Christmas time has come around once again. You may be in the need of gift ideas or just something new to do after you and your loved ones have eaten yourselves into food comas. But where to start? Browsing the shelves of a board game store like Zatu can be intimidating if you’re completely new to the hobby. Or if you are a family member buying for the gamer in your life. So today I’m going to try and steer you towards the games I think make excellent Christmas gifts for different reasons. I’m going to break it down into a few categories so that you can make the choice that suits you! Be it for a complete beginner, the long-term gamer who probably has a huge collection or games you want to play with the family, I got you covered. This is the ultimate Gamer Gift Guide!
A quick disclaimer though – these suggestions are somewhat tailored to my tastes and experiences. Your results may vary. I’m also trying to avoid seasonal games if only because I would prefer to get a game I can play all year round rather than at the Christmas table. Finally, I’ll throw out a few gaming terms, like the mechanisms used but I don’t have the word count to explain them much. Instead, I’ll link you to some of our other articles which explain them in more detail.
Let’s go with the basics. If you’re trying to bring someone new into the hobby, either because they’ve expressed an interest or you’ve played a couple of games with them, then you can’t go wrong than the classic games. I wrote a bigger article about this a while back. The first game I played (aside from Risk and Monopoly) was Tokaido, a beautiful, chilled game that is all about having the best journey through Japan. The art is pretty, the gameplay is calm, but there are moments of cutthroat tactics, which is great to introduce you to the worker placement mechanic.
But back to the classic intro games – Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. Ticket to Ride is a resource management and order fulfilment game based on building train routes. Meanwhile, Carcassonne is a game that has been around for 20 years, with a special anniversary edition released this year for it. For the uninitiated, it is a tile-placement game, with area control thrown in for good measure. It introduced us to the Meeple and is based on the Roman city in France of the same name. Both games have almost limitless replayability on their own, but they also have their own expansions. Ticket to Ride has a whole host of alternative maps you can use and Carcassonne has some excellent extra tiles which you can shuffle in as you play. Both games don’t need a huge amount of explaining and once you get going, everyone is happy to play them.
When you’re buying a game as a gift, you might be looking for something that you can play together with a large group. For me, this falls into two big recommendations. Just One is a cooperative party game where you are trying to use word association to get someone to guess a word or phrase. The catch is you can only write a single word. If that word matches with what someone else wrote, neither of you are able to show that word. Thus reducing your options. Whilst it is technically for up to eight players, you can just scale it up with pieces of paper. It’s a lot of fun to see how people think you’ll associate words together. The number of times my pop culture knowledge has let me down…
My other recommendation is my personal game of the year – Cartographers. You play as a mapmaker, exploring the world at the edict of their queen, and will draw your map depending on the terrain cards that come out which tells you the shape and colour you need to draw. It’s a Tetris-like puzzle that can be played by 1-100 players. But really, the 100 players limit is just because there are only 100 sheets in the box. It’s the game I’ve probably played the most this year and I love the simplicity of it. You can make your own choices and with the new Heroes expand-alone, you can mix things up for the rest of your life.
Twist on a Theme
I’m now going into the realm of games I want for Christmas. I’ve either played them digitally or with a friend’s copy which made me really want to own them. The reason I desire these games is because they took something I already loved about a game and made it something completely different. Those two games are Architects of the West Kingdom and Quacks of Quedlingburg (I’ll shorten the names if you don’t mind!)
In Architects, you are playing a worker placement game themed around the Carolingian Empire in the mid-9th century that flips the traditional restriction of spaces to play your workers on its head and instead lets the spaces get more powerful the more workers you play there. Get too powerful in one area though, and your opponents will send a mob after you. Here they will capture your workers, leaving you with fewer options. I loved playing through and having this mechanic completely changed. It’s something I want to see more of but for now, I’ll quite happily play Architects over and over again.
Quacks is a press-your-luck game, with bag building and a market for good measure. As potion makers who make potions that are 100% legitimate and never will explode, your goal is to get as many exotic ingredients in your potion as possible. Whilst you do this, you’re avoiding throwing in the cherry bombs. They will make it explode which limits your benefits at the end of the round. However, what Quacks does really well is it encourages higher levels of risk-taking. Not because of the rewards necessarily but because of the catch-up mechanic. The players who aren’t in first get a temporary bonus depending on how far behind the winning player they are. I’ve won most of the games I’ve played by pushing my luck too far and riding the rat tails always the way to victory. So come on Santa, put these two under my tree!
Gamer who loves… Something
We all know these people. People who fall into the dedicated fandom of some sort, be it trademarked space-based franchises or a collective of singing animals. No judgement here – I’ve been known to buy games that look towards a certain superhero franchise. So if you’ve got that person in your life, you might be looking for a game for them. I’ll make these quick:
I think one of the best games you can get a gamer who’s super into Disney movies is Villainous. This is a game in which you play as one of six Disney villains. You move about your own separate domain, taking the actions there, gaining power and battling with the heroes of their stories. The 3d character figures are fantastic. The game is exactly what you’d expect from those classic movies, full of all the characters you love. As a bonus, you have a ready supply of expansions to buy for future Christmas and Birthday presents. There’s even a completely separate Marvel Villainous edition which you can diverge into at some point.
Speaking of Marvel, another endlessly expanding game that I can recommend is Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. It was hard to come by for a while but it’s come back around. In Legendary, you choose five groups of heroes from across the entirety of the Marvel comics universe and shuffle them up together to fight against villains and their henchmen. These will fight against you throughout New York whilst the mastermind accomplishes their evil scheme. The base game has plenty of characters for you to try. So many expansions exist, letting you add your favourites as and when you want. And if you’re not into Marvel but you do like the sound of Legendary, there’s an Alien, Buffy and a James Bond version too!
Levelled Up Gamer
Finally, if you have a gamer in your life who has all these games and is looking to expand their horizons or just wants to have something very different. A game where there’s a ton of things going on at once and gives you a real sense of accomplishment at the end of it. Again, I have just the game for you. (Well, for them really, but if you like the sound of them, by all means, play along!)
The first is Steampunk Rally Fusion, an engineering student’s dream, especially if they love their history. The follow-up game to Roxley’s popular Steampunk Rally sees players taking on the role of historical scientists to build incredible machines from drafted parts and a variety of power sources. There’s card drafting, engine building, dice rolling, a race and resource management all crammed into one game. It can even get mixed up with the original game to give even more components, characters and chaotic goodness as you gather your fist full of dice and roll them all together.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Board games for Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, are a gift that just keeps on giving. The gamer in your life will be very grateful that you’ve thought of them and their fun. You don’t even have to play with them. Although, I highly doubt they’ll refuse if you offer to play with them. All I can say is have a very merry Christmas, and a happy gaming year!