One of my favourite parts of Christmas shopping is buying the little add on presents that you hadn’t initially planned on getting. You’ve got the main presents, but you just want to give a little something extra to unwrap that’s not too expensive. Finding that perfect stocking stuffer for a gamer can be tough, given that many games come in huge boxes with a price tag to match. Never fear though, our bloggers are on hand with some suggestions for some small box surprises that are sure to put the icing on the Christmas cake.
Is there anything better to find in your stocking on Christmas morning than a new game? Well, apart from chocolate coins of course! The Fox in the Forest is a small-box, 2-player game that can be played in under 30 minutes. It is absolutely beautiful, with its gorgeous cards featuring woodland and snowy scenes and characters. It is the perfect game to find in the top of your stocking.
The Fox in the Forest is a trick-taking game. It is played over multiple rounds, and players receive points at the end of each round according to how many tricks they have won out of a possible 13 (the game ends when a player has at least 21 points). To win a trick, the player must have played the highest card in the lead suit (the suit played by the first player) or a card in the trump suit. The second player must follow the lead suit if they can. Some cards have special abilities that allow players to alter the flow of the game.
The part of The Fox in the Forest that I find the most exciting is that you do not actually want to win all of the tricks in each round. If you win 10-13 tricks you receive no points as a penalty for being too greedy! To receive the most points, you either need to win just 7-9 of the tricks or 0-3, so you must cleverly make sure that your opponent is also winning tricks. It’s quite a balance to work out because if you let your opponent win a trick, you are also letting them lead the next turn!
With its charming artwork and clever gameplay, The Fox in the Forest really is the perfect stocking filler this Christmas.
Looking for the perfect stocking filler? Then look no further than Love Letter. It’s small, cheap, brilliant, and comes in many forms to suit any person in your life. Be that your children with the brilliant Marvel edition, or the classic version that come in a velvet red pouch, perfect for that special someone in your life to open up on Christmas morning. And then play instantly!
Love Letter offers some of the most fun you can have with cards. It’s so simple. The regular version is just a few cards and tokens to indicate who wins each round. The Marvel one has a few more bits to it, but it is still just an easy to pick up game with not that many cards.
When I first played Love Letter I thought to myself, how good can this be? But oh my, how wrong I was. The rules are simple but the game is so fun! Each person has one card. On their turn, they pick up a card then play one. You win by being the last person remaining, or the person left with the highest-ranked card. But the genius comes in how each card interacts with the others.
For example, The Countess is the second-highest ranked card at eight but must be played if you have the King or Prince in your hand. This means when you play the Countess, everyone else then knows your remaining card can only be one of two things, leaving you vulnerable. But let’s say it is the King, and on your next turn, you play this which means you then trade hands with another player. They had the lowly Guard, ranked one. But that allows you to choose another player and if you can guess their card, they lose. You would then be able to use the Guard pretty effectively on your next turn if you were still around that is!
Each game lasts no more than five minutes but they recommend a race to three to six games depending on player count. It works brilliantly in a two, three, or four, and due to the win conditions takes no longer in either scenario. The Marvel edition is great for younger players who will enjoy the theme and also the lack of player elimination. They are brilliant, pocket-sized games that will add a lot to your celebrations and collection.
This may be a controversial choice because I know this game polarises more people than Munchkin, but when it comes to cheap, accessible, and bespoke gaming stuff, I don’t think you can beat Fluxx.
If you haven’t Fluxxed before, the game is one where goals and rules can change at the turn of a card. The rules start simple: draw a card, play a card. The cards can be keepers (or creepers, which are usually bad), goals, rules, and actions. Keepers/creepers sit in front of you, goals are what everyone is trying to achieve, rules determine how many cards you draw, play, have in your hand etc. and actions… happen.
Usually, you will play down as many keepers as you can and hope no one steals or discards them before you can draw and play the right goal. It can be very chicken-eggy, which means that games can be very simple or become very complex depending on how the cards fall – the whole thing is in flux.
Now you may already be thinking ‘hmmm, I like nice fixed rules that stay where you put them’, in which case… yeah, not for you. This is a gift though, and that’s where this game’s versatility comes into its own. You can have a Fluxx based on ANYTHING that Andrew Looney has secured the rights to (I once played him at Fluxx – he really is a lovely man; make sure you ask for his autograph). Do you have a friend who likes pirates? Covered. Sci-fi? Done. Star Trek: TNG? Make it so! There’s even a Monty Python Fluxx, with suitably silly rules. And if your friend doesn’t like games? This makes a great gateway, and maybe a gateway to other games with proper rules.
Buying a small box, cheaper game for a hardcore gamer can be fraught with difficulty. A lot of inexpensive smaller games naturally tend towards the lighter side of things. Now, this doesn’t bother me so much as I’m fairly omnivorous in my tastes, but I totally get that some always need a little bit of crunchy strategy in their bite. That’s why my stocking stuffing recommendation is the game I raved about most this year: Sensor Ghosts.
Sensor Ghosts is a cooperative strategy game set in space by respected indie producers Wren Games. In it, you are trying to navigate an ever-shifting asteroid belt with a dicky radar that gives you information on a time delay. Your goal is to guide your ship through the interplanetary debris back to Earth, picking up a viable sample of an interstellar virus on the way so a vaccine can be formulated (a bit close to home I know).
Don’t get me wrong. Sensor Ghosts is not Twilight Imperium IV, but it does generate a little bit more brain burn than similar-sized and priced games. The board is made up of double-sided cards that display different sectors you can move through. During the game, you flip and slide these around to make a moving maze. To make it more difficult you need to remember the reverse side of the cards you’ve flipped as they slide around because, when you move onto a tile you encounter its hidden side and not its face-up side. Curse those laggy computer systems!
You may will lose Sensor Ghosts a lot. Even if you manage to plot a safe route through the asteroid field, it is easy to run out of time (two cycles of the deck). Yet, the puzzle is so intriguing you’ll want to reset and try again. On top of the great gameplay, there’s also the chunky wooden tokens and indie homemade production vibe. It’s a perfect co-op for a mulled wine-fuelled, candlelit winter night.
Railroad Ink is a timeless classic in my books. This Roll & Write is simple enough that you can teach it to anyone, while also providing enough challenge to keep you coming back. Put simply, the goal of Railroad Ink is to draw the best town using a set of four dice, which feature different roads and rails on their faces. Each round, you’ll roll the dice and draw whatever’s depicted on them onto your board.
Like many other Roll & Writes, the beauty of Railroad Ink is that it can be played solo without any extra effort, or played with as many people as you have player boards - everyone draws the same die faces, but everyone’s towns will look increasingly varied. Perfect games aren’t something that happens in Railroad Ink, and you’ll need to adapt to the ever-changing dice that are thrown your way, but the desire to try and try again still lives on every time I pick up the whiteboard pen.
For less than £20, this is a game that’s endlessly replayable and enjoyable each time. There are even 4 versions to buy with the Railroad Ink Challenge editions: Shining Yellow and Lush Green! Luckily, this means that you don’t need to wait for a specific version to be in stock (unless you really like their expansion ideas), as the core gameplay of Railroad Ink remains the same - albeit with some minor additions to the Challenge editions. Once you factor in the sublime production value and ease of use, Railroad Ink deserves to be stuffing stockings worldwide.
So, there you have it. We think these five games show that smaller and inexpensive doesn’t necessarily mean a compromise on fun. I hope this little treasure trove gives you some inspiration to grab that little extra treat for your loved ones (or maybe even you!) come Christmas day. Merry Christmas from us all and a Happy New Year!
Editors note: This blog was originally published on December 3rd, 2020. Updated on November 17th, 2022 to improve the information available.