Around this time of year, I have quite a few people come up to me asking for board game gift recommendations. From entry-level games, to kid-friendly titles, to deep and heavy strategy games, people are looking for games to add to their loved ones’ shelves.
So here I am, helping you out with a leg up on my favorite titles! I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to enjoy with this Board Game Edition of my 2020 Holiday Gift Guide!
Board Games for Kids
The titles in this list are aimed for the younger people out there. Board games are a fantastic way to learn life skills at a young age: critical thinking, deduction, cooperation, math, counting, and more. I’ll try to offer some outside-the-box recommendations that are a little different than your simple ‘roll and move’ games on the market.
Outfoxed! – Play detective as you search for the culprit behind the missing pot pie! It’s a cooperative game, and a nice alternative to the classic game Clue. Plus it’s super cute!
Concept Kids: Animals – Guess animals based on generic clues, with no reading required. Another deductive reasoning game that helps kids learn the amazing critters in the animal kingdom. Older kids may prefer the original Concept game as well.
ICECOOL – A dexterity-based game about penguins collecting fish and trying not to get caught by the Hall Monitor! It’s a game filled with penguin-flicking fun, and you may find yourself not even using the board at all!
Board Games for New Board Gamers
This next section focuses on solid entry-level board games that can help spark a revived interest the hobby. If someone has expressed that they want to try out some board games but didn’t know where to start, these would be the ones that I’d recommend. You can’t go wrong with any of these titles.
Tiny Towns – Build up an adorable little town by placing building materials in specific patterns. A great game that you can play virtually if everybody has a copy, and tons of replayability by swapping out the building objectives. Click here for our full review.
Azul – Stunning mosaics are only a turn away in this game of tile-drafting. Fill up rows and columns to construct your masterpiece, but be careful to not leave a bunch of excess glass lying around!
Ticket to Ride – Plan and construct your train route to pass through key cities on your way to victory. You can easily find this title in ‘big-box’ stores, and there are a bunch of varieties of the game, like those including a map of Nordic Countries or the USA in 1910.
Many games these days, especially Kickstarter-funded ones, rely on flashy miniatures or tons of detailed components. There’s a whole subset of games, however, that are strictly card-based, and they deserve some love too. Improve your shuffling skills with these fantastic titles!
Point Salad – Grab veggies from the market to create an impressive swath of healthy goodness. At the same time, you’ll also need to draft cards that determine how you are going to score at the end of the round. Everybody scores a little differently, so pay attention to everyone’s bushels! Click here for our full review.
Sushi Go Party! – Pass those sushi platters around! Take a card as each hand reaches you, and score based on collecting sets of specific cards. Will you go all-in with a dumpling strategy, or try to collect as many Maki Rolls as your cheeks can fit?
Love Letter – Can your letter of affection reach the princess? Play cards representing members of the kingdom, trying to be the last one standing. Just don’t discard the Princess! She won’t return your affection if you do!
Puzzle Games / Deduction Games
Even though you’re playing games, doesn’t mean that you have to turn off that critical-thinking part of your brain! This section of games is great for those who enjoy puzzles or thinking outside the cardboard box.
Mental Blocks – Use blocks to complete a 3-dimensional puzzle, but each player can only see one perspective of the design. It’s a cooperative game about communication, anticipation, and filling in the blanks.
Hanabi – Work together with the group to create the most stunning fireworks display! Players can see the cards in everybody else’s hand except their own, playing their cards based on simple clues given by the other players. It’s frustratingly delightful.
Mysterium – There’s been a murder! The victim can only communicate through abstract images to help the group deduce the murderer, place where it happened, and the murder weapon. Can you figure it out before the clock strikes the fateful hour?
Games where everybody can get involved or games where you can organize teams always make for a fun game night. These games shine because of their unique and wide breadth of topics, meaning that no two game nights will be the same. As a bonus, you could play all of these virtually if you get a little creative!
Monikers – If you like charades, you’ll LOVE Monikers. Played in three rounds, players try to get their team to guess the cards in hand. First round, you can say anything you want. In the second round, using the same cards, players can only speak a single word, and the third round is only with charades. How good is your pop culture knowledge?
Wavelength – Get on the same wavelength as your team by determining points on a spectrum. You’ll move the dial based on a clue, like “coffee”, where the spectrum is hot-cold. But what’s the scale? Coffee is hot, but when compared to the SUN it’s relatively balmy. An absolute blast.
Codenames – Another game with a bunch of varieties, like Disney or Marvel themes, give players clues about specific cards on the table. Your clues have to be broad enough to help your team get multiple cards in a round, but specific enough so the other team’s cards aren’t picked by mistake!
These games have a little bit more weight than the others, making them arguably more complex or with a longer playing time. Don’t let that dissuade you; these days there are plenty of online how-to videos and forums to help you get through any rules issues. So if you’re looking for something with a little more meat on the bones, this is your stop!
Marvel Champions – Clave’s favorite game, and a must-have for any Marvel fan, battle dastardly villains with beloved Marvel heroes. This is a living card game, so more content is constantly being added, bringing those iconic characters from the comic book pages to your living room table.
Gaia Project – The most complex of the bunch, this is a space version of the game Terra Mystica. Take control of a space-faring faction to develop, grow, and terraform the galaxy to your heart’s content. One of my personal favorite games; I’ll never say no to a round or two of this one.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion – A more ‘casual’ version of the hit game Gloomhaven, Jaws of the Lion is designed to get more people playing this acclaimed board game. It has a stream-lined rule-set and a wonderful tutorial to get your feet wet as you explore dungeons and level up your characters. If you’re interest in Gloomhaven, but don’t want to take the plunge, this is a good place to start.
It’s hard to get a bunch of people together to crush some board games, especially in the year 2020. These games are designed to support two-players, and they do it in an exceptional way. Pass the quarantine times quickly by pulling one of these off the shelf to play with your partner, roommate, or highly-intelligent feline friend!
Targi – Gather resources for a group of nomads by placing your workers and collecting cards for your tableau. You gain resources at the intersection points of your workers, and you’ll need to outsmart your opponent to make sure you’re getting all the dates and salt you need while preventing them from getting theirs. Click here for our full review.
Kingdomino – Dominoes with a twist! Draft the dominoes you want and play them by touching at least one matching terrain type. Score based on the number of crowns in a connected region times the number of tiles in that region. The drafting is what makes this game really interesting, as you can only plan ahead so far before resorting to guesswork.
Santorini – Any chess-lovers in the house will appreciate this game featuring the classic architecture from Greece. Players move their pieces around the board while building up the structures, hoping to climb to the highest level and claim victory. There are special mythological powers that really enhance the game and invite new strategies with every play.
Sometimes when you play a game, you just want to flip the table and all of the pieces along with it. Or…you could just play a dexterity game instead! These games rely on your ability to flick, stack, balance, and push components around to win.
Junk Art – At first glance, this is a box of weird plastic shapes. At second glance…yup, it’s still a box of weird plastic shapes. However, there’s a ton of fun in the box as players try to create the tallest structures and ensure that their delicately balanced creation doesn’t come crashing to the table.
Crokinole – A game that’s been around forever and is getting increasingly popular with every passing day. It’s very similar to shuffleboard, in that players are flicking discs to get them in the middle scoring notch, or to keep them from falling off the central ring. Tons of strategy in this game, and I encourage you to check out tournament footage to see some amazing highlight reels. There’s a lot of price variation between boards, so shop around.
Catacombs – You don’t have to play Dungeons and Dragons to find joy in this game, but you’ll see some similarities. It’s like crossing Crokinole with a fantasy setting and featuring a Dungeonmaster vs player dichotomy. It’s a bit ‘outside-the-box’, but there’s a lot of like here!
Happy Holidays from Nerds on Earth
This has been quite the year so far, and it’s hard to believe that the holidays are upon us already. Seems like there may be some light yet to come in 2021, but be sure to stay safe and vigilant during the holiday season.
Wishing you all the best, and here’s to another good year of enjoying all of our nerdy interests!
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