Last-Minute Holiday Gift Recommendations

What to Get the Gamer in Your Life

For this post, I’ll pick nine games–one more mainstream and one slightly off the beaten path (except for the competitive game; I don’t game competitively, as often)–that I feel could fill a niche in the collection of most gamers.

I’ve done my best to make sure these games are all widely available for purchase either online or in game stores, so you can rest assured that if it’s on my list it was available as of this writing.

Here are the categories I’m thinking of:

  • Cooperative Game
  • Solitaire Game
  • 2 Player Game
  • Family Game
  • Competitive Game

Let’s jump right in with my cooperative choice.

Cooperative

Mainstream: Pandemic, Reign of Cthulhu. 

What is it?

A game that takes the notion of the spread of infectious diseases around the world and replaces it with cultists trying to summon Cthulhu and friends into our world.

Cultists and monsters "infect" the Lovecraftian world in this version.
Cultists and monsters “infect” the Lovecraftian world in this version of Pandemic.

What makes it good?

I have a lengthier review of the game elsewhere, but suffice it to say that it adds some interesting thematic flourishes (madness, teleportation, mobile Shoggoth monsters, and artifact cards) to the formula of Pandemic.

Also, it revises the game to allow players to trade cards within a region that belong to that region as opposed to one specific location within it.

Deeper Cuts: The Grizzled with the At Your Orders expansion

What is it? 

A game that simulates the camaraderie and challenges–both physical and psychological–of WWI, with art by Tignous, one of the artists who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The expansion adds missions with different challenges to overcome and occasional bonuses for the soldiers.

Effectively, players have to make it through a deck of cards to the “Peace” card before their time runs out (cards are added to the deck from another stack of cards at a variable rate; if that deck runs out, players lose).

The basic game pits soldiers against a deck of hazard cards; the expanison adds missions, which give the game a more thematic flair.
The basic game pits soldiers against a deck of hazard cards; the expansion adds missions, which give the game a more thematic flair.

What makes it good?

The expansion in particular, with the missions, adds a great thematic element to what would otherwise be drawing cards and seeing if you can all play them out as a group without playing three of a kind.

The art is evocative and gets me invested in the fate of the soldiers.

Solitaire Game

If the gamer in your life is secretly grousing that he or she does not have enough game-playing friends, a good solitaire game might do the trick.

What makes a good solitaire game?

Well, many of the same things that make a cooperative game good–a robust “AI” system that is simple to control, and a player objective other than “score lots of points”–apply here.

Mainstream: Sylvion, from the Oniverse series.

What is it?

To be honest, pure solitaire games are not quite “mainstream,” but this one comes close. It’s from Zman Games and pits players against fire elementals coming to burn down a forest. Fortunately, the player can harness the power of nature–whether woodland creatures, trees, or fountains–to douse the elementals’ spirits.

The fire elementals threaten to burn down the forest!
The fire elementals threaten to burn down the forest!

What Makes it Good?

The expansions included in the box are where the real fun is at, and make this feel like a tower defense video game has suddenly landed on your tabletop. With several modules that subtly or substantially alter gameplay, your gamer pal will have a lot to explore and be able to enjoy the experience in under an hour per play session.

Deeper Cuts: Arkham Horror, The Card Game

What is it?

An expandable game that pits 1-2 players against Cthulhu-mythos monsters and their human allies in a race against time to see who can complete their objectives first: the player(s) or the monsters.

So as to not spoil the scenarios, here is the box riding shotgun with me on the way home. Suffice it to say, yull have to make tough choices and race against the clock--as in any Fantasy Flight Cthulhu Mythos game! Good fun.
So as to not spoil the scenarios, here is the box riding shotgun with me on the way home. Suffice it to say, you’ll have to make tough choices and race against the clock–as in any Fantasy Flight Cthulhu Mythos game! Good fun.

What Makes it Good?

There are a few reasons why this is “deeper cuts” instead of mainstream, despite its much higher visibility as a title. First, it is a living card game, which–if your gamer friend gets into it–represents an ongoing investment of time and money: new expansions to the game will come out regularly, and introduce new gameplay and more challenging scenarios, that require different tactics to defeat. With at least three other products on the way, this could be the gift that keeps on giving to the solitaire gamer.

While this offers a deeper experience, it can also be daunting, as time goes on, to keep track of all the different sets and strategies.

But don’t be scared off by that. The base game offers a fun, self-contained experience: three interconnected scenarios that can be replayed with different characters or combinations of characters (five characters are included in the base set). Plus, there is a one-off scenario, Curse of the Rougarou available to expand the game without being too overwhelming.

Two-Player Game

Mainstream: 7 Wonders Duel.

What is it?

A game that pits two players against each other to see who can build the most advanced civilization, including several wonders of the ancient world.

What Makes it Good?

Players are trying to get an economic engine of various resources going in order to buy more cards to generate points. With several paths to victory, via technology (set collection of various symbols), military might, or sheer points, there is a lot going on in a small package, here. Plus, it recently got an expansion, Pantheon, to lend even more variety.

Each player has several wonders to complete, in addition to the many other paths to victory.
Each player has several wonders to complete, in addition to the many other paths to victory.

Deeper Cuts: Jaipur

What is it?

A game in which players collect sets of goods and race to trade them in at market before their opponent does, thus causing the point value of those goods to depreciate. The game plays out in a best-of-three trading sessions competition to become the most successful merchant.

The very many goods on display at market at the start of a game of Jaipur.
The very many goods on display at market at the start of a game of Jaipur.

What makes it Good?

It’s a trading game for two that actually works. The fluctuating market keeps me in suspense, as I try to decide whether or not to go for one more card in my set, and see if I can turn in the goods in question before my opponent does. In addition, the bonus tokens awarded for bigger sets of cards encourage this press-your-luck style gameplay.

Another huge plus is: in the rare event that someone starts to run away with a round, the other player isn’t out of luck, as the next round, they might be able to stage a comeback and force a tiebreaker! It plays quickly while offering a lot of options and fun.

 

Family Game

Mainstream: Ticket to Ride

What is it?

A game where players collect sets of like-colored train cars to be able to lay train tracks across a map along various routes on a first-come-first-served basis. Players have secret goals to connect cities by rail (and more recently, by sail and rail) and the person who completes routes worth the most points wins.

Trains, trains everywhere. But, what are their final destinations?
Trains, trains everywhere. But, what are their final destinations?

What makes it good?

The theme is immediately accessible to everyone (who doesn’t like trains?!), unlike say, combatting Cthulhu or farming around some medieval village. While this game is lighter than some “serious” games, there is some strategy involved, and a bit of a press your luck element surrounding how many routes you pledge to complete versus your ability to successfully do so. In short, it will appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike, and allow them to bond around the table.

Deeper Cuts: Dixit

What is it?

A free-form party game in the vein of Apples to Apples, but players have to supply the words to explain some of the Dali-esque/surreal pictures in the game. The player whose turn it is gives a clue and plays a card, and the other players try to match that clue using a card from their hands. Points are doled out based on who successfully guessed the card played by the clue-giver, and who got others to vote for their card.

While it suffers from the same downfall of Apples to Apples style games, namely not everyone will have a good card for every clue, the overall game is fun and encourages more creativity than its counterparts. If your gamer or his group don’t go for creativity, then this may not be a winner.

The clue I gave here was "dreamland." As you can see, the surreal art could lead to a lot of different interpretations of the images.
The clue I gave here was “dreamland.” As you can see, the surreal art could lead to a lot of different interpretations of the images.

What makes it good?

The quirky, yet well-done art and the ability to psychoanalyze your friends and try to get inside their head can lead to some fun laughs.

Competitive Game

Sometimes you just need to have a tabletop fight to the finish with friends.

This category was tough for me, because my wife, friends, and I generally prefer indirect conflict–if any–over the table. If you’re looking for a take-that game, I’d suggest King of New York as a lighthearted, in-your-face game.

Otherwise, these two worker placement games should do the trick admirably.

MainstreamChampions of Midgard

I’ve loved Champions of Midgard long before it appeared on this season of Tabletop, and that only served to confirm my suspicions that the game was finally getting the recognition I felt it deserved.

What is it?

A worker-placement game where you are Viking lords and ladies vying to succeed the recently-deceased Jarl in leading your people to glory. Meanwhile, your opponents are trying to do the same, by gaining glory and affixing blame to others.

You gain glory by defeating monsters, sailing on voyages, and fulfilling your own hidden destiny!

Like all worker placement games, there are a lot of compelling options; unlike all worker placement games, you get to slay monsters with viking warrior dice!
Like all worker placement games, there are a lot of compelling options; unlike all worker placement games, you get to slay monsters with Viking warrior dice!

What makes it good?

It feels like much more than worker placement! You recruit warriors, stock supplies, build ships, sail to defeat far away monsters, and safeguard against threats closer to home. The theme comes through here in the way I always wished it would in other worker placement games. Plus, you always feel like you have some options, so you aren’t completely shut out if other players place on your preferred space.

Deeper Cuts: I was going with Viticulture: Essential Edition, but that seems to no longer be readily available, which defeats the purpose of including it on a gift guide. If you can track down a copy of this wine-making, worker placement free-for-all, I’d recommend it. But, alas. That may be easier said than done.

And that’s a wrap, folks! See you next time with the game of the year and expansion of the year, where I take a look back at the best games I played in 2016!

— Dave
Twitter: @ptboardgames

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