Epic Gumdrop Ep 29: Christmas Boardgames 2015

Christmas Boardgames

This episode of the podcast Jeff and James run down a lovingly curated list of possible games for you to buy as gifts (or add to your own Christmas list) this holiday season. We would like to assure you in advance that our list is not erratic or even remotely hodgepodge in its formation. This podcast is filled with nothing but love, Christmas Spirit and the best intentions. Also, silly lists with seriously good games on them.

Also, stay tuned for next week’s episode where we will do our 12 days of Boardgames, in which we suggest 12 really great gift boardgames that are more on the Top 40 end of the gaming spectrum.

Listen above or subscribe via iTunes.

(Length: approx 50min)

Here’s our notes from the show:

Christmas Boardgames 2015

When we thought of doing a “buying games for gifts” episode it seemed like a great idea. Then we started narrowing it down and considering categories and browsing websites and going mad.

We’ll start by taking a look at the idea of why and how you buy a game for someone. It’s a dangerous proposition, one that can leave your recipient bewildered. We recently acquired a copy of the Game of Thrones (2nd ed) that a couple had clearly received as a gift. It wasn’t punched out and I think a kindly relative said “hey, they really like the Game of Thrones TV show – they’ll love a game about it, right?” without having any concept of what the game was about.

Why buy a game for someone?

  • Because you know they love games
  • Because you think they’ll love games
  • Because you want to make them love games
  • Because you want to play games with them regardless of whether or not they like them
  • Because you hate someone and are buying them a game to make a social or political point

How do you buy a game for someone?

  • Buy them games you know and love
  • Buy them games you haven’t played but want to play with the person you’re buying for
  • Buy a game the recipient wants
  • Buy whatever is on an end-cap display at the big box store
  • Buy what the specialist at the friendly local game store suggests based on your criteria
  • Buy the cheapest game in the biggest box

Our objective:

  • To help you give a gift has its shrink wrap immediately removed and not just set aside with the pile of socks and spatulas
  • To ensure your gift not only makes someone happy but gives provides them (and hopefully you) with memories
  • To ensure your gift does not result in civil dispute, police involvement or restraining orders.

Let’s assume your recipient likes games. Maybe they’re not a hardcore gamer, but they’ve enjoyed a few of the things you’ve exposed them to. We’ll also assume you’re currently on speaking terms with the recipient. We’ll base our list on that criteria.

Have we played all these games? No. We tried to pick games that are both fairly new and reasonably popular. We did not simply pick these titles out of a hat. We watched and read a lot of reviews and gave this serious thought. And it was a toque that we drew the name from, if you must know.

For the evolutionary biologist

Evolution

  • 2 – 4 players
  • 50 – 70 minutes playtime
  • “In Evolution, players adapt their species in a dynamic ecosystem where food is scarce and predators lurk. Traits like Hard Shell and Horns will protect your species from Carnivores, while a Long Neck will help them get food that others cannot reach. With over 4,000 ways to evolve your species, every game becomes a different adventure.”
  • This was a game I wasn’t sure about when it first came out, but the reception was pretty strong. People seem to really like the ability to choose different strategies and see how they play out.

Neanderthal

  • 1 – 3 players
  • 60 − 120 minutes
  • “It’s 43,000 BC in Ice Age Europe, the dawn of modern man. In Neanderthal, you are one of three human species: Archaic, Neanderthal, or Cro-Magnon. Assign your males to hunt Pleistocene megafauna, but try to avoid being eaten by predators. Assign your women for teaching your children vocabulary, leading to cognitive fluidity in the next generation and to a tribalistic culture. Specialize your elders for fire, war, big game, inventions, or animal domestications. Choose between three mating strategies: promiscuous, harems, or pair bonding. Victory depends on which strategy you choose, and may include your hunters, elders, women, vocabulary, trophies, inventions, or domesticated animals.”
  • Not sure of the age rating. Since a big part of the game is related to choosing your mating strategies, leading to the development of your species in different ways, you probably wouldn’t want to play with younger kids unless you want to answer lots and lots of questions. If you want an attempt at scientific accuracy, this is your game.

For the traveller

The Voyages of Marco Polo

  • 2 – 4 players
  • 40 – 100 minutes
  • “In 1271, 17-year-old Marco Polo started on a journey to China with his father and older brother. After a long and grueling journey that led through Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”, they reached the court of Kublai Khan in 1275.”
  • Why buy it: It’s a “Euro” game which usually means it’s a little heavier, yet reviews I checked out had even gamers who typically don’t enjoy Euro games are pretty enthusiastic about it. If you know someone who enjoys a rich gameplay experience this might be for them.

La Granja

  • 1 – 4 players
  • 90 – 120 minute gameplay
  • In La Granja, players control small farms by the Alpich pond near the village of Esporles on the island of Mallorca. Over time, the players develop their farms and deliver goods to the village. Players are vying to earn the title of “La Granja” for their country estate!”
  • Why buy it: This game packs so much into a little box. At first the detail is almost overwhelming, and I was a little intimidated. But the gameplay is straightforward and smooth. What gets me the most about this game is the number of options you have open to you. You really feel like you are running your little farm.

For the lonely

Here’s a few solo games for the person who likes solitaire. These are two games by the same designer, Shadi Torbey.

Sylvion

  • 1 player (or 2 in coop mode)
  • 30 minute gameplay
  • “The mad Fire Elemental lord is out to burn down the dream forest. Attacking in waves using Fire Elementals, your only defense are trees and fountains and those animals brave enough to offer aid before scurrying away to safety. Using a unique drafting system and combining it with a tower defense game, will you be able to keep your forest green?”

Castellion

  • 1 – 2 players
  • 15 minute gameplay
  • Castellion is a tile-laying game in which you form parts of the castle for defense against monsters. Each turn you flip over a tile and either use its special ability or place it as part of your castle. The more towers and keeps you form, the better your defense against attacks. Ranks prevent traitorous tiles from affecting you fully. When all three monsters have attacked and you still have a base of six tiles, you win.”

Why buy these: They are light, fun, inexpensive games that are also incredibly beautiful. When you open up the game you feel like you are a handling something designed with love and a lot of attention to detail.

For the oil commodities trader

Star Wars: Rebellion

  • 2 – 4 players
  • 180 – 240 minutes playtime
  • “Experience the Galactic Civil War like never before. In Star Wars™: Rebellion, you control the entire Galactic Empire or the fledgling Rebel Alliance. You must command starships, account for troop movements, and rally systems to your cause. Featuring more than 150 plastic miniatures and two game boards that account for thirty-two of the Star Wars™ galaxy’s most notable systems, Star Wars™: Rebellion features a scope that is as large and sweeping as the Star Wars™ universe deserves.”
  • Released in the beginning of 2016 so you will need to give them the gift of pre-order

Blood Rage

  • 2 – 4 players
  • 60 – 90 minutes playtime
  • 46 plastic miniatures
  • “In Blood Rage, each player controls their own Viking clan’s warriors, leader, and ship. Ragnarök has come, and it’s the end of the world! It’s the Vikings’ last chance to go down in a blaze of glory and secure their place in Valhalla at Odin’s side! For a Viking there are many pathways to glory. You can invade and pillage the land for its rewards, crush your opponents in epic battles, fulfill quests, increase your clan’s stats, or even die gloriously either in battle or from Ragnarök, the ultimate inescapable doom.”
  • There’s already expansions! Designer Eric Lang kept saying in interviews that this was a distillation of a lot of ideas he had for this kind of game and he feels like he nailed it.

Arcadia Quest

  • 2 – 4 players
  • 60 minutes playtime
  • 37 plastic miniatures
  • “In Arcadia Quest, players lead guilds of intrepid heroes on an epic campaign to dethrone the vampire lord and reclaim the mighty Arcadia for their own. But only one guild may lead in the end, so players must battle against each other as well as against the monstrous occupying forces.”
  • Campaign-based game with lots of expansions.
  • Heroes level-up with new weapons, equipment and abilities.
  • Relatively quick playtime for this kind of game, looks like a lot of smash ’em up fun.

For the storyteller

First up is the Tales and Games series from Iello games. These all look fun. The latest is:

Little Red Riding Hood

  • 1 – 5 players
  • 20 minute playtime
  • Ages 7+
  • In one game mode, the players co-operate to try to reach Grandma’s house before the wolf can spot them; in the second game mode, one player takes on the role of the wolf.
  • These games look light and fun and have high replayability. Some reviewers loved it, some didn’t care so much for it. I wonder if it is aimed at a much lower age than they’re used. It’s one I look forward to playing with my kids. If you are buying for kids or for someone with kids, this series is worth taking a look at.

T.I.M.E Stories

  • 2 – 4 players
  • 60 – 90 minutes
  • Recommended ages 16 up because of some more mature themes
  • Description from the publisher:

“The T.I.M.E Agency protects humanity by preventing temporal faults and paradoxes from threatening the fabric of our universe. As temporal agents, you and your team will be sent into the bodies of beings from different worlds or realities to successfully complete the missions given to you. Failure is impossible, as you will be able to go back in time as many times as required.

T.I.M.E Stories is a narrative game, a game of “decksploration”. Each player is free to give their character as deep a “role” as they want, in order to live through a story, as much in the game as around the table. But it’s also a board game with rules which allow for reflection and optimization.

“At the beginning of the game, the players are at their home base and receive their mission briefing. The object is then to complete it in as few attempts as possible. The actions and movements of the players will use Temporal Units (TU), the quantity of which depend on the scenario and the amount of players. Each attempt is called a “run”; one run equals the use of all of the Temporal Units at the players’ disposal. When the TU reach zero, the agents are recalled to the agency, and restart the scenario from the beginning, armed with their experience. The object of the game is to make the perfect run, while solving all of the puzzles and overcoming all of a scenario’s obstacles.”

  • There was also a bit of mixed reaction to this one. Some reviewers LOVE it, some really didn’t like it at all. The mechanics of the game are interesting, yet some didn’t care for the themes. The first one is the asylum theme and the second one is a popular post-apocalypse theme. While there are expansions, some also didn’t like the lack of replayability with the game. But if you like the idea and know you’ll play the expansions, the overall cost per hour of gameplay really isn’t that bad. And when you’re recipient is done they can gift it forward to someone else.

For the food lovers

Sushi Go!

  • 2 – 5 players
  • 15 minute gameplay
  • All ages game
  • “In the super-fast sushi card game Sushi Go!, you are eating at a sushi restaurant and trying to grab the best combination of sushi dishes as they whiz by. Score points for collecting the most sushi rolls or making a full set of sashimi. Dip your favorite nigiri in wasabi to triple its value! And once you’ve eaten it all, finish your meal with all the pudding you’ve got! But be careful which sushi you allow your friends to take; it might be just what they need to beat you!”
  • This game has been out a couple of years, but it is fun and fast and inexpensive. If you are buying a game for someone who doesn’t game much, this might be perfect. The rules are light and it is a great introduction to the idea of “card drafting” – where players take a card and pass the remainder of their hand around the table.

Fury of Dracula (3rd ed)

  • 2 – 5 players
  • 120 – 180 minute gameplay
  • Description from the publisher: “The most notorious vampire of all rises again in this third edition of Fury of Dracula, a board game of deduction and gothic horror based on Bram Stoker’s classic novel. One player takes control of the legendary Count Dracula as he stealthily crosses Victorian-era Europe, spreading his diabolical vampirism everywhere he goes. Up to four other players govern Mina Harker and her determined companions as they try to locate and destroy the fiendish Count before he plunges Europe into horrific darkness. But in this heated game of cat and mouse, the hunted prey may also be preying on his hunters. Any day’s travel might bring the hunters to Dracula’s location. On any night the Count may attack.”
  • If you want to take a bite out of a bigger game (groaaaaan) then this one may be for you. The gameplay sounds fun and seems to live up to the theme. While the game is originally from 1987, based on reviews the new edition seems to have now been honed to a sharp point. I’m not even a fan of the vampire genre, but this sounds really fun.

 

Next week we look at some lighter, but no less wonderful games, that are sure hits for holiday gifts.

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