‘Tis the season and many people are rushing to find gifts for their families and friends. While we could join the bandwagon of clothes, gadgets, and knick-knacks, we’d like to instead focus on what we know – tabletop games.
Last year we waited until the end of 2017 to talk about our favorite games that year. For 2018, we instead will list our favorite choices for holiday gifts.
If you haven’t purchased something for that gamer friend or family member, then this could be a good jumping off point!
Our first section will deal with what we call “heavy” or “complex” games, often for your more dedicated gamer. These games often have complex rules, lots of parts, and require an afternoon or evening to play.
Brass: Birmingham is an economic strategy game set during the Industrial Revolution. Players not only manufacture and sell product, but also must also expand their business network and influence the market.
A sequel to the original Brass, Birmingham is praised for its tight mechanics, interesting synergies, and gorgeous artwork and materials. The main downside is the sheer complexity of the game, which can intimidate more casual players.
Rising Sun is what happens when you turn Diplomacy into a miniature game set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan. Each person plays a Clan attempting to build up their honor through politics or open war.
Rising Sun received approval for interesting mechanics (that award actions take over territory gained) and gorgeous models. Unfortunately, the game has tons of components, lots of setup, and requires a significant footprint, so make sure you gift this to those with adequate space and time.
Root is a fantasy wargame, where players portray different animals attempting to control the vast wilderness. Each group has its own strengths, weakness, tactics, and goals, ranging from building fortifications and resources to guerrilla tactics or working for multiple sides.
The asymmetric play is what sets Root above many other games, some players have advantages others don’t, offset by differing paths towards victory. The downside is the unbalanced factions often confuse novice gamers, who may become disenchanted when things aren’t “fair” for their group.
Taking a step back from the “heavy” games, we’d like to talk about more easily played and accessible options. The following are still more complex than your average “Ameritrash,” but they’re played by hardcore and casual groups alike.
Chronicles of Crime is a cooperative crime-solving game that crosses the line between tabletop and app-based games. Players try to catch the killer in different scenarios provided by an app by investigating locations, examining objects, and interrogating people; the app also scans the game’s pieces to provide additional clues.
Chronicles is praised for its great stories and intriguing mechanics, as well constantly new (or changing) scenarios that dramatically increase replayability. The downsides include the need for a mobile device to play, or (in the case of its VR option) an expensive piece of equipment.
Thunderstone Quest feels like a deck-building version of Talisman without the frustrating randomness (and boredom). A new version of the popular Thunderstone-series games, players build up their adventurers to finish quests and delve into the dungeon for treasure and trophies.
Many have praised the sheer number of paths toward victory, great randomness in scenarios, and ability to chain actions into epic turns. If there were one common complaint it’s the footprint this deck-builder requires, with some people suggesting a 2-3 player game takes up an entire dining table.
Western Legends is a Wild West adventure where players portray legends of the era in pursuit of leaving their mark on history. Players can win through a huge variety of actions, from simply mining to becoming the baddest outlaw in the lands.
The game’s open sandbox nature, where you can take many routes toward victory, is the key attraction, but so are the mechanics that forces even prospectors or poker players into clashes with each other. Legends isn’t perfect, however, as some critique imbalances in story cards, career choices, or even locations.
What makes family games popular is not only their low complexity but also their more family-friendly themes. They’re ideal gifts for those with grade school children or are simply of a more casual mindset.
Welcome To… is a fascinating game of building suburbs in the 1950’s. Players work simultaneously to build houses, upgrade communities, and meet public demands based on the tiles that turn.
With the large quantity of players this game supports, it verges on being a party game, but its simple rules, fast play, and theme make it ideal for families. The main downside, besides the randomness, is that the game is relatively “solitary” for a social game, as players focus on their own neighborhoods over each other.
Century: Eastern Wonders explores the spice trade on the high seas and is a standalone game that can be combined with Century: Spice Road. Players work as merchants or privateers, exploring, trading, and wresting control of the waters of Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
Eastern Wonders builds on, and improves, the mechanics of Spice Road, adding more routes to victory and avoiding some of the more cutthroat strategies. Unfortunately, some complain that this lack of sabotage makes the game a little easier and less competitive.
Stuffed Fables is probably our favorite game of the year, and one we’ve already talked about in-depth. Bridging the gap between miniature game and tabletop RPG, players take stuffed toys on an adventure into a dark realm to defend their sleeping owner through the night.
The unique book (that works as instructions, script, and board), fantastic miniatures, and a story that enraptures even the youngest make this a must-have for gaming families. Unfortunately, with only a single additional story in PDF form, the game’s replayability is limited.
The final category I’d like to discuss are games often pulled out at parties. Easy, fast rules and support for large groups makes these social games all the rage.
Decrypto is a team-based party game of code breaking, where team members attempt to use their own words (without saying them) to communicate a 3-digit number. Other teams simultaneously try and interpret the words used to figure out their opponents’ secret words.
With a quick pace and a lot of creative communication, Decrypto is perfect for groups up to eight. Unfortunately, if your group sucks at word association games (like Codenames), then this game might not be as much fun.
The Mind is a strange game of guessing what the other person is holding. Each person has a variety of cards with numbers, and the objective is for everyone to accurately play the cards (lowest to highest) without communicating.
Fast-paced and easy, people either love The Mind or hate it, with the former praising it as the ultimate game of cooperation and being in sync with others. The latter criticize it as having no strategy (and being little more than lucky guessing) as well as being too small for parties (given its 4-player maximum).
Human Punishment: Social Deduction 2.0 is a social deduction game in the same vein as Mafia or Werewolf. Set in the future, humans, machines, and outlaws must figure out who their allies and enemies are, and hopefully take out the latter before it’s too late.
Human Punishment stands apart from its predecessors by having mechanics that help underdogs, such as those who’ve been revealed or killed. Some complain these rules throw a bit of imbalance into the experience, but most praise the game for bringing social deduction games to new levels.
Twelve tabletop games from four categories only scratches the beginning of possible holiday gifts. We apologize that we couldn’t talk about every favorite, although looking back at previous Tabletop Tuesdays might provide more ideas.
If these don’t work for you, or you have your own ideas, feel free to tell us your recommendations in the comments below!