Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2018 Part 2: Tabletop & Board Games

We’ve Got Your Tables Covered

Nov 22, 2018 By Austin Trunick
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Welcome back to Under the Radar's Holiday Gift Guide 2018. After having covered this year’s coolest video game-related gifts in Part 1 of our guide, we’ll now turn our sights to some of the latest and best games that have hit our tabletops in 2018. From wargamers to roleplayers to Euro fans, to those of you looking for something new to break out on family game night, we’ve broken down our top gift suggestions for tabletop gamers of every type.

If you’re interested in reading our detailed board game coverage, feel free to browse our archive of PLAYlist columns, which pair traditional game reviews with our custom-curated music playlists. Stay tuned for the upcoming entries of our 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, and don’t forget to consider a gift subscription to Under the Radar for that special indie music fan in your life.

Gifts for Tabletop Roleplayers

From Stranger Things to Geek & Sundry, tabletop roleplaying has never been “cooler” than it is now. With so many new, curious players interested in dipping their toes into the hobby, publishers have stepped up to deliver some of the most innovative RPGs in years.

Tales from the Loop (Free League Publishing)

SRP: $43.50 for hardcover corebook, or $103 for "Gravitron Bundle" shown above

Set in an alternate history 1980s where the invention of “The Loop” – a massive particle accelerator housed in a top-secret laboratory located, naturally, near your hometown – three decades earlier pushed forward incredible advancements in technology, leading to the creation of such fantastic marvels as robots and humongous airships. As a kid having grown up with these things as parts of your everyday life, the marvelous has become commonplace. That is, except on the occasion that something very weird happens – and that seems to happen in your town a lot.

Billed as the game of “roleplaying in the ‘80s that never was,” it would equally viable to describe the critically acclaimed Tales from the Loop as “roleplaying in your all-time favorite ‘80s movie.” While Tales from the Loop was borne in 2015 from the breathtaking fantasy artwork of Swedish painter Simon Stalenhag, it’s arrived at a time when the popularity of Stranger Things and nostalgia for classic movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies, and E.T. have made its setting a place that any pop culture fan will understand and latch onto. This is a world where the adults just don’t understand and the only way to save the day will be to gather up your middle school-age friends, climb onto your bicycles and go solve a mystery.

While the shady scientists, escaped experiments, and mysterious technology of The Loop’s setting provide plenty of excitement, what really sets the game apart – at least, to us – as something truly special is its character-building. You’ll play as kids, ages 10 to 15, with all of the angst and frustrations that come with those years. You’ll start by choosing a type that pretty accurately mirrors the teenage archetypes you’d see in a John Hughes film like The Breakfast Club: the jock, the popular kid, the weirdo, the computer geek, et cetera. Then, you pick your age. (Older kids, naturally, will have more advantages physically and mentally, but younger kids have much higher luck, which gives you incentive to play as a tween.) Throughout the rest of your character creation session, you’ll add important details, from a signature item – a skateboard, Walkman, pet, or something else dear to your character – to the problem that plagues your daily life, the thing that drives you each and every day, to your role model or “anchor” and your relationships with the other kids in your group. (In the very last step, you’ll even fill in your character’s favorite ‘80s song.) When you’re done, you’ll likely have a character more realistic and recognizable than any wizard, warrior, or starship captain you’ve played in the past. As you play, it’ll actually feel as if you’re watching them grow up, which is wild.

Interestingly, too, is that not all the emphasis is on the adventure – or “mystery,” as each session is called here – and that the game forces you to roleplay moments from the characters’ more mundane, everyday lives. (I.E., you may have to start a session having an awkward conversation with your parents over breakfast, or roleplay being stuck in detention after school.) And if you’re worried about really awful things happening to a young character you’ve become attached to, rest assured you can’t die in Tales from the Loop. Tonally, that’s the perfect choice.

Tales from the Loop has received a ton of hype since its release, but on our close inspection we found it’s all highly deserved. Thanks to the imaginative world anchored by Stalenhag’s artwork and its focus on characters, there hasn’t been a roleplaying game we’ve been more excited to play from the moment we opened its corebook. (Buy if here.)

Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition (White Wolf Entertainment)

SRP: $55 for hardcover corebook, or $24.99 for PDF version

Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve woken up with two bloody puncture wounds on your neck. Before long you realize that you’re a vampire: immortal, powerful, young forever. You’re free to live the most decadent or most "normal" life you please, so long as you keep yourself fed on human blood. Your one cardinal rule as a vampire is that you must uphold “The Masquerade” – that is, keep your undead existence secret by blending into or hiding from the mortal humans.

The large majority of roleplaying games focus on good guys doing heroic things – slaying dragons, lifting curses, negotiating peace between warring alien factions. Vampire, on the other hand, has always taken the opposite approach. It’s a dark setting full of evil people, and you’ll roleplay characters who have no choice but to do bad things.

This 5th Edition of Vampire gives the game a major overhaul, obvious from the moment you open the heavy and very well-illustrated core rulebook. A lot of attention to detail has gone into modernizing the game, and there’s an extra emphasis on the political aspect of vampire life – how the various factions of vampires interact with humanity and amongst themselves. Over the last three decades, Vampire has remained the most enduring and popular of horror RPGs, and this new edition offers gamers a fresh, visually arresting place to dive in. (Buy it here.)

Mutant: Year Zero (Free League Publishing)

SRP: $43.50 for hardcover corebook, or $80 for the bundle shown above

Civilization has long since fallen. The world has been ravaged by a war no one remembers. You’ve lived the entirety of your short life in a hidden community known as the Ark; like your fellow inhabitants, you are no longer human. Radiation has left you disfigured, twisted, mutated. The errors in your genes have granted you inhuman powers, but have also left your body unstable and unpredictable. The entirety of your existence has been limited to the confines of the Ark. But your leader has died, and you’re running low on food. You and your companions must venture forth, for the first time, outside the walls of your commune, into the dangerous wastelands which humanity once called its domain. Who knows what horrors – and what adventures – await you?

Mutant: Year Zero has quickly ensconced itself as the premiere system in post-apocalyptic roleplaying. If anyone’s a fan of the Fallout videogames, or literature such as A Boy and His Dog will instantly recognize the sort of world on display in this game.  As far as science fiction settings go, The World After The Bomb is one that’s familiar yet still incredibly open for exploration. The mutants you create have an incredible range of options, and they’ll continue to mutate as you play them. Quite interestingly, your focus won’t only be on improving your characters, but in shaping the Ark itself, and improving – or ruining – the lives of the other mutants within it, giving the players a significantly larger hand in creating the world they inhabit than your typical roleplaying game. That makes it highly compelling whether or not you’re a big fan of the post-nuke genre. (Buy it here.)

Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana – A Visual History (Ten Speed Press)

SRP: $50

If you’re any sort of fan of fantasy or tabletop gaming, you’ve probably got some level of experience with Dungeons and Dragons. In our youths, D&D (or AD&D, as it was during my day) was an outlet of escapism for so many of us, an opportunity to tell shared stories and create entire worlds that were only limited by the boundaries of our imaginations. There are those of us who are fortunate to have retained or found new roleplaying groups into adulthood, where it offers up an exciting mode of social interaction that simply can’t be replaced by books, television, or video games.

D&D is the big daddy of roleplaying games, and this ab-so-lute-ly beautiful hardcover book explores the entire history of the game by way of its iconic artwork from over the last four decades. D&D has always helped us enter its fantasy realms with vibrant, imaginative artwork. Art & Arcana tracks that tradition, starting with the very first D&D-related publications where it was just Gary Gygax and his pals copying drawings from comics and medieval history books, all the way through the D&D-commissioned work of legendary fantasy artists like Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, and Clyde Cadwell. This 400+ page, coffee table-worthy tome examines every facet of the D&D phenomenon, including marketing materials (some of the ‘80s ads are so wonderfully tacky) as well as video and computer games. For anyone curious about how high fantasy went from a niche literary genre to such a large part of mainstream pop culture, Art & Arcana is a dream come true. (Buy it here.)

Beautiful, Heavyweight Strategy Games

While long, rules-heavy games will send many of the more casual boardgamers running for the hills, serious strategy fans find few things more rewarding than learning – then, mastering – a complex, heavyweight game. Here are two that will spend long amounts of time on your table, and look great doing so.

Archmage (Starling Games)

SRP: $60 for standard edition, $80 for deluxe collector's edition

The old order of mages are dead, and you and your opponents are among those who would rise up and assume their throne atop the magical hierarchy. To lay claim to the arcane title you feel is rightfully yours, you must first spread your will across the kingdom, making allies among the magical, inhuman races that populate the woodlands; next, you must train your followers in the six circles of magic, determining the most worthy among your flock with wizardly duels to the death. The higher your acolytes climb, the more powerful your own magic becomes – unlocking new spells which can alter and re-shape the landscape of the board.

Archmage is a highly flavorful Euro, but looks like an insanely well-produced fantasy-themed adventure game. (You’ll spend your time gathering resources and blocking your opponents from areas of the board, and you’ll feel like an aspiring wizard-king while doing so.) The artwork is stellar, and the personal player boards – which resemble Venn diagrams – have scooped tracks, meaning your cubes won’t slide out of places when the table is inevitably jostled. All around, the production value is high – and those who spring a little extra for the collector’s edition (with shiny cards and additional wooden pieces) will feel like they’re handling a real luxury item. Archmage is one of the rare games where both the style and substance feel a step above the competition. (Buy it here.)

Feudum (Odd Bird Games)

SRP: $79.99

Feudum is a deep, deep Euro-style game wrapped up in a colorful, vibrant, positively psychedelic cloak. One look inside the box and you’ll be floored by just how beautiful Feudum’s art design is, from the stylized illustrations on the immense board to the bright, carved tokens that represent the game’s monsters. You’ll be competing for status in various guilds and exerting control across many locales, and doing so on a board that looks like a souvenir from a show the Grateful Dead played at the Filmore in 1968. We mean that, of course, in a loving way – the eye-grabbing, rainbow-like panorama depicted on Feudum’s board is one you might consider hanging on your wall, or painting on the side of your Volkswagen Van.

More than any other game on this list, Feudum is one for expert-level gamers. It’s one that might take a few plays and some serious dedication to learn, but those willing to put in the effort will be met with a rewarding (not to mention visually stunning) experience.  (Buy it here.)

Compelling Wargames

Wargaming may be its own, incredibly deep genre of gaming, but that doesn’t mean that those of us not heavily into military tactics can’t get in on the fun. Here are two fantastic new games that any boardgamer will want to take for a spin:

Root (Leder Games)

SRP: $60

Cole Wehrle’s Root not only wins our vote for this year’s most fascinating design, but for being 2018’s most utterly adorable game. You and your opponents each play as one of four totally asymmetrical factions of forest critters, each with their own specific goals, methods of play, and unique abilities. The cats possess great numbers of warriors, and work towards building up their military-industrial machine. The birds, meanwhile, display superior might and the ability to swiftly disperse their forces across the board; that is, if their unstable ruling structure doesn’t collapse and send their plans into disarray. The Woodland Alliance (of bunnies, foxes, and mice) work slowly, spreading sympathy for their cause among the animals of the forest clearings, waiting for the right time to trigger an uprising and overthrow their cat and bird oppressors. Finally, the singular vagabond (raccoon, wolf, etc.) plays the Littlefinger role within the woodlands, piggybacking on his opponents’ gains in power and biding his time until it’s right to make his strike. It’s fascinating to play and learn how these factions relate to one another; you’ll want to play several games to master your first, and then several to learn and win with each of the others. Plus, Kyle Ferrin’s artwork is utterly irresistible – the board itself reminded us of Bill Watterson’s backgrounds for Calvin and Hobbes – especially when combined with the cute wooden animal pieces that fill the box. (Buy it here.)

878 Vikings (Academy Games)

SRP: $75

878 Vikings is another asymmetrical wargame, but here’s the kicker: the four players at the table are divided into two teams. One team plays as the game’s titular Vikings (and their fearsome berserkers) as they invade Britain in an attempt to conquer and hold nine cities. The other team plays as the English (and their heroic guards) who put up a valiant struggle to defend their homeland and stave off the pillaging marauders. Mechanically, 878 Vikings is simpler than it appears without sacrificing strategic depth; each faction plays slightly differently, with unique disadvantages and advantages, and differing combat dice more likely to roll certain results than others’. The design is clever and plays with a smoothness that’s not found in many wargames of similar weight; importantly, it’s relatively easy to teach, meaning you won’t have a hard time finding three friends to fill the other seats whenever 878 Vikings hits the table. This is the most fun we’ve had rolling dice and pushing plastic warriors around a map in several years. (Buy it here.)

Mediumweight Strategy Games

Middleweight games are perfect for the serious gamer who doesn’t want to pull up a 30-minute instructional video each time they introduce a new player to their favorite game. These two games are easy to learn and teach, but present deep, strategic decisions that you’ll explore for many, many gaming sessions:

Clans of Caledonia (Karma Games)

SRP: $69.99

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a poor, Scottish farmer. It’s the late 1800s, and word of the wonders of a so-called “industrial revolution” are making their way on winds to the countryside. Manufactured goods are becoming all the rage in foreign countries, and Scottish goods – among them wool, cheese, and of course, whiskey – are now fetching high prices on the export market. It’s up to you how you’ll invest in your business. With a keen eye on the market you can go from a sheep farmer barely scraping by to being the world’s premiere whiskey baron.

What’s so enjoyable about Clans of Caledonia, this bucolic, midweight Euro-style game, is that it really does feel like it’s up to you how you’ll pursue your fortune in the Scottish countryside. While many Euros eventually (usually unintentionally) push you towards one most efficient or “correct” path toward victory, Clans of Caledonia leaves your options wide open. You’re free to sink all of your hard-earned cash into distilleries, focus purely on dairy farming, or dip your toes into every agricultural avenue on the board. If you really wanted to, you don’t have to build factories at all – you could try your hand in exploiting the market, buying low and selling high like some kind of rural power broker. With a modular board, huge pool of export contracts, and large variety of clans with unique powers, there’s going to be a lot of mileage to be found in this game – one where you’ll rarely find yourself relying on the same strategy twice in a row. When it comes to a board game, that’s great value. (Buy it here.)

Rajas of the Ganges (R&R Games)

SRP: $49.99

Set in 16th Century India, you and up to three other players will take on the roles of competing rajas and ranis – kings and queens – as you build up magnificent estates, accumulate wealth, and foster good karma in an effort to become the most legendary ruler in the land.

As a big fan of Euro-style board games, I became instantly enamored with Rajas of the Ganges the moment I saw it spread out on a table at this year’s Toy Fair in NYC. It’s a game with a little bit of everything I love, from worker placement to tile laying, including an exciting race element and a small degree of dice luck mixed in. There’s so much going on and for a seasoned Euro player, Rajas of the Ganges can feel like diving into toybox of strategy game mechanics; most importantly, the different paths to victory in Rajas are both varied and viable. One of the most fascinating aspects, to us, is its use of two divergent score trackers: one tracking fame, and the other fortune. Your trackers will start in the same corner of the board, but shoot off in opposite directions as the game progresses. (Gameplay ends once one player’s two scoring tokens meet again on the tracker.)

It almost feels shallow mentioning it now after going on about the game’s design depth but, boy, is Rajas of the Ganges good-looking. The main board is incredibly busy but downright beautiful, and the other components – from the pretty, colored dice to a 3D elephant token – all pop from the tabletop. Once you take into account the molded box insert which houses all of the components neatly, it’s evident that the production value here is top-notch. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Rajas to any type of Euro gamer; with its breadth of design, it feels like an essential part of any good strategy collection. (Buy it here.)

Lightweight Strategy Games

The games below are recommended for strategy gamers of any variety. Easy to pick up yet tough to master, they’re fun for both seasoned and new gamers, and are great for introducing younger players to the world of serious strategy games.  

Bunny Kingdom (iello Games)

SRP: $49.99

When a box lists “144 rabbit figurines” among its contents, our ears perk up. Bunny Kingdom is an absolutely delightful card drafting and area control game from designer Richard Garfield, best known as the creator of CCG touchstone Magic: The Gathering. In each round you’ll select one card from a hand, passing the rest to your neighbor before taking a new hand from the player to your other side, and selecting again. These cards grant you new areas to control, increasing the value of your current properties, or grant you secret ways to score points at the end of the game. You’ll want to be careful to pick the card that best fits your strategy – but also to not pass a card that would be too valuable to your opponent. While it’s a good brain workout, Bunny Kingdom also moves quite quickly – and the simple rules and fun card artwork should make it appealing to players of all ages. (Buy it here.)

Blue Lagoon (Blue Orange Games)

SRP: $32.99

If you’re reading this on our pub date of Thanksgiving Day, you know how family gatherings can be. You’ve come down from the frenzy of feasting, and those of you who aren’t napping or vegged out in front of the football game are looking for a fun way to pass the time as your meal digests and you prep yourself for dinner: round two. This is the perfect time for a board game, but if the holidays aren’t hosted by a gamer you’re probably stuck with worn-out copy of Monopoly, or a Scrabble that’s missing a dozen-or-so semi-important consonants.

Blue Lagoon is just the sort of game you should keep in your trunk for these exact occasions. It’s straight-forward and easy to teach, meaning you’ll quickly be able to loop in a six-year-old nephew or that aunt who hasn’t played a board game since Candyland. In Blue Lagoon, you simply take turns laying chains of settlers as you try to connect islands and snap up sets of resources for points. While it’s easy for anyone to wrap their head around, it’s also easy to formulate strategies – there’s depth to it, which even the most game-averse player will pick up upon and start implementing themselves. With colorful wooden huts to play with and a time investment of under 30 minutes, Blue Lagoon should be a family hit. (Buy it here.)

Raids (iello Games)

SRP: $33.99

In Raids, you’ll race your longboat around a chain of islands, plundering locations for their treasures and trying to become the most glorious Viking leader by game’s end. While it has the outward looks of a violent wargame, in reality it’s a family-friendly game of point collection, which you can use to your advantage if you’ve got a child who’s at that phase where they’re only excited by things like swords and battleaxes. It’s all boosted by impressive production value, from the game’s wooden Vikings and ships to its heavyweight metal coins. (Buy it here.)

Highly Thematic Games

We wanted to bring special attention to two games, one horror-themed and the other a Western, which presented two of the most engrossing and thematic experiences we saw in board games this year.

Arkham Horror: Third Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)

SRP: $64.95

Who’s up to save the world from ageless, cosmic horrors? Fantasy Flight’s H.P. Lovecraft-themed co-op adventure game Arkham Horror has long been a staple in the tabletop horror arena. A lot has changed in the industry since the second edition’s release in 2005, however, and this brand new third edition of the game tweaks the game in interesting ways to update it for more modern sensibilities. Two of the most noticeable changes are the game’s modular board and dramatically streamlined gameplay – many of the clunkier elements have been trimmed or made easier-to-navigate, meaning you can now knock out a session of Arkham Horror in around two hours, which is half of what it could sometimes take a game to play out in the prior version. For those of you who have a hard time rounding up friends to sit around a table for over three hours at a time, the shortened time commitment is a game-changer. (Buy it here.)

Pioneer Days (Tasty Minstrel Games)

SRP: $59.95

We already wrote a full PLAYlist review of this Oregon Trail-esque game of wagon caravans and frontier survival – so please feel free to follow this link for our detailed thoughts on this little gem. Don’t let its cartoonish cover art fool you into thinking it’s easy going: Pioneer Days can be cutthroat and punishing as you try to make some cash or grow your wagon train with a watchful eye on pending calamities, from bad weather to plague. This is a dice-heavy Euro game that really gets its flavor right – you’ll become attached to the caravan you’ve built, and devastated when it comes crashing apart just because you didn’t properly prepare yourself for the disaster your opponent helped bring about early. If your game group is especially competitive, Pioneer Days is going to see a ton of mileage. (Buy it here.)

Great Games for Families

Board games are a wonderful way to bring your family together around a table. While Candy Land, Uno, and other kid-friendly staples are more than fine, there are so many great options worth looking into: games that will be just as fun for mom or dad as they are for the kiddos.

Laser Chess (Thinkfun)

SRP: $39.99

Somewhere I read Laser Chess hilariously described as “chess with lasers,” which would have been enough to sell me on the game in a heartbeat. However, that little tagline completely undersells the intelligence of the game design – it’s one of those rare games that’s both fun and mentally stimulating for all ages. (Don’t take my word for it – Laser Chess has won both the Mensa Select and Seriously STEM awards, meaning it would be equally at home in a classroom as it would be in your game room.) In our testing sessions, we had the same amount of fun going head-to-head against preteen opponents as adult ones.

Each player has one piece that fires a bright laser – think, one of those pointers you use to drive cats crazy – and a bunch of mirrored pieces, a king, and a couple guards. You’ll take turns moving or rotating your mirrored pieces one at a time; after each move you’ll fire your laser beam, which will bounce off the mirrors at right angles and, eventually, hit another piece or shoot somewhere off-table. When your beam hits a non-mirrored side of any unit, it’s removed from the game. (If you’re clumsy you’ll run the risk of eliminating your own pieces!) The game ends when one player knocks out the other’s king. This is the most novel two-player gaming experience we’ve seen all year, not to mention one that’s a great learning opportunity for ages 8 and up. (Buy it here.)

Big Money (Wonder Forge)

SRP: $19.97

Big Money is billed as “The Game of Risky Rolls & Fabulous Fortunes.” It’s kind of a game for a future investment banker or property tycoon. You “earn dough with every roll” and then you buy various businesses, ranging from a rock music festival to a movie studio to a monster truck show to a candy factory. You decide how much money to risk and the one with the most money at the end wins. It’s for 2-5 players aged 8 and up and should take 30 minutes to play. Before playing, just remind the young ones that in real life greed actually isn’t good. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.) 

Constellations (XTRONAUT)

SRP: $25

In Constellations, which bills itself as the “game of constellations and the night sky,” players will gather stars to fill their personal sky with the real-life constellations. Playing like an intriguing cross between Splendor and Ticket to Ride, players have the choice to draw cards or pull them from a face-up selection, or purchase or reserve constellations from a shared lineup. What sets it apart from these, gameplay-wise, is the way players are incentivized to lay out their constellations in certain ways to maximize their scores.

Constellations is a fun, easy-to-pick-up card game, but it’s also a great way for both kids and adults to learn some new things about the stars and our night sky. Each card has a unique fact or piece of trivia about outer space, and the booklet included in the box has a lot of informative writing about the history and mythology behind the constellations we see when we look upwards at night. If you know a kid even remotely interested in outer space, Constellations is a game they’ll immediately take to. (Buy it here.)

Five Little Fish (Ravensburger)

SRP: $19.99

Five Little Fishes is a good one for younger kids. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up. It’s essentially a memory game. Kids turn over a lily pad card and then have to use their fishing poles to catch the fish that matches the card. When they pull up the fish the retractable tail comes out to reveal if it’s the matching fish. If it is, then you keep it, if it’s not then you put it back and try to remember which fish is which for next time. The player with the most fish at the end wins. It can be played by 2-5 players, should take 15-20 minutes, and is a lot less messy and smelly than real fishing! By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Shadows in the Forest (Thinkfun)

SRP: $24.99

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a board game meant to be played in the dark. This unique twist is just part of the fun in Shadows in the Forest, a game where one person moves about an LED lantern while the others cooperate to stay hidden as the box’s adorable, Miyazaki-esque “Shadowlings.” The game board is populated with cardboard trees, which cast long shadows in the light of the LED lantern and create perfect hiding spots for the shadowlings. This all-versus-one gameplay is better for a family arrangement than you might think – one parent can work as the lantern piece, while another parent or older child can cooperate with younger kids to evade them on the shadowling team. Shadows in the Forest inspires strategic thinking and bolsters teamwork, and is recommended for ages eight and up – though, we’d even recommend it slightly younger if you plan to approach it with the guiding hand we described above. (Buy it here.)

Unicorn Glitterluck: A Party for Rosalie (HABA USA)

SRP: $27.99

A new board game store recently opened up in my small town, our first such store. On our first visit there my 5-year-old (soon to be 6-year-old) daughter immediately gravitated towards Unicorn Glitterluck, which might tell you something about this game’s ideal market. What might also clue you in is that the photo of the game in action on the back of the box includes a chocolate donut with white sprinkles casually sitting next to the board on a napkin. That does seem ideal accompaniment to this adorable and sugary game. It’s a cooperative game where you are basically helping to plan a party to welcome a newborn baby unicorn named Rosalie into the world of Cloudland. You play as one of four unicorns with names such as the titular Glitterluck, Stardust, Marvel Flower, and Magic Swirl, all represented by wooden playing pieces. You move across Cloudland to find friends to invite to the party and collect 10 cloud crystals. It’s for 2-4 players and recommended for ages 4-99, which I guess means centenarians will miss out on all the fun. As long as my daughter and her friends can play then I’m good. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Stocking Stuffers

Boardgaming isn’t the cheapest hobby, but you don’t always need to break the bank to find something worthwhile for the gaming shelf. Here are some of the best new games you’ll find under $20.

Ticket to Ride: New York (Days of Wonder)

SRP: $20

Ticket to Ride is one of the most successful modern board games, accessible and appealing to a wide range of gamers and serving as many’s gateway into the tabletop hobby. Thanks to its many spin-offs, you’ll find a Ticket to Ride for every gaming taste – the latest being Ticket to Ride: New York, a fun-sized version of the perennial favorite. With taxis replacing the game’s famous trains, players will compete to complete routes across lower Manhattan, filling out tickets and connecting as many landmarks as possible (and blocking your opponents’ paths wherever you can.) Ticket to Ride: New York comes in a smaller box, plays on a smaller board, and wraps up in 20 – 30 minutes per game, making it the perfect gift for any Ticket to Ride fan who wants a close approximation of the full game’s experience, but at a more rapid-fire pace. (Buy it here.) 

Come Together: The Rock Bands Game (Laurence King Publishing)

SRP: $16.99

Here’s a novel way to play Go Fish, tailored to music fans of any age. Instead of matching kings and queens, this card game deals with rock royalty, including the band Queen. The cards feature various four-piece bands. Collect each member of the band and you have a set. (“Do you have any Bonos?” “Do you have any Freddie Mercurys?”) The one with the most full bands win. It includes classic rock legends (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin), ’70s punks and rockers (Sex Pistols, Ramones, Blondie, the aforementioned Queen), ’80s and ’90s icons (U2, Sonic Youth, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Metallica), and… The Killers (the lone somewhat modern band, who feel a bit out of place). Paris-based artist Stéphane Manel handsomely illustrated each band member and the game comes with a booklet featuring short bios on each band. Rock out and play cards! By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Pyramid Poker (R&R Games)

SRP: $19.99

Sometimes a game comes along that presents a new way to look at an ages-old classic. Pyramid Poker is a new take on, naturally, poker – but, oh, so very different, and so fun. In this game, two players will stack wooden blocks bearing standard playing card suits and values (King of Hearts, 10 of Diamonds, etc.) into a pyramid shape; the blocks are one-sided, so that each player will only be able to see half of the blocks placed. Once the pyramid is formed, they’ll take turns selecting blocks from the stack and building them into three poker hands. A player can only take a block that has nothing on top of it, and you have the choice of taking the one you can see, or trying your luck and grabbing one of the blocks that faces your opponent. In the end, the hands win based on standard poker hand values.

Pyramid Poker may be simple, but it’s a game that anyone familiar with poker will be able to pick up with little preface, making it a good choice for gamers and non-gamers alike. It packs a very high amount of fun and risk-taking into a two-player, 15-minute game. (Buy it here.)

Ya Blew It! (Wonder Forge)

SRP: $16.99

This risk-taking party game has proven to be a real crowd-pleaser. As a group of greedy prospectors, you and your friends will take turns revealing claims of valuable gemstones. Going around the table, everyone else will have a chance to roll a die and steal the claim; if the claim makes it back to the person who revealed it, they’ll be able to push their luck and reveal even more gem cards. But, be too greedy and you run the risk of losing it all at the roll of a die – the more gem cards on the table, the more likely you will be to roll a number that makes you discard them all.

Like any good party game, Ya Blew It! isn’t overcomplicated, and there’s a real glee in the gambling aspect of it all. (Whenever there’s a big, important roll of a die, everyone was watching.) Plus, the packaging and theme – both the box and the players’ dice resemble sticks of dynamite – is far and away our favorite of 2018. (Buy it here.)

YeahNOPE (Wonder Forge)

SRP: $19.99

Have you ever eaten roadkill, been questioned by the police, done something weird while sleepwalking, stolen money from a relative, eaten pet food, had to apologize for hitting someone, accidentally said “I love you,” or ruined a child’s belief in a mythical figure? In YeahNOPE your friends have to guess which ones of these are true. In this fun adult party game, each player takes turns putting down an experience card (see earlier examples) from a selection of 10 in their hand. The remaining players discuss and pair it with a situation tile (examples include “due to peer pressure,” “just once,” “and it still bothers me,” “at school,” “and been caught,” and “never”) that they feel is most true to real life. Then the player who put down the experience card answers “yeah” or “nope,” using the front of the game’s box which can be switched to either word. If the answer is “yeah” then other situation tiles are added and players can decide if they want to stay “in” or “out.” You score points as long as the answer continues to be “yeah,” but once it turns to “nope” you don’t get any points, so you have to choose wisely about when to stay in or go out. This is an ideal icebreaker game to help you get to know new friends better or to aid you in going even deeper with your close friends. Deeper truths will be uncovered and some will be more uncomfortable or embarrassing than others, but since we all have skeletons in the closet it should all be good for a laugh. By the way, I’ve personally done one of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, but I’m not going to spill the beans on which one. You’ll just have to come over and play YeahNOPE with me to find out the truth. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Licensed Games

You can play games set within the world of your favorite movie, TV, and other pop culture properties – here are a few fun ones that caught our eye in 2018.

Disney Villainous (Wonder Forge)

SRP: $39.99

One of the reasons for Disney’s long-lasting success has to be how often their movies’ villains are every bit as memorable as the heroes. In Disney Villainous, you get to step into the shoes of one of six famous bad guys, including Ursula, Captain Hook, Jafar, Prince John, the Queen of Hearts, and Maleficent. (We’ll guess that future expansions will add other iconic characters like Gaston and Scar.) Each baddie has their own, specific goal to win – and a unique deck of cards to play with, ensuring that each player stays within the universe of the film they’re playing. This is a game with some meat on its bone, where planning your next step is a necessity and it’s best to keep your attention on more than one opponent. Because of that, it’s perfect for the more grown-up Disney fan. (In short, it’s not overly kiddie-fied like so many Disney-themed games.) On top of that, the production value is fantastic – the card art, in particular, does a wonderful job of conjuring the atmosphere of each movie. (Buy it here.)

Legendary: Marvel Studios Phase 1 (Upper Deck)

SRP: $49.99

Upper Deck’s popular Legendary deck-building system returns with Marvel Studios Phase 1, a game celebrating the storylines, characters, and events of the first wave of movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Timed to the MCU’s 10th anniversary, this set features film stills in place of the illustrated art in prior Marvel-themed Legendary sets; for fans of those blockbuster superhero flicks, it’s a great place to get into the Legendary line. With this 400-card starter set, you can square off as Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, and the rest of the Avengers against villains like Loki and the Red Skull, reliving some of your favorite Marvel movie moments. (Buy it here.) 

The Awkward Family Photos Move Line Caption Game (All Things Equal/Uncommon Goods)

SRP: $25.00

Since 2009 the Awkward Family Photos website has been presenting the most uncomfortable, unintentionally hilarious family snapshots from our past (and sometimes the present). For this party game, All Things Equal have picked out 160 photos from the site and have chosen 330 lines from classic movies. It’s a bit like Apples to Apples, in which players take turns being “The Critic,” who puts down one of the awkward photos. The rest of the players pick a movie line, from their hand of eight such cards, that they feel best fits the photo. Then “The Critic” decides which line is most ideal. If you’re playing with 4-5 players then the first one to win five rounds wins the entire game, if there are 6-8 players then the victor is the first one to win four rounds. Photos include grannies with guns, seemingly naked men with sparklers, a man dressed as a sad bunny rabbit alone in the woods, awful prom photos, and lots and lots of bad hairdos. Choice quotes include: “Come with me if you want to live,” from The Terminator; “I am a golden god!,” from Almost Famous; “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum,” from They Live; “Silly Caucasian girl likes to play with samurai swords,” from Kill Bill: Vol. 1; and “Stop…or my mom will shoot!,” from… Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (the 1992 “classic” starring Sylvester Stallone as a cop and The Golden Girls’ Estelle Getty as his mom, an awkward family action comedy that Stallone later admitted was his worst movie). The game is recommended for ages 12 and up and as the box points out: “no movie knowledge required.” But a sense of humor might be needed. By Mark Redfern (Buy it from Uncommon Goods here.)

Home Alone Game (Big G Creative)

SRP: $19.99

Home Alone may be 28 years old (for those of you like me who saw the film in theaters when it first came out, I bet that makes you feel old), but it has endured as a holiday classic, even if its sequels (only one of which featured the original cast) have not. It holds the title as both the highest grossing live-action comedy of all time at the U.S. box office, as well as the highest grossing Christmas film of all time at the U.S. box office (when adjusted for inflation). You can relive the movie with this game. In the two-player version you play as either 9-year-old Kevin McCallister, whose parents have mistakenly left him home alone when they travel to Paris for the holidays, or the Wet Bandits, a pair of burglars who are trying to break into his house. If you’re playing with 3-4 players, then one player is Kevin and the other players team up as the Wet Bandits. Using various cards, as Kevin your goal is to stop the burglars via several traps, as the Wet Bandits your goal is to disarm Kevin’s traps and collect enough loot. If the Wet Bandits collect $2000 in loot cards then they win, but if Kevin stops them from reaching that sum when the loot cards get all used up (or the Bandits player runs out of cards) then Kevin wins. The look of the game is in the style of Christmas sweaters. Home Alone Game was designed by Prospero Hall, is for 2-4 players aged 8 and up, and should take 15-20 minutes to play. Keep the change, ya filthy animal! By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Incredibles: Save the Day Game (Wonder Forge)

SRP: $19.99

The Incredibles made a triumphant return to the big screen this summer with The Incredibles 2, arriving 16 years after the original Pixar/Disney film. Not only did the sequel receive glowing reviews, it has made more than 1.2 billion dollars worldwide. While the film is on Blu-ray/DVD now, families can also experience the world of Incredibles 2 via Wonder Forge’s Save the Day Game. You can play as one of the four main members of everyone’s favorite super family (sorry, you can’t play as baby Jack-Jack, but he is featured in the game via a die and various Jack-Jack Cards). The board is laid out like the city of Metroville and it’s a collaborative game where you work together to fix problems across the city and rescue Jack-Jack each time he teleports away. It’s truly a family game, where you play as a family and team up, rather than competing with each other. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another decade and a half for The Incredibles 3, but in the meantime Save the Day should help tide you over. It’s for 1-4 players aged 6 and up and is expected to take 30 minutes to play. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Jurassic Park: Danger! (Ravensburger)

SRP: $24.99

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Jurassic Park has captured the hearts and minds of many of us going all the way back to childhood. (What kid didn’t become obsessed with dinosaurs back in 1993?) Jurassic Park: Danger! goes oldschool, being an adaptation of the original movie and not based on the recent entries like most of the toys now sold on shelves. In the game, one player will take control of three dinosaurs, while three opponents will play as the human characters and work together to complete objectives and escape the island while avoiding becoming dino dinner. It’s a fun use of the Jurassic Park theme, and you can read our full PLAYlist review of the game for our more detailed thoughts on it. (Buy it here.)

Gaming Accessories

Don't know what sort of games your giftee prefers to play? Fortunately there are some gifts that can improve any gaming experience: 

Gaming Mats from Front Line Gaming

SRP: Starting at $45 for 3x3' table size mat

With realistic and eye-catching terrain designs, these mats were clearly made with discerning miniatures gamer in mind. (If you're putting the effort into carefully painting your armies, you'd best have them go to battle on a play field that looks as good as they do.) FLG's high-quality mats are printed on a neoprene material (similar to mousepads) that's durable yet lightweight, and highly portable: the mats roll up into zip-up bags, like yoga mats, for easy transport, whereafter they can be unrolled to provide a flat, gripping surface wherever you might want to bust out a game. The mats are available in a variety of sizes from 3'x3' (big enough to cover much of your average kitchen table) to 6'x4', for your most epic, large-scale battles. Over on FLG's webstore you can browse page after page of graphic designs so that you can choose the one best-suited to your game, from alien planets to apocalyptic wastelands. Not only do they look great and help hold your pieces in place, but they feel nice under your fingers -- like the covering of a casino table. 

You don't need to be a miniatures gamer to appreciate a fine gaming mat, either. These provide a more immersize play area for your tabletop roleplaying games (we'd recommend their Ruined City for Mutant Year Zero above) or a sound surface to play your more modular board games. If you've ever lost Carcassone tiles or Memoir 44 tanks in the cracks of a wooden table, you might want to look at something like their earthy Grasslands mat. If you can't stand entire galaxies bumped around in your games of Twilight Imperium, you may want to consider their Space design. We'll put it this way: if you're going to spend hours at a time around a table, you may as well do it in luxury. (Buy them here.)



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Mike Smith
February 2nd 2019
12:33pm

At first i want to convey my gratitude to writer. I loved all of the games. Really the games enlisted here are in the top. Everyone wants to pass his holiday playing such a game that will thrill him.Being a writer, sometimes i feel boring and in that case these game can make me relax. And as part of recreation nothing can be better than tabletop and board games

Anthony Claok
April 5th 2019
11:37pm

Nice collection of tabletop board games. Thanks fro this post.