With the 2020 holidays nearly upon us, it’s time to talk about gifts. Whether you’re shopping for a loved one or a Secret Santa recipient, trying to keep things lowkey or looking to splurge, or just grabbing something for yourself, Goonhammer’s got you covered with our handy gift guide.
In this guide, we’re talking board games! For a look at all the games we’ve reviewed this year, check out our board game landing page.
Star Wars Unlock
The Unlock “Escape Room in a Box” series has quite a few games in its lineup, and almost all are good. This year they released a Star Wars three pack. You’ll play the role of Outer Rim smugglers, Jedha spies, or Hoth Troopers lost on patrol. Unlock games all follow a similar formula; you’ll load up an app and then begin working your way through a deck of 80-100 cards. The cards have clues hidden in the art, puzzles that may or may not interact with the app, and other Escape Room-esque challenges. While there are a number of options in this space, the Unlock series has consistently been my group’s favorite line.
Every year seems to have a new must-have party game, and this year’s title is Just One. There is a mystery word that must be guessed by the lead player and the only clue they get is a single word from each other player. Those players have to write them down and any duplicates are ignored. This creates some fun tension as you figure out which clues might be just obvious enough to be helpful, but not obvious enough to overlap with someone else. It’s a light, quick, game that is appropriate for almost any age and experience level, and can even be played remotely!
Another game that can be played remotely, Tattoo Stories is my favorite party game of the year (and last year and at least 2 other years before that). You can check out our full review here, but the core idea is that all players but 1 are attempting to draw a tattoo that incorporates 5 elements chosen by the Customer. They’re drawn Apples-to-Apples style from a deck of random cards; the opportunity for hilarity and Awful Ink is high.
The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine
A co-operative trick taking game, The Crew is a blast, and quite frankly a steal at the price point. There are numerous campaign levels to play at, and the no talking aspect of the game really makes it interesting and thinky in terms of trying to figure out what exactly you and your teammates need to succeed. There are not many cooperative trick taking games out there either, which also helps make this one stand out to me. I like this a lot more than Hanabi, and the variety of missions in the campaign makes it fun to replay and try different things. I find it works really well with almost any size between 2-4, which makes it a good possibility for play right out of the box during the holidays.
Sometimes, stupid things just work, and Uno Flip is one such stupid thing. It is literally just Uno, except the backs of the cards are ALSO Uno cards of different colors, which can create some truly maddening experiences. Perhaps this is due to my growing up in the Anime Con Circuit, but Uno played as a literal Death Game from Yu-Gi-Oh! Will always be a great time, and Uno Flip is a way to add in that insanity of “You just activated my trap card!” level of Uno fuckery that I appreciate. Uno gets something a bad rap but honestly I’ve had more fun with a deck of Uno cards than I’ve had with my entire board game collection, and it’s a game almost everyone knows how to play; this one is an easy buy if you know that certain someone appreciates Shadow Realming their friends and family over a literal children’s card game.
6 Nimmt / Take 6!
This game might be a household favorite already, but if you’ve never played 6 Nimmt, it is certainly worth picking up. There are quite a few variations of the game out there, but combo pack of 6 Nimmt and Take a Number is usually the cheapest and most available. Even if you never play Take a Number you’ll get your mileage out of 6 Nimmt. 6 Nimmt is the type of game where points are actually bad, and while the concept is simple–place cards in a row, and when you reach 6 cards in a row, you collect all 6 cards, adding them to your score–there are some actual quirks to point totaling that can make things interesting. Since players reveal cards simultaneously, there’s also many ways in which your planning can go sideways, so even the most adept card counter at the table can be outplayed by an 8 year old. Also, while it may seem like a bad game at 2, I’ve actually enjoyed 6 Nimmt at 2 to 5, but never much at 6+ (it says it can play 10; do not do this). It’s an easy game to play a lot of, cheap, and losing doesn’t make you feel bad, making it easy to play a bunch of rounds together and laugh the whole time.
My First Game
Here Fishy, Fishy
Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
We talked about this last year, causing me to buy it for my then-three-year-old son and while he didn’t take to it at first, it has since become a favorite of his. It’s a good way to teach him about taking turns and getting him used to the procedure of sequential actions, i.e. “You roll a die, go fish, then collect a token, and now it’s my turn.” Worth checking out.
Another HABA title, Monza puts every player in the seat of a cute wooden Formula 1 race car. On your turn you’ll roll 6d6 and move forward into colored spaces matching your rolls. It’s great for learning general rules, but there is some strategy in how to best sequence your dice. The youngest gamers will just have fun rolling and moving but as your kids get a little older they can start to engage with the strategic side.
Onitama is a strategy game where you and your opponent take on the roles of martial arts masters and students, and battle to defeat the other dojo. It’s got a lot in common with games like chess and draughts, but the way moves rotate between players gives planning your victory extra challenge. Fast to play but with huge hidden depths it’ll take hundreds of games to master, if you like clever strategy games wrapped up in a beautiful package this is for you.
Unmatched Cobble & Fog
Another game we’ve reviewed here on Goonhammer, Unmatched is a single-mini card-based skirmish game, leveraging famous characters from myth and licensed legend. You can pit Big Foot against Bruce Lee, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde against the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, or Buffy against Alice from Wonderland. While the fun characters may be what draws you in, the tactical cardplay is razor sharp. Games only take 20-30 minutes to play but the depth and strategy punches way above its size.
Barenpark is one of those games that seems to go over well with everyone, and it makes a great addition to most libraries. I’ve had great success playing this with casual gamers, hardcore gamers, and people who think board games are just variations of Monopoly, so it really finds an easy home and it’s one of my most played games. The general gist is that players are running a Bear Park, and using Polyominoes, they’ll build their park over 4 base tiles during a single game. Selecting the highest point card isn’t always the key to success, as earning trophies for filling your board or completing randomly selected achievements (always play with the achievements!) means maybe you don’t care about bears, and just want a billion bathrooms. Complex, weird sized high total tiles also become an interesting part of the puzzle, as you and your opponent might fight to get that high value piece… only to find you don’t have anywhere to put it! There’s an expansion, the Bad News Bears, which add a few fun quirks and more tile variety, but you can likely get good mileage out of just base Barenpark for starters.
Wingspan was something of a divisive game when it came out, namely because many “hardcore” gamers didn’t really understand the joy of the game, as if they were missing something. Frankly, the game is really exactly what it says on the box: a game about birds, that uses engine building as it’s main mechanic. Wingspan looks great on the table, and plays briskly at 1-3; I find it best at 2-3, and a slog at 5. There are 2 expansions so far, and the colorful eggs (they are not mini eggs, do not eat them), bird house, and dice are a nice attraction factor. There is actually a good amount of interesting engine strategy here, but this is a great pick-up, especially if you or the person you’re looking to gift to wants to play more games but has less board game minded people around to play with; the visual appeal of Wingspan really attracts people to it, similar to Barenpark. (Maybe that’s the solution? Just add animals?). Anyway, the 2 expansions aren’t required, but if you already know someone with Wingspan, consider getting them either the European or Oceania expansions, or both, which add on to the base game in interesting ways.
I’ve written before of my love for Horrified, and for the price and accessibility (the game is available in most Targets and routinely can cost under its MSRP of 30 dollars) you get a very fun twist on the Pandemic style of game using Universal movie monsters instead. A purely co-op game, the difficulty can be tweaked by increasing or decreasing the amount of monsters on the table, meaning that players less familiar with gaming don’t have to worry so much. The game does give way to quarterbacking a bit, so just be careful if anyone you’re gifting this to has severe Alpha Gamer tendencies. Overall, this is a beautiful package with lots of charm and nods to old movies (including even Abbott and Costello!), and the variety in the different monster types means you can keep the game fresh even on repeated plays.
Strictly speaking, this is a Living Card Game so it’s sort of asking your gift recipient to invest in the future too, but it’s worth it. If you have a Marvel fan in your life who appreciates a good co-op card game, this is a fantastic fresh take that makes you feel like a hero. Not only does it offer preconstructed decks to mix-and-match to try to take on baddies, but you can build your own decks with your favorite heroes. It really nails the feeling of the Marvel characters, including some fun resource-generating effects in each hero’s Secret Identity. Coordinating with your fellow heroes has never felt so good. Now if only they’d add Moon Knight already…
Someone was a Good Kid
Playing through any of the 3 titles in the Pandemic Legacy series is a commitment. A full campaign is 12-24 games (depending on how well you do) of a high-stakes, cooperative, narrative adventure. While the theme-a world succumbing to a global pandemic-may be a tough pill to swallow in 2020, it’s still a fantastic game experience worth checking out. Season 0 has just released, and is a prequel to the original. Grab either one to kick off your story.
Too Many Bones
If you’re looking for a centerpiece game, then Chip Theory Games essentially exists for this purpose. All of their games are deluxe by nature, including neoprene mats, weighted poker chip, and bespoke dice. Of their games currently available, Too Many Bones is my favorite. Essentially a roguelike video game on a tabletop, players take control of Gearlocs (4 in the main box, with many ways to buy new additional characters via expansions) that have different skills and abilities, taking them on quests to defeat various Tyrants. Each Tyrant has a unique mechanic, and the gameplay revolves around navigating through various days, choosing which actions to take, and then resolving those actions. Battles, which are the main gameplay element, use a battlemat where players and enemies move around, taking turns attacking each other, and rolling lots of dice. I’ve often seen people complain that TMB has too many rules, but frankly, I don’t agree; I found myself mastering the game in 2 test plays. It plays wonderfully at 1 player and 2 player, although I find diminishing returns above 2, so this is a great option for you and a co-op partner, or for the solo gamer in your life (or you, if that’s you). Start with the base game, and then expand to Undertow or individual Gearlocs; leave the other expansions for later.
Gatefall is a game that feels like it should cost more money than it actually does; even if you find it with the 2 Kickstarter exclusive extra characters, the game doesn’t break $90 USD. This game has massive “miniatures” that represent post-apocalyptic and fantasy characters battling it out in one hell of a mash-up. The surprising thing about the game is that the minis look amazing for their size, and don’t distract from the game, which is a quick, fast paced brawl that plays blisteringly quickly. The rulebook is barely 5 pages long, and I never found myself confused while playing the game. But bottom line is the game looks great on the table with these massive, action figure sized miniatures moving around, plays quick, and just oozes charm. It isn’t much of a tablehog either, and a recent second kickstarter hopefully means that there will be more expansions coming for the game next year.
Pax Pamir 2nd Edition
Pax Pamir 2E might be one of the most gorgeous games in my collection. The cloth playmat, the wooden pieces, the finish, everything about this game just looks amazing. It is a somewhat “small” game compared to the table devouring Too Many Bones or Pandemic Legacy, but what you get here is perhaps one of the best Pax games, and best history based games, in existence. Taking place during the “Great Game” period of Afghan history, players take sides in attempts to wrest control of the region from one another, switching sides when the winds turn. I tend to appreciate theming in my games, and as a history buff I really can’t say enough great things about how Pax Pamir represents the historical struggle of Afghanistan’s fate, with wonderful art, flavor, and notable to this edition, a lack of Phil Eklund’s rampant racism and colonial apologia. 2E includes a great 1p version against the AI Wakhan, and you can also play 2p with Wakhan as well, meaning that even players with reduced ability to play in groups, or gamers who prefer to play solo or with one other person, can find a lot to love in Pax Pamir. A second reprint of the game just finished, meaning that it should be easier to get a hold of the game, but if this is on someone’s Christmas list, I’d act fast in grabbing it!