It’s that time of year again to search for that perfect gift for friends and family. Like last year, we’re not going to recommend socks, electronics, or other boring items; instead, let’s talk about tabletop games.
Like years prior, this is simply a starting point, as so many great games came out this year. Feel free to look at our previous recommendations from 2017 and 2018, games for children, or ask your local game store!
To begin, let’s talk about games we think perfect for the ‘dedicated’ gamer. While anyone can enjoy these, they often have a level of complexity or playtime higher than more casual players.
Marvel Champions: the Card Game has been a huge hit this year, and we recommend it for anyone into Living Card Games (LCGs), Marvel, or who enjoys cooperative or solo games. Players portray superheroes as they attempt to defeat a Villain and thwart their scheme.
The sheer customizable nature of the game, from the Hero decks to the Villain and their Encounter decks, gives this game high replayability. The only downside is this is not great for a novice player, who may require some help with the complex rules and card synergy.
Star Wars: Outer Rim was another knock-out from Fantasy Flight Games, who’s been producing quality games for years (including Marvel Champions). Play as iconic smugglers and bounty hunters from the Star Wars universe as you try to become the most (in)famous figure in the galaxy.
What we love about Outer Rim is the multiple routes to victory and the ‘alternate story’ that often develops from canon. Plan in advance when you want to play, however, as it requires a large area to play, and games can take hours to complete.
Tapestry is what the Civilization board game could have been. Try to create the most exciting history for your people, from the dawn of culture into the future.
Players try to advance their people on different tracks (paths), achieving goals, building monuments, etc. The main downside is a more abstract, “painted on” theme; Tapestry feels like a game rather than a journey through history, with little tension.
Taking a step back from the “heavier” games, let’s bring in some ideas perfect for average gamers. I’m not saying these don’t have some complexity, but they tend to play in about an hour and are easier to learn (and teach).
Horrified has been a favorite for our family, and even my grade-school son enjoys playing. Work together as investigators, as you try to defeat various Universal Studios monsters.
Simple mechanics, beautiful artwork, and a scalable difficulty make this game perfect for groups or households, especially if you love horror. Although the game loses some replayability after a while (with only six monsters), hopefully, Ravensburger thinks about expansions.
Tiny Towns has made quite a name for such a simple game. Players portray animal mayors, trying to build the best village in the woodland.
Unique resource allocation, where everyone has access to the same items, makes planning the main focus. With easy rules and sessions under an hour, Tiny Towns is perfect for most gatherings.
Wingspan received a lot of buzz, partly because of a limited initial run, but the experience is worth the wait. A game of bird enthusiasm, each player attempts to attract the best species to their wildlife habitat.
A variety of synergies and combinations makes for multiple paths to victories, not to mention the beautiful artwork and components. Although competitive, I enjoyed the peaceful style of the game, although the limited player interaction may be a downside for some.
For our final recommendations, let’s look at some “simpler” games that might be better for families. Shorter playtimes and more straightforward rules make these perfect for playing at a holiday gathering.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale is the latest from Thunderworks and the Roll Player franchise. Players compete to be the best cartographers in the kingdom by drawing maps that reclaim the queen’s desired lands.
A flip-and-write game, players attempt to write down the best maps over the seasons, scoring the highest points depending on cards used and placement. Perfect for small to large groups (there is no practical limit to players), Cartographer is also one of the simplest games and ideal for grade school children on up.
This game has the same slow, competitive feel as Sunset Over Water, with a similar goal and gorgeous artwork. The rules are a bit cliche, but that makes the game easier for children and casual gamers.
Twice as Clever is the fastest game on our list, with sessions often clocking in around 30 minutes. A roll-and-write game, players push their luck by trying to roll (and re-roll) to complete various objectives on their sheet.
A sequel to last year’s That’s Pretty Clever, this German game continues the tradition but in a lighter fashion. Although some people might not enjoy the lack of theme or reliance on luck, many groups will find pleasure in such a smooth, fast experience.
These are our nine favorite tabletop games across three categories, but we know that only scratches the surface of possible holiday gifts. We apologize that we couldn’t talk about every favorite, although you can check out our other Tabletop Tuesdays for more ideas!
If you don’t see a favorite listed, feel free to tell us your recommendations in the comments below!