Indeed, Christmas comes but once a year – as does our holiday gift guide. And that’s a pity! At least our guide keeps getting bigger and bigger! This year, iSlaytheDragon has five writers, all with unique tastes and experiences. That means we’ve all got different kinds of recommendations. Just for you! This year, we’ve decided to bring the holiday goodness all week long! So between our dragon-slaying quintet, you should be able to check off everyone on your list! Well, okay, so we can’t guarantee that you’ll love our choices, but these are our top picks and why we think they’d make great gifts. We do guarantee the quality; so if these games line up with your tastes (or, really, the tastes of the person you’re buying a gift for), we think these will be a hit. Just one piece of advice: if you know some one really doesn’t like board games, respect that! Don’t buy him/her a gift thinking that they just haven’t played the right one, and hoping to convert them. Remember – a gift is always about what they want, not what you would like them to have!
To begin the week, we take a look a Light Games. These titles are often compact, usually don’t take up much space, are easy to learn, and play in under an hour. It might be a card game, a dice game, a filler, or a gateway game. If you’re looking for an ice-breaker, a starter to game night, or a simple introduction to the hobby beyond the mass market, then this just might be your shopping list!
You can also check out our previous years’ gift guides:
And to jump around to other days in our Gift Guide Week, check out:
Happy holiday shopping and gaming!
Gravwell [Our review]
Imagine a game with quite streamlined rules, that can be taught in about 5 minutes, whose gameplay results in silliness and humor without having jokes written on the cards, and which keeps every player in the game the whole time regardless of how far back they fallbehind, without resorting to cheap tricks of luck. This game is Gravwell. No, it’s not the game that’s going to engage you for 10 hours. No, it doesn’t have multiple paths to victory, or a randomized setup, or unique player powers. It’s a simple racing game with a brilliant hook: your cards make you move TOWARDS the nearest object. This means if you get really far ahead, you have no one to full forward with, so you end up floating or moving backwards to meld back with the pack; if you’re behind, you’ve got nowhere to go but forward. This incredible balancing act means you always have a chance to win, but the hook makes for one great experience; it’s all about trying to outguess and outbluff your opponents, to maintain a controlled position within the pack so that you decide when things move forward and when they move back, and to try and get into just the right position at the endgame to slightshot yourself into the warpgate before anyone else. The game is lighthearted and zany – it’s hilarious to watch your opponent slam their card down with a haughty grin on their face, only to watch another player shift position and ruin their beautifully laid plans, sending them shooting in the wrong direction. Gravwell is lightly competitive, extremely accessible, and a lot of fun – and a game only takes 20-30 minutes, which is just the right amount of time. The only flaw is that it supports only 4 players.
Who to buy it for: People who like space, racing games, outguessing their opponents, and families who like a bit of friendly competition
Who not to buy it for: Stodgy euro-ists looking for a controlled, paced, economic game.
Carcassonne [Our review]
This title invented a classic component in the hobby – miniature people, or “meeples!” A classic that has stood the test of time for good reason, it’s on the verge of receiving a new, jazzy edition to be published on the eve of its 15th anniversary. Anyone familiar with Dominoes will have little trouble picking up this design. And let’s face it, that’s most everyone. Carcassonne is extremely straight-forward. On your turn, you draw a tile and must add it to the expanding countryside so that it’s sides match any features it abuts – a road, a field, or city space. Then, if available, you may place one of your meeples on the tile you just placed – on a road directly, to the side of the road in a field, in the city part, or in a monastery. There are a couple of restrictions so that two meeples don’t occupy the same contiguous feature, but that’s about it. As the various components are completed – a road completed or city completely walled, for example – any meeple upon it scores points. It’s simple, accessible, moves quickly, and finishes up in less than an hour. Better yet, it allows players to plan ahead some, work towards a goal, and make choices that actually matter. But it’s light enough to be non-stressful or overly competitive. There’s an iOS app, if you’d like to get in some solo plays. And you can add tons of variety and extra bits and rules with its numerous expansions. But all you really need is the base game. In short, Carcassonne is a quintessential “gateway” game to introduce the deeper board gaming hobby to those unfamiliar with it.
Who to buy it for: Just about anyone, but especially families, and fans of Medieval cities
Who not to buy it for: Really snobby gamers, or those who only use Dominoes to stand them up and knock them back down
oddball aeronauts [Our review]
If I could go back in time and give my childhood self one game it would be oddball Aeronauts. This isn’t to say that it’s a game for children, I enjoy it about as much as I imagine my younger self would. It’s just that this game gives me a nostalgic feeling and I didn’t even grow up in the UK playing its predecessor, Top Trumps. Perhaps it’s the refreshing simplicity after immersing myself so deeply into the world of sophisticated and strategic modern board games. oddball Aeronauts is remarkable because it is accessible, fast, and can be played anywhere (you don’t even need a table).
Want to play a game? Great, grab a deck of adorable animal crew members with fantastic artwork and hilarious names. Find a friend, give them a deck, and duke it out in a dirigible battle that ends when the loser’s deck gets exhausted. Gloat in victory or curse your rival in defeat. Then play again. Play while you’re waiting around in the airport, or standing in line, or while your buddies pick out the next game to play from their enormous collection. Or better yet pick up a second copy and vie for control of the skies in a four way free-for-all.
Who to buy it for: Myself, 20 years ago. Travelers and gamers on the go. Friends who don’t own a table (because buying them a game that they can play without a table is a lot cheaper than buying them a table).
Who not to buy it for: Cold hearted cute animal haters. Filler adverse serious gamers.
King of Tokyo [Our review]
King of Tokyo is a great example of a light, gateway game. The gameplay is incredibly simple, and it can be played competitively right out of the box. You control a giant monster (that are very similar to classic movie icons) who wants to take over Tokyo. You do this is by scoring 20 victory points or being the last monster standing. At the start of your turn, you roll six dice a maximum of three times. Each time choosing whether to keep or discard each die in order to win victory points, gain energy, restore health, or attack other players. Energy can be traded for special powers cards which can help you or hinder your opponents! The game plays in about 30 minutes, and can accommodate up to six people, making it fantastic for groups that have a wide range of ages and skill levels. Think of it like Yahtzee, with Kaiju! An added bonus is that it is more thematic and strategic, making it a hit with gamers and non-gamers alike. [Ed. Note: if you’re looking for the New Hotness, consider King of New York. It’s a sequel game that bumps up the complexity only slightly to allow you to destroy buildings and tanks in addition to other players as you fight over… well, New York, obviously]
Who to buy it for: Families and non-gamers. Those who love giant monster movies and chucking dice around. People looking for a step up from Yahtzee.
Who not to buy it for: People who don’t like randomness in their games, people who don’t like monsters.
Sushi Go! [Our review]
Sushi Go! is an adorable card drafting and set collection game. You’re passing around a deck of sushi-themed cards (but cute sushi, not real life-looking sushi) and trying to keep the best ones for yourself while denying good cards to your opponents. At just 20 minutes, it’s a great game to teach new gamers the art of card drafting if you want to prepare them for something meatier like 7 Wonders. And it’s just a heck of a lot of fun. There are lots of ways to score points and the cards you’ll have to work with will change every game, so no one strategy will work every game. The cards are cute and kids will love them, but they’re not so childlike that gamers will roll their eyes (much). Did I mention it was cute?
Who to buy it for: Families, non-gamers, and gamers who need a game that introduces card drafting or who want a quick, simple, portable filler.
Who not to buy it for: People who hate sushi or who’d rather play a more complex game.