Player2 Board Game Christmas Gift Guide 2021
Welcome to the first Player2 Board Game Christmas Gift Guide! It’s the most wonderful time of the year – families trapped together, unable to resist the firm pull of the board game shelves dominating your entertainment area. What’s more, surprising a loved one with a board game they didn’t even ask for on Christmas Day is a sure-fire way to get it to the table at least once. Forget Monopoly or Clue though – in fact, forget Hasbro altogether. The Player2 Board Game Christmas Gift Guide for 2021 will take you to the next level, with a range of recommendations that I will personally vouch for. And if your family flat-out sucks and this time of year is a bummer, then fear not – every single one of these suggestions can be played solo!
Falling under the ‘flip ‘n write’ category, Cartographers is a straightforward, lightweight game which tasks players with mapping a fantasy realm while also trying to avoid ravaging monsters that will ruin your score. It’s very simple to operate – draw a card, then draw the shape it offers. Different terrain types from forests to farmland will also have a huge impact depending on the random scoring cards in play. With a low price, lots of replayability and fitting any player count imaginable, Cartographers can be wrapped up in just 20 minutes. A set of coloured pencils for each player is also highly recommended to extract the most enjoyment out of your mapmaking.
The latest iteration of publisher FFG’s Living Card Game’ model which eschews random booster packs for preconstructed decks, Marvel Champions is an excellent marriage of theme and gameplay as players take the role of many of the most famous Marvel superheroes to battle an ever-expanding range of foes, from relatively small-time crooks like Rhino all the way up to Thanos himself. The Core Box comes with enough materials to keep 1-4 players entertained for hours, while a slew of Hero Packs, Scenario Packs and larger expansions bring new challenges into the fold. Using a deck construction mechanic similar to Magic The Gathering, players can construct decks using a set of limitations that keep the focus on playing, rather than preparing – in fact, many of the preconstructed decks are actually quite viable. I’m eagerly awaiting the day my son is old enough to dive into this one, so I’d suggest any parents of superhero fans aged 8+ looking for a game to enjoy together need look no further.
Perhaps better known these days for Scythe and Wingspan, both of which would also be excellent choices, I’ve instead decided to go with Viticulture Essential Edition from Stonemaier Games which was one of the first modern boardgames that opened the hobby up for me. A worker placement game, players compete for spots on the board to construct a vineyard and race to earn 20 Victory Points, whether they be accrued via hosting wine tours or even (gasp) making and selling wine! While often criticised for the ‘swingyness’ – that is, the huge effect random card draws can have on a players ability to succeed – the game scales well from 1 to 6 players and features top-notch art and components. A range of expansions elevate Viticulture Essential Edition but the base game is still a great place to get started, although more experienced gamers may find the experience frustrating. Just light enough to work well when accompanied by a sweet red, Viticulture Essential Edition benefits from a theme just about everyone can wrap their heads around – just remember to drink and play responsibly.
Even with an updated rerelease, Castles of Burgundy is still infamous as one of the least attractive games around, which is probably a testament to the strength of its gameplay that it maintains such a respected position in the hobby a decade after its debut. The theme here is fairly ‘pasted on’ – players are constructing a series of estates utilising dice to purchase random tiles drawn on a main board over a series of rounds. Where Castles of Burgundy shines is in the efficient use of dice rolls to secure the pieces you need while denying others what will help them and chaining combinations of moves together for maximum effect. The updated edition of the game comes with almost all of the expansions released to date, accommodating 1-4 players but shining at 2+. A ‘point salad’ game from Stefan Feld, one of the premier designers working in that style, Castles of Burgundy lets players earn points from just about every action they take, so things don’t feel wasted so much as they feel inefficient. To top things off, Castles of Burgundy also has fantastic Dice and Card versions for those looking to spend a lot less.
A breakout hit of 2020, Lost Ruins of Arnak has rocketed up the rankings to become one of the premier family games this year. While players are ostensibly exploring ruins spending resources to find treasures and build up their deck of items and artifacts, much of the game involves running minor arithmetic in one’s head as you quickly calculate the optimal move in a situation and operate more tactically than strategically – just don’t ignore the research track! With an eye-catching table presence and easy but engaging mechanics, Arnak has had great success for me with gamers both new and experienced. The set number of rounds ensure the game doesn’t overstay its welcome and sessions often end with each player lamenting “If only I’d had one more turn!”. What’s more, some solid post-launch support in the form of new solo components and a campaign extend the life of the game alongside the first upcoming expansion which promises asymmetric player powers and a host of new cards to freshen things up.
Set inside the sprawling universe of FFG’s Arkham Horror Files series, Eldritch Horror is a globetrotting adventure filled with madness inducing monsters and dice rolls. A touch long in the tooth these days, Eldritch Horror is nevertheless an exciting experience which streamlines many of the clunkier aspects of the behemoth that was Arkham Horror Second Edition. Yet another co-operative venture, players will band together to defeat otherworldly beings from the works of H.P Lovecraft including Cthulhu itself. It’s often recommended that players pick-up the Forsaken Lore expansion alongside the base game to enhance the experience, but in my personal opinion it should be partnered with the Strange Remnants expansion as well to smooth some of the difficulty bumps that only one expansion brings. If you’ve got a big group and an even bigger table to fit this game on, Eldritch Horror might just fit the bill, provided you love rolling dice and aren’t a pack of sore losers – the Arkham games are notorious for rarely giving players a win.
Having hit the Number One spot on BoardGameGeek, Gloomhaven has dominated conversations and shelves since its release in 2017. Fortunately, there’s a smaller box that will be less of a strain on both your brain and your wallet: Gloomhaven: Jaw of the Lion. Acting as both a tutorial and taster for the bigger box, JotL is still a great game in its own right, with a shorter campaign that will still keep players engaged for tens of hours. If you hadn’t guessed already then yes – this is another co-operative game (sensing a pattern here?). Playable by 1-4 players, this is a great one for parents of younger teens who are into fantasy but haven’t yet had the chance to try out D&D or any of its contemporaries. With sharp card-play, an optional app which reduces a lot of the overhead & table space and professional V/O from Forteller, Jaws of the Lion is a great way to find out if a big ‘dungeon crawling campaign’ game is for you before you order four of them from KickStarter and realise you can buy games but not the time to play them.
This was a tough decision – Alexander Pfister is one of my favourite designers and his games Oh My Goods!, Mombasa (which will see a less problematic retheme in the near future) and Maracaibo are firm favourites in my collection. However, Great Western Trail is perhaps his most celebrated work to date and veers away from the themes of colonisation and exploitation which plague some of his other works. Built around a rondel style board and deck-building mechanics, Great Western Trail sees players herding cattle from Texas to Kansas City, building up towns along the way and investing back into the herd to see greater and greater returns. An upcoming second edition sees some component, art and rule tweaks to cement Great Western Trail as a modern classic of board gaming, supporting 1-4 players. Don’t let the creepy cowboys on the first edition box scare you away – this is a gorgeous production no matter what edition you get, although the newer edition has seen a price increase. Now the first in a trilogy of games. Great Western Trail: Argentina and Great Western Trail: New Zealand have been promised releases in 2022 and 2023 respectively, so why not saddle up and discover what all the fuss is about?
One of the top ranked games in terms of both solo and co-operative play, Spirit Island is a heavyweight procedural game with slight elements of deck-building that turns the common board game theming trope of colonisation on its head. Rather than working to exploit a land and its native inhabitants, players take on the role of elemental spirits using their powers to repel invaders from their land. Spirit Island is a real ‘brain-burner’ and despite a few expansions upping the ante even further, the base game is more than sufficient for well over 50 plays. For games of this weight, I often recommend watching a tutorial video to help get things underway and Spirit Island isn’t short of them – there are also some helpful rule adjustments and materials included to help first-timers come to grips with the mechanics of the game.
A reworked version of Martin Wallace’s modern classic Brass, Brass: Birmingham tweaks a few things to make the game slightly more approachable without diluting the nail-biting experience the game offers. Set during the Industrial Revolution, players will try and expand their production and shipping of goods across the canal and rail eras of England, both helping and hindering other players as each jockey for the number one position on the board. Having been initially sceptical of Brass: Birmingham – how could anything so popular actually be good? – I was completely converted after my first game and eagerly await each time it hits the table. Roxley Games’ production is stellar, with beautiful artwork and components matching the level of design work undertaken here. If that doesn’t convince you, then perhaps its rating as the No. 2 strategy game on BoardGameGeek right behind Gloomhaven will. If you’re looking for something in a similar vein but lighter, Alley Cat Games have recently released a wonderful reworking of another Wallace classic, Tinners’ Trail.
There we have it folks, 10 top-tier games sure to stave off boredom on Christmas Day. Hopefully the co-operative focus prevents many of the fights a family game of Monopoly tends to bring out. And for crying out loud if you simply must play Monopoly, at least grab the far superior Monopoly Deal to ensure the tedium doesn’t stretch longer than 15 minutes – after all, capitalism is ruining our working lives in real-time, it doesn’t have to ruin our leisure time too. For any tips or links to some great learning videos for these titles, don’t be afraid to hit Player2 up on twitter!
For competitive board game pricing, check out BoardGameOracle – where possible, make sure to support your Friendly Local Game Store, Online or otherwise. For Brisbane, try Vault Games and 2d6 Games. In Melbourne, try Gameology or Tabletop Games. In Canberra, check out The Games Capital and Boardom. In Sydney check out Advent Games and Games Empire and in Adelaide, check out Boardgame Master. Also feel free to shout out your preferred local retailer on twitter and tag this article in for good measure.