Xmas is upon us!!..........whoo..........ha ha, yeah I'm a bit of a humbug around this period, but then when you're 33 and the youngest child in a small family, this time of year really doesn't add much aside from some extra food on the table and more cold and wet weather! Nice to have a week off work though!
But of course many of you out there are going nuts for Xmas and are thinking about your shopping needs nice and early. In which case I suggest board games, same as every year. But maybe you just want something small that packs a punch that you can easily stick in someones stocking (do people still use those these days)?
So these are my Top 10 Stocking Stuffers or to put it another way, "Small Games That Pack A Punch." I've tried to focus on as small a box as possible, but ensuring that the game within is still actually fun to play. I had a lot of choices to pick from and just as many bad games in this category so it's easy to get lost in the mix. I've also tried to include a mix of two-player only games, group games, gateway games and more advanced titles - cover the whole range!
#10 - THE EXIT GAME SERIES
These pack a lot of brain burning power within a small box, however it only just hits the list because you have to bare in mind that they are a one-use only title. Once you've played through it, that's it, you have to get another one, because not only do you know all the answers, but you've likely had to destroy some of the components in the process. Thankfully each box works out cheaper than going to a physical Escape Room and about the same cost as a single standard UK cinema ticket.
Essentially, like normal Escape Rooms, these provide you with a set of riddles and challenges that you have to solve in order to escape whatever random pitfall has befallen you. You've got six different boxes to pick from in released sets of three and there is going to be many more down the line - though I recommend The Abandoned Cabin as the first one as I found it to be the easier of the first set - it will make a good introduction.
Best to cap the player count at three max, but it's a great solo experience as well. If they like puzzle solving, this definitely one to consider.
#9 - LOVE LETTER
Literally a tiny box or bag, a dozen versions to choose from and is even cheaper to boot at barely a few quid. Love Letter has been one of the best and cheapest micro games to ever be released and for good reason. It's straight up simplicity with a small element of bluffing/deduction that could literally be played in your cramped seats on the airplane. Draw a card, play a card, carry on, how easy is that?
Pick any version your kids like, be it Adventure Time, Batman or Lord of the Rings. The Premium versions look the business and are still portable so you can consider these as well, but you'll be paying for them so bare that in mind and you might be stretching the definition of "stocking stuffer" at that point.
#8 - INNOVATION
Definitely only one to consider if the stocking belongs to a dedicated gamer. Innovation packs an extraordinary amount of tactics and combo play in such a small box with just over 100 cards. It's one of my personal favourite games, but I'd be lying if I said it was recommended to new gamers. It may take a game or two to get used to how all the different abilities play off each other and how to react to what your opponent is doing, but it's rewarding once you're up to speed. There is only pure tactics in this game, no strategy because things can change up radically very quickly and I love it for that.
Yes it may not be the most beautiful looking game out there, but every game will play out differently and there's a bunch of expansions to add to the experience over time, which again come in tiny boxes suitable for stockings.
#7 - HANABI
Super portable, super easy. . . well to teach anyway, but actually doing well at this game especially with multiple players, that takes some extra work. But an old Spiel Des Jahres winner, this little tiny box of cards (though recently there's also a tin version with tiles I believe) will rack your brain cells no matter where you are.
You need little to no table space at all, just somewhere to sit so that you can see everyone's cards. Though getting kids to remember not to look at those cards can be a problem! Again, being a co-operative game, there should be no bad blood among the family. . . well until someone discards a '5'. . .
#6 - ONIRIM
Onirim is a challenging solo game that's dead easy to learn and play, but will foil you just when you least expect it. Now on its own, it would be a bit lackluster and would get boring quickly, but all the expansions contained inside the box allow you to tweak the game in countless ways to your liking.
You've got plenty of variety to dig into for repeated plays to find your optimal setup and all for a very cheap price when all things considered. Everything stores in the box nicely, though sleeving is essential if you want to preserve this game for the long term because you'll be shuffling A LOT!
#5 - WEREWORDS
Werewords is streamlined and approachable, and this game could easily be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike. With so many words included, Werewords has a high degree of replay-ability. Throw in the fact that gameplay lasts less than 10 minutes, and you have a game that will work in a variety of gaming situations.
Additionally, the app adds greatly to the game allowing for a large stream of words and ease of teaching. 20 Questions is not that fun a game by itself, all it needed was a traitor mechanic and an app and now it's a fun group party game.
#4 - TIMELINE
This is one excellent game for teaching history to the kids, but even adults will get something out of it as well. My history knowledge sucks so it doesn't hurt me to learn a few things. It's a small tin box and caters for a wide range of players and you're strapped for choice on the sets to pick from.
Pick any edition you want, they're all good, but if I was to pick a favourite, I'd say Inventions. Any of the specific historical sets will do nicely as well, particularly the British History one, that's very good for us locals. Essentially you can cherry pick the one that suits the person you're gifting it too.
#3 - VALLEY OF THE KINGS
Again, one that I wouldn't necessarily buy for anyone but a dedicated gamer, or at least someone who is familiar with the likes of say Dominion or another deck builder, but more and more people should be introduced to this because for what's in the box, it's amazing. And you've even got two expansions that can add to the experience that even all fit in the original box - about as compact as you can get for the variety it holds. I recommend you start off with the newest one "Last Rites" - it includes a solo mode and the starting cards will replace the ones from the previous two sets - they're just 10 times better.
But if multi-use cards and combo play is their thing, they'll love this. Every card has three uses and you'll be having to decide which is the best use at any particular time. And unlike other deck builders, you only score what you physically remove from your deck for end-game scoring (you're essentially preparing your tomb with lots of cool stuff for your inevitable burial).
This means you have to balance out how long you keep using the great card abilities for your needs with when you finally put them in your tomb for safe keeping. It's a mechanic not seen in any other deck builder to my knowledge.
#2 - SUSHI GO
Another awesome micro game, but with a little bit more meat to it than Love Letter. Whether you're young or an adult, it's a great drafting game and again it has that portability and ease of play wherever you are. Kids can enjoy the cutesy theme of smiling sushi products and the adults will get into the drafting aspect. But drafting is used in so many games that learning the basics here and now will help the transition to bigger games later.
You can get a party version which is the one I own, but it's a bit big for a stocking and adds more complexity. The basic version though comes in a tiny tin box now. This is my choice pick for teaching anyone how to draft and I believe a staple in anyone's collection.
#1 - HANAMIKOJI
Yes it's only for two players, but I can't say enough good things about this game. It has beautiful artwork, large cards and tokens, rules that can be taught in less than five minutes, a play length of 15 minutes on average and tense decision making that is so deceptively well hidden at first glance.
Every action you take from the four available affects the round and there is no one "prime" order to take. You have to consider what your opponent might have and what the board state looks like all the time and I've not had anyone speak ill of this game that I've shown it too, even though they've likely never heard of it before.
All this fun in a small box perfectly suited for a stocking. It will cater for gamers and newbies alike and easily makes up for its slightly higher price tag with the sheer amount of times you'll play this. It's constantly fighting another game for my #1 twp-player game spot and can't recommend this for Xmas enough.