Issue 37: 2021 board game gift guide
Whether you want to introduce someone to hobby board games, participate in a gift exchange, or find something a bit more obscure, there’s something for everyone.
Hello, all! I hope you’ve had a nice week, especially with Thanksgiving around. I didn’t write a newsletter for last week, owing to, well, life and all that, but hopefully this one finds you well.
This week, I wanted to bring you my board game gift guide. I’ll probably talk about games I’ve already talked about it recent weeks, but that’s just what you’re going to get. I’d also like to find a way to make it a bit different than all the other lists out there, but I suspect you’ll see plenty of overlap with other gift guides. I’ll link some of my favorite ones at the bottom of the newsletter for you, too. Why stick with just one opinion when you can have money, yeah?
Because we’re focusing on this guide, I won’t be including Five Things this time around, but it’ll reappear next time (unless I change my plans, which is always something that can happen.)
Finally, this is just a list of 15 games divided into three categories. I might have something more next week, too. In the meantime, I’d love to give you individual recommendations. Just reply to this email or leave a comment on this post.
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A gift for someone curious about hobby gaming
Every now and again, you’ll play games with a friend or family member, and they’ll express interest in getting into games — but they won’t know where to start. This is where you come in. You know a lot of games, and they might ask you what they should pick up. There will be some standard recommendations — Catan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Azul — and those are great! I don’t want to disparage some excellent games. That being said, I think it’s fun to introduce folks to the hobby a little more deeply. Here are five options that aren’t quite as top-of-mind. (None of them are super obscure, though. Don’t worry.)
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine — You knew it was going to be here. It’s one of my favorite games. Lots of people have played trick-taking games before, and that makes this such a nice one to share. $15, Thames and Kosmos
NMBR 9 — This is a nice quick-to-play, quick-to-setup abstract game, and it’s still one I think about often. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to somebody who is playing with basically anybody. $30, Z-Man Games
Kingdom Builder — This Spiel des Jahres winner (2012) remains a favorite of mine, and I’m sure it’s still well-regarded — but it’s not going to attract the same attention nearly 10 years after its initial release. It has a nice puzzle element, it’s easy to teach, and it plays comfortably under an hour. $40, Queen Games
Cascadia — It’s a little more complicated than the other games on this list, but not by much. This is a nice, puzzly tile-laying game that doesn’t feature the fantasy trappings that might drive some away. The artwork is lovely, the theme is lovely, and the game is lovely, too. Any theme with bears is a winner in my book. (Unless the game is bad.) $40, Alderac Entertainment Group
Now Boarding — I wanted to include a game that provoked some tense chaos, and that’s what this game is best at. A cooperative game in which you’re shuttling passengers from airport to airport until they reach their destination, Now Boarding is fast-paced, thought-provoking, and made by a local designer, Tim Fowers. (Local to me, I mean. Maybe not to you.) $43, Fowers Games
A gift for established gamers who don’t buy games
Some gamers just don’t buy many games, which is great — and it gives you some interesting options for gift-giving. If you’re looking to get a gamer a game, you probably want something a little more obscure — maybe something they wouldn’t get themselves. Here are some of my thoughts.
Maskmen — This is another trick-taking card game, but this one hails from Japan and features some fantastic luchador art. It looks like a real design piece on a shelf, if you care about that sort of thing, but more importantly, it plays really well. A word of advice: If you’re looking at online retailers, maybe include “Oink Games” in your search, or you’ll end up getting a bunch of masks in your search results. Important stuff, certainly, but not what you’re looking for right now. $23, Oink Games (on Geek Game Shop)
Wordsy — I’m a big fan of Wordsy, as you will well know from earlier newsletters of mine. I love word games, especially when they’re clever about the way you play — I don’t need more games that feel essentially like Scrabble. $15, Formal Ferret Games
Claim — I think 2021 was the year of the card game, for me, because I keep thinking of them ahead of everything else. That’s OK, right? Claim is a two-player trick-taking game that pits player against player, faction against faction. It’s a neat one. $15, Deep Water Games
Cryptid — This feels a bit like a considerably more abstract spin on the classic Clue, minus the murder and the lovable characters — but with some nice colorful wooden pieces. OK — don’t pitch it like that, but there’s a really fun logic game in here. $37, out of stock at publisher (Osprey Games) but available elswhere
Whirling Witchcraft — This 2021 release was a real highlight for me. In this game, you’re basically building an engine with the express goal of giving your opponent too many resources to handle. It’s a fun twist on a classic idea, and the art is fun and engaging. $40, Alderac Entertainment Group
A gift for a Secret Santa party, family gift exchange, or any other reason to give a gift
You know those family or work parties you go to where you get somebody a gift? Well, this is for that. I’ll limit everything here to $20 or less.
An EXIT Game — Literally just pick one of the $15 exit games from Thames and Kosmos and go for it. I haven’t played a single dud of those, and I’ve played at least 11 of them. You can also buy bundles of them from Thames and Kosmos, if you have multiple parties or something to attend. (I don’t think I loved the lighthouse one that comes with a puzzle as much. I dunno. It just took a lot longer than planned. It’s also more than $15, so I guess that isn’t a big concern.) $15, Thames and Kosmos
GPS, Mountain Goats or Sequoia — I love this series of small games from BoardGameTables.com, which remains one of the weirder names for a game company. (It’s a less weird name for a table company, of course.) They’re all lovingly crafted, beautiful objects, and quite a bit of fun to play. $14–$19, BoardGameTables.com
Sea Change — Yeah, yeah, another trick-taking game. This one has a great “sea change” mechanic that allows players to change the trump suit mid-hand if they play a card with a number matching the card played before it. Fun stuff! $14, Inside Up Games
Lost Cities — This is a real classic card game (it’s a theme, especially for games in this price range) designed by the inimitable Reiner Knizia. It’s been around a while, but it holds up so well. Lost Cities is a nice two-player game that involves a fair amount of pushing your luck, planning, and plan-junking. $20, Thames and Kosmos
Cartographers — One of the more thematic flip-and-write (or roll-and-write) games I’ve played, Cartographers is a great map-making game that scales to any number of players. It’s just so great. $20, Thunderworks Games
Well, there you go! I’ll talk with you all next week. I might be in Portland to watch Real Salt Lake play this weekend — it’s playoff time, and there’s nothing quite like it — so you might also get a little bit of a travel report, too.