Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013 Holiday Game Gift Guide

As a reviewer, I'm frequently talking about different games.  I give my opinions on games, and try to give you ideas of what to buy for yourself or others.  So why a Christmas shopping list?  Well, a few thoughts.  First, it's nice to have a set of recommendations in one place.  Second, it's a lot easier to point people to a list rather than a blog and say read reviews.

Formatting note, each category has 5 games in it, except for the Personal Favorites.  Those games are ordered alphabetically, not in an order of preference.  There are no repeats on the list, but there are games that would work in more than one category.

Personal Favorites
These are games that are great in a variety of situations.  They're things that most casual gamers should have in their collection.  They are games I've enjoyed, and they work for a lot of different people and situations.
  • 7 Wonders - A card driven civilization building game.  Many different paths to take in the game: Merchant, Science, Warfare, Buildings.  Plays in around 45 minutes, less as you play more.
  • Article 27 - A very engaging negotiation game.  It's great for people who like to talk and try to make deals.  It's not too complex, so anyone can play, but there's some depth that isn't apparent right away.
  • Dominion - The grandfather of deckbuilding games.  Play cards to gain more cards, and ultimately victory points.  Plays in roughly 30 minutes, depends on the set of cards.
  • For Sale - Quick auction game.  Bid on properties, use those properties to gain checks, try to make the most money. 
  • Incan Gold - Push your luck game with a great sense of adventure.  Knowing when to run is key in the game.  Lots of fun for all ages and all types of players.
  • Settlers of Catan - One of the classics of modern gaming.  Compete to gather resources, build roads, settlements, and cities.  Be the first to 10 points and you win.  Lots of luck, good amount of skill.  If you want a twist on it, check out Star Trek Catan.
  • Ticket to Ride - Another classic of modern gaming.  Build routes on the map to complete tickets.  Have a network of trains to complete lots of tickets.  Easy to learn, quick to play.  I recommend either the US or Europe map to start.

Family Games for Young Children
These are primarily meant as games that young children can play with their siblings and/or parents.  I don't have much experience here, but I thought some ideas on this category would be helpful.
  • Botswana - A card game about gathering animals.
  • Bugs in the Kitchen - A quick game with a really cool toy factor.  You move utensils to guide a mechanical bug into your corner of the map
  • Forbidden Desert - A co-op game(everyone works together) about gathering parts of an ancient airship after you crash-land.
  • Loopin' Louie - Perhaps more of a toy with a game connected. Players try to make the plane land in someone else's farm.  The plane steals chickens until only one player has chickens left.
  • Sorry Sliders - Players slide pawns down a track, trying to score points in the center area.  Somewhat similar to Curling, but with much simpler scoring.
Family Games for Older Children
As kids get older, they're able to play more complicated games.  Here are some games that are fun for kids and adults.  These games offer a challenge, but are also light enough that people won't be upset.  The themes are also kid friendly.
  • The Adventurers - Ever wanted to feel like Indiana Jones? This really is the game for you. Avoid the walls closing in, the giant boulder running you down, lava pits, a rapid river and a rickety bridge.
  • Castle Panic - A Co-op tower defense game.  Work together as a team to defeat goblins, trolls, and other fantasy evils.
  • Say Anything Family - Ever wonder which boy band is the best, or which Disney princess in your dad's favorite.  This is a great way to find out.  Lots of fun questions, and players can write anything they want as an answer.
  • Word on the Street - A tug-of-war of words.  Work in teams to spell long words that fit the category.  
  • Zooloretto - Ever wonder what it might be like to run your own zoo?  Zooloretto gives each player a chance to see how well they'd do as a zookeeper. 
Games for all Ages
These are games for families, for kids, for adults, basically, whoever plays games.  They're not the most complex, but they are fun, and fairly short.
  • Can't Stop - A push-your-luck dice game.  You roll 4 dice, combine 2 dice to make numbers, and then move that marker up. You only get 3 markers each round, and if you don't roll your numbers you lose. You can freeze after any roll, so there is an interesting choice to be made.
  • Escape: Curse of the Temple - A real time co-op dice game.  This game takes exactly 10 minutes to play.  It's also probably the most intense 10 minutes of gaming you'll experience.
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Save people, and pets, from a burning building.  It's a great theme, a good challenge, and has good replayability.  
  • King of Tokyo - A game of King of the Hill with all the randomness of a Godzilla movie.  Players are trying to destroy each other and the city of Tokyo.  
  • Shadows Over Camelot - A Co-op game in the times of King Arthur.  Work together to fight the forces of evil, defeat the black night, find Excalibur and the Holy Grail, hold off the Picts and Saxons.  And if that wasn't hard enough, there might be a traitor amongst you.
Stocking Stuffers
These are relatively inexpensive games, I believe all are under $20, perhaps even $10. They're quick to play, and work in various situations.
  • Bananagrams - A different take on the classic Scrabble.  Awesome carrying pouch, and no letter points make the game play faster and easier.
  • Hanabi - A co-op card management game.  You really have to work well together to get out the right information at the right time.  This is a challenging game, but fun for a great number of people.
  • Love Letter - 16 cards, some cubes, and very strategic gameplay with a bit of luck.  The game plays quickly, but it also good fun.
  • No Thanks! - A quick card game with numbers. Players use chips to pass on cards or take cards.  Cards are points at the end of the game, but like golf, the low score wins.  Chips are negative, and when you take a card with chips, you gain the chips as well.  Make a run of cards and only the lowest card in that run scores.
  • The Resistance - An interesting deduction/find the traitor game.  Plays quickly and doesn't feature player elimination like Werewolf/Mafia does.
Games for Teenagers/Young Adults
I'm thinking of games I was able to play in High School and College, plus some new games that would have been great for those groups.  A lot of the family games would work here as well.  The biggest thing for this category is theme.  13-25 is a time of life where most people, guys especially, want some theme in their games.  Theme helps draw people in.  These are all games with fun themes and good gameplay to back it up.
  • Battlestar Galactica - Amazing theme incorporation, often a tense game, superb with 5 players.  It runs long (around 3 or 4 hours) but it's a great experience.
  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game - I haven't played this, but I've heard wonderful things about it from some friends who love roleplaying.  It seems to have a lot of variety and depth.
  • Risk Legacy - This is THE GAME to buy for someone who loves Risk.  It's such a different game experience while holding on to the same mechanics.  It's still dice rolling and armies all over the place, but the game will end.  It's a matter of points and objectives not just take over the world.
  • Small World - A fairly quick (~45-60 minutes) combat game. Players use combinations of fantasy races and powers to stay on the map and earn points.  Eventually all good things must come to an end, but new things come out.  Combat is simple, turns are quick, but choices are meaningful.
  • Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game - If you have a child/parent/spouse/sibling/cousin/fiancè/etc. who loves Star Wars, buy this for them.  They will love it.  This is Star Wars space battles in a box.  There's a lot of room to expand, but this is a great place for anyone to start.
Couples games
These are all 2-player games. They come recommended to me by several couples.  I will say that I am not an expert, or even a novice here.  Really, Games with Two is your best resource for couples games in general.
  • Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small - I haven't played this, but the wonderful people over at Games With Two did a fantastic review.  Here's the Link.
  • Lost Cities - An adventure game using numbers to gain points on various trips.  You have to play cards in ascending order, and once you skip something you can never go back.  Several interesting choices in the game.
  • Hive - A tile game where each piece type has a different power associated with it.  I've only played it on the iOS, but it's a challenging game, and a good battle of wits.
  • Kahuna - Players use cards to place or remove bridges from various islands.  If you gain the majority around an island, you take control of that island and remove your opponent's bridges to that island.  That action might cause them to lose a majority on another island, and the ripple effect ensues.
  • Mr. Jack - A deduction game that uses special character abilities.  Jack the Ripper assumes a hidden identity which the inspector attempts to uncover.  Jack tries to escape under the cover of darkness, or last 8 turns, in either case he wins.
Games for the Non-Gamer
These are some ideas for games to get someone who isn't already a gamer.  They may never become a hardcore gamer, but these are some fun games that are easy to learn, play in under 30 minutes, and work for a variety of people.
  • Beyond Balderdash - A hilarious game about making things up while trying to sound like the official answer.  Balderdash is just definitions of words, Beyond Balderdash extends that to dates, places, and all kinds of other things.
  • Blokus - A great game for visual spacial people.  The puzzle pieces are tricky to get in the board, and other players often mess you up, but it's a great challenge.
  • Ingenious - This is a big matching game. The challenge comes as space gets tighter and your options decrease.  There's a lot of planning, but also choices to be made each turn.
  • Qwirkle - Place tiles in rows and columns with either the same color or the same shape, just no doubles.  Gain extra points for making a Qwirkle (all 6 pieces in a row/column)
  • Take it Easy - Similar to Bingo, but all skill instead of the random luck of numbers.  It's a puzzle game, and no direct interaction, but a true challenge of a game.
    Games for the Zombie/Horror Enthusiast
    I am not personally one of these people, but I know Zombies are a big thing lately, and there are several games that use the theme to varying degrees of success. The same goes for the horror genre, though I've played some of those games.  
    • Arkham Horror - This is the biggest game for the category.  It's a mega co-op game.  There are bunches of cards and even more tokens.  There are also around a dozen expansions.  It's a fantastic game for Lovecraft fans, and a solid game for people looking for a deep co-op experience.
    • Elder Sign - Set in the Arkham Horror universe, Elder Sign is a co-op dice game.  The challenge is to collect Elder Signs before an evil one awakens, wreaking all kinds of havoc.  Players use cards, strategy, and lots of luck to complete quests and earn items crucial to their success.  This is by no means easy, but it is a good challenge.
    • Give Me the Brain - Ever wonder what would happen if a bunch of Zombies ran a fast food restaurant? Well, this game gives you the opportunity to find out.  It's a fairly quick card game where you try to get rid of your cards as quickly as you can.
    • Last Night on Earth - A team game of humans versus zombies.  Humans are trying to escape/survive/kill zombies based on the scenario.  Gameplay is simple, lots of dice, and some fun to be had.
    • Mansions of Madness - An investigation game where players much seek out clues, avoid monsters, and try to escape with their sanity intact.  
    Party Games
    These are games that work for a large group of people.  They're meant to be loud and energetic games with a lot of laughs.
    • Bang - A wild west shoot the bad guy game.  The sheriff is known to all players, but all other players are hidden.  The outlaws try to kill the sheriff while the good guys try to kill all the outlaws.
    • Dixit Odyssey - Any Dixit works, Odyssey plays with the most people.  Dixit has amazing artwork, and draws on players imagination and story-telling abilities.  Even if you're not a good storyteller, or a creative person in general, this game is still a lot of fun.
    • Mafia/Werewolf - A hidden identity and player role game.  The werewolves/Mafia know who each other are, but the "regular" people have no clue who is who.  The "bad" guys get a kill every night, and then the group as a whole can take someone out during the day for suspicions of being the "bad" guy.  It's an interesting exercise in group think
    • Telestrations / Eat Poop You Cat - Words into a picture or a picture into words.  The game is a hilarious example of how bad communication is amongst people, especially when you can't draw.  There are no real winners or losers here, just a great way to spend time and recount things at the end.
    • Wits and Wagers Party - A trivia game where you don't really have to know anything.  Sure, having an idea about things is good, but these questions are set-up so that you don't have to know it exactly in order to do well.  The game plays fast, but there's room for discussion and chat.  It also helps to know those around you, so when that random movie question comes up, you know to bet on the movie "expert." Or when the science question comes up, you bet on the guy who's taught HS science for 20 years. The better version of Trivial Pursuit.
    Games Released in 2013 that are Worth a Look, Even Though We Haven't Played Them Much or At All.
    • Augustus - I've heard this described as gamer's Bingo.  It's a fairly light game, but looks to be a great family game.
    • Caverna - I've heard this called Agricola 2.0.  So, if your gamer is a fan of Agricola, this is certainly worth a look.
    • Eldritch Horror - This is a followup game to the wildly popular Arkham Horror.  It's cooperative, and has a lot tough decisions.  There's a lot of different things going on in this game, so players should never be bored.
    • Firefly: The Game - A must have game for the Firefly gamer in your life.  The theme is woven through this game at every turn.  It may not be a perfect game, but it captures Firefly.
    • The Duke - I've heard this described as boardgamer's chess.  There are pieces on a board that can move in different ways, but once they move, the tile is flipped over and a different move is possible.  I think this has a lot of potential, especially for a chess player looking to get into boardgames.
    Games for Gamers
    There's a lot of variety in games that gamers will like. What this category attempts to do is give some games, both new and old, that should appeal to a wide variety of gamers
    • Agricola - A classic Euro style game with a lot of replayability.  Players act as a farmer, balancing growing crops, raising animals, procuring resources for the home, and feeding their family.  There are a lot of choices to be made here, and not everything can always be done.
    • Black Friday - A Stock Market manipulation game.  There are a lot of ways to adjust the market, a lot of back and forth, fighting to increase the value of a good so you can sell it for more, or lower it, so your opponent's stash is less valuable.  The game can get a bit mathy, but it's money, so not too bad.
    • Cosmic Encounter - The grandfather of variable player powers.  Cosmic is a negotiation game with a streamlined combat system.  There's a ton of chaos, but it's mostly controlled chaos.
    • Power Grid - Another economic game with a twist.  Players purchase power plants to power cities and buy resources to power the power plants. Power plants involve an auction, purchasing resources is done from a market so that the player who is "losing" pays the least for resources.
    • Twilight Struggle - A two player political game that recreates the cold war.  Twilight Struggle is tense, has a lot going on, and will actually teach you a thing or two about the cold war era.  
    Where to actually buy the games.
    There are several places to buy these games.  Target, Toys R Us and Barnes & Nobles carry some of these games, but not all.  Amazon has just about every game listed here but can often be a little expensive.
    I personally recommend these online sites
    I hope these give you some great ideas for games to buy for those around you.
    62 games should give you some ideas.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you. May your days be spent with the ones you love.

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