The Ultimate Board Game & Tabletop Christmas Gift Guide!

Ohhhh it’s that time of year again. Yep, the time of year where it gets too cold to stand outside for long periods of time, and people decide to decorate their houses with glittery ornaments just because a rotund man in a funky red and white outfit is going to come down their chimney at midnight. Ho ho how wonderful.

What ACTUALLY happens at this time of year though is we all get stuck trying to figure out what to get people as gifts, so I’m here to tell you the answer is simple… get a board game! You can even play it ON THE ACTUAL CHRISTMAS DAY, how lovely and magical is that!

The following list is a list of board games I would GENUINELY recommend (because they are all great), and covers (and I’m pretty confident here), every single type of person that you would ever know in your life. Hurrah! Plus, there’s a bonus description of each game just because y’know, some people won’t know, and that’s totally fair.

Simply read on until the type of person you’re buying for pops up, and choose something from the list!

I’m buying a Christmas gift for…

…the person who likes board games but has only ever played the classics

  1. Carcassonne – Score points for building castles, roads, and farming… farmland, obviously
  2. Forbidden Island/Desert – Work together to escape from the island/desert in a race against the clock
  3. Survive: Escape from Atlantis – Get all your people to Escape from Atlantis before everyone else whilst also simultaneously drowning other players people and eating them with sharks
  4. Machi Koro – Beatifully illustrated game where you draft buildings and cards to construct the best city

…the person who has absolutely no idea about board games but you think they might like one

  1. One Night Ultimate Werewolf – Use social deduction to figure out which player is the werewolf and stop them before they kill everybody
  2. Sushi Go/Sushi Go Party – Take turns to choose different sushi (and pudding of course) to have for dinner, different combos score points
  3. Love Letter – Try and get your love letter to the Princess before anyone else by staying in the game as long as possible

…the person just getting into tabletop as a hobby

  1. Takenoko – Score points by either growing bamboo combos, eating bamboo with a panda, or arranging your bamboo garden in the right layout
  2. Kingdomino – Build a kingdom in a pattern that scores the most points by taking turns to add land to your kingdom
  3. Tokaido – Score points by having a better holiday than everyone else in Japan (also this game looks INCREDIBLE)
  4. Pandemic – Save the world together by stopping a contagious outbreak from spreading

…the tabletop nerd who loves reaaaaaally heavy games

  1. Great Western Trail – Earn money and victory points by keeping your cattle in the best possible condition to sell in Kansas City
  2. Scythe – Area control with farmers and mechs with almost no random elements, set in a dystopian future
  3. Lisboa – Use your influence as noblemen (or women) to reconstruct Lisbon after the great earthquake (and tsunami… and fire, it was a bad time) of 1755
  4. Kingdom Death: Monster – Develop a character and settlement over multiple sessions whilst fighting incredibly difficult monsters through a unique AI system (legacy, also really really expensive)

…the tabletop nerd who hates really heavy games

  1. Jaipur – Be a better merchant and trader than your opponent to win an invitation to the Maharaja’s court (2 player)
  2. Photosynthesis – Grow trees in a forest better and… more, than anyone else (honestly not as boring as it sounds)
  3. Codenames – Word association game between 2 teams where you have to guess all your teams spies via their ‘codenames’ before the other team
  4. Burgle Bros – Work together to steal something valuable in this classic tower heist with brilliant humour and varying levels of difficulty

…the D&D Dungeon Master

  1. Dungeon World – Free yourself from the constraints of classic D&D with this narrative driven and player focused dungeon crawler
  2. Misspent Youth – Rebel against the system (DM) as anarchistic teenagers in this combative and competitive episodic role player
  3. Dread – Horror movie pen and paper role player using a Jenga tower instead of dice to decide your players fate
  4. Any dice – (no literally, any… and they’re called polyhedrals… naturally.)

…the person who loves a good murder mystery (or just mystery in general)

  1. Mysterium – Work together as a team to solve a murder mystery through picture association before the night comes to an end
  2. Sherlock: Consulting Detective – Travel around london to solve complex and difficult murder mysteries as the Broad Street Bullies in this open world whodunnit
  3. Betrayal at House on the Hill – Explore a haunted house and survive whilst a member of your party turns traitorous and tries to kill the group (LOADS of different stories here)

…the person who loves card games (and played Magic: The Gathering as a kid… or now for that matter)

  1. Arkham Horror – Living card game where you work cooperatively to beat encounters using player built decks
  2. Android: Netrunner – Living card game set in a dystopian future with player built decks where each player sets out to score points by either advancing corporate agendas, or stealing those agendas with ‘netrunners’
  3. Dominion – Medieval themed deck building game where players draft cards to their hand in order to score the most victory points
  4. MORE Magic: The Gathering cards – Ok so it’s low hanging fruit but come on, nobody can really have TOO MANY magic cards right? (Just make sure to buy the right colour)

…the Strategist who loves chess (or games like chess)

  1. Hive – Deploy and move bugs around in this chess-like, mensa award winning strategy game (great for holidays as well)
  2. Onitama – Strategic oriental themed game where players compete to either manoeuvre their master across the board or capture the opponents master using sets of positional moves
  3. Santorini – Play as a greek god and race against the other player to reach the top of a building in Santorini (unfortunately this may be out of print)

…the person who loves to lie and bluff their way to victory

  1. Coup – Lie and bluff your way to being the last player with influence left in the game
  2. Sheriff of Nottingham – Lie and bluff (or tell the truth) your way to earning the most money through smuggling (or just bringing) goods into Nottingham under the watchful eye of the Sheriff
  3. Skull – Deceptively simple push your luck bluffing game where players bet on how many flowers they can reveal from each players stack before revealing a skull

…the person who loves collecting, or building… stuff

  1. Settlers of Catan – Collect resources and score points by building settlements and roads
  2. Lords of Vegas – Play as powerful developers in an early Las Vegas, vying to make the most money and win the most points by building and running the biggest and most profitable casinos (this game is quite long)
  3. Ticket to Ride – Score points by building trains in various routes across America (or whichever version you choose to buy)
  4. Diamant – Pretend to be a rubbish Indiana Jones by pushing your luck against other players to collect the most amount of precious gems from an Aztec temple
  5. Castles of Burgundy – Classic medieval themed eurogame in which players collect and match tiles to score points

…the person who will only ever play party games (I’m looking at you cards against humanity…)

  1. Secret Hitler – Work as the German government to stop fascist regimes being pushed through by players disguised as fascists/hitler
  2. Funemployed – Card based party game where players try to convince each other why they should be employed for a certain role using ridiculous qualifications
  3. One Night ultimate werewolf – Popular version of the hidden traitor werewolf party game
  4. Monikers – Take turns in getting team members to guess well-known people by either describing or imitating them
  5. Bucket of Doom – Take it in turns to come up with ridiculous ways out of random situations from card prompts in your hand

…the person you don’t want to spend much money on (secret santa anyone?)

  1. Love Letter – Try and get your love letter to the Princess before anyone else by staying in the game as long as possible
  2. Fluxx – A card game where the victory conditions, play style and purpose of cards literally changes constantly (or in flux you could say… badum, tsh)
  3. Sushi Go – Take turns to choose different sushi (and pudding) to have for dinner, different combos score points
  4. Skull – Deceptively simple push your luck bluffing game where players bet on how many flowers they can reveal from each players cards before revealing a skull

…the person who only ever plays board games with their other half (2 player)

  1. Hive -Deploy and move bugs around in this chess-like, mensa award winning strategy game (great for holidays as well)
  2. Patchwork – Compete to score points by designing the best looking patchwork quilt (how lovely)
  3. Onitama – Strategic oriental themed game where players compete to either manoeuvre their master across the board or capture the opponents master using sets of positional moves
  4. Jaipur – Be a better merchant and trader than your opponent to win an invite to the Maharaja’s court (2 player)

…the person who already owns ALL the tabletop and board games ALREADY

  1. Honestly can’t help you here I’m afraid

Phew…

Well, that’s it! The one and only ever board game and tabletop christmas list/gift guide you could ever possibly need!

And if there is someone you’re buying for who doesn’t fit into one of these categories, well then send me a comment and I’ll try my gosh darndest to find a game that they’ll love!

That or I’ll just recommend one of the games above…

Yours festively,

Chris

6 Fictional games that should absolutely exist in real life…

As if we all don’t have enough tabletop games on our lists to purchase (or enough games stacking those Ikea shelves in the spare room), right? So, why not put together a little list of ficticious games from film, TV and books that we definitely can’t own, and probably wouldn’t have time or the inclination to play anyway.

These games are probably on other list articles in other places, but this one is the only one written by and curated by me so it’s y’know, better or something. And totally different obviously, none of those obvious choices from really popular sitcoms everybody likes…

Cones of Dunshire (Parks & Recreation)

Ok so MAYBE there are some similarities but come on! This one is a cult classic, and one that failed to fund TWICE on kickstarter when the publisher ‘Mayfair games’ actually decided to make this in real life. There are lots of reasons why but the general jist of it is that us fans will never get the fabled game of cones to play in real life. We knew we couldn’t be as cool as Ben anyway…

True American (New Girl)

Not technically tabletop…but maybe also EXACTLY tabletop (as in standing on the actual table). I’m sure someone somewhere has already written out some rules for a drinking game similar to this, but let’s face it, the raucous, irrational and straight up crazy depiction seen on the show is much better than anything anyone could come up with. I’m still pretty sure it’s something created just to confuse outsiders.

Cyvasse (Game of Thrones)

Depicted occasionally in the Game of Thrones book as something akin to chess except with much cooler pieces and very vague rules (as we know). This one kinda reminds me a bit of Dragoon (of which I am awaiting a kickstarter copy of EAGERLY in the mail).

Colonizers of Malaar (30 Rock)

A Parody of ‘Settlers of Catan’ sure, but just look at the size of that board! It’s got castles and forests and loads and loads of pieces and… what more could you want from a tabletop game!

Plus that centurion hat is amazing.

Jumanji (Jumanji…)

Well, maybe this is a controversial choice, mainly down to the inherent risk of death, flying insects, spiders, various jungle nasties and general heebie jeebies associated with it. But screw it I’m in. As long as Robin Williams is there playing it with me let’s go.

Wizard Chess (Harry Potter)

The last game on my list and technically it’s JUST a version of Chess…

Ok it’s LITERALLY just a version of chess, but wait, the pieces move! By themselves and everything, it’s like chess but you know like, way way better. And who wouldn’t want to play a better version of chess.

Yours fictionally,

Chris

Top 5 themes that need to be made into tabletop games

If you’re a regular tabletop gamer, you know when you see a bad theme. Well, maybe not a BAD theme, but just one that has been executed poorly. It’s my opinion that ANY theme could work well in a tabletop game if it was just executed properly.

Despite that though there is a slew of  terrible theme choices, executed in games terribly, and on the other side of the coin, there is cliched and boring themes, being executed both incredibly well AND awfully. In short I think we need a bit of originality and creativity injected into this aspect of tabletop gaming. Sure the mechanics and the rules MAKE the game, but the theme and the execution is the thing that REALLY engages the players. It’s the thing that invariably makes you want to play it in the first place!

So with that in mind, here are my 5 themes that are just begging for a tabletop game…

1. Something related to music or musical instruments

Now I’ll be honest I’m not an encyclopedia of tabeltop, and I’m sure BGG could tell me different, but to my knowledge I do not know of a WELL executed music themed tabletop game. As a music nerd myself I would LOVE this to be done as a theme. You piece together the winning jazz orchestra ala ‘Whiplash’, or you compete to become the most impressive virtuoso, or maybe even a co-op game where you all assume roles in a band and try to maintain a good set on stage before the crowd boo you off.

Probably not the best ideas in the world but surely there is something there that someone can take away and do better than that! Ideas in the post…

2. Photography

Now photography is one of those subcultures that is just BEGGING to be made fun of by someone who knows what they are talking about. The cliches are endless, and we all love a bit of self-deprecating humour now and then SURELY. Winning by 2 points because you ended the game with the ‘biggest lens’ would be glorious! And they say size doesn’t matter…

3. English history

RUFFLES!

Ok, now that’s out of the way let’s get to the point. If you love game of thrones or other fantasy based political drama then how come we don’t have a Tudor or Stuart themed political intrigue themed social deduction game yet? We have secret hitler so why not some sort of Tudor based ‘win the court over in your favour’ kind of social bluffing game?

Maybe I’m biased because I am a HUGE history fan, or because I think the real deal is so much more visceral than the fantasy versions. Come on though, who wouldn’t wan’t to don their proverbial ruffle and plot to overthrow the throne!

4. Dating or romance

This one is hit and miss really, and I know, I know, we ALREADY have a dating game right? It’s called ‘Tinder’… Hahahaaaa, aren’t you funny. But that’s a game just reserved for the single people, and really, it’s kind of depressing and actually not really that fun  in a ‘cry yourself to sleep because nobody matched with you’ kind of way.

It’s a difficult theme to get right and I’ve seen some flops in this industry in the past (no pun intended), but SURELY there is a way to execute this one right. I challenge you to find the answer!

5. Something that makes D&D more accessible

This is a personal bug bear of mine, and watch this space, because I’ve got something in the works…

My quandry though is this, D&D is such an amazing, hilarious, immersive role playing experience, but the barrier to entry is so high! So why not have a game that solves this problem, and why not make it something DIFFERENT to a bog standard boring dungeon crawler, with hit points and monsters and weapons and stats and blahblahblah. To me that’s not the fun of D&D at it’s core. The fun is the failures, and the social aspect. I’ve got something up my sleeve Kickstarter! And I’m announcing it very soon…

Watch this space…

Yours  executionally,

Chris

Top 5 themes to avoid designing a tabletop game around

Let’s  face it, we all love a good theme in our tabletop games. Whether it’s racing a Pirate ship, building your business, smuggling goods into Nottingham or helping an Emperor’s gardener tend to his bamboo and look after a panda, themes are often the best thing about a game.

Now, this list is in no means meant to entirely hate on themes, but like the shoddy Pirate costume above, some themes have just been done enough already. To the point where it’s not even been thought about properly, and is used like some kind of cheap, stick on glitter and coloured beads.

There are some great themes out there as well, and plennnnnty more opportunity to make games around so many new and interesting themes. Like a board game where you play a man trying frantically to write content for his blog twice a week without it being terrible. Worker placement right… I’d play that.

With that in mind though, I would like here to go through my top themes to AVOID in board game design and why… here they are:

1. That same old fantasy cast…

This one is a no brainer, and I mean that in that it takes literally no brain to come up with this an a theme for your game.

But it’s a classic!  Where would we be without Mr. Gygax’s first set of mighty adventurers! I know, I know, I know. It’s just a bit stale though isn’t it. I mean, at least give it some sort of life by having a different aspect of these characters lives pulled out y’know. Like, make a game about a warrior, wizard and rogue racing to do their laundry and clean all the goblin blood off or something. Natural 20! Vanish Oxy-action! Done.

2. Zombies

Number 2 in the banned theme list, and for good reason; it’s probably been done even more to death (see what I did there… bad joke you say? Oh screw you) than the fantasy genre has. It’s been done to death and back…

Ok, that was a bad one…

Seriously though, we all love a post apocalyptic wasteland full of the undead and all but can we not try and take a different angle on it than ‘you are survivors and there are like, loads of undead guys, like, A LOT of them.’ Let’s do something where you have to control the zombie army instead, like Zombie Tsunami. Finally some fresh air!

3. Any combination of crawling and places resembling dungeons

It’s dark and dingy, there’s a potential mould problem, and for some reason you have to look through coffins of dead people to find the secret passageway to the next level that’s even colder and damper than this one. Nah mate, I’ll pass.

Incan Gold, Celeste or Diamante had the right idea. All the others where you go in and fight some people with hit points and swords and stuff, I’m bored already.

4. Things that are already dull in real life

Who wants to play a tabletop game about filing their end of year taxes before the deadline. Don’t really think I have to elaborate any more really.

I mean at least if you choose a boring theme make the stakes high or something. You are trimming your beard but with a MACHETE INSTEAD OF A NORMAL ELECTRONIC BEARD TRIMMING DEVICE. Don’t slip or you might DIE.

5. Cthulu

Aaaaand here is where you readers start running at me with pitch forks…

I’m not taking it back, I’ve said it now! The mysterious tentacle monster of mild insanity and quite bad dreams has reached it’s time, and it needs to be put to bed. I’m sure it’s not  easy to put something to bed that doesn’t always embody physical form outside of the realms of tentacles and suction cups, but we can give it a go, right? You grab one tentacle, I’ll get the other, and just ignore the myriad others flailing wildly around…

End

Basically the end. Hope I’ve not offended you too much, and hope I’ve not inadvertantly slagged off one of your favourite games. Sure there are great games out there with these themes. But that’s kind of the point. They’ve been done before.

Go and do something new instead.

Yours themily,

Chris