Welcome to 2015 edition of my annual holiday board game gift guide. In this guide, I hope to give you a great mix of games, which are simple to learn and a blast to play. This year I have four game categories ranging from family games to more advanced “gamer’s games”.
Many of these games won’t be at your big box stores, though Target and Barnes and Noble do offer a good selection. If you can’t find the game, try Amazon or another online game store. Of course your friendly local game store is a great place to look… shop local!
I am also not including the same games I put on previous year’s list as I didn’t want any repeats. Those games are still great and are some of my first recommendations. So look back at the previous lists for even more great ideas!
Games in this category are family friendly in rules, length, and theme. Children below seven may need a partner to help them. The themes have a wide appeal, and the rules are easy to learn.
1. Timeline Challenge
Timeline Challenge takes a games series I love, Timeline, and adds five new ways to play, creating an amazingly fun and educational game that is perfect for families. Instead of just doing the traditional timeline, now you have four different types of challenges. These include guessing the exact date of one card, guessing how many years apart two events occurred, and betting on which era one event occurred. The best part is that you can use any game from the Timeline Series. If you already love timeline, this is a must buy. If you don’t, it’s a great place to start. Timeline Challenge is a great gift for anyone who loves trivia, guessing games, and family games.
2. Rhino Hero
Rhino Hero has been a surprise hit with everyone I introduced it to and causes more laughter and smiles than almost any game I have. My students love it, my family loves it, and I’m very glad I picked this little gem up. Rhino Hero is a card stacking game where players are trying to build a tower by placing roofs and walls. Each roof card has a marking to show where to place the wall cards and possibly a special symbol. These symbols may reverse play direction, skip a player, let a player place two roof cards or, the most dreaded, make the next player move the wooden Rhino Hero. The person who causes the tower to fall loses, and the person with the fewest roof cards wins! A simple, quick game, with great components and lots of fun packed into a tiny box!
Dimension is an amazing three-dimensional puzzle game where players stack five different colored spheres according to the changing rules. Each round six cards are set out on the table; these form the rules for that round. For example, players may not be allowed to place blue and white next to each other, they must only use two black spheres, or they cannot place any color on top of white. Playing at the same time, players must place their spheres correctly in order to score the most points. There is a timer, so you have to think fast, remember the rules, and keep track of your spheres to score the best you can before time runs out. Players get points for each sphere they use and for having used all five colors. You then lose points if you don’t follow a rule correctly. Dimension has been a hit with everyone I have tried it with. People who enjoy puzzles and logic games will like this one. The timer can cause some tension, but you can always play without it. The colorful spheres, three-dimensional aspect, and easy rules create a fast-paced logic game suitable for ages six and up, the younger children may find it a bit difficult.
4. Bad Beets
Does anyone in your family not like to eat their vegetables? Then Bad Beets is for you. Bad Beets is a bluffing card game where players are trying to be the first to “eat” (or more likely get rid of) all of their beets. Cards allow players to share beets with other players, ‘feed the dog’, copy their opponent’s actions, or even tattle on others. You can choose the do the action you have on your card, or you can bluff and take a different action of your choice. Of course, others can call your bluff. If someone calls you out and don’t have the card, then you can’t take the action. But if you do, the tattle tale gets punished by having to take another beet.
Both adults and children can play Bad Beets, the theme, artwork, and components are inviting, and the rules are intuitive. Younger people who have played the game love the bluffing aspect and the ability to call out the adults they think aren’t being truthful. I was amazed at how fast they picked up the strategy, and how good they are are reading others. Bad Beets is a great family activity, where everyone will be laughing and calling out Grandma for feeding the dog her beets.
5. Rory’s Story Cubes
Rory’s Story Cubes are more of an activity than a game. The dice have different pictures on each side and players roll them and then tell a tale with the rolled pictures. There are nine cubes in each set, and each side is unique. Players may roll a castle, a house, and a lock to tell a tale of the poor farmer who rescued the princess locked away in a dragon’s tower.
There are different ways to play, from telling a story together, starting with a title and telling a story with the dice that are rolled, or just telling a story after the dice are rolled. There are even expansions with more dice to add variety to the games. Rory’s Story Cubes is great for the creative and imaginative family. I can also see this being played with children still too young to read, but who love to tell stories. The can “write” a story with you, the only limit is their imagination. A great price point and great components make it a perfect stocking stuffer.
6. King of Tokyo
Gigantic robots, monsters, and aliens are vying to be the top monster and King of Tokyo. Players play one monster and roll six dice on their turn. The dice allow players to heal, gain victory points, gain energy or attack the other players. The dice are rolled Yahtzee style as players to try to get the perfect combination. Going into Tokyo has both risk and reward as it gives your extra victory points, but you can’t heal in Tokyo. Players can use the gained energy to buy special cards that may deal damage to all the other players, heal wounds, or even gain armor. Players win by getting twenty victory points, or by being the last monster standing.
Rolling dice, getting special rewards with the cards, and being the fiercest monster in Tokyo makes King a Tokyo a great game for families who like ‘take that’ style games. It’s a bit more complicated that the other family games on this list to learn but a blast to play once you understand the rules. I found young children picked it up quickly and they enjoyed beating up on each other. Players also enjoy the push your luck aspect of staying in Tokyo to gain points or leaving to heal and fight another day.
These games involve a deck of cards and maybe a few other components. They aren’t your traditional card games like UNO or solitaire. They can all be enjoyed by the family and are easy to learn. They are also very portable making them easy to take to a holiday gathering.
Red7 rules are simple, highest card wins, and you must be winning at the end of your turn to stay in the game. If you don’t have the highest card, well, change the rules! For example, you can play a violet card and now the rule is that the player with the most cards below four wins. The cards match the various colors of the rainbow and players must be smart about the order and number of cards they play on their turn. There is a lot of strategy for a game with only 49 cards.
Each round is quick and losing one round isn’t so bad. You can quickly shuffle the cards and start again. The re-playability is high for Red7. There are also some advanced rules for those looking for an even deeper gaming experience.
2. Sushi Go
Sushi Go is a game about eating sushi and scoring the most points. It’s a card drafting game, which means players have a hand of cards and they must choose which card to keep and which card to pass There are many different ways to score points and to block the other players from scoring points. Players are also trying to collect the most pudding cards that only score at the end of game.
Sushi Go is a great game of meaningful decisions and lots of options of how to score points. It works with with players young and old. The artwork is really cute and the cards are good quality. This might work best with older children because they will need to understand the relationships and combinations of the cards to score points.
Hanabi is a cooperative card game in which players are trying to create the most spectacular fireworks show. Players know the cards each other player has, but they don’t know their own cards as you have to hold your cards so only the other players can see what is in your hand.
To create the show, players must place the five different colors in order from 1-5. You can give hints about the colors and the numbers they have in their hand, but those hints are limited. Players can also discard cards or play a card to the table. The players must work together to avoid making mistakes and trying to finish the fireworks show before they run out of cards. Even if you don’t finish with a perfect score you do score points for how well you do each game. The goal can be doing better next time.
Hanabi’s theme, interesting mechanics and cooperative nature make it a great little game. Also, if cards aren’t you thing, the deluxe version uses tiles instead of cards.
4. Machi Koro
Machi Koro is a city building dice game. Players are trying to build up their city in an effort to be the first to develop all their landmarks. Each turn the player will roll one or two dice and add the dice together to determine what will happen on their turn. If the total equals the number on one of their buildings, they get the benefit of that building. An opponent may also be able to gain an benefit. For example, the player may roll a 5 and anyone who owns a forest can gain one coin from the bank.
I love the art, simple rules, and dice rolling in Machi Koro. Without the expansions the game can lose its luster and rely too much on luck. It’s still a good game and new gamers will enjoy that mix of strategy and luck. Once you have played a few games start looking at the expansions for variety and added strategy.
5. Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game
With the popularity of Microbrews, Brew Crafters: the Travel Card Game is a great game for the beer enthusiast in your life. During the game, players are building up their brewery with equipment and workers and gathering ingredients to craft beers. Players earn reputation for brewing beer and the player with the best reputation wins the game.
I love the strategy and meaningful decisions of Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game. There doesn’t seem to be one strategy that will guarantee victory, so there is a lot of replay value. I love that the cards are used for multiple purposes, and you have to choose the best way to use the cards. The artwork, meaningful decisions, and multiple-use cards combine into a fun and light card game. Brew Crafters: the Travel Card Game is a great game for any game collection.
Teenager and Adult Games
Teenager and Adult Games are are a bit more complicated than Family Games and may include more adult themes. The games are more challenging and sometimes involve direct player conflict. They can still be played by families, but may require more time to learn the rules.
1. Baseball Highlights 2045
Baseball Highlights 2045 would be a great game for the sports fans on your list. This beautiful card game is set in a future where cyborgs, robots, and the occasional “natural” player compete in a fast-paced version of baseball. It isn’t a simulation of baseball, but it still feels like baseball. The game is really a back and forth duel between the pitcher and the hitter. During each “mini-game”, each player alternates playing six cards. The cards may have both defensive and/or offensive plays. And players must use strategy to decide what to do on their turn. Do they stop a hit, or save their out for a future bigger hit. In between each mini-game players can buy free agents and send a lesser player back to the minors (out of their hand) as a way to create a stronger team.
Baseball Highlights 2045 is quick to play and packed with a lot of meaningful decisions. The decisions you make in one mini-game will affect your entire game. I like building up my team with free agents in-between the mini-games. Your team will be very different by the end of the game, no two games I have played have been the same. Baseball fans, sports fans and even casual fans will enjoy this fast-paced version of baseball.
2. Roll For the Galaxy
Roll for the Galaxy is a dice building game set in space. The dice represent your populace and during the game you explore, develop new technology, settle worlds, and produce and trade goods to gain credits. Players roll their dice and choose which action to take based on the dice rolls. Play is simultaneous, so there isn’t a lot of downtime during the game. The game allows for a good amount of luck mitigation by allowing for creative ways to manipulate your dice. There isn’t a lot of player interaction or confrontation in Roll for the Galaxy, which may draw some players in while at the same time disappointing others. You will still need to outguess your opponents and build up your tableau before the others. The game seems extremely balanced and every game I have played has been very close.
Roll for the Galaxy is a easy game to learn but it will take sometime to understand the interactions and strategy of the game. The game also plays quickly and allows for multiple plays in one sitting. This would be a great gift for a science fiction fan or a dice lover.
Viticulture puts players in the role of a small winemaker in old-world Tuscany. Players build up their vineyard by planting fields, harvesting grapes, creating new structures and filling wine orders. In Viticulture, the components, artwork, and mechanics combine to create an artistic and thematic game about the wine-making business. Players start with two plots of land, a crush pad, a cellar, and three workers and use careful planting, helpful visitors, and smart gameplay to build up their vineyard. The work of the vineyard varies with the season and, once a worker is used, he is done for the year so you need to be very careful of your choices.
I really love the artwork and components of this worker placement game. The game is beautiful to look at. I love the build up the vineyard and the aging process of the wines. The play over the four seasons is a simple concept but adds much to the gameplay. Once you have played and get to the know the game I highly recommend getting the Tuscany expansion. The different modules of the expansion can be mixed in to the base game to create a whole new experience. A few of them have become permanent parts of our games.
4. Favor of the Pharaoh
Favor of the Pharaoh is another dice game on this list. In this game you are building up a dice pool and gaining ways to manipulate your dice. All of this is in preparation for a final dice roll off at the end of the game. You gain dice by going through different levels of Egyptian society and, as you gain favor, you travel up to the higher levels of the pyramid. Once a player has gained the Queen’s influence a final contest for the Pharaoh’s favor occurs. The final roll-off will determine which player wins the favor of the Pharaoh to win the game.
There are so many different tiles included in the game that set-up combinations seem endless. Building a growing dice pool is fun and is necessary to stay in the contest. There are also many different ways to manipulate your dice that helps take away some of the luck. The best part is that last dice roll off to determine the winner. It won’t just be luck that wins that final roll off, what you accomplished during the game will affect your result. Favor of the Pharaoh would be a great game for anyone who enjoys the Egyptian Theme, but most importantly likes to roll a lot of dice.
5. Pandemic the Cure
Pandemic the Cure is a cooperative game where players are working together to cure the world of deadly diseases. It is the faster dice version of the popular Pandemic Board Game. During the game, each player takes on different roles such as the medic or researcher. Each role has a unique ability and custom dice. The dice allow the players to take actions such as treating diseases, taking samples, and flying between regions. The goal is to cure all four diseases but disaster can strike if too many outbreaks occur, too many people get infected, or the rate of infection gets too high.
Cooperative games allow all players to compete together instead of against each other which can appeal to many people. The quick gameplay (only 30 minutes), appealing theme, fantastic components, and fun push your luck dice rolling make Pandemic the Cure stand out among other cooperatives. It isn’t easy to win, but you can always play another round, and it feels fantastic when you can save the world.
Party games are great icebreakers, family bonding experiences, and ways to pass the time with friends and loved ones. These games may involve some loud noises, laughter, and memory making opportunities.
1. SpyfallIn this bluffing and deduction game, one player is the spy, trying to discover their location while all other players are trying to discover who is the spy. At the beginning of a round each player receives a location card (Circus Tent / Police Station / Zoo) and one player receives the spy card. Players then ask each other questions to discover who is the spy, and if they do, they win the round. If the spy can stay hidden, and discover the location the spy wins the round.
Spyfall is a great party game that is quick to play, easy to teach, and a lot of fun. It would be great for groups who like social deduction games and wouldn’t have trouble coming up with questions to ask. You get a chance to be creative not only with your questions but also with your answers.
2. ConceptConcept is a very unique and cerebral party game. Using the iconography of the board, one player will try to get the others to guess the word or phrase. There are a wide variety of icons on the board that describe concepts such as directions, size/relationships, colors, feelings, genres of created works, etc… The player will place a question mark for a big idea and matching colored cubes to support that idea.
The game can be played in teams, as individuals, or my favorite way, everyone working together. There are points awarded for being the correct guesser, but we rarely use them in our games. Concept is a great because the rules or simple but you really have to think. It isn’t a game where you might expect a lot of shouting and laughter, but you will have a good time together. For anyone who likes deduction, critical thinking, and being creative, Concept would be the perfect party game.
Codenames is a unique word game. In Codenames there is a grid of 25-word cards; these are the ‘codes’ that represent the code names of different spies. Two different teams of players are trying to guess who their spies are, avoid guessing the other teams spies, and avoid the assassin. One team member gives a one-word clue and a number, matching the number of cards in the grid that fit that clue. The team then can guess words they think fit the clue. If they guess correctly it is covered with their teams color. If it is not correct, it is covered with the other teams color if it belongs to them or with neutral if it belongs to no one. If the assassin is guessed, the team immediately loses.
Codenames will be enjoyed by both gamers and nongamers, the simple rules and easy gameplay makes it accessible to almost anyone. I also like the fact that it is a party game that can also be played by only two players. Codenames is a party game that makes you think critically, make smart choices, and weigh your options.