Tis’ the season of giving and what’s better than the gift of gaming? If you’re looking for games to give your family and friends this holiday season, you’ve come to the right place. This year I’ve broken my holiday gift list into three different categories: Stocking Stuffers (small game, small price), Gaming with the Fam (casual games for a wide age range) and That Gamer Life (games for the hobby gamer in your life).
These games are small but pack a lot of fun. These games would make great options for a Christmas stocking or even a holiday gift exchange around $15.
Since its release in 2016, our family has played a lot of Kingdomino. This year Blue Orange Games created the first “roll & write” in the Kingdomino series of games. Kingdomino Duel is a two player game that has players expanding their kingdoms using pencil and paper, drafting dice each round. Each roll of the dice can bring tough decisions as you draft the most helpful shields for your kingdom.
Kingdomino Duel is super portable, easy to teach and has more meat to the game than I expected. Players have access to the wizard’s spells that allow them to manipulate dice or earn a one-time perks. These spells are only available to the first player to earn them. Kingdomino Duel is an excellent two player game that we find ourselves coming back to over and over.
What is the Gutowski’s most played game of 2019? This one’s easy. Dirty Pig from Northstar Games! This little neoprene pig contains enough cards for up to 6 players. The goal of the game is to dirty all 3 of your pigs to be crowned the winner. Players use their hand of 3 cards to dirty their own pigs, clean their opponent’s pigs or build barns to protect their prized porkers.
The game takes less than 2 minutes to teach and this has been a huge hit with friends and family. We carry Dirty Pig with us to dinner, birthday parties and family events. You’ll need a little table space to play and that’s about it. We find ourselves playing this game 3 or 4 times in a row because it gets so competitive. The gameplay isn’t very deep but Dirty Pig has some great “take that” moments that get everyone involved. This is a fantastic filler game that will be a great addition to any family members stocking.
Silver & Gold
A little card game called Silver & Gold from designer Phil Walker-Harding (Gizmos, Sushi Go) has made its way to America. This card-based flip & write is an absolute blast to play. Relying on careful planning and a little luck, players are digging for lost treasure on a variety of treasure maps. The game uses wipeable cards and dry erase markers which work really well.
As shape cards are revealed, you are trying to fit them on one of two island maps you have in front of you. There are bonuses for covering palm trees and collecting treasure. When you’ve completed all the squares on a map, you draft a new one from the center of the table. Victory points come from finished maps and awards gained along the way. This little card game is a lot of fun to play and a great gift for the “flip & write” fan on your gift list.
The title of this game essentially tells you the basics of the game. Each player is given 5 cards. In round one, play two cards. In round two, play a single card. In round 3, play one more card. 5211 is a quick card game in the vein of something like Fuji Flush. Players are playing cards and assessing the risk based on what cards everyone plays.
If you play too many of a single color, that color will bust and be thrown away at the end of the round. Play too few of a color and it has no chance to win the round. The color that wins the majority without busting will allow players to score that card color. 5211 is all about anticipating the actions of the other players and using your hand of 5 cards to earn points at the end of the round. Our family has really enjoyed this quick, colorful, over-sized card game.
Gaming with the Fam
We love gaming with our family and these games are sure to bring old and young around the game table. These games may just become your new family favorite.
When thinking of accessible games for families, I knew I had to include Unmatched: Battle of Legends. Restoration Games created a fantastic system were 2 or 4 players come to battle using curated decks of cards. Volume 1 comes with Sinbad, Medusa, King Arthur and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Each warrior has a unique feel and advantage over their opponent.
Unmatched is a game that is going to expand and grow as time goes on but doesn’t require fierce loyalty like a collectible card game would. The game is simple to grasp but will take multiple games to enjoy the nuances of the character you play with. Unmatched is an excellent game for families who enjoy head-to-head gaming, excellent artwork and top-notch components. Personally, I’m hoping to receive an Unmatched expansion under my Christmas tree this year.
The Grimm Masquerade
While not everyone is a fan of deduction games, The Grimm Masquerade has been the game that made family and friends question their preference for this style game. This game has stunning artwork from Mr. Cuddington and elegant gameplay from the Eisner brothers and James Hudson.
Players are trying to figure out the identities of everyone else at the table while collecting sets of artifacts. Some artifacts can make you win, some artifacts can cause you to give up your identity. Paying close attention to the other guests will clue you into what character they may have. The game comes with a basic gameplay setup and includes extra elements that can be added as you get better at the game. The Grimm Masquerade has become an instant classic in our home and one that we plan to play a lot during the holidays.
Bugs on Rugs
This year Kids Table Board Gaming published a little card game about collecting bugs. Bugs on Rugs quickly became my favorite set collecting game on our family game shelf. People of all ages are instantly drawn to the cute illustration from artist Shawna Tenny.
Players draft bugs and collect sets to score based on the different bug types. At the end of a round, a single bug escapes and causes an action that will effect all the players. The game looks like a kids game with enough depth to engage adults of all ages. Bugs on Rugs is a game that absolutely should be a staple on any family game shelf.
Build your very own dinosaur park in around 15 minutes. What’s the worst that could happen? Draftosaurus is a great family filler game for up to 5 players. As the name suggests, players draft dino meeples to place the different enclosures on their player board. Each enclosure gives you points in specific ways. You’ll see a variety of dinosaurs as players pass their hand of meeples to the left in between each draft.
Draftosaurus is a game that is very accessible to players who could be intimidated by gaming. The game moves fast enough that players are usually asking to play again once the scores are calculated. The player boards have two sides which feel very different from one another. Draftosaurus is a great gift for anyone who plays games with their family.
That Gamer Life
We all have that friend who turned their dining room into a game room (we are those people). Here are some games that would be a great gift for the gamer on your shopping list.
Architects of the West Kingdom
Architects was Bob’s number 1 game of 2018 and it only took us 8 months to get this one to the table. Architects of the West Kingdom has received a lot of praise for the way as the next evolution in worker placement games. Players are contributing to the building of the cathedral and building structures throughout the kingdom in order to receive victory points. You’ll need to recruit specialized workers and send people to gather resources.
You’ll always have an eye on the other opponents because they can round up and arrest your workers as they gather resources around the kingdom. There is a morality aspect of the game that allows you to gain or lose virtue based on your actions and the people you associate with. Architects of the West Kingdom is an excellent strategy game that keep players engaged and brings out the competitive edge in family and friends. With an expansion coming in 2020, I can’t think of a better addition for the gamer in your life.
If you haven’t seen Skulk Hollow before, let me tell you what you’re missing out on. Skulk Hollow is a 1 v 1 asymmetric game from Pencil First Games. One player takes on the role of 1 of 4 different Guardians. The other player takes on the role of the Foxen Clan. The Guardians all have unique abilities along with strengths and weaknesses. The Foxen Clan is all about swift attacks and overwhelming the opponent to take them down.
This is a game that continues to get better as you learn the strategies behind the deck of cards that come with your chosen role. Each Guardian feels really unique and exploiting a weakness can make the Foxen Clan really fun to play. Every component in Skulk Hollow is so polished and the game is really something special when you see it on the table. For that gamer in your life that loves head-to-head battles, Skulk Hollow is a great gift idea.
In 2019 Keymaster Games released PARKS after a successful Kickstarter campaign. This beautiful game is now available at retail and it’s one of the most gorgeous games we own. Keymaster worked with the 59 Parks project to bring this game to life. Players will use hiker meeples to travel over the course of 4 seasons. Players collect sets of wooden tokens to claim park visits, take photos and collect gear.
PARKS is incredibly tranquil in its gameplay as you hike the trail that gets longer after each season. There are movement restrictions as well as bonuses that can be collected at the end of the trail if you’re the first to arrive. Every aspect of this game is beautiful and it’s a real pleasure to develop a strategy as you work through 4 seasons. PARKS will be one of the prettiest games under the tree this year and is a great option for family members looking for a deep yet serene gaming experience.
When gamers talk about civilization building games, it usually comes with the understanding that you’re committing to 3 hours at the table. Hadara from Z-Man Games is not that type of civ game. This was one of our favorite games of Origins 2019 and it’s been a huge hit every time we bring it to the table. The game plays 2 to 5 players as you manage four resources over three epochs in the game. As the game moves forward, the foundation that you set in the previous epoch will matter a lot.
Hadara is a very accessible civ game without feeling like a “lesser” game. You won’t spend hours playing this game like other civilization games on the market. Building out your civilization feels really satisfying without overstaying its welcome. The game stresses resource management and has so many ways for players to score points. Hadara feels like an instant classic and it’s a game that will be a welcomed surprise this holiday season.