Most, if not all, of us here at GeekDad love to play games of all sorts. Digital or physical matters little to most of us so we’re splitting the games gift guide up into two parts. Today we’re featuring the physical games, ones made of cardboard, paper, and plastic. Tomorrow will showcase our favorite video games of the year. Read on for a list of our favorite games of the year.
Dragonwood: A Game of Dice and Daring
Full disclosure: I’m kind of in love with Gamewright. Their games are mostly perfect for all ages, the production quality is fantastic, and they’re super affordable. Dragonwood is one of their latest titles, and it targets a slightly older player than some of their “small-box” card games. You play an adventurer on a journey through the enchanted forest of Dragonwood. During the game, you play cards to determine the number of dice you can roll. The more dice you roll, the higher the potential result, which means you can defeat more powerful enemies or capture more powerful items to aid your journey. The game claims to be appropriate for ages 8+, but it can certainly be played by younger kids. If they can read by themselves and remember the basic rules, they should be good to go. True, some of the strategy might elude them, but this isn’t exactly a heavy game. What it is is a fantastic family game with an awesome theme and an interesting mechanic that will help introduce young gamers to more strategic thinking and gameplay that doesn’t clone more popular games.
It was our favorite game at this year’s Gen Con and it’s still in very short supply at game stores. This quick-playing word game pits one team of spies against another as they take turns trying to provide hints and guess the codenames identifying their team’s spies before the other’s. Sounds simple, but factor in clues that can refer to multiple answers and the fear of picking a word that represents a game-ending assassin, and its no wonder Codenames is so much fun. Read full review.
Magic: The Gathering Arena of the Planeswalkers Game
One of the hottest games this year takes two of strategy gaming’s most popular properties, old school Heroscape and classic Magic: The Gathering, and mashes them together into a turn-based strategy bonanza that has you summoning minions, slinging spells, and carefully planning out troop placement to defeat your fellow Planeswalkers. Combat is handled with a combination of tactical placement, dice rolling, and spell affects that create some intense turns once battle is joined. Reiterating my review, gameplay is fast and fun and the quality of the base set belies its $40 MSRP. Speaking of, it seems that Hasbro is focused on moving a lot of these this holiday season so that gamers are ready to grab the Battle for Zendikar expansion once that drops in late December. There are a lot of solid deals already, with Amazon in particular knocking over 40% off the price! If you have a strategy gamer on your list, this is a no-brainer.
Made by: Hasbro
Available at: Magic: The Gathering Arena of the Planeswalkers Game
Submitted by: Anthony Karcz
Rory’s Story Cubes: Batman and Moomin
If there’s one game I encourage everyone to buy, it’s Rory’s Story Cubes. It’s affordable and portable, there are a variety of themes to suit everyone, and it’s a fun game, whether you’re using it for education, language development, writing inspiration, as an ice breaker, or just on a regular game night. Roll the nine dice and begin to tell a story. Each die is an element in your story. It can be as long or as short as you’d like. Then pass the dice to the next person. The earlier sets cover more general topics, but the newest sets begin reaching out to fandoms, specifically Batman and Moomin. I don’t have to explain Batman to you, but Moomin is new to many in the United States. It is based on Tove Jansson’s sweet and gentle Moomin book series. Give both Story Cubes sets a look!
Martian Dice is a near-indestructable dice game great for all ages. The game consists of 13 dice covered in humans, cows, chikens, lazers, and tanks. The goal? Abduct 25 earthlings before your opponents! No language or higher math skills are needed, only something to track points between turns. No set up, no restriction on number of players, and easy mechanics make Martian Dice a great gift option for all ages, or just a great party game for the holidays.
DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Heroes Unite
If you have a tabletop gaming and comic book fan on your holiday gift list, DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Heroes Unite is a must-give. I covered the Teen Titans version earlier this year and it’s still one of the favorites in our house. But if you’re looking for a new set of heroes and villains to pit against each other, then check out Heroes Unite. I prefer this stand-alone expansion to the Justice-League focused DC Comics Deck-Building Game due to the more obscure hero set: Shazam, Hawkman, Red Tornado, Nightwing, Black Canary, Booster Gold, and my favorite New 52 reboot, Batgirl. The game plays the same: you build an ever-more-powerful deck by acquiring cards and taking out increasingly dangerous foes before your opponents can. You also use your powers and acquired villains to try and undercut other player’s strategies. It’s a little more vigilante than super-team; but it’s a lot of fun. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the best-ever non-standalone expansion, Crossover Pack 1: JSA. This replaces the heroes and villains in the core set with classic JSA characters like The Flash (Jay Garrick), Stargirl, Power Girl (yay!), Wildcat, Gentleman Ghost, and more. A lot of the art in this pack is from Alex Ross’ JSA run and it’s gorgeous. At less than half the cost of a base set, it’s a great stocking stuffer.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
One of this year’s Mensa Select award winners, players build castles, one room at a time, by collecting money, purchasing rooms, and placing them adjoining their other rooms. The role of Master Builder rotates; this role has a big impact on game play. Otherwise, on your turn, you buy new rooms and satisfy different bonus conditions. At the end of the game, the person with the most points wins. There is a quick instructional video on the publisher’s YouTube channel. This game is from one to four players.
Fall of Magic
Fall of Magic was my favorite new tabletop game of the year. Not only is it a really great storytelling RPG for all-ages, but it has a unique set of components. The game board and story prompts are all screenprinted on a scroll that looks straight out of the game itself. The replayability and creativity that goes in to this game will keep you and your friends playing it again and again. Check out my full review of Fall of Magic for more details about the game.
Camel Up Game
Winner of the 2014 Spiel des Jahres award, this fast-paced game pits you against up to seven other players as you bet on a camel race. The mechanics of the game are simple to grasp yet frustratingly difficult to master: every time you’re certain as to which camel is going to win, something will happen to prove you wrong. The game quickly became a favorite in our house and is one of the few that the kids, grandparents and even my wife will agree to play whenever it’s suggested.
I have a soft spot in my heart for abstract games. Dimension is billed as a “spherical, stackable, fast-paced puzzle game,” and that’s a fairly accurate description. It’s also a fantastically fun game that gets the hamsters running upstairs. It plays with 1-4 people (solo option = excellent), and everyone plays at the same time, stacking their colored spheres in three dimensions and following the conditions established by a series of task cards. For example, the task cards might indicate that orange and blue spheres cannot touch each other, green spheres cannot be above black, there must be more blue spheres than green, and there must only be two white sphere that touch each other. Every round has a different set of conditions, and players race against a timer to complete all of the objectives and earn victory points. The game is recommended for ages 8+, but I think that can safely be brought down to about 5 or 6 (depending on the kid, obviously). The rules are simple and there’s no reading involved, but the quick multidimensional thinking and time pressure might prove to be a challenge for the youngest players.
Real Wood Dice Boxes and Dice Trays
Indiana’s Three Tree Studio started out making high-end wooden tube amps, functional art for genuine audiophiles. Recently, however, they’ve expanded their selection to include accessories for the tabletop set. Their new gaming collection includes dice trays and boxes made from quality American hardwoods like black walnut, white oak, and cherry in lush natural finishes. These wooden dice boxes let you transport your prized polyhedrals in style, while the dice trays are so perfectly gorgeous that you’ll likely leave them out on the living room table even when you aren’t in the middle of a marathon roleplaying session. [Review materials provided by: Three Tree Studio]
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Monk Class Deck
Many of us here at GeekDad are big fans of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. It’s a great RPG-light game that allows gamers of all experience levels to scratch their RPG itch without necessarily investing a lot of time in a game (though that is also definitely an option). To play the game you’ll need one of the three base sets, or at least a Class Deck which will allow you to play in Society play or join in with a friend and their base set. The latest Class Deck is the Monk which is my absolutely favorite of the class decks so far. You can read my in-depth review of the Monk Class Deck here. If you love martial arts mixed in with your fantasy, you will definitely want to check it out.
Where 2013’s Lewis & Clark: The Expedition was beautiful and impressive, game designer Cédrick Chaboussit’s follow-up, Discoveries is even more beautiful and more impressive. Like its predecessor, Discoveries focuses on Lewis & Clark’s expedition to the northwest, exploring and cataloging fauna and flora along the way. This time around, the game is a dice-based set collection exercise and it’s incredibly well done. It’s beautiful and a teaching tool and a game that the whole family can enjoy. Read the full review here.
Between Two Cities
Between Two Cities is a great game about building cities by placing tiles in a grid–but the twist is that you’re building two cities, one with each of the players sitting next to you. It’s a delicious mix of collaboration and competition, and because it uses drafting and real-time negotiation, a 7-player game goes just about as quickly as a 4-player game. Read our full review here.
If you’ve ever wished you had a time machine so you could get more work done, Loop, Inc. may just disabuse you of that notion. As it turns out, time travel leads to a lot of complications–particularly when you work for a cut-rate time travel agency where spare parts are in short supply and employees are competing with each other. Loop, Inc. is a fun (and funny) take on time travel that will leave you scratching your head … and then starting over to try it again. Read the full review here.
Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game in which players try to fill fields with their herd of sheep. The modular board is made up of identical 4-hex tiles, placed in rounds before play starts. Players move stacks of tiles across the board as they maneuver for strategic positions and try to trap opponents pieces. No reading, writing, or language skills are required, making it a great game for all ages. With 2-4 players, families and small groups can pull out Battle Sheep for a quick, intuitive play experience. Battle Sheep is a great gift for parents and kids because the plastic tiles are near-impossible to destroy or stain!
Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game
Join International Rescue and save people from disasters while foiling the schemes of the evil Hood in this fun cooperative game from Matt Leacock based on the 1965 British TV cult hit. Includes awesome miniatures of the Thunderbirds vehicles. Read our full review or our interview with game designer Matt Leacock.
I ran into this game at Toy Fair back in February and thoroughly enjoyed playing the game with the creator. Game play is quick and simple and relies on equal parts luck and strategy. Hogger Logger easily fills the odd gaps on game night while the other players are refreshing drinks or hitting the bathroom.
The holidays are made for tabletop gaming, and LINKEE, the latest from the team behind Bananagrams, is poised to be a new family favorite. Games take a half-hour or less, and its single-sheet rules can be explained in minutes. The Question Master chooses a card and shows all teams its letter designation–either L, I, N,K, or E. She then reads its four questions, and each team writes down the answers. At any time a player can shout “LINKEE!” and attempt to guess the link that each answer shares. Get it right and earn the question card’s letter; get it wrong and you’re team’s out until the next round. Earn enough cards to spell LINKEE, and your team wins! [Review materials provided by: Bananagrams]