The Games We Play: Christmas Gift Ideas!

Ah, it's that magical time of year when we rush to the mall to get our favorite gamer friend/spouse/child/grandma a new game to unwrap on Christmas morning.  Philo asked me to put together a list of some good game ideas.  I haven't played all of these, but I've heard good things.  Anything with a * is one I have not played.

Party Games:

Codenames* - One of the hottest items discussed on Dice Tower and BoardGameGeek is this great new party game.  Played in teams, one person on each team is trying to get his teammates to pick the right cards, which lay in a grid of 5X5.  It's Password, but better.

Spyfall - Played with a group of people, everyone draws a card.  All the cards except one have the name of a location on them (same location), one cardholder is the spy.  The people with the location card have to root out the spy by asking questions to the other players to make sure they know where they are.  They spy is trying to figure out where they are, without looking too out of place.

Say Anything - Similar to Balderdash, the reader asks a question, everyone else writes down their answers, then everyone tries to reason out what everyone put.

Telestrations - Think telephone meets Pictionary.  First person gets a phrase, they have to write down a picture of what that phrase is, next person looks at the picture, and comes up with a phrase.  The weirder the phrase, the funner this gets.

Wits and Wagers - Trivia games are fun, but it's much more fun when people don't know the precise answer, but try to get close.  Ask a question, everyone writes down their answers, then make bets as to which one is the closest to the right one.

Modern Day Classics 

Ticket To Ride - One of the first modern board games I played.  Still great fun, especially with kids.  Start the game by selecting tickets with route between two cities.  Next, collect cards to be able to place trains on the various train paths to complete your route.

Settlers of Catan - Build your settlements and cities and roads in between.  Gather wood, ore, grain, brick and sheep (baaa) to build more and more and get to 10 points first!

Carcassonne - Classic tile laying game.  Draw a tile, place it on the board, place your meeple to get points for your roads, castles, cloisters, and farms.

Dominion - The game that started the term "Deckbuilding."  Build up your deck with money cards, kingdom cards, and victory point cards.  Also has about 10 expansions you can add to it.


Shadows Over Camelot - Co-op game in the setting of King Arthur.  Search for the holy grail, Excalibur, and Lancelot's Armor.  Fight the black knight and the deadly dragon.  Fend off the Picts and the Saxons.  And most of all, watch out for the traitor in your midst.

Pandemic - The world is a sick place, and it's your job to find the cure.  Race across the world searching for the cure, while treating the deadly diseases.  Also, for a longer, deeper adventure, try the new Pandemic Legacy*

Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert - Putting these together since they're similar, but still very different.  You're working together to find four items and get away before the island sinks, or the desert overtakes you.  GREAT with kids


Dead of Winter* - I've been pining to play this for over a year now.  I don't know much about it other than it's cold outside, and zombies are lurking around every corner.  Everyone also has their own agenda, but still trying to work together

Mice and Mystics - Wonderful adventure game that is kid friendly.  Your kingdom has been taken over, and to escape, you and your friends have been turned into mice.  Escape through sewers and basements and kitchens.  Has a campaign mode that takes you through an entire story.  Also has many expansions.

Descent: Journeys In The Dark* - I've heard a lot about this one.  Plays similar to M&M, I think.

Personal Favorites - These are games that are my personal favorites, but sometimes tastes can differ, so just warnin' ya.

Castles of Burgundy - The first time I played this, I knew I had to have it.  You're placing tiles (buildings, mines, animals, castles, etc) on your board (estate).  You get points, bonuses, goods to ship, etc.  Great for couples (so I've heard)

Trajan - Same designer as Castles.  A Mancala-esque mechanic drives this game.  You're trying to ship goods, influence the Senate, gain territory, all in the name of getting victory points.

Terra Mystica - Area control game that doesn't involve fighting.  Take control of one of 14 races (20 with the expansion) and stake your claim.  Build dwellings, trading posts, temples, strongholds and sanctuaries.  Send your priests to the cult track, and build your engine to build the most magnificent empire ever.  (Judged on victory points)

Lords of Waterdeep Worker Placement game in a Dungeons and Dragons setting.  You play a Lord of the city of waterdeep, recruiting warriors, rogues, wizards and clerics to do your bidding, to gain favor and.... wait for it.... victory points.

Splendor - You are a gem collector trying to be the best and most prestigious in the land.  Buy mines to help you get more gems which help you get more gems and points.  Incredibly quick to learn and teach.

These are some of my favorite and most talked about games right now.  Let me know if you have questions about any other types of games.


Also, what have you been playing lately?

14 thoughts on “The Games We Play: Christmas Gift Ideas!”

  1. My brother and SiL had meeples painted to look like a bride & groom for their wedding. They're probably 4-6 inches tall.

  2. I'll add a few notes here based on my experience.

    - Spyfall is tremendously fun. I played it on Thanksgiving and had a blast.
    - Dead of Winter is probably in my top 3 favorite games we've played as a group. Your description is pretty fitting. It's terrifying moving between areas because of the bite die. The Crossroads cards make every game different, and are a super fun mechanic. If someone in your group is prone to analysis paralysis, games might take a very long time.
    - Pandemic Legacy is incredibly good. We've played two months, and it's almost perfect. I'm not sure I can go back to regular Pandemic! (though I am very fond of the dice variant The Cure since it plays quicker/easier than Pandemic)

    And a couple I'd add:

    - One Night Ultimate Werewolf is an excellent take on the Werewolf formula. Each round is played in about 10 minutes, so you can get a lot of play in. And it seems like this one gets good distribution now.
    - Mysterium is finally easily available in English! You're trying to solve a murder. One player has a large deck of cards which are dreams. The rest of the players have to use the clues from the dream cards to figure out a weapon, a room, and a suspect in a limited number of turns. At the end game, the group works together to determine who committed the murder in which room. The person controlling the dreams cannot talk, and everyone is working together. It's maybe a bit complex, but it's a really great game with excellent art. I recommend it super highly.
    - Flashpoint is another good cooperative game. You're a team of firefighters saving people from a burning house. I just recommended this one to some friends at work who love Pandemic and wanted something kind of similar, but maybe less challenging? It's a good fit.
    - Sentinels of the Multiverse is still my favorite game and I'll recommend it at any chance I can get.

    Okay that was a lot more than I intended to type, but hopefully it's helpful! With school and work I've been absolutely swamped lately, but I still find time to play a ton of Splatoon. Best game this year, best multiplayer shooter I've played ever, what a tremendously good game.

    1. Forgot about Mysterium. A lot of buzz about that one (maybe more so than Spyfall or Codenames). Still haven't played it myself though.

    2. I wasn't a fan of Pandemic. In general, I'm not a fan of cooperatives, but they're OK if it's a true "we all win, or we all lose" co-op. The ones where it's semi-cooperative but there's still a winner bug me. I like my boardgames to be "every player for themselves" because then I get to play my "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" style.

      1. Basically everything my main group plays is true cooperative (or 1 vs. group). We're not terribly competitive so it works out okay!

        Sentinels might be up your alley. You win or lose together, but everyone is able to kind of do their own thing. There are certainly synergies (I've worked in the corporate world far too long...) between characters, but for the most part, the style the character plays will guide you to work together organically. When you're facing the really hard enemies or playing on the optional hard mode, you need to be somewhat selective about your characters but given that every character plays drastically differently, it gives you a chance to try out different stuff every game.

  3. Punman - Which games from the convention you went to would you most look forward to getting? All of the modern classics are already checked off for our gift recipients, and I'd say we're probably looking for the next modern classic?

    1. Five Tribes is a very solid game, and tops my wish list.
      Viticulture is another game I really like - mostly for the theme (winemaking)
      Istanbul won Kennerspiel Des Jahres, so that could be a modern classic.

      Colt Express is another game that is getting good reviews, but I haven't played that one.
      Love Letter (also in Batman and Hobbit versions)

    1. I played with my 5 and 7 year old girls. My 5 year old is easily distractable, so 5 might be too young. My 7 year old is a pretty quick learner. Might be a good minimum age. The content is very kid friendly, so no worries there.

  4. Video Games!

    Played Terranigma (got it free with PS Plus). Fun puzzle-ish platformer with a kind of half-assed Metroidvania bent. The art is lovely, the gameplay was good, the boss battles were kind of a punch in the face (the eye laser, in particular), but doable. I felt like I got my time's worth out of it (which was probably about 10 hours). B+

    Super Mario Galaxy: I had somehow never played this. I'm about halfway through, feeling ridiculous about that. It's great. A

    Shin Megami Tensei IV: I'm enjoying this so far. There was a little bit of a learning curve, but it's coming together nicely. I like the idea of having to recruit the enemies to bolster your team. I'm curious to see how the story plays out, but so far, it's just sort of...there. B+

  5. Does anyone know of any x-box games for kids? Wanted to get something with cool graphics and story. Problem is that all of them seem to ensure targeted to teens/adults. Kids are limited to lego...

  6. Also wanna throw out there:

    Love Letter - Very popular micro game. Very simple to learn and teach. There are many themes out there now, including Hobbit and Batman.
    Welcome To The Dungeon - literally just played this. Another fun micro game. Add to the dungeon, or take away armor/tools that you get to take into the dungeon. You can pass at any time, but then you can't enter the dungeon. Last person who hasn't passed, must go into the dungeon. Fail twice and you're out. Win twice and win the game. (or if you're the last person remaining).

  7. Oldie, but a goodie:

    We love playing Pit. You're commodities traders passing around cards trying to complete your set - oil, corn, sugar, etc. Once you have all 7 (or 9? Don't remember), you ring the bell. First to ring the bell gets points indicated on their cards. Stuff like oil is worth more, so strategy on what exactly you try to collect comes into play. Lots of shouting and waving trying to complete trades. Just watch out for the bell. If there's two going for it, the one who gets it is gonna get slapped, probably pretty hard at our house. Our bell is actually broken. It doesn't ding anymore because we bent it.

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