Board games have always been a traditional gift during the Christmas and holiday season. While in the past most were geared toward kids (I mean, I really wanted #The Grape Escape when I was a wee lad!), these days there are tons of options for families, adult game groups, and any other age you can think of (yes, even for Granny). In this year’s holiday gift guide from Board Game Atlas, we’ve got a great list of games where you’re certain to find something good for the family, your friends, and that random guy who won’t stop coming over to play games with you.
Without further ado—and in no particular order of awesomeness—we present to you the Board Game Atlas Holiday Gift Guide for 2020!
#Camel Up is one I always suggest for families. It’s a camel race where players bet on which camel will win each leg of the race, as well as which will win and which will lose the race as a whole. Players take turns doing actions, such as placing bets, moving camels via dice rolls, and placing desert tiles (which give the player money if a camel lands on it). Things get really crazy as camels move, because they can stack, the bottom camel can move and carry those on top with it, and anything can happen! Seriously, Camel Up is a hoot and is great for kids and adults.
FunkoVerse Strategy Games
OK, so this isn’t really one game as it is a family of games. There are a lot of games in the FunkoVerse family—from #Harry Potter to the #Golden Girls. I have written a few reviews of some (Harry Potter, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Back to the Future), so feel free to check those out for more detailed information.
That said, the FunkoVerse games are light in strategy but heavy on theme. Each individual game comes with four scenarios, such as capture the flag and area control, to name a few. Perhaps one of the more appealing aspects of the game is the inclusion of Funko figures to use while you play. Each character has unique abilities and actions, and these characters can be swapped from game to game. So, you could have Harry Potter playing on the Golden Girls board against a Velociraptor. Only in FunkoVerse! Plus, each game comes with a unique, double-sided board and unique items. So there’s a lot of flexibility in gameplay.
While there is strategy in these games, it is light, so keep that in mind. That said, the FunkoVerse games are probably best for kids and adults who don’t want to worry about too much strategy, but they’re fun regardless.
Tiny Epic Galaxies Blast Off
I have been a huge fan of #Tiny Epic Galaxies for, well, since it released. It is one of my all-time favorite games and widely heralded as the best in the Tiny Epic Series. Well, enter #Tiny Epic Galaxies: Blast Off. This is a more streamlined version of the game, utilizing iconography instead of text, which makes it good for younger gamers (I played with my five-year-old and he actually got it! With a bit of coaching, of course…). Plus, the strategy is still there for even seasoned gamers who like more depth.
Tiny Epic Galaxies Blast Off is a wonderful game for kids and adults, it has a good level of depth, and the entry level is fairly low. I will never not recommend this game for families!
For some cooperative tower defense, #Castle Panic has a lot to offer. Playing up to six players, you must all work together to protect the castle from an onslaught of monsters. The monsters move closer to your castle each turn, and once they break the walls down, your castle is exposed! Castle Panic is great for families, friends, and anyone else who wants to bust some orc noggins. The strategy is light enough that it’s not going to burn your brain, but the rush of monsters will have you whooping with delight as you *finally* beat them back. Until that giant boulder comes careening through, of course.
Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure
#Clank! is a modern classic (you heard it here first!) that combines deckbuilding with dungeon delving. Build your deck to give yourself movement, attack power, skill, and other perks and abilities to sneak into the dragon’s lair, steal an artifact, and get out without dying. Easier said than done! This competitive game brings laughs and great gameplay and is always a hit at our table.
The dragon attacks after certain cards are pulled, and monsters in the passageways deal damage to you as well. And, once one person escapes the dungeon, the end of the game is sped up, with even more potential damage coming to the remaining players until, if they're not fast enough, they all get trapped underground as the game ends.
There are many expansions for Clank! which provide new maps and cards. While the base game is loads of fun in its own right, the expansions help spice things up after your 100th play.
Trekking the World
I would be remiss if I didn’t add #Trekking the World to this list. Trekking the World has simple mechanics but provides a depth that even seasoned gamers will appreciate. Play cards to move, and use those same cards to turn in sets in order to tour various places and wonders around the globe. Not only is the game itself interesting to play, but it provides a unique educational experience as well. For home schoolers, game schoolers, and parents who want to kill two birds with one stone (i.e. learn something while having fun), Trekking the World is a great option.
Another game to consider is Trekking the National Parks, the predecessor to Trekking the World. Trekking the National Parks follows the same mechanics and is a step lighter than Trekking the World, and focuses on the national parks in the United States. Another great educational game for families.
While many of the games under Family Games are also strategy games, the following strategy games will appeal more toward players who prefer a “meatier” experience. Many of these would also be good for family game night.
This is a favorite of a lot of people, and for good reason. #Terraforming Mars is an economic tableau building game at its core, but is far more than that. Draft and play cards to increase the temperature, oxygen levels, and heat on Mars, while at the same time growing your economy—money, steel, titanium, greenery, electricity, and heat. Every card is different and it’s you against the other corporations to contribute the most to Mars’ eventual terraforming. It’s a wonderful game with engaging mechanics and is sure to captivate those at the table.
Heroes of Land, Air & Sea
This 4X game is designed by Scott Almes, the designer of all of Gamelyn Games’ Tiny Epic games. And it is good. The core box plays 1-4 players, but the game can play up to seven with the expansions. In 4X games, players vie to eXterminate, eXplore, eXploit, and eXpand. There are multiple paths to victory, and each faction plays differently. There can be a lot of warfare or hardly any—it all depends on how you (and the other players) choose to play. #Heroes of Land, Air, & Sea has straightforward rules (more or less) and a lot of gameplay, even in the core box. This is one of my favorite games because it plays so well with solid mechanics, a highly developed theme, and excellent player interaction. If your game group or family is into conflict (see the four X’s), Heroes of Land, Air & Sea is something you should probably look into.
From what I've observed, #Altiplano doesn’t get the love it deserves. Sure, it has similar mechanics to #Orléans (i.e. bag building) and was created by the designer of Orléans, but the differences are enough to make them quite different. For those who haven’t played Orléans and have no idea what I’m talking about, let me give you a brief rundown.
In Altiplano, you are living and working on the Altiplano, which is what the the “high plains” in the west-central South America region—the part where the Andes are widest—is called. In the game, you start with a meager sum of resources (as defined by your character) and must use those resources to build up more, more, and, yes, even more. Points come from storing food, selling goods, and other activities. Your resources are placed in a bag, and each round you have a certain amount of goods you can draw out. Goods go back into your bag after using them, so your stash continues to grow. Just be careful you don’t water down your bag too much, or else it will be difficult to pull what you need when you need it.
The theme may not jump out at you immediately, but the gameplay is something to be admired. Plus, you can say all kinds of relatable quotes from The Emperor’s New Groove, so that’s a bonus.
The expansion, #Altiplano: The Traveler, is also a great addition if you already have the main game. The expansion adds the ability to get rid of and use resources that you no longer need, as well as providing an additional way of earning points. Personally, I love the expansion, although it does shine with more players.
Twice as Clever
#Twice As Clever—also known in its German form as Doppelt so Clever—is a roll and write game that packs a wallop as far as gameplay goes. With just one sheet of paper, you roll dice and make marks depending on what you roll and what you choose to keep. Filling in as much as you can earns you max points, of course, but also can activate bonuses, which activate combos, which sees your score flying high. It’s wonderful solo and just as wonderful at any player count. It’s easy to port around and a good game to get your thinker going.
#Torres is an older game (circa 1999), but it still stands strong amidst games of the decade after it. In Torres, you build towers (hence the name of the game), move your knights, and score big. Using your limited action cards and knight pawns as effectively as possible is only part of the strategy; you’re also going to need to be aware of how the future will play out. It’s an abstract game that not only plays well, but looks good on your table, too.
What games on this list are you interested in? What games would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author
Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He’s a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego’s Copyediting Extension program. He’s a freelance writer and editor, covering everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher. You can also read his board game inspired fiction (among other things) at BoardGameImmersion.com.