Christmas Gift Ideas

This time of year, we’re all looking for a unique, fun, and memorable Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy-for someone. How about a board game?

No, wait, come back!

You’re probably thinking Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble. Those are nice games, but chances are that if the recipient likes games, s/he already has them. And anyway, we have something completely different in mind.

Modern tabletop games have come a long way from bad dice rolls and random cards. Today’s games feature thought-provoking scenarios wrapped in fun, where the player truly is master of the outcome.

For the Wordsmith: Codenames

This word game for four and up is challenging but a lot of fun. Players form two teams – red and blue. One player from each team is a spymaster, who knows where all the agents are hidden. The spymaster gives one-word clues in the hope that his players can find their own spies, while avoiding the other team’s spies. Upping the stakes is the assassin – guess him and the game is over. Codenames is a classic language conundrum: what word choices could help your team while avoiding the other? If you’re into teams, Codenames also comes in Duet – a version for two.

2-8 players (or more)
20 minutes
Ages 14+
Learning Difficulty: 1 (of 3)
Play Difficulty: 1.5 (of 3)

Codenames at Amazon.com, Codenames Duet at Amazon.com

For the Trivia Master, Timeline

Players start with a handful of cards, each depicting an historic event, an invention, a scientific discovery, a music or cinema release, or more. You can choose your favorite flavor of Timeline. Players take turns laying down card in the correct chronological order.

Which came first, the invention of chewing gum or the invention of the shopping cart? Guess wrong and you’ll have to take another card. The beauty of this game is that the timeline provides a bit of a cheat. So the longer you play, the longer your timeline and the better chance you have of defeating your family’s trivia master.

2-8 players (or more)
15 minutes
Ages 8+
Learning Difficulty: 1 (of 3)
Play Difficulty: 1 (of 3)

Timeline at Amazon.com
Timeline: Inventions at Amazon.com
Timeline: American History at Amazon.com
Timeline: Diversity at Amazon.com
Timeline: Music & Cinema at Amazon.com
Timeline: Discoveries at Amazon.com

For the Pokerface, Cash N Guns

Some may raise an eyebrow, but this game is more humor than hoodlum. Just picture Grandma holding a foam gun and asking, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Expect a lot of hammed up renditions of your favorite film gangsters and some serious bluffing.

Each round, the loot is laid on the table. Players then choose a “bang” or a “click” card and take aim. This is the key point in the game: will you chicken out or stand firm? When cards are revealed, all players still standing get to divvy up the loot. Cash is nice, but diamonds and paintings have extra bonuses. Collect the most loot to win.

4-8 players
30 minutes
Ages 10+
Learning Difficulty: 1 (of 3)
Play Difficulty: 1 (of 3)

Cash N Guns at Amazon.com

For the Sci Fi Fan, King of Tokyo

This Yahtzee-like game pits giant monsters against each other for reign over the city of Tokyo. Choose to play a mutant monster, giant robot, or alien creature that looks strangely familiar and roll your dice for victory, attack, healing, or energy points. Keep an eye on your health and energy levels, while fighting for domination against other amazing creatures.

The victor either collects 20 victory points and defeats Tokyo, or eliminates all other monsters to be the last critter standing. This game has a fun “take that!” element, so if you like Sorry or Trouble, you’ll enjoy this one.

3-6 players
30 minutes
Ages 6+
Learning Difficulty: 1 (of 3)
Play Difficulty: 1.5 (of 3)

King of Tokyo at Amazon.com

For Adventuring Heroes, Forbidden Island

In this cooperative game, players team together to defeat the game itself – the cursed island. Each player has a skill – the pilot, the engineer, the messenger – that they will use to help find four ancient artifacts from a sinking island. Each turn, players must decide whether to use their limited time to shore up sinking areas, explore new locations, or collect the treasures.

This is a pulse pounding game on par with the best Indiana Jones movie. Travelling gets more difficult as more of the island sinks beneath the waves. And since the island is shuffled, each game is a new experience – you can’t rely on the same strategy each game. Can your team survive?

2-4 players
30 minutes
Ages 8+
Learning Difficulty: 2 (of 3)
Play Difficulty: 2.5 (of 3)

Forbidden Island at Amazon.com

For the Strategist, Pandemic

Another cooperative game, players take the roles of scientists or support personnel to try and prevent a world Pandemic. Strategies can be similar to Risk – the resources needed to contain an outbreak increases with the amount of virus present, and geography plays a heavy role in how it spreads.

Players choose each turn to travel, treat infected populations, discover cures, or build support stations. Play carefully – the viruses spread quickly and time is always running out. This game plays like a classic apocalyptic movie, with all the maddening, fascinating, exciting drama.

2-4 players
45 minutes
Ages 10+
Learning Difficulty: 2.5 (of 3)
Play Difficulty: 2.5 (of 3)

Pandemic at Amazon.com

The Gift that Keeps Giving

We chose these games because they’re fairly easy to learn and fun to play, but also for presentation and with gift-giving in mind. Each of these titles features thick, colorful cards; carefully sculpted pieces; and sturdy boxes. King of Tokyo offers round spin counters; Forbidden Island is packed in a tin; and pulling out the foam guns of Cash N Guns is a hoot. We would be proud to give any of these games as a gift – and so can you.

Giving a game on this list can help beginning gamers (and those who haven’t played since they were teens) a chance to try out modern tabletop titles. Where once there were a few options and the games revolved around random dice rolls and guessing, now players can stretch their skills in tactics, language, or teamwork all while having fun. And giving a game gives twice – the gift of the game and the gift of time as you play together.

Merry Christmas!

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