This article is going to get physical, Olivia Newton-John fans. No offense to any Steam gift-code givers out there, but things have to get physical. They just do.
When it comes to gifts, something needs to be wrapped. Something physical needs to be handed over. The recipient has to unwrap the thing. There is a whole tradition of thing-ness that goes with gift giving.
For all the wonderful good that technology has brought, it’s also really wrecked gift giving. It wasn’t that long ago that a couple CDs were a solid gift, pun certainly intended. Although it must sound (again, the puns!) nutty to the youngsters, the idea of physically giving someone a chunk of polycarbonate plastic with music on it was a thing. (It gets even weirder, whippersnappers: That circular chunk of plastic came in its own durable plastic case that included a little paper pamphlet inside where all the metadata was printed!)
Such Christmases probably seem distant to Kids These Days®. But music, movies, books — these were go-to gift categories, and they served humanity well throughout history. We used to receive gifts that were physically printed out on paper and bound, like how the neanderthals used to read.
Now what? Your dad picks a book out for you and you just notice it already on your Kindle or some such nonsense. Nothing to unwrap. The machines failed to make our offices paperless, so they came for our gift exchanges! It’s some bull malarkey, is what it is!
Here’s how we fix this: It’s boardgames.
Christmastime is a great opportunity to gift board games. It could be a gift for a family member, a co-worker, or maybe even a treat for yourself. C’mon, treat yourself.
Note: Wrapping paper not included.
7 Great Board Game Christmas Gifts
Pandemic Legacy is rated the overall #2 board game ever on Board Game Geek, the cool nerd scene for board game information. So, to say Pandemic Legacy is a great game would be an understatement.
The game takes the basic underlying structure of Pandemic, the mainstream co-operative board game that has players working together to stop a worldwide virus outbreak. What Pandemic Legacy does differently is to bake the “legacy” feature into the game.
Legacy games are games that change play to play, dependent upon if you won or lost the previous session. New rules might be added, cards might be ripped up and discarded, new boxes might be ripped open to reveal fresh tokens. The game changes as you play, in other words. It’s super engaging.
To: This makes for a fantastic shared experience, so Pandemic Legacy is a great game to purchase for a significant other to facilitate a string of quiet date nights. The shared experience doesn’t work well with gaming groups of infrequent attendance. But if your group is consistent, Pandemic Legacy is a big win there as well.
Start with Pandemic Legacy Season 1, although there is also a followup on the market.
Onitama is comprised of just a few pieces and takes mere minutes to learn. But it also likely has the greatest depth of strategy on this list.
Think of Onitama as streamlined Chess, being that each side of the two player game has a “king” piece flanked by 4 “pawns.” Whereas Chess movement is determined via the restrictions of the individual pieces, Onitama moving is determined by a set of rotating cards.
As the movement dictated by the cards changes, players are required to think several steps ahead, just like Chess. But Onitama plays in just 10-15 minutes. It’s quick and light, yet has a ton of depth. It’s a brilliant little game actually.
To: I play Onitama with my 9-year-old as it’s a perfect vehicle for introducing strategic decision-making skills. But Onitama is actually the perfect gift for a co-worker, as it’s just about the best lunch hour game out there. Keep it in your workplace break room and enjoy a quick game over your kale salad. I’ll have the cheeseburger.
Wingspan was the runaway hit this year in board games, so you may be familiar. But if you aren’t, and you are a living human being who enjoys good things, Wingspan is a great board game to consider.
Designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, Wingspan showcases the immense variety of birds through engaging gameplay, all wrapped up in a stunning package. Even though I never had any desire to become an ornithologist, I can definitely see that as a possibility after playing this game.
The basics of the game involve taking one of four actions:
- Playing a bird card into one of the three habitats of your aviary
- Gaining food tokens from the bird-feeder, allowing you to pay the cost of playing other birds
- Laying eggs and dispersing them across the birds in your aviary
- Drawing bird cards from the deck or face-up bird tray
It’s wonderfully thematic as well as being engaging and strategic.
To: Wingspan is possibly the most gorgeous board game you’ll own. It works almost as an “art piece” collectible, so get it for someone you might want to impress with your good taste.
The theme obviously makes it perfect for nature lovers or ornithologists. Plus, it’s absolutely a solid game, meaning it works well for folks who may have Catan and Ticket to Ride, but are open to trying a board game that’s a step above those.
Lords of Waterdeep
Lords of Waterdeep is an excellent Dungeons & Dragons themed board game. The goal is to collect Wizards, Rogues, Fighters, and Clerics to complete secret quests in the city of Waterdeep.
Ok, Wizards are just little purple wooden cubes and quests are just cards with different cube requirements. But it is a truly excellent game, perhaps the very best expression of the popular “set collection” genre of board games.
To: Buy it this Christmas for my wife, as it’s her favorite game, and she’ll gladly accept multiple copies. It’s also great for a buddy who may be familiar with mainstream games like Ticket to Ride or Catan but wants a little more flavor than trading sheep for wood.
It’s certainly nowhere near like learning to play D&D. It’s a board game with a simple D&D themed veneer over it, but regardless, the theme “funs” it up even more.
Sushi Go is a card game that has players trying to make sushi for points. If you think you read that sentence wrong, you didn’t. But boy does this card game make sushi making fun.
Each player gets a handful of cards that you need to string together in order to add up the most points. But after you lay down your card, each player passes their hands of cards to the player next to them. So while you might have thought you had the perfect strategy going, you’re now looking at a whole new hand of cards.
To: It’s a perfect stocking stuffer for anyone. Like the game listed below, Sushi Go is a game that works in all settings. I play it with my young girls. Their granddad gets in on the action occasionally. It’s simple and fun, so it’s also a game that works well as an introduction to new players. Besides, it’s super affordable, so it’s a no-brainer purchase.
Trash Pandas is a card game with cards named “Doggos” and “Nanners.” It’s for 2-4 players who have about 15-20 minutes to kill.
In Trash Pandas, players are raccoons who are pilfering through trash cans for food. It’s a push your luck game, so players are trying to acquire more cards via rolling dice, but must stash them before they get busted and are shooed away with nothing.
The quick playtime is great and the silly theme works. My girls and I have played the game several times. I’m happy to report that I win, as a third grader has nothing on me. O’Doyle rules!
To: Trash Pandas is a simple, silly, and high energy game. It works for a group of teenagers, a family gathering over Thanksgiving, or maybe an office holiday party. You’ll have a few people grouse at the thought of having to play something so juvenile because some people hate fun, but once they settle in, they’ll have a fantastic time with it.
Best, Trash Pandas is a steal at $12 and has gone mainstream, so you might find it at Target. You can grab it here or, better yet, ask your FLGS about it.
Century Spice Road
Century Spice Road was my favorite game of 2017, so let’s get that out of the way. But with many of the above games being active or party games, it’s important to end this list with a good ‘ole fashioned light strategy game where players sit around a table.
The conceit of the game is that you are a 15th century spice trader. Players take actions to collect and upgrade little colored cubes that represent a variety of spices. Once a player collects the correct combination of colored cubes, they can then trade them in for cards which give them points.
To: Century Spice Road is smooth. It’s really easy teach teach and the turns move super quickly. It’s a great game for couples while also serving as a nice game if you are having another couple over.
It’s a really light game that also has the depth of gameplay, all from a simple one-page rule sheet. It’s a no-brainer purchase and makes a really good gift for anyone who might be board game curious or familiar with Catan or is simply looking to take a step beyond the Black Friday sale Milton Bradley games that pile up in landfills.
So these are only a few board game recommendations if you are looking for Christmas gifts. But if you take away anything, take away the fact that board games are in a really great spot right now and there is absolutely a game for anyone you can think of.
If you want further recommendations, feel free to jump over to The Boarderlands, our Facebook group dedicated to board games. We’d be happy to help you find the perfect gift game.