What a year it has been, my friends. Rampant diseases, stay-at-home orders, and all manner of other shenanigans.
Perhaps because of COVID you haven’t gotten as much game time in with your regular gaming group; or maybe, being trapped at home with family, you’ve discovered a new love of cardboard.
In either case, the holiday season is up-and-coming, and it looks as though we still have months ahead of us to keep avoiding going out and socializing. So this year’s gift guide is not necessarily about the latest hotness, but about games you can appreciate while stuck at home with family.
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Here’s a few links to previous gift guides, but there may be some more overlap than usual this year.
Superheroes are a hot topic these days, and Marvel Champions is fairly accessible for being a Living Card Game. Okay, you might not want to throw this one at Grandma and Grandpa who just want another round of Rummy-Kub.
The advantages of this game are many; it scales well from 1 to 4 players (although playing with the full 4 can make for a longer game, be advised), the core box comes with enough heroes and adversaries to make for plenty of replay value before you even get into the expansions, and the artwork is bright and colorful.
It’s a fantastic game to kill lots of time whether you’re alone or stuck with a group at home, and a large supply of expansion decks make for good stocking stuffers.
The Crew | Amazon
The Crew is a game that I never thought I would like, because it is a trick-taking game. You know the sort – everyone plays a card, highest card wins in the leading suit. I generally dislike them, I’m no good at them, and The Crew is 100% a pure trick-taking game so there’s no reason for me to like it.
Except… I do like it. It’s brilliant twist is that you are cooperating with everyone, and the goal is not to win the most tricks but to help specific players win specific cards.
I’m still terrible at trick-taking games, including the Crew. But while competitive trick-takers leave me feeling out of my depth, in this game I feel out of my depth with everyone else at the table. We’re all struggling to accomplish these simple but challenging goals. We fail together, and we fail a lot. But we get back up and try again. Each time we learn a little bit more on how to play better.
This game keeps from getting stale by containing a logbook of 50 “Missions” each with varying goals. That’s what makes it perfect for lockdown – you can play again and again without feeling like your doing the exact same thing over and over. Each mission is a new challenge that feels very rewarding when you finally accomplish it.
Worth noting it is a 3-5 player game, with a 2-player variant. The more players you have, the more challenging the game is.
My City | Amazon
So you’re stuck in social isolation with the same group of people for months anyway; why not try a Legacy game?
If you aren’t already aware, Legacy games are a relatively new type of board game in which players will add stickers, draw on the components, and even rip up cards with each game they play. The end result is a game unique to the players who create it step by step.
Many Legacy games have pushed toward the more complex side of the scale, but My City aims (and succeeds) to be a family friendly legacy game with easy-to-learn rules and simple gameplay. I’d put it on the level of Ticket to Ride.
In My City, players compete to place building tiles the most efficiently in the space available, while trying to leave trees visible and cover up rocks and empty spaces. However, over the course of 8 chapters each containing 3 episodes, new rules are added, new buildings join the mix, stickers add new things or cover up old ones, and more opportunities for scoring points arise. It happens gradually, but by the 12th episode you’re playing something completely different than when you started.
It’s a bit more “on the rails” than other legacy games, but it’s a great introduction to Legacy games and it is very accessible to most kinds of players. Also, players are given boons when they lose and disadvantages when they win, a self-balancing mechanism which helps to ensure that all the participants have a chance of winning regardless of skill level.
The game is best played with the same group of 4 through the whole campaign.
Pandemic Legacy | Amazon | Review
Once you’ve finished with My City, Pandemic Legacy is the next step up. There are now 3 seasons of Pandemic Legacy available, with the brand new Season 0 having just come out. Starting with Season 1 you can play regular games of Pandemic if you’re not used to the game yet; whenever you’re ready, you can jump into the campaign with introduces layers of new challenges, long-term goals, stickers to place on the board and on your character sheets, and more. It’s an exciting and thrilling way to play through Pandemic like it’s a season of a TV show, which lets you make your own decisions and craft your own world as you go. Again, best with the same group of 2 to 4 people every time.
Each EXIT game is one-time-use, but there are a huge variety of adventures to choose from. Essentially an escape room in a box, EXIT gives you 90 minutes to puzzle together clues, rip up cards and rules booklets, and make your way through the given scenario to achieve victory. Not every puzzle is at the same level, but with few exceptions the challenges are fair but tough to solve. You can play with as many people as you like, just be aware that it can be hard to share the cards and papers with everyone so if you have more than 4 some players may be temporarily left out.
Sometimes you just need something that’s more like a toy than a game, but that still has rules and structure. Junk Art provides a goofy, entertaining, tactile experience. For the most part the game involves stacking different oddly-shaped pieces on top of each other to build the highest tower; however, different challenges for players to approach how they actually build. Sometimes you’ll draft cards to choose which object to add; sometimes you’ll choose for another player. Sometimes you’ll build a few pieces, then rotate to another tower and build from there.
It’s lighthearted, it encourages creativity and laughter, it’s colorful, and it’s a good way to spend an hour or two with family or friends.
Star Wars: Rebellion | Amazon
If you’re looking for something with more complexity, if you’re into Star Wars, and if you only have 2 players, you’ve come to the right place. While there are plenty of hours-long games out there to kill some quarantine time, I personally have been enjoying time spent with Star Wars Rebellion and a friend lately.
Each player is essentially playing a different game on the board, using similar mechanics. The Empire builds a massive fleet to seek out and destroy the Rebel base, engaging in conflict as often as possible to wipe out rebel ships and quell any thought of resistance. Meanwhile, the Rebellion focuses heavily on missions; sabotaging enemy strongholds, inspiring populations to rise up, and seeking out small victories wherever possible in order to gain enough support to overthrow the evil grip of the Emperor. It’s a tense game of cat-and-mouse, leaving both players sweating to achieve their goals before the other.
For a chance to scratch your artistic itch, try Pictures. This is a casual game, almost a party game, for up to 5 players. Photos are dealt to the center of the table and players are tasked with representing one of those photos using a specific medium: sticks and stones, blocks, string, colorful cubes, or icons. Earn points both by guessing what other players were trying to represent and when others guess which photo was yours.
It’s a clever game that allows anyone to participate by giving no one enough material to work with. Think abstractly, think outside the box, think simply; anyone can be an artist with Pictures.
Any other recommendations for games that make good gifts during a Pandemic? Sound off in the comments below!