05 December 2016
Presented as a not-particularly-serious (but also completely serious) list of awards
Well, well, it’s come to that time of year again where you’re sure to be scrambling around for Christmas present ideas for your children/loved ones/family members/friends/pets/bonsai tree or simply looking for board games to distract from the inevitable discussion of Brexit at the dining table.
To help out, the TTG team has pulled together a quick guide to some of the best tabletop offerings 2016 has had to offer in a number of categories that we definitely didn’t just make up on the spot.
While the awards may be a bit silly, our recommendations are genuine – hopefully you can find something in our selection that is the perfect fit for whomever you’re buying for this Christmas, even if it’s just you. Go on, you earned it.
Don’t forget to share your own tips for Christmas board game gifts on our Facebook and Twitter pages – and if you somehow already own all of the below, you never know, someone might be able to suggest something completely new.
Best ‘I’ve Always Wanted To Get Into Board Games’ Game
Star Wars: Rebellion
With board gaming continuing to grow in popularity and influence in mainstream culture, more and more newcomers are taking their first steps into the hobby. A great way to get someone invested in tabletop gaming without dropping them in the deep end is by offering them a combination of a recognisable licence and outstanding mechanics, and when it comes to the magical mix few games nail it better than Star Wars: Rebellion. Spanning the entire galaxy far, far away and allowing players to interact and control all of the Star Wars characters and ships any fan would want to – from Darth Vader, Luke, Leia and Han to X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers and the Death Star – Rebellion is a gripping and epic playing experience wrapped up in an approachable skin.
Best ‘Please Not the Same Old Games’ Game
Breaking out a battered copy of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit for the family to play together post-Christmas dinner and pre-afternoon nap has become as established a festive tradition as cooking Brussels sprouts (even if nobody eats them) and feeling a bit tipsy by the middle of the day without any of the guilt. For a game that can host up to eight players but offers something much more refreshing and new than the usual roll-and-move or trivia staples, try Captain Sonar’s co-operative spin on Battleships. Each player has a wipeable mat which reflects their position on the submarine – captain, first mate, radio operator or engineer. Working together, each team attempts to pilot their way around the map, repairing systems, deploying sonar, laying mines and firing torpedos in an attempt to track down their rivals and blow them out of the water. It’s a tense but terrific time, and a fun way to pit adults against children, or different sides of the family against each other. And heck, if you somehow grow tired of Captain Sonar, just use the boards and pens to play Charades. You heathens.
Best ‘Back In My Day’ Game
Escape from Colditz: 75th Anniversary Edition
If you’re having trouble convincing your grandparents to join in with the tabletop fun, maybe consider breaking out a game they should recognise from their younger years. This year’s Escape from Colditz is a revamped edition of the 1973 classic roll-and-move board game, where a group of players work together as the allies against a single player controlling the German prison guards and attempt to, well, escape. The theme might be a bit heavy for Christmas Day, but it’s little different to watching The Great Escape – and a fun way for the grandparents to impact some of their stories and historical knowledge on any younger players. The 75th anniversary edition comes with beautiful components and replicas of some of the artefacts found in Colditz, and is simple enough for younger players to get to grips with quickly. Just be prepared to lose as the allies. A lot.
Best Way to Fall Out Without Discussing (British) Politics
In a year defined by political upheaval on both sides of the Atlantic, it might be tempting to try and dodge discussions of the B– and T– situations. But what if you still want to capture the unavoidable arguments and disagreements of a family get-together fuelled primarily by heavy drink and heavier food? Secret Hitler has you covered. A social deception game that recasts the titular dictator and his fascist companions as animals, Secret Hitler challenges the opposing liberal team to discover and assassinate Hitler or pass five liberal policies into law before the fascists pass six policies or Secret Hitler is elected chancellor. It’s much like The Resistance or Werewolf, but with a political framework based on the true events of 1930s Europe – which in no way could be compared to the current political situation today. Certainly not. Not at all. What could go wrong?
Best Game That Comes in an Amusingly-Shaped Case
It’s been a little while since we’ve seen a fantastic zip-up game bag shaped like an amusing object, following the fruit-powered heyday of Bananagrams, Appletters and Pairs in Pears. Worry no longer, as Happy Salmon is here to raise mild giggles when you retrieve it from the games cupboard. Packaged in a material bag shaped like the eponymous fish, which itself looks a lot like the illustrations for Dr. Seuss’ jolly rhyme One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Happy Salmon is a fast-paced card-matching game that involves a lot of action – the ideal way to burn off that extra Yorkshire pudding. Each player has a deck of cards with one of four actions – High 5, Switcheroo, Pound It! and Happy Salmon – on each card. They all shout out the instruction on their top card at the same time, hoping to match with another player with whom they can pull off the move and discard the top card. The game repeats like this until someone has got rid of all their cards. It’s very fast, very silly and very fun.
Best ‘Get Off Your New Phone’ Game
Looking for a way to stop the kids playing Candy Crush on their brand new phones and tablets throughout Christmas Day? Consider Potion Explosion, which transplants the match-three (in this case, match-two) mechanics of mobile games to a tray full of marbles and a potion-brewing theme Severus Snape would be proud of. Players take it in turns to pick coloured marble ingredients from the tray and place them on one of the potion recipes they are brewing. If two matching marbles bump into each other as they roll down to fill the new gap, they explode and can be picked up too – potentially leading to more explosions and more marbles. It’s a smart way of taking virtual gameplay and turning it into a really satisfying physical experience – plus, it’s a lot cheaper than a new iPhone.
Best Way to Fill All of Your Time Off Work (All of It)
If you’ve booked the Christmas week off work to make the most of the holiday period but are at a loss of what to do in-between endless family get-togethers and last-minute dashes to the shops before they close, SeaFall is here to suck up the last few free hours of your leave. Rob Daviau’s first legacy game built from the ground up is an epic game of naval exploration and combat, as players build up their provinces and ships to venture out further into the open seas to discover new lands and earn the glory that will see their name go down in the history books. As a legacy game, there will be permanent consequences of certain decisions and after roughly 15 games (plus a prologue) you won’t be able to play again – but with each game taking anywhere from two to six hours to complete, you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth if you stick with it. Grab two friends and set sail.
Best Game to Buy for People Who Know More About Board Games Than You
If you’ve been reading through this guide feeling a little clueless and in search of a game to buy someone who you know is a massive tabletop gamer, but you have no idea what to get them, Scythe is likely to be a solid choice. Widely regarded as one of the best games of the year and already one of BoardGameGeek’s best-rated games of all time, Scythe is an intense strategy game that plays in a reasonable amount of time and takes place in a brilliant alternate-history 1920s populated by gigantic robots. It’s deep and heavy without being impenetrable and caters for a variety of gameplay styles, from all-out combat to economic prosperity. The only way to go wrong with Scythe is if the person you’re buying for already owns it – but even then they’re unlikely to complain about having a spare copy.
Best ‘No Effort Required’ Game
Ideal for when you’ve had too many drinks but the kids are still awake, Codenames: Pictures expands the word-based gameplay of 2015’s Spiel des Jahres winner by swapping out the suggestive terms for abstract images designed to spark your imagination when attempting to describe them to your teammates. As in Codenames, the Spy Master on each team knows the locations of their team’s spies hidden under the pictures and must direct their allies to find as many of them each turn without accidentally revealing an enemy spy or – worse – the assassin. It’s a game that can be learnt in two minutes and played for ten hours without complaints by both adults and children – although don’t expect your espionage skills to improve the more martinis you drink. We can’t all be Bond.
Best ‘Batteries Not Included’ Game
Beasts of Balance
Ah, missing batteries. If there’s one thing that sums up present-opening on Christmas Day more than excessive packaging and shaking wrapped boxes to guess them, it’s revealing an amazing electronic toy only to realise you can’t use it until Tesco reopens and you can pick up some double-As. Sensible Object’s zoological stacking title Beasts of Balance is an offender here, as the game’s plinth needs three absent AA cells to connect to the companion app on iOS or Android – best charge up those tablets, too. However, once the power is in and everything is set up, Beasts is a fantastic connected toy/game hybrid with vibrant animal pieces and gameplay that hides a surprisingly amount of depth. Players work together to build a tower of awkwardly-shaped animals and artefacts, while also checking the digital app to ensure the less fabulous animals in the world are stopped from going extinct. It’s an absolute blast and a perfect present for kids after a unique game that combines the physical nature of toys with the digital draw of a screen. Just make sure you’re ready-stocked with the right batteries.
Best Present Ideas Forever Game
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Of course, presents aren’t just for Christmas – they’re for life. Before the Boxing Day sales have ended, you’re probably already planning for the next birthday, anniversary or whatever that means more cards, more presents and more pondering and panic over what to buy someone. Take some of the stress out of at least one never-ending present-buying cycle by picking up the new card game spin-off to Lovecraftian hit Arkham Horror. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a living card game that sees players take on the roles of the investigators attempting to halt the arrival of Cthulhu and his cosmic horror pals by uncovering secrets and battling with mysterious forces. The co-op game is broken up into campaign-like missions and scenarios, with three opening missions included in the core set. Publisher Fantasy Flight has already announced the next few chapters in the on-going series, which will start to land at the end of 2016 and early next year. If you know someone into their horror, books or board games, it’s an ideal opportunity to make knowing which gift to buy much easier from now on. At least until next Christmas, that is.
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