The holiday’s are upon us and that means it’s time to gift a new game to that special person in your life. Whether your buying for a family member or a friend, I’m sharing games that are sure to bring a smile. In my “stocking stuffer” category, you’ll find games that are $15 or less in that pack a big punch in a small box. If you’re gaming with kids, check out my picks under the “family gaming” category. For that gamer in your life, I’ve picked some deeper strategy games under the “gamer life” category.
This little card game took our family by surprise. Change Up is pretty straight forward. In the center of the table, numbered cards are placed in order from 0 to 4. The cards get flipped face down and you won’t see their numerical faces again until the end of the game. Similar to Three-Card Monte, players will follow the cards, hoping to pick the highest available card at the end of the game. Each card tells you exactly what it does and the game is easily taught in around 2 minutes.
Change Up made it the table almost a dozen times when our family got together for a holiday weekend earlier this year. It was wild to see the grandparents and kids asking the play the game after each meal. This is one of the games that will see a lot of play during family gatherings this year and it’s an excellent stocking stuffer for anyone who likes fun card games.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Trick-taking games are something that the whole family can get into. The Crew makes trick-taking a cooperative adventure and players work together to finish missions. While the concept seems odd, the execution is excellent. The game has 4 suits and the trump suit is represented by space crafts.
Because The Crew limits your communication at the table, it feels like a group puzzle. It’s really great that the game can be adjusted round-to-round with a couple small changes. The game comes with a “Log Book” that gives you 50 missions to work through with your family or with your game group. Even when your team fails, jumping back into a round is quick and painless. This will make a great gift for anyone that loves classic card games.
Sticking with the theme of space, Control is the very first release from Keymaster Games back in 2016. Last year, this game received a second edition with some minor changes but keeps the beautiful art style of the original.
In this box you’ll find one of the best 2 player card games around. Players are time travelers who are fighting to escape a rupture in spacetime. By refueling your time machine with a fuel count of 21 or more to win. Tensions build and strategies change as you work to win 3 rounds against your opponent. The game supports 3 or 4 players (two 2-player teams) which works well. Control is a shiny, compact, filler card game will be an excellent gift for new and seasoned gamers alike.
I’m a big fan of theme park building games. It’s probably rooted in my love of PC games from the late 90’s that simulated building parks and cities. Meeple Land is a cute and colorful amusement park builder from Blue Orange Games.
Players are drafting tiles and receiving a bus full of meeples at the end of each of the 4 rounds. Use your money to build a park with a wide range of attractions that appeal to the 4 different meeple types. The game has more depth than you would think and it’s a great tile laying game for families.
One of our favorite engine building games would have to be Fantastic Factories. Chucking colorful translucent dice and building your network of buildings is so much fun. We were blown away when we introduced our kids to the game and they fell in love with it.
Fantastic Factories each round engages the players as they draft new cards, roll dice and place them within their tableau. Well made components, colorful dice and loads of strategic options make this a game that hits our table often. With an expansion for Fantastic Factories coming in 2021, I can’t think of a better time to pick this game up for your family game shelf.
One game that has impressed me this year is Prisma Arena from Hub Games. This arena combat game really took me by surprise by its strategic gameplay and the engaging world it pulls you into.
Players choose a character to enter into the arena and level up over time. Each match you’ll partner with Mo’kon which are creatures that embody different emotions. The more matches you play, the quicker your warrior will level up. The 4 different levels give you access to new armor and prisma powers which really give you a deeper connection with your guardian. The depth of this game has really impressed us and it’s a game that is excellent for gaming families with older (10+) kids.
Are you brave enough to enter the woods to defeat the monsters that have been terrorizing the village? Since its launch on Kickstarter in 2019, we’ve played a lot of Kingswood and loved every minute of it.
Players choose a guild member with a special ability to start the game. Take actions around the village to gather resources before venturing into the woods to defeat monsters to increase your fame. You can build up new resources or refresh used ones in your inventory. The game is quick to learn and has a variable setup each time. Kingswood is a game the whole family can jump into this holiday season.
LOTS is a game that is traveling with us during the holidays this year because it’s such a solid family game. This dexterity game has players building a tower cooperatively but with a competitive edge.
Players will place a Tetris-style block on the tower and receive points based on the tiles they are touching. The game has an excellent catchup mechanic and has a rule set for younger builders. LOTS has some additional rule modifications for really young players and the table presence of this game is excellent. This little box packs a lot of fun for the whole family.
That Gamer Life
I’m going to try not to gush over the game, I’ve already done that in the review. Manage your cell phone empire as you expand around the globe. Smartphone Inc. quickly moved into one of my top 10 games of all when we played this after the Kickstarter in Summer of 2019.
The 5 rounds of the game are broken into steps as you produce cell phone inventory, invest in research and development and ultimately sell your supply to the world. Once you get into the rhythm of Smartphone Inc., you’ll start to see the various strategies that the game presents. The game is just the right weight to introduce to newer gamers while still challenging the most seasoned gamer. Smartphone Inc is a fantastic buy for that gamer in your life who enjoys economic style games.
I have no interest in cars or racing but for some reason my collection of racing games continue to grow! In 2020 we added Rallyman GT to our game shelf after being really impressed with the digital version of the game on Board Game Arena. Rallyman GT is really different from games like Downforce and Formula D which are already staples in our game collection.
Rallyman GT smashes dice placement with press-your-luck mechanics to create a tense racing game. I love the modular track design that means you can build just about anything you want using the tiles. Bad rolls or risky moves can land your car in a ditch or make you leader of the pack. Rallyman GT will see even more table time when we see more game nights after the pandemic.
Paladins of the West Kingdom
If you’ve played any of the West Kingdom games, you know they are solid. In 2019 Paladins of the West Kingdom was Bob’s game of the year and I was able to pick this one up just before Christmas last year. Players are scoring points by fortifying city walls, commissioning monks, converting hostile armies and building up an army.
There are so many options in Paladins which is why I love coming back to the game to try another strategy. The game centers around a deck of paladin cards that players will choose to use each round to increase their influence, faith and power. While I love Architects of the West Kingdom, this brings the series to the next level. If you have the table space, Paladins of the West Kingdom will scratch that strategic itch for many gamers.
Ride the Rails
Passengers are ready to travel the United States using the ever expanding rail system that reaches from the East to the West. Players invest in railroad companies as they claim stock in different color train lines. Ride the Rails is part stock management and pick up and deliver which makes for an excellent game.
As you move passengers through the newly created rail system, players who own stock on that colored train line will gain points. Ride the Rails has a very tight system where trains will be come scarce as new lines are unlocked in later rounds. The game has a beautiful color palette from artist Ian O’Toole. Gamers who are looking for a medium weight train game to dig into will enjoy Ride the Rails.
Do you have a game that would make an excellent gift this holiday season? Post it in the comments below.