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!
And so we reach the end our 2014 Gift Guide Week with our personal choices: Staff Picks. We added this category so as not to let labels restrain us! These recommendations might fill in a crack left by the other days. Maybe it double-ups a previous category in which we found it difficult to narrow down. Or perhaps they didn’t fit elsewhere, but we feel they’re just too dang good to pass up as sharing the gift with others!
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!
Some games burn your brain with a complex, intellectual challenge that forces you to try to be the most efficient player. Some games focus on telling an epic tale, letting players control the action while emphasizing dramatic actions and painful (or redeeming) dice rolls. And some games are just fun. Battle at Kemble’s Cascade is a game that first released at Gencon this year, which is where I tried it, and found it to be just that – ridiculous fun. The board game attempts to emulate an old-fashioned top-down space shooter video game (is it weird that we can call video games old fashioned now?) Anyways, from what I can tell from my experience, it succeeds. Not only does it capture the experience of flying around a screen, dodging enemy fire while you attempt to collect power-ups and destroy bad guys, the game mechanisms are surprisingly non-convoluted. You start out with a simple ship and basic weapons, but over the course of the game you’ll collect massive weaponry, solid shields, and boosts to your movement and energy.
The basic mechanism for handling the enemies is very straightforward: if you end your turn in the line of fire, your Threat Level goes up. If you already have Threat Level at the end of your turn, you take the amount in actual damage. How to get rid of Threat Level? Well, you can get shields to absorb some of it, but this is based on a fasts-paced arcade game. To avoid threats, you just have to move out of the way. It’s an extremely simple concept that is executed brilliantly – especially as you will often find yourself surrounded by more Threat than you can dodge. You can also collect sweet weapons, fire at (or ram into) enemies or even other players, and attempt various achievements to earn bonus points. The game “scrolls” just like a video game, aided by convienent plastic tracks included in the box so you’re not constantly moving dozens of cards. It’s just a fun game, and I can’t wait to play more (I just got it as a birthday, y’know, gift). Buy it for someone you love!
Who to buy it for: Retro fans, arcade fans, space fans, board gamers who like action or combat in their games, people who like fun
Who not to buy it for: Gamers who prefer a more economic experience, very casual players, and people who just don’t like having fun.
Villainous Vikings [Our review]
My head spun thinking about a recommendation for this broadly defined, or more like non-defined, category. I can think of maybe 20 titles to suggest! So in order to keep my sanity (relatively speaking), and hopefully provide a useful pick, I decided to recommend a game that likely isn’t on your radar, because it’s from a smaller indie publisher. In Villainous Vikings, you play an historical or mythological Norseman plying the seas and rivers of Europe, raiding and trading and battling your competitors. There are some smooth mechanics here that really bring out its historic and adventurous theme. Indeed, it’s a nice mixture of Euro and Ameritrash elements, and will appeal widely to gamers in both camps. It’s easy to teach and learn, while still offering plenty of choices – but not a paralyzing array of them. Collecting victory points is intuitive with a recognizable set collection aspect. There’s plenty of opportunity for player interaction, yet there’s no elimination and it’s never crippling. There are variable powers, enough luck to keep everyone engaged and on equal terms, and a unique combat system. Simply put, Villainous Vikings is eminently playable and lots of fun. The first edition was mechanically great, but had a number of production and design issues. So Victory Point Games revamped it with an updated, snazzier second edition, which is the version now available. And the best part is you don’t even have to go pillaging to get it!
Who to buy it for: Light war gamers, Euro gamers who appreciate some interaction, Minnesotans
Who not to buy it for: Gamers who don’t like direct fighting, Monks
This one comes with a bit of a disclaimer: Glass Road is definitely not for everyone. So why am I recommending it in a gift guide? Because it’s an excellent game. Much like my experience with Ginkgopolis, I understand that this game isn’t for everyone but those that it will appeal to are going to LOVE it. The tricky part is knowing whether Glass Road would make a good gift for someone that’s never played it before. It’s a risky proposition.
Glass Road is a very puzzly game. That’s part of what makes it particularly polarizing in my opinion. It’s a victory point efficiency engine game through and through. But it’s also relatively short (4 rounds) which means your engine will barely get going by the time the game ends. The possibilities far exceed your ability to execute in a timely fashion so you need to be picky and focus. I’ll emphasize the word efficiency. Don’t make extravagant plans, you’ll need to be realistic about what you can achieve. This may sound disappointing to some but it’s one of the game’s strengths in my opinion.
Because it’s a puzzly, Glass Road makes for a fantastic solitaire game. In fact, it’s the best solitaire game that I’ve ever played. I would consider buying it just for the solo experience if you enjoy puzzles. There’s an incredible amount of variety between all the buildings in the game meaning it’s far from solvable. Each game presents a new challenge and seeing how well you can do given the current offering of buildings is what makes it so much fun.
Who to buy it for: Solitaire and puzzle fans.
Who not to buy it for: Gamers who want an immersive experience. Control freaks.
Eldritch Horror [Our Review]
When it comes to a game that is immersive, thematic, fun and challenging, I look no further than to Eldritch Horror. The rules aren’t terribly complex, but the game itself is difficult and won’t be a walk in the park. Your character is running around the globe solving mysteries, fighting monsters and racing to defeat any one of the Elder Gods before they awaken to wreak havoc upon the world. I always have an amazing time playing this game, even when we get slaughtered. It is a game that you can talk about long after you have played. The stories are so well done that they suck you in and doesn’t let you go. Every choice you make can lead you one step closer to victory or insanity. If you have a gamer on your list who is into the Cthulhu mythos, then this game is a must for them!
Who to buy it for: : Fans of HP Lovecraft who like a heavier weight game.
Who not to buy it for: People who dislike the Lovecraft, Great Old Ones theme, people who hate dice rolling. If you don’t like co-operative games.
Fortune and Glory
I said above that I like theme and story and this is one of the best examples of both, in my opinion. You’re on a global, Indiana Jones-style quest through the inter-war era. You’ll be fighting the Nazis and trying to retrieve powerful artifacts that will help the good guys defeat the evil that’s taking over the world. It’s really a romp through a movie set as you jet around trying to complete tasks, deliver items, and fight baddies. You can play it solo, competitively, or cooperatively (it shines as the latter). The mechanics are pretty simple; lots of dice rolling, skill checking, and card flipping, but there is some strategy involved to complete your tasks and avoid the bad guys. If you’ve got a group that can really get into the story and have fun with it, it quickly becomes a rollicking good time.
Who to buy it for: Gamers who like stories, adventure, simple mechanics yet immersive play, and that “Indiana Jones” feeling in a game.
Who not to buy it for: People who hate fiddly set ups and coffin boxes, people who can’t get into the story aspect of a game, heavy, serious strategy gamers, people who get offended at anything to do with Nazis.