me give a big shoutout to Ogrecave and their yearly Holiday Gift Guide on games. I’ve found quite a few great games through there and the guys who put it together are very knowledgeable. They focus on a few specific areas of games and list a bunch for each. Also, Boardgamegeek has their own holiday gift guide that I recommend.
Here, I will attempt to cover a variety of kinds of games in a wide price range so that there’s an option for every budget- or more specifically, the difference between a big gift you’d give to a spouse and a small gift you’d give to a cousin. Also, I am attempting to cover games with a lot of crossover appeal between people with different gaming tastes- i.e. I won’t be recommending Twilight Imperium.
With that in mind, off we go!
Are You A Werewolf?
$4 at Funagain.com
8-15 Players (combine sets for more, though I don’t recommend it), 45+ minutes
For when you’ve got a large group of people, this is the game for you. #1 on my list of all time favorite games, Werewolf is based on a Russian folk game called Mafia. It’s not for everyone, since gameplay involves accusing your fellow players of being werewolves (and lynching them), but it’s a deeply psychological game with a variety of strategies and intricacies created by the personalities of your fellow players. This is my preferred set and theme (a version called “Do You Worship Cthulhu? was just released) but I may be a bit biased because I worked on it. Still, this is definitely the cheapest one out there, and believe it, it helps a lot to have a deck with the roles and pictures to go with it instead of having to explain “The Ace is the seer…”
$8 at Funagain.com
3-5 Players, 20 Minutes
A simple concept hides a deceptively nasty game. Cards have a number, and give you negative points. You have a pile of chips, that are positive points. When it’s your turn, either put a chip on the card and pass it to the next person, or take the card and everything on it. But if you can connect the cards in a run, only the lowest card counts. From these simple rules come a great mix of strategy, luck, and threatening to screw other people.
D&D Minis Starter
$20 on Amazon.com
2 Players*, 45 minutes
The starter pack gives you everything you need to play against someone in the D&D Minis wargame. It’s a fast moving minis game with army building, and you can play right out of the box- the plastics come prepainted so you don’t have to spend any extra time on them to get to play. However, the reason I starred the 2 player is that even if someone is not interested in playing the minis game, you also get minis for playing D&D. I have a big box of them (I’ve been playing since the very first set) and grid maps, so I can be pretty popular to invite to D&D games. Don’t you want to be popular at D&D games? Get some minis!
Oh, and if you really want to be popular, pick up the Colossal Red Dragon. At least, you’ll be popular with DMs, maybe not so much the players…
$20 at Funagain.com
3-8 Players, 15 Minutes
A reissue of the game Diamant, previously only available in German for double the price. I have only played Diamant, but this should be nearly identical. Everyone is an Indiana Jones-type explorer venturing into ancient temples to recover treasure. Every turn, each person secretly decides whether to leave the exploration and take whatever gems they have already gathered with them (along with possibly a few extras) or push on, hoping they don’t run into a variety of possible disasters. A simultaneous play push-your-luck game (of which I wish there were more) with an added guess what everyone else is doing element, Incan Gold makes a great light romp. Also one of the few games that supports 8 players and is quick to boot.
Wii Points Cards
Some people have decried the fact that you have to pay to download classic titles on the Nintendo Wii. We’d all like it to be free, but you do get added value of being able to play games from 5 different systems all on one machine. Plus, you get to play on the wireless Wiimote on your big tv. Giving these Wii Points cards says “Here, I want you to buy Bomberman so we can play against each other.”
Shab al-Hiri Roach
$20 from IndiePressRevolution.com
In the Indie RPG style, Shab al-Hiri Roach is an rpg with a very concrete setting with a single “adventure” and whose game mechanics are tailored specifically to the game. However, this means it’s a role playing game that actually has focus on the “game” part- you play a character but you also have interesting strategic choices to make. And in this game, the main choice is “Will you let an ancient hyper-intelligent Sumerian cockroach take over your brain?” As squabbling professors at a 1920’s university, you attempt to out-wit and abuse your fellow professors while trying to not end the game with an ancient insect in your head.
As I’ve said in my full review, this is a great game that has stuff for gamers and can easily be played with a non-gamer audience. Combining very accessible trivia (almost none of the questions can be memorized, but most can be estimated) with strategic betting, this one gets requested by a wide variety of players.
$35 on Funagain.com
2-6 Players, 2 hours
The oldest game on the list- I actually received this last year as an xmas gift- Power Grid nonetheless has been frequently requested. It is a perfect “middle-weight” game: it is a fair amount of strategic depth, has a long “game story arc”, and is filled with choices and elements to balance and manage. The theme is very strong, and has people understanding a lot of the concepts right away. We’ve had some balance concerns, but I’m still waiting to talk to someone with a lot of experience in it before I pass final judgement. And if you get tired of the two included maps (USA and Germany), four new expansion maps are out, and there’s a modular one available on BGG.
$48 on Funagain.com
2-4 Players, 60 minutes
Fantasy Flight has had a lot of success with their big box games- ones that contain a lot of bits, have meaty gameplay, and a strong theme. Marvel Heroes, just released, seems to be no exception. From the same design team that created the lauded War of the Ring comes this game where you play a team of Marvel Superheroes AND a super-villain who makes trouble for the other players’ superteams. The previews for this game have been very encouraging, capturing the spirit of comics without bogging down into the usual “roll a bunch of dice to fight” mechanics. I just hope that 60 minute play time is accurate… I haven’t been able to try FFG’s World of Warcraft board game due to the length of time it takes.
Ticket to Ride + 1910 Expansion
$37 + $14 on Funagain.com
2-5 Players, 30-60 minutes
For a while I was saying that Ticket to Ride: Marklin was my favorite in the series. And while I still enjoy it, I think the simplicity of the original may be best for most folks. And now, a new expansion has been released that fixes many of the balance issues I had with the original and gives us new, better cards to replace the worn deck that has cropped up from all the plays it’s gone through. Another one where the theme gives a great boost to understanding, and has simple turn options combined with just enough luck to keep things chugging along. If you’re not familiar with either, Ticket to Ride is a game about laying train track connections between cities by drafting cards of certain colors. The longer the track you lay, the more points you get, but the harder it is to collect that many cards. Additionally, everyone has secret connection cards that show you what cities you want to connect by your track in a contiguous line to score points. Be careful though, because any connections you don’t make at the end count against you!
Carcassonne Big Box
$56 on Funagain.com
2-6 players, 30+ minutes
Is it the year of improving hits of yesteryears? The Carcassonne Big Box takes the original Carcassonne and puts in all the expansions that have been released for it. The expansions range in quality, and each one no matter what adds more rules to a simple and elegant game. Still, each expansion increases the replay value, and you can always go back to the “plain vanilla” version when you want. For those who don’t know, Carcassonne is a game where you draw tiles from a bag and add to a landspace, creating in the process cities, roads, and fields. You then can choose to place a guy (called a Meeple) on the tile you just played in an attempt to score points depending on what you’re building. Every time you end up with a different landscape, and is a nice blend of strategy and tactics.
Any other games you’d recommend?