It’s that time of year yet again! We here at iSlaytheDragon, like many others, have collected a list of our recommendations for those of you looking for great ideas for holidays gifts for family and friends. We’ve got picks in five categories: Stocking Stuffer, Social, Family, Gamer, and Staff Picks. Also, feel free to check out our past gift guides; we stand by our recommendations!
Note that we are Amazon Associates, so if you click on Amazon links below to buy games, a portion of your purchase may help fund our site’s continued operation!
Whether or not you actually use stockings in your home, these games are great games in small packages, often taking only a few minutes to learn and play, and are easily portable.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/35rzeH5
The Mind is, in my experience, one of the greatest producers of positive vibes around a tabletop that has ever been designed. The task seems simple on paper—play numbered cards in ascending order—but the way this cooperative game draws groups together is truly inspired. The fact that the game is small, cheap, and simple makes this an ideal stocking stuffer for just about anyone.
BoardGameGeek link: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/279204/north
Only slightly larger than a deck of playing cards, The North is a perfect stocking stuffer for fans of head to head dueling games. By combining deck building and hand management in strange and wild ways, The North will be certain to surprise even the most seasoned gamer. It will be even more of a surprise if you manage to track down a copy, but that will make the gift all the more meaningful.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/33l1TMt
Herbaceous is a terrific stocking stuffer: it’s portable, it plays 1-4 players, and features beautiful art. A game about planting herbs in a garden, Herbaceous is a smooth-playing card game featuring set collection and push-your-luck mechanisms. Draw an herb card and plant it in your garden or the community garden, then do it again. On subsequent turns you’ll have the option to transplant your herbs into various point-scoring planters. Each planter features a different set (similar herbs, different herbs, pairs of herbs) and there’s a bonus jar that can score extra points with the right herb combinations. Herbaceous is a wonderful game with a unique theme that can be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike.
Featuring a similar box size to the stellar EXIT series, Adventure Games are somewhat of a spinoff of the popular tabletop escape room genre. Much more akin to classic point-and-click adventure games on PC, each entry in this series is heavily story-oriented, while tasking you and your team with exploring locations, interacting with characters, and combining items to progress through the game. It provides a unique and challenging experience, encouraging you to pay attention to the world around you to avoid danger and solve puzzles, and if you’ve ever enjoyed those classic PC games, you’ll find yourself right at home. Choose between 2 available entries in the series, or just get both!
Trapper Keeper Game
Publisher link: http://www.biggcreative.com/games/trapper-keeper-game/
(only availabe in-store at Target)
Oh, the nostalgia is strong with this one. Any child of the 80’s will remember going to the store every fall and choosing their new Trapper Keeper binder. This little game replicates that fun by giving you three designs to choose from, and the packaging looks and acts just like a mini Trapper Keeper (down to the folders that hold your cards).
The game itself is a fast drafting and set collection card game where players are collecting sets of homework, notes, quizzes, field trip permission slips, report cards, and doodles for points. Some cards score for simply having the most of something, some score direct points, and others score only when paired with something else. The drafting system is very similar to that found in Cat Lady, in that you must take all the cards from a row or column. You can also choose from a specified pattern which changes each round. Trapper Keeper is a light game, but there are interesting decisions to make in the drafting phase, plus you have to keep up with what your opponents are doing if you want to win the majority scoring. Get it for the nostalgia value, stay for the fun game. (Note it’s only available in Target stores, not online or at Target.com.)
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2KVVz7L
Fantasy Realms took me by surprise. WizKids released this card game with little fanfare. A friend introduced the game to me and I’ve been playing it regularly ever since. The game is all about combos. The deck consists of 53 unique cards that play off of each other in ways that you keep discovering with each play. Turns are simple: draw a card then discard. You must make the seven cards in your hand work the best they can. Games take about 10-15 minutes, but good luck trying to only play once. In my group, we go for at least three games each sitting.
These games focus more on interacting with other players, and may include bluffing, clue-giving, and other forms of highly social interaction to play the game.
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2KHNDXD
Just One is the party game I never knew I always wanted. It’s cooperative, meaning that it’s less likely to cause fights the way more competitive games like Time’s Up! do. It’s a word game that doesn’t rely on spelling or even having a huge vocabulary, which means even kids can play with adults. And the rules are so simple it can be taught in a minute or two. But be careful: playing just one game of Just One can hijack your whole game night. And when that happens, I’m not too sad about it because Just One is great in any audience.
Men at Work
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/34oRYXu
Pretzel Games specializes in the big chunky games with great presence. It’s takes the familiarity of stacking games but bakes the cleanup part of the game. That means you can experience the cheer out loud moments of a collapsing structure multiple times in a single game.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/33sA8li
Take a word game and mix in Dixit-style scoring and you get Blank Slate, a wonderful party game that plays up to eight. A random card is selected that shows one word and a blank line. Players secretly write their one-word answer for the blank then simultaneously reveal. For example, if the clue is “[blank]plate” you might write “paper.” If you and exactly one other player match, you each get three points. If more than two people match, each gets one point. It’s simple, fast, and engaging: exactly the type of game for higher player counts.
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2DlgqNs
As its title suggests, Point Salad is a card game with over 100 ways to score points. The cards are double sided: One side shows a vegetable and the other shows a scoring method. On your turn you can either take a scoring card, or three vegetables from the display. Your goal is to marry the vegetables you take with cards that will allow you to score them. Both displays are ever changing and just when you think you’ve got a good thing going, someone snatches up the card(s) you needed to make a big score. The game plays fast and furious, and accomodates six players, making it a good game for a larger group.
A bit closer to your traditional dice-and-cards setup, games in this category feature colorful components, streamlined rules, and strategic gameplay. These sorts of games are great for introducing people to the hobby without overwhelming them with something complicated, and don’t take too long to play.
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2pJHkeY
When gateway games—the introductory games that draw people into gaming—are discussed, the usual suspects are Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, and indeed, for a long time, those were my top choices too. But now I reach for Bärenpark. Bärenpark has an undeniable charm—you’re building a colorful park for bears using Tetris-shaped pieces—but there’s also an interesting game underneath. The game fosters planning as you take new pieces to expand your park, but it does it in a way that doesn’t feel as taxing as other strategy games. Thinking two or three moves ahead is more organic here—you’re just trying to make the best park you can! At the end of the game, it’s satisfying to survey your work and see what you’ve built. This is one of the most charming games to introduce to new players, young or old, and it’s also one that I’m never too cool to play.
There is often a learning curve with auction games. It can be difficult to know how much to bid and how much value to put on certain items. QE solves that issue by letting you bid any amount of money you’d like. 1 billion dollars? Sure! 49 trillion? You betcha! The only catch is that whoever spends the most money by the end of the game is automatically eliminated no matter how many points they have. Plenty of laughs to follow.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2DuQn6R
A three-dimensional tile drafting and laying game, Planet is a family game that all kinds of gamers will enjoy. Each player gets a magnetic core shaped like a 12-sided die and each turn you’ll add a tile onto it, eventually ending up with your own custom planet. The tiles feature different types of terrain and you score points based on your secret terrain card as well as the animal cards displayed in the tableau. Animals thrive in certain terrains so they’ll only be scored if you can meet those conditions. Planet offers a puzzle-like challenge that even non-gamers can easily learn, making it an excellent choice for your next family game night.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg
I’ll admit it took me a play or two to get fully sold on this game. The concept is simple; keep drawing tokens out of your bag, which represent ingredients to fill your pot as much as possible. Quantity over quality! But if you have too many white chips, your pot explodes. The further you go, the more money you earn and points you gain, but if your pot explodes you only get one of those things. Quacks fun in large part for the tactile experience; it is just so satisfying to pull those tokens from your bag and watch the contents of your pot grow and grow. It’s even more satisfying to add new chips to your bag. There’s definitely luck of the draw involved, but with risk comes reward. When I introduced this game to my family, they wanted to play it again and again, despite all the unique ingredient powers adding a level of complexity they weren’t normally used to.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/34pJgrZ
Copenhagen is a polyomino game, but with a twist. Here you’re not just trying to fill holes on a board with tiles, you’re also racing to be the first to 12 points. As you place tiles and complete rows and columns of your building, you earn points and bonus actions that will speed you toward those 12 points. For example, rows/columns consisting of just window tiles are worth more points than those that have a mixture of windows and walls. Bonus actions give you one-square tiles (great for filling in pesky holes), or allow you to break the rules in some way, such as by drawing more cards. The game features a Ticket to Ride-style method of collecting colored cards and trading in sets to gain the polyominoes which you will place on your board. It’s simple to learn and quick to play, yet puzzly and a bit addictive. The theme of building along Copenhagen’s famous waterfront is beautiful and relaxing.
I first played Las Vegas back in 2012 when it was a German import. I fell in love with the fast-paced dice majority mechanics so quickly that I could not wait for an English copy. Seven years later, that copy I overpaid for is well-worn and well-loved. It’s a staple at every one of my family gatherings. The whooping and shouting at one another has yet to get old. There are a few different productions of the game at this point, but any of them will provide your family with years of fun.
Anyone can be a gamer; this just means they play games more frequently than your average person, and are often more familiar with game mechanics. This category is targeted more toward people who spend hours a week playing games with a group, aren’t afraid of more complex rules or longer games, and who already likely have a collection on their shelf.
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2QFJtU4
It’s hard to imagine a gamer’s game more designed to my sensibilities than Underwater Cities. There are compelling hand management decisions, a good deal of interaction through worker placement, and the sensation of building something great as your underwater city expands. Add in tableau and engine-building, and I’m sold. Underwater Cities combines the tactical considerations of making the most of a random hand of cards with the strategic impetus for moving your city forward. The decisions and trade-offs are grueling, and while the game can last a while—likely around 3 hours for a full table of four players—the decisions are such that I’m usually not bored when it isn’t my turn. In a year of very good games, Underwater Cities is top of the pack.
Pax Pax Pamir 2nd Edition
Publisher link: https://wehrlegig.com/products/pax-pamir-second-edition
Pax Pamir marries deeply historical gameplay with absolutely gorgeous production values. The game itself is fairly easy to understand, but the ever growing scope of the game will leave you with plenty to explore for a long, long time. Did I mention it’s pretty?
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2Dj4Pi3
There’s no way around it: Pipeline is punishing. An economic game of buying and selling crude and refined oil, Pipeline offers no sympathy if you make a mistake. Every one of your 18 turns matters. There’s no catch-up mechanism and some of the special abilities are overpowered. So why do I love it? It’s a heavy, brain-burning game that plays in a relatively short amount of time. You’ll set up your pipeline, convert crude to refined oil, fulfill contracts, and earn that money all within its one- to two-hour playing time. Pipeline is a game that demands you replay it again, hoping to overcome the errors in your previous game.
Funkopops – cute cartoony statues of pop/nerd culture characters have been around for years. Funkoverse gives you a chance to pit those characters against each other in teams. Each character features a simple set of powers, and you can team any character up with any other character. Even heroes and villains! The game features different scenarios with goals and objectives that require smart tactical play. Right now your options are primarily limited to Batman and Harry Potter characters, with expansions for the Golden Girls and Rick & Morty also available, showing just how broad a range of characters you can expect from this franchise. And don’t worry! Each box you buy comes with all the components to play in the box, even the smaller sets. But you’re going to want more.
Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2rsPfh4
To say I’m an Imperial Settlers fan is an understatement. It’s been hitting my table consistently since I got my hands on it at Gen Con in 2014. Packed with every expansion, I’ve played the game dozens of times and still not tired of it. So seeing Portal release a new version of the game made me as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. This variant on the Imperial Settlers formula is fresh and different enough to warrant its own place on the shelves. Empires of the North still gives that great asymmetrical play and discovery of how different factions work without rehashing the same mechanics of Imperial Settlers. With a new expansion already out, I’m trying to practice some self-control in buying everything up. But, I’m not sure how long that will last. There’s just too much to explore!
Sometimes games just don’t fit neatly into a category – or, one of us just has so much love for a product they really want to shine a light on it. Read carefully to find out if these games are right for you, but you can be certain that we love them.
Recommended by: Farmerlenny
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/33a4JUu
It’s no surprise that I like a Reiner Knizia game—he’s one of my favorite designers. It is a little surprising that I’m as smitten as I am with a game as colorful as this one, that trades on its “Moana-but-don’t-sue-us” thematic setting that is likely to apply to children. But there you have it: Blue Lagoon has very simple rules and a quick turn structure—place one piece on the board—but within this simple framework is an incredible game of trying to accomplish all of your goals at once but only being able to work toward them a piece at a time. Beyond this, it’s very interactive: you want to stop another player from advancing, but is it worth using your whole turn just to block them? Of course, Blue Lagoon will recall for some players the Knizia classic Through the Desert, which is another good game. What sets Blue Lagoon apart, aside from simultaneously more complex and more intuitive scoring, is the two-act structure of the game. In the first half, your settlers can pop out on any water hex on the board; in the second half, all your pieces have to connect to villages that you placed in the first half. The game’s reset halfway through really sets this apart and makes it feel fresh. It’s a game I just keep wanting to play.
Recommended by: Alex
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/35zKWiI
I’ve been on something of a cube rails kick lately. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, it essentially a family of train games that originally used cubes to represent railroad tracks. Most of them involve money and stocks, such as Irish Gauge. What makes Irish Gauge compelling is it’s presentation, compact form factor, and quite affordable to boot.
Recommended by: Ruel
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/34nLFU8
One of two new titles released by Stonemaier Games in 2019, Wingspan made the rare crossover into the mainstream, with articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other outlets. It won the coveted Kennerspiel des Jahres award. And it’s already gone through several printings. But is it worth the hype? Absolutely. Designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, Wingspan is an elegant engine building game that lowers the barrier of entry for new gamers while maintaining enough strategic depth to satisfy hobby gamers. Like other Stonemaier titles, Wingspan features top-notch production and is absolutely gorgeous on the table. The bird artwork is gorgeous and game play is simple (choose one of four actions each turn), but not simplistic. While a casual or non-gamer may not know what engine building means, they’ll learn it through play as they place birds into their habitats that gain benefits and bonuses when they’re activated. Wingspan is the real deal.
Recommended by: Wolfie
Review link: https://islaythedragon.com/game-reviews/review-marvel-champions/
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2OpQN4J
I’m a huge Marvel fan, and I’ve been waiting for a hobby game featuring those characters that I could really get excited about. This is that game! Cooperatively team up with your fellow players, take on the roles of iconic Marvel heroes, and face off against dastardly villains and their evil schemes. For a relatively complex card game, and an LCG to boot, Marvel Champions is easy to pick up and play right away. Even if you completely ignore the deckbuilding aspect and don’t plan on buying any expansions, the core set includes a ton of content to explore. It’s become the most-requested game at my weekly game night, and it’s provided a satisfying experience every game we play. Whether you tackle it solo or join a group of 4, Marvel fans are sure to have a blast.
Recommended by: Jen
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2rqbqEG
When I think about buying games for gifts, I often think in terms of games that are “gift-worthy.” That might be a game that the recipient will never buy for him- or herself (perhaps because of price, availability, etc.), or something that really stands out in terms of theme, components, or table presence. It is the last three on that list that make Parks my pick for a holiday present.
It is stunningly gorgeous. The card art is licensed from the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series and everything in the box is high quality. The cards are nicely finished, the wildlife tokens are all different animals, and the resource tokens are shaped like water drops, trees, etc. — no cubes here. Add in a metal first player marker and Gametrayz inserts to hold the goodies and it is a production that screams, “Gift-worthy,” and all for a price of +/-$40.
Lest you think Parks is all about looks, it’s not. There is a good game under that art that plays much like Tokaido, only smoother in my opinion (and better at two players). You’re moving your hikers along the trail over four seasons, gathering resources, points, and abilities as you go along. There’s a push/pull between hiking fast enough to beat other players to the good stuff, but not hiking so fast that you finish the trail while others are still out there gathering goodies. It’s a light game, but not brainless. Much like Tokaido, the Zen-like nature experience is the best part of the game.
Bunny Kingdom + In the Sky
Recommended by: Grace
Review (base game): https://islaythedragon.com/featured/review-bunny-kingdom/
Amazon link (Bunny Kingdom): https://amzn.to/2XP6sNI
Amazon link (In the Sky): https://amzn.to/34pz4j5
Like many groups, my friends and I are guilty of churning through games and not revisiting good ones enough. That is not the case with Bunny Kingdom. This drafting game from the Richard Garfield is on a continuous rotation at my table. Picking two cards from a hand to position your bunnies on the board and score the most points sounds simple (and mechanically, it is), but the challenge comes when you want not just two cards in your hand, but three or four, or maybe all of them. Besides, you can’t let your opponent get that carrot field; they already have too many! Bunny Kingdom packs a lot of punch for just 45 minutes and has yet to get old. The In the Sky expansion adds another board that gives new ways to score without feeling bloated. And the best surprise of all in the expansion is how well it handles the addition of a fifth player to the game. Just don’t get turned off by the game’s mathy scoring! I promise that building your own kingdom of bunnies is well worth it.