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Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2017 Part 2: Board Games

The Year’s Best Tabletop Entertainment for Every Type of Gamer

Nov 24, 2017 By Austin Trunick Holiday Gift Guide 2017
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Happy holidays, board gamers! Welcome back to the 2017 edition of Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide. If you’ve been following our regular game review column, PLAYlist, you’ll know that it’s been a pretty fantastic year for new releases. If you’re looking for a perfect present (or just to spoil yourself), we’ve broken down some of our top picks for 2017’s most gift-worthy board games.

Let’s waste no more time on formalities – bring on the games!

An Epic Game for the Epic Gamer

Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)

SRP: $149.95

It only seems right that we kick off this list with the capital-B-D Big Daddy of Board Games, Twilight Imperium, a long-celebrated, supersized space game that’s received a new and improved fourth edition on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. We’ll warn you outright: this game is huge (ten pounds), complex (more than 1,600 pieces), and, most famously, loooooooong (eight-plus hours with a full player count). Still here? Good. If that preface didn’t send you running for the hills, then take a seat and we’ll tell you more.

Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition streamlines some rules and gives the prior edition a slick aesthetic overhaul. Three to six players adopt one of the game’s seventeen highly-varying races and compete to be the first to score ten points through exploration, trade, politics, scientific research, or good old-fashioned galactic conquest. Although players will be maneuvering more than 350 tiny, plastic ships across a modular galaxy, war is rarely the best method of achieving your goals. (Getting anything done requires you talk to your fellow players, which makes the game very social.) If you’ve got the attention span and a dedicated play group, Twilight Imperium offers up all of the drama, intrigue, and excitement of your favorite space opera – and in the hands of the right players, Twilight Imperium’s science fiction universe can feel just as richly-realized as Star Wars’ or Star Trek’s. (Stay tuned: we’ll be posting a full review of the new edition in the near future.)

Is there a very special gamer in your life, and you’re still wondering if Twilight Imperium might be right for her or him? Well, let us ask you this. Do you love them? Like really, really love them? If your answer is yes, then we’ll ask you another question: would you mind if they disappeared for an entire day (or more) at a time, absorbed into one of board game’s biggest, longest, most gloriously geektastic experiences? If you don’t think you would, then by all means, go ahead and make them feel like the luckiest boy or girl in the world. You’ll probably be able to hear “Also sprach Zarathustra” playing in their head as you watch them lift the lid off its massive, torso-sized box. (Buy it here.)

Dice Games

Did you know that the oldest dice discovered by archaeologists – dug up in Southern Iran – were nearly 5,000 years old? These six-sided suckers have been entertaining mankind for literally millennia. There’s no doubt a true feeling of exhilaration that comes from shaking those little polyhedrons between cupped hands and then letting them fly across a table: holding your breath for the next half-second, hoping that it lands face-up on your number. After 50+ centuries, designers are still finding cool, new ways to play with dice. What you’ll find here are our two favorite dice-based games to hit the market in 2017.

Unearth (Brotherwise Games)

SRP: $34.95

From the publisher of the 8-bit dungeon-building hit Boss Monster comes Unearth, a new dice placement game by Jason Harner and Matt Ransom. In this game, two to four players take turns rolling and placing dice as they compete for a random assortment of cards representing colorful alien ruins. Unearth brings the excitement of gambling to the table, but without the downside of being screwed when you don’t get the number you want. This is a quick-moving game full of interesting choices, not to mention one with really pretty art design. Interested in our full take? Read our in-depth review here. (Buy it here.)

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

SRP: $34.99

In Daryl Andrews & Adrian Adamescu’s Sagrada, one to four players take on the roles of master artisans competing to craft the most beautiful stained glass window. Each player is given their own attractive window frame board in which they’ll slide a pattern card depicting a set of numbers and colors required to complete it. In the game itself, players take turns drawing handfuls of colorful dice from a huge bag – Sagrada comes with *90* dice – rolling them and then drafting the results. These dice then go onto your grid-like window board, with rules restricting where they can be placed. (You can’t put the same colors together, or the same numbers.) This gets really, really tricky as your board fills up. The winner is the player who best fills out their window frame and meets the scoring conditions, which change from game to game. Sagrada presents a challenging and fun puzzle that’s easy to learn and teach, opening up opportunities to play with the people in your life who aren’t necessarily big gamers. Plus, it looks really cool on the table, and you’ll feel a little bit like Scrooge McDuck diving into his money bin each time you reach your hand into Sagrada’s humongous bag of dice. (Buy it here.)

For the Tailgate Gamer

It’s not often we find a sports-related game worthy of recommending, perhaps because it’s so hard to faithfully adapt the things fans love about their favorite athletics without losing all of the details that make them so compelling to watch. Once in a rare while, a sports game comes along that proves us wrong and, hoooo boy, is Techno Bowl one of them. If you know a fan of both gaming and football, read on…

Techno Bowl: Arcade Football Unplugged (Bombshell Games)

SRP: $69.99

Brent Spivey’s Techno Bowl – a play on the NES classic Tecmo Bowl – aims to recreate the retro video game experience on the tabletop, but we think it does it one better. Through a cleverly-designed combination of cardplay and dice rolls, Techno Bowl brings much of the excitement and drama of NFL football to your kitchen table. Two coaches (players) are given the freedom to design their own formations and draw up plays on both sides of the ball. Once the ball is snapped, action plays out in slow motion (imagine the sort of footage you’d see from NFL films) as coaches carry out their plays, and the success of individual actions (passes, tackles, etc.) is determined through dice rolls. High rolls allow a coach to break big plays and take a bonus action, while low rolls result in fumbles, interceptions, and the other sort of chaos you’d see on a real-world football field. (It’s not terribly uncommon for the ball to change possession more than once in a single play – and boy, is it thrilling when those crazy plays happen.) Making the game even more enticing for football fans, Techno Bowl allows you to play with thinly-veiled versions of all 32 NFL teams and their best-known superstars, each one given a silly name to protect the innocent. (i.e., The Chiefs become The Chefs; Tom Brady is now Tom Baby; Lawrence Taylor is Larry Trailer, and so forth.) With each team having unique strengths and weaknesses, the game has an astoundingly high level of re-playability. Techno Bowl also comes with tiered complexity levels: you can learn the game with training wheels on, then work your way up the difficulty ladder as you become comfortable with the rules, opening up player abilities, kicking rules, and other exciting elements of the game. If it’s not clear yet, Techno Bowl is the most faithful, most fun tabletop version of NFL football we’ve ever encountered. (Buy it here.)

Strategy Games

Do you know someone who likes to test themselves in a match of wits against a worthy opponent, or who enjoys a challenging puzzle? Here’s an assortment of titles for the seasoned gamers out there.

The Quest for El Dorado (Ravensburger)

SRP: $34.99

One of this year’s Spiele des Jahres nominees – gaming’s equivalent of the academy award – Reiner Knizia’s The Quest for El Dorado channels deckbuilding gameplay into a frantic race for the legendary City of Gold. Like in other popular deckbuilders such as Dominion and Clank!, players draw cards which can be used to move across the board, or purchase additional cards from a shared marketplace. The challenge is in balancing your deck so that you’re more likely to draw the cards you need to move through the rough jungle terrain. Players can also block one another with their pawns, giving other strategies to think about. With its straight-forward objective (get to the finish line before anyone else), The Quest for El Dorado has a very classic, oldschool feel which pairs well with the modern deckbuilding mechanic. The game’s modular board also allows for a nearly endless variety of setups, keeping the game feeling different each time you sit down at it. El Dorado feels breezy in spite of its depth, making it a great one to put down on the table when you’re in the mood for something light, yet strategic. (Buy it here.)

Amun-Re (Tasty Minstrel Games)

SRP: $70.00

From the same designer as El Dorado comes Amun-Re, a classic title from Knizia’s back catalog that’s received a well-deserved facelift from Tasty Minstrel Games. Three to five players bid for territories on the board, each providing unique benefits that will help them work towards the game’s varied scoring opportunities. It’s a game that’s stood the test of time, and is considered by many to be among the best titles from its prolific creator’s library. Tasty Minstrel’s new version of Amun-Re blows up the board size to double the old one’s, moves some information off the board itself to make it less cluttered and more modern-looking, and replaces the old pieces with higher-quality resin and wood components. This new paint job breathes life into a game that many of us missed back when it was first released; if board games received Criterion editions, we imagine they’d look like this. (Buy it here.)

Bidder Up! (Ravensburger)

SRP: $39.99

Don’t let the friendly, cartoon animals decorating the game fool you: Bidder Up! can be an extremely cutthroat game of bluffing and deceit. Two to four players attempt to collect valuable sets of farm animals through ten (!) different auction mini-games. The person at the table best able to slyly grab up full sets or trick their opponents into overpaying will come out the winner. The two-sided board provides an “easy” game mode, and an “advanced” mode which adds more animals and fluctuating market prices. If you’re part of a game group that enjoys bidding or bluffing games, then this is one that’s very much worth checking out thanks to its high variety of auction styles. (Buy it here.)

Element (Rather Dashing Games)

SRP: $34.99

This abstract strategy game has two to four players controlling powerful sages, each tasked with trapping another sage somewhere on the board. On their turn, players draw discs representing the four elements – earth, wind, fire, and water – from a bag and placing them anywhere. Each element acts uniquely, helping or hindering a player move their mage figure across the board. (Water discs move shift positions, earth creates impassable mountain ranges, fire spreads, and wind carries mages across multiple spots.) This game boasts a rare, highly successful blend of luck and tactical thinking, not to mention some great components: each sage looks as if it was carved in ancient times, like something you’d find in a glass case at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Buy it here.)

Kerala (Thames & Kosmos)

SRP: $39.99

Playing out in only half an hour, Kerala is a quick game that feels like it’s much bigger than it is. Two to five players are each given two elephant tokens and starting tiles; they’ll then take turns drafting further tiles from an assortment drawn at random in each round. You’ll place each tile next to one of your elephants, and then move that colorful pachyderm onto it. At the end of the game, you’ll earn points for the tiles in your largest section of each color, and lose them for any tiles you didn’t manage to clump together with the rest of their kind. Kerala is simple to grasp, but much harder to master. We have to draw special attention to the game’s components, which are just too cool not to talk about: each elephant is cut from thick wood, features gold embellishment, and is big enough to fill your palm. Their colors really pop from the table, as do the tiles, draw bag, and even the interior of the game’s box. Thanks to its excellent art design, Kerala is one of the most transportive abstract strategy games we’ve ever played; it looks like something absolutely exotic. (And it’s a fun puzzler, to boot!) (Buy it here.)

Party Games

Whether you’re trying to get a party started, or looking for something to keep the vibe alive as the guests start to dwindle, party games are great ways to entertain big groups. Do you know someone who hosts often? Looking for something to play the next time you have friends over for dinner and drinks? Take a gander…

That’s A Question (Czech Games Edition)

SRP: $20.00

In this wonderfully silly party game from Codenames designer Vlaada Chvatil, players will pose questions to one another as the rest of the table tries to guess their response. Every question follows one of three formats, and will have an A and B answers culled from a huge deck of cards – it’s up to the player posing the question to decide how they’ll be paired, but the combinations are almost always funny, thought-provoking, or both. (i.e. “Whom do you consider worse? Someone who A) offers a cigarette to a friend who just quit smoking, or B) keeps money they saw fall out of someone’s pocket.”) As the player asking the question, your goal is to divide your guessers; you’ll get to move your pawn up a space for each wrong guess. (Each time a player guesses correctly, they get to move ahead one spot.) That’s A Question is a surefire way to get conversations started among party guests, and the absurd, nonsensical art design – you play with wooden squirrel meeples, and pass around huge acorn tokens – is easy to love. (Buy it here.)

Banned Words (Ravensburger)

SRP: $24.99

Banned Words is sort of like the classic party game Taboo, but the opposing team is given the opportunity to come up with an assortment of “no-no” words that you won’t be allowed to use when trying to get your teammates to guess the ones listed on your card. Each time your team says one of the banned words chosen by the other team, your opponents score a point. And thus, it’s entirely possible (likely, even) that the team who isn’t guessing will score more points in a round than the one currently on the hot seat. It’s a cool twist on a popular format, and like its famous predecessor, perfect for accommodating large groups of casual gamers. (Buy it here.)

New York Slice (Bezier Games)

SRP: $30.00

Who doesn’t like pizza? Jeffrey D. Allers’ New York Slice has two to six players dividing and drafting stacks of pizza slices, all in the name of piecing together the ideal (or, at least, highest-scoring) pie. We loved this game when we gave it the full review treatment earlier this year. Plus, it’s probably the most creatively-packaged game of 2017: its heavy, photo-realistic pizza slices come inside a box which opens like a pizza carton, while the rulebook is laid out like a take-out menu and the scoring sheets look like a waitress’s check pad. Seriously! You need to check out the photos. (Buy it here.)

Games for Pop Culture Nuts

There was a time not long ago when many gamers did their best to keep at least ten feet of distance between themselves and most licensed games. As the industry’s grown, and more and more talented designers have entered the fray, licensed games have improved by leaps and bounds. Designers have gotten clever, finding ways to adopt a property’s theme so that it comes out as part of gameplay. If you know a gamer who’s also a pop culture junkie, there’s a good chance you’ll find something here that calls out to their fandom…

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past (IDW Games)

SRP: $89.99

If you grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, then the world’s most fearsome fighting team likely hold a very special place in your heart. IDW Games’ massive box of teenage mutant ninja action, Shadows of the Past, is one of the most thematically vibrant board games we’ve had the pleasure of diving into; although it’s technically based on the current line of comics, it really captures the spirit of the cartoon and live-action movies that so many of us grew up with. (But minus, y’know, Vanilla Ice.) Two to five players take on the roles of the four turtles or their arch nemesis, Shredder. The latter controls all of the villains, while the others work together to defeat the bad guys and complete levels of increasing difficulty. Each turtle has unique strengths, and teamwork is absolutely necessary: this is probably what helps it feel the most true-to-TMNT. More than anything, it reminded us of when we were kids, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a friend and feeding quarters into the classic arcade game. Know a Turtle maniac? They’ll love this. (Buy it here.)

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire (CMON)

SRP: $79.99

I’ll admit: I’m a bit skeptical of anything set in the Godfather universe. How does one adapt one of the greatest films of all time into a game without turning it into a generic mafia story, devoid of the movie’s drama and nuance? Leave it to designer Eric M. Lang – the mind behind hits like Blood Rage and Arcadia Quest – to come up with a tabletop game where the Godfather theme feels intrinsic, rather than painted on. Corleone’s Empire mixes worker placement and area control, as players battle over territory in 1940s New York City. Separating it from your typical, low-conflict Euro-style games is its brutal maneuvering: you can “bump off” opponents’ characters and dump their bodies into the Hudson River. As publisher CMON is known for, Corleone’s Empire is an absolutely decadent production, with gorgeous painted artwork, a ton of plastic gangster miniatures, and metal “suitcases” where players hide their cash. (Buy it here.)

A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch (Fantasy Flight Games)

SRP: $79.95

We’d been hearing it for seven seasons: winter is coming. The holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened final minutes of Game of Thrones’ most recent finale showed us just how devastating winter’s arrival can be. We have a long wait ahead of us before we’ll know how our heroes survive (or don’t) the disaster descending upon Westeros; in the meantime, there’s an assortment of fantastic GoT-themed games available to help tide us over. (Games of Game of Thrones, if you will.) Fantasy Flight’s latest title to take inspiration from George R. R. Martin’s popular fantasy universe is a spin on Settlers of Catan, the bestselling German-style board game. Brotherhood of the Watch does more than just take the classic Catan gameplay and move it to Northern Westeros, but tasks the Night’s Watch with defending the wall from wildling invaders. Are you ready to Take the Black? (Buy it here.)

The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 (Mondo)

SRP: $60.00

John Carpenter’s classic 1982 science fiction/horror film The Thing comes to board games in the first board game from Mondo, who already have a great reputation for producing very cool and geek-friendly original movie posters for classic films, as well as fun T-shirts, collectibles, and soundtrack reissues on vinyl. Carpenter’s film was based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella Who Goes There? (also loosely adapted into the 1951 movie Thing From Another World) and takes places at an American research station in Antarctica and centers on an extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates and imitates other organisms, slowly killing and taking the place of various researchers at the station. Paranoia sets in as the researchers (including Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady) begin to suspect and doubt one another. The film wasn’t a huge hit at the time, opening soon after the more kid-friendly alien tale E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and on the same day as Blade Runner. Like the latter, the film has grown in stature over the years, overcoming its initial negative reviews to now be regarded as a cult classic and one of Carpenter’s best films. It even spawned 2011’s poorly received prequel, confusingly also entitled The Thing.

In The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 players must try and work out who among the team has been infected by the alien lifeform. The board is set up like an aerial view of the station’s 19 rooms, Clue-style, and features artwork and designs by Justin Erickson. You play as one of the characters, as you try and work out who’s infected and attempt to escape Outpost 31. Mondo collaborated with USAopoly’s designer games division, Project Raygun, on the game. It is for four to eight players, takes one to two hours to play, and is recommended for ages 17+. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Games for All Ages

Since the days we first played things like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, gaming has always been an activity that’s brought families together. Below you’ll find several perfect titles for gamers with kids. Who knows? Maybe these will help lure the kids away from their tablets (and their parents away from their phones…)

NMBR9 (Z-Man Games)

SRP: $29.99

We sang the full praises of the colorful, creative NMBR 9 in our recent PLAYlist review. Boiled down to the simplest description, NMBR 9 is a game of stacking shapes – numbered zero through nine, naturally – as high as you can go. The trick to it is that a number can only go on top of other numbers if there’s no empty space under it, and they’re worth more the higher they are in your stack. Not only is this a fun little puzzle, but it’s the rare game that you can set up, teach to a new player, and get through your first full game in under 30 minutes. The ease of access makes it great for all audiences, and an ideal game to bring the family to the table, gamers and non-gamers alike. (Buy it here.)

Flip Ships (Renegade Game Studios)

SRP: $40.00

Remember Space Invaders? Kane Klenko’s Flip Ships takes that idea of shooting down lines of ever-descending alien spacecrafts and turns it into a wildly fun dexterity game built on flicking POG-like tokens at cards representing the aliens. At the end of a round, any ships remaining un-hit move closer and new ones take their previous spots. (This goes until too many slip past you and you lose, or you’ve taken out every alien card in the deck and have flipped enough tokens into a big, cardboard mothership in the far back row to shoot it down.) Flip Ships manages to be both thrilling – our wins and losses always seemed to come down to our final shots – and delightfully silly, as it’s way more difficult than we’d ever have imagined to flip a piece of cardboard and have it land exactly where you want. Flip Ships is a cooperative game where kids and adults will stand on equal footing, making it perfect for mixed company. (We’d also venture to guess adults would have just as much fun making it into a drinking game.) (Buy it here.)

Karuba (HABA)

SRP: $35.99

Who’s ready for adventure? Karuba turns your family into competing adventurers, racing to snatch up treasures hidden in the jungle’s secret temples. Players each arrange tiles on their own boards, attempting to build the shortest paths from their explorer tokens to the most valuable gems and crystals; what’s cool about Karuba is that every player is given the exact same tile to work with each turn, yet the paths each player chooses to build with them will wind up looking incredibly different. Karuba also removes much of the conflict you find in tile placement games – since you arrange them on personal boards, rather than compete over shared real estate in the middle of the table – making it a very friendly-feeling game. (Sessions of Karuba have almost zero chance of producing bad feelings between players, which can be good for families with siblings who don’t always play nicely together.) Although it’s meant for a family audience, adults can enjoy some light-feeling fun with Karuba even when the kids aren’t around. (Buy it here.)

Stocking Stuffers

If you’re looking for games that won’t cost you your proverbial firstborn (or take up an unsightly amount of shelf space), here are our picks for stocking stuffers that pack a lot of gameplay into tiny boxes.

Honshu (Renegade Game Studios)

SRP: $24.99

Like the TARDIS on Doctor Who, this small-box game is bigger on the inside. Two to five players can join in this card-based city builder, which probably has the biggest table-space-to-box-size ratio I’ve ever seen in a game. Honshu alternates between rounds of blind bidding followed by drafting, allowing players to accumulate cards that they’ll use to build kingdoms that quickly sprawl across the table. Placement is governed by a simple set of rules, and the wide variety of scoring opportunities allow for multiple paths to victory. It’s a fun game that’s easy enough for casual gamers to pick up, but deep enough to satisfy the more hardcore strategists in the audience. Care to learn more? Read our full review here. (Buy it here.)

Exit: The Abandoned Cabin (Thames & Kosmos)

SRP: $14.99

The escape room craze is booming right now – at least, more so than you’d think it would be for a business model based on locking up strangers in a room and making it difficult for them to get out. There’s a lot of excitement in those games: the ticking clock, the clever puzzles, and the necessity of cooperation, to name a few. Thames & Kosmos’ award-winning Exit line – from designers Inka and Markus Brand – takes the escape room experience and squeezes it down into a pocket-sized box. Each game provides a scenario; we tested The Abandoned Cabin, but others include The Pharaoh’s Tomb and The Secret Lab. One or more players then work together to solve all of the game’s puzzles, weighing their success based on the time it takes them complete it. The brain burners we encountered in The Abandoned Cabin were widely varied, with some calling for some truly outside-the-box thinking. Each game is only meant to be played once, as components are intended to be ripped, folded, and written upon, but for an evening’s worth of entertainment for a room full of people, the low price proves to be quite a bargain. (Buy it here.)

Codenames: Duet (Czech Games Edition)

SRP: $19.99

After years of classic titles such as Galaxy Trucker and Through the Ages, Czech Games Edition and designer Vlaada Chvatil finally found their breakthrough, mainstream hit with 2015’s award-winning Codenames. While his previously designs were beloved among gaming hobbyists, Codenames was an altogether different beast, catching fire even among casual gamers – you’ll find now it alongside games like Monopoly and Ticket To Ride at any department store – and spawning five sequels in the two years since its debut (the first of which, Codenames: Pictures, we recommended highly in last year’s holiday gift guide.) This latest incarnation makes it into a cooperative game for two players. With the way it rewards communication through intuition, it makes a great date night game for couples. The best part? Codenames fans can combine this with previous sets, allowing them to use the cards from both with either the cooperative or competitive rules. (Buy it here.)

Caverna: Cave vs Cave (Mayfair Games)

SRP: $28.00

Cave vs Cave takes game design superstar Uwe Rosenberg’s masterpiece of dwarven interior decoration and boils it down from an eight pound, three-hour, $100 mega-box to a svelt, one-on-one game that can be played in 30 minutes and won’t break your back being carried to a friend’s house. We have to admit: we were skeptical whether Caverna “Lite” could deliver the same great Caverna taste with fewer calories, but we were happily proven wrong. While it’s certainly a different experience, we really dug the way Cave vs Cave packed all of the strategy excitement of a grand worker placement game into such a small, fast-paced package, and how streamlined the setup process was made. If you like head-to-head Euro games, give this one a look. You can read our full review here. (Buy it here.)

Ars Alchimia (Tasty Minstrel Games)

SRP: $39.95

Ars Alchimia, imported from Japanese publisher Manifest Destiny by Tasty Minstrel Games, smashes a full-blown Euro-style game into a box roughly one quarter the size of most similar Western titles. A worker placement game where your workers used to bid against and block opponents, it squeezes complex gameplay, slick manga-inspired artwork, and a bazillion cards and wooden pieces into a box that could go into a purse without looking ridiculous. It’s a fantastic and good-looking game, and for those of us low on shelf space, its compactness is certainly appreciated. We’re eager to explore Tasty Minstrel’s more recent Lemuria, which comes from this same Japanese line of games. (Buy it here.)

Veggie Garden (Quick Simple Fun Games)

SRP: $19.99

Up to four players can knock out a game of Veggie Garden in under half an hour, which makes it one of the breeziest strategy games on this year’s list. You’ll each be given a hand full of veggies. On the board in front of everyone is a garden; this where the value of those vegetables is set. You’ll be manipulating both your hand and the board, trying to maximize the points of your vegetables while preventing your opponents from raising the value of their own. This is another game where the adorable art design (awwww, bunnies!) can sometimes make you forget just how cutthroat the gameplay can be. Admirably, though, Veggie Kingdom never feels mean: it lands in a nice, sweet spot for gamers looking for a light-yet-competitive puzzle. A small expansion, Harvest Festival, adds a deck’s worth of your favorite fall-time veggies, and is already available. (Buy it here.)

Gaming Accessories

Have an especially hard-to-shop-for gamer in your life? Are you not sure what type of games are their favorite, or which ones they already own? Below you’ll find some tabletop-related accessories that any gamer will be able to appreciate.

Game Night Game Haul bag (Top Shelf Fun)

SRP: $29.99

This year’s essential gaming accessory is the Game Night Game Haul bag, which makes transporting your board games more convenient than ever before. Tired of tossing your boxes into duffel bags, or stacking them in your trunk, where they get jostled around and their components mixed up? This padded bag opens from the front, much like one of those bags meant to keep pizzas warm for delivery guys. Not only does it allow you to see your titles for easy access, but it’s fitted for the industry-standard, 12”x12”-ish box size that so many games come in. This protects from dings, dents, and spillage. (We’ve fit anywhere from 2 to 5 games in the bag, depending on their height.) There are two pockets on the side for miscellaneous gaming supplies, and the Game Haul bag can be carried by its handle or an over-the-shoulder strap. We will say this, too: the bag feels very heavy-duty, and of high quality considering its very reasonable price point. An even bigger version is already available; here’s hoping that the Game Haul bag sells well enough that the line is expanded with bags fitted to other box sizes. (Buy it here.)

Drink Trayz and Treasure Trayz (Game Trayz)

SRP: $2.50 - $12.50

If you’ve been gaming long enough, then you’ve probably experienced the following horror at least once in your tabletop career: you or one of your friends has reached over the board, no doubt to pick up dice or move around a corn token, and accidentally knocked over your drink. Soaked cards, a wet board, and anguished screams presumably ensued. Drink Trayz prevent traumas like these by acting as coasters that hold on to your cups and help keep them upright. (Drink Trayz fit pint glasses and other similarly-sized vessels.) From the same company, Treasure Trayz are lidded dishes that will help keep the bits of your favorite games organized; plus, they’re lined with a velvet-like material, which called to mind a lavish, casino card table each time we reached in to retrieve our pieces. Both items are low-priced accessories sure to be appreciated by the regular gamer in your life. (Buy them here.)

Through the Ages app (Android/iOS)

SRP: $9.99

Although recommending a digital game download seems to go against the whole idea of a board game gift guide, the new Through the Ages app is a special case. This is a faithful, digital adaptation of Vlaada Chvatil’s classic, super-deep strategy game, Through the Ages. (This complex civilization builder is not only ranked #2 on Board Game Geek’s list of the all-time greatest board games, but its old edition is also within the Top 20!) This digital version removes the set-up and breakdown time which, in the tabletop version, can take quite a while, meaning you’ll probably be more likely to actually play it often. It also supports both online and pass-and-play gaming, meaning you can still play it in-person with your friends using a single device. (Buy it here.)

***

For in-depth reviews of more great games, check out our PLAYlist columns on Escape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue), Whistle Stop, Twilight Struggle, Honshu, Bärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the Dragon, Yokohama, Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure, Villages of Valeria, Watson & Holmes, and Hanamikoji.



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