Looking for the perfect gift for the geek in your life? We’ve got you covered. The nerds who make up the Geeks Under Grace tabletop crew put our collective half-a-brain together to make the following list of awesome Christmas gifts. All of these are guaranteed to be excellent. (Especially the ones Stephen picked; his taste is impeccable.)
For the puzzle lover: The oldest entry on this list, Sleuth is a criminally-underrated deduction game from Sid Sackson (basically the Babe Ruth of game design). It provides an amazing experience, particularly for 4 people, as players work to solve the mystery of the missing gemstone. There is nothing quite like the “eureka” moment it elicits when a single clue makes all the pieces fall into place; it really makes players feel like detectives on a case. If you like logic puzzles, this game is a must-play.
For the experienced gamer: It doesn’t matter if you have read the book (I haven’t), The Pillars of the Earth is a fantastic worker placement and resource management game. It has a classic euro simplicity, but it provides a ton of room for strategy while still playing in about an hour. In addition to a gorgeous-looking board, it has a totally-cool (and totally-unnecessary) game timer in the form of a 3D wooden cathedral. Even though this game is close to 15 years old, it still holds up – a true evergreen.
For the family gamer: I don’t know if Gravwell should be classified as a racing game, an abstract game, or something else entirely. Whatever it is, though, it’s awesome. In this game, players are spaceship pilots trying to escape the pull of a black hole. Using an incredibly clever “gravity” mechanism, players don’t necessarily move forward. Instead, they move in relation to the closest thing on the board, which could be ahead of them… or it could be behind. I have never played another game like this one. It’s bizarre in the best way.
For the gamer who loves treachery and backstabbing: Of the 500+ unique games I have played in my life, none has ever managed to top Cosmic Encounter. Despite being over 40 years old, I still consider it to be the pinnacle of tabletop game design. This game tosses any semblance of balance out the window, essentially operating on the notion that “if everyone is overpowered, then no one is.” Every game of Cosmic Encounter is a wild ride, and it has been responsible for more unforgettably-epic moments than any other game I have ever played.
For the budding programmer: Turing Tumble is more of a solitaire puzzle than a traditional, multiplayer game, but my goodness is it engaging. This amazing contraption allows players to build real, working computers powered entirely by marbles. I realize that sounds like a metaphor or exaggeration, but it’s absolutely not. Turing Tumble is the most perfect physical representation of the way computers work and think, and it elicits all the emotions – the joy and frustration alike – of actual coding. Perfect for folks interested in computer science.
A great drop-in game: Everyone needs a game or two that doesn’t tax their brain with a complicated setup, and the app-driven investigation game Chronicles of Crime fits the bill. Players don’t know what cards to use or set out until they start a given story, so setup is opening the box and starting the app. After that they’ll pick out victims, suspects, and locations as they are unlocked; it does a good job of making players feel like detectives in a police show. Tear-down is quick and painless – just put all the cards back and it’s ready for the next game; last night’s murderer might be tomorrow night’s kidnap victim, as each scenario uses the character deck differently. Quick setup, high replay value, and easy to please all kinds of gamers.
An original party game: Party games are a dime a dozen, but trying to think of one that is neither a word game nor a hidden traitor game makes the list a lot shorter. Ironically the cliche of “bad guys holding a standoff,” makes for a hilarious and original party game. Never underestimate the fun of pointing a foam gun at friends and loved ones. Players will face off over a pile of loot, and whoever is left each round after the shooting stops gets to take a cut of the goods; at the end the player with the most valuable pile of loot is the winner.
A quick two-player game: Still my favorite two-player game, I will teach Dragon Punch to anyone who will listen. It might as well be called Street Fighter II: The Card Game. Players hold a hand of cards that represent their moves, but also track their damage; as players take damage, they rotate their cards 180 degrees from white to red, but the red sides hold more powerful attacks. Everything is done in-hand, and there’s no tokens or play area needed, making it a great game for at home, in the car, or at a convention.
A newer game: This just-released game sees players taking turns adding buildings to a shiny, futuristic, floating city off the coast of Australia. The catch is that each building must be built by hand as players stack, balance, and straddle pieces together to form unique buildings each game. An interesting dexterity game with a hint of strategy, players compete to build the best and tallest towers, all while adding to one city that they build together. With high replay value and great table appeal, this game will keep gamers of all ages engaged.
A game that scales well: Gather resources in a humble hamlet and turn them into different buildings; the most efficient builders will pack in as many buildings as possible, but there’s only so much room in the village! This city-builder has a bit of thinking and planning not always found in this type of game, and its highly-variable setup ensures that no two games will ever be the same. With strong replay value and an engaging puzzle, this game is one of the only games this year to be enjoyed by everyone on the Geeks Under Grace tabletop staff.
For the kiddos: I have a 5-year-old daughter, and it brings me great joy to see her finally playing “Daddy’s games.” She can play Kingdomino and Tiny Towns completely by the rules, but she has no sense of strategy. However, she can fully understand Ticket to Ride: First Journey and play it very well. At the same time, it keeps enough of its Ticket to Ride DNA to be fun for me as well. The game usually only lasts 15 or 20 minutes, and is a suspenseful race until the end. If you have a child close to Kindergarten age, this is a fantastic gift for them – maybe even as “their” first board game. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it!
For the Magic or Hearthstone player: Yes, this is quite self-serving, since my face is going to be in an upcoming expansion of Star Realms. But after years of wasting money on Magic (and barely resisting to do the same in Hearthstone), Star Realms has become my favorite game. It’s got plenty of expansions, but they’re non-random, and inexpensive. The base game can be had for a measly $10, making it an exciting stocking-stuffer. If your gift-getter already owns Star Realms, there are plenty of expansions, including a great new core set, Frontiers. Do they own all the cards? Then get them some swag, like card sleeves, a playmat, a t-shirt, or a deck box.
For the party lover: I always tell people my gaming started with Magic, but I often forget that at the same time we would always play Loaded Questions at parties with friends. Party games have just gotten better and better in recent years, but Codenames is probably still the cream of the crop. It’s often funny, but still gets you brain burning a little bit. It can also be played by children (the guessing half) if you go for Codenames: Pictures or one of the many licensed editions, like Disney Codenames. (If you want something requiring less thought but still funny, check out Just One.)
For the Chess player: I love Chess, and playing it with someone of near equal skill is a real pleasure. However, it can take a while, and if you are playing with the same partner every time, the opening sequence might begin to feel stale. Onitama is a cheap, quick-playing alternative to Chess. It’s very similar in spirit, but with a much smaller scale. Most importantly, the moves your pieces make changes every game, and during the game you have to exchange moves you can make with your opponent, making this a real brain-burner that offers a crazy amount of variability. It is my favorite abstract game, and probably the one that most often resonates with Chess players. If you’re buying for someone that already owns Onitama, there are also two expansions out there.
For the hardcore board gamer: This one is pricier. However, Castles of Burgundy is one of the best games ever made, having been in the Top 10 or 20 on BoardGameGeek almost since it was released. However, it was never a game that looked very exciting to play, with lots of faded, muted colors. Ravensburger and Alea have just created a deluxe edition of the game with brand-new artwork that includes all of the expansions, and it is gorgeous. If you’re buying for someone that already owns and enjoys the original edition of the game, then this is the best kind of gift: you know it’s going to be a success, making it worth the higher price than the other games on this list.
Thanks so much for checking out our list! From all of us in the Geeks Under Grace tabletop department, we wish you a happy, game-filled Christmas season!