Good Gift Game Guide

 

December 01, 2008

Good Gift Games Guide 2008

The official Good Gift Games Guide 2008 is available at The Morning News today. The games profiled are:

Pandemic[Funagain | Amazon]
Stone Age[Funagain | Amazon]
Say Anything[Funagain | Amazon]
TZAAR[Funagain | Amazon]
Last Night on Earth[Funagain | Amazon]
Dominion[Funagain | Amazon]
Sorry! Sliders[Funagain | Amazon]
Airships[Funagain | Amazon]
Wasabi[Funagain | Amazon]
The Hanging Gardens[Funagain | Amazon]

Runners Up

Usually, when I compile my annual Good Gift Games (G3s) Guide, I come up with seven or eight shoe-ins and then have to cast around for a few more to round out the list; this year my "just off the top of my head" list came out to 18 items, even before I started doing the research.

In other words, there were G3s a'plenty in 2008. In any other year any of the below probably would have appeared on the main guide; there are only relegated to the "Runners Up" list


Lost Cities: The Board Game (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, $40): Designed by the esteemed Reiner Knizia, Lost Cities: The Board Game won the 2008 German Game of the Year Award (under its previous title of Keltis) and is perfect for families. Play cards and advance your intrepid adventurers as they seek to discover five forgotten empires. A great family game, and one that certainly would have been on the main G3 list were it not simply a multiplayer version of the fantastic two-player card game Lost Cities. Unless you never play two-player games, the original Lost Cities is the one to get. [More info: Lost Cities: The Board Game | Lost Cities (original)]

Cold War: CIA vs. KGB (Fantasy Flight Games, 2 players, 30 minutes, $25): Well, here's something I wouldn't have predicted: someone managed to combine the simplicity of blackjack with the bluffing element of poker into a thematic game political strategy. In Cold War: CIA vs. KBG, players struggle to control high-value objectives, such as Cuba and the Nobel Peace Prize by recruiting military, political, economic and political groups. With each group offering a distinct power, and each player able to use different Agents to achieve their goals, there's plenty to consider in this little gem, and lots of exciting reversals of fortune. [More info]

Uptown (FRED Distribution, 2-5 players, 30 minutes, $20): Tile placement games are curiously addicting, and Uptown is no exception.
On your turn you simply place one of your tiles onto an empty space on the board, or use it to capture a tile of an opponent. You goal is to have as few groups on contiguous tiles on the board as possible by games end. Though that description (and reading the two pages of instructions) will probably leave you wondering, "is that it?", the game itself is remarkably engrossing given the paucity of rules. [More info]

Battlestar Galactica (Fantasy Flight Games, 3-6 players, 2 hours, $50): Based on the contemporary series, Battlestar Galactica is a cooperative game--mostly. Like Shadows Over Camelot before it, almost all the players in Galactica are working as a team to overcome the game system, while a few secret traitors seek to undermine their efforts; unlike Camelot, though, not all the "bad guys" in Galactica know they are such from the start, as some may discover they are cylons well into the game. The rules are a bit too complicated to qualify this as a true G3 (which is why it was left off the main list), but fans of the show--and anyone who likes a healthy dose of paranoia and mistrust--will like this a good deal. [More info]

Galaxy Trucker (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 60 minutes, $75): Another one that gets kicked to the "runner up" pile for rules a smidge too complex (not to mention that price!), Galaxy Trucker is nevertheless one of the most fun games I played all year. Each round is played in two phases. In the first, players simultaneously grab lasers, shields, generators, cargo holds, and other tiles from a common supply in real time, as they strive to build the best ship they can in the shortest amount of time possible. Then, in phase two, all the players journey through space, and pray that the ships they hastily assembled can withstand the meteors, pirates, and other events they encounter. I have Grave Doubts about this game when it was described to me, but one play had me hooked. [More info]

Race For the Galaxy (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, $35): Jeeze, what's with all the great science-fiction games this year? Race For the Galaxy has been described as "San Juan for gamers", and the analogy is apt: the two games are both based on the board game Puerto Rico, and have strikingly similar mechanics. Where they differ is the depth: Race offers a lot more options, and plenty of different routes to victory. It does this at the expensive of accessibility, unfortunately--it's tough to learn without having an experienced player walk you through the rules--but if you can overcome the learning curve, it will pay you back with interest. [More info]

Metropolys (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 60 minutes, $50): It wouldn't be a G3 list without an easy to learn, 45 minute auction game. In Metropolys, players use bid for neighborhoods, with the winner constructing buildings in his newly acquired property. But while some places are valuable (the subway exit would be an ideal location for your restaurant, for instance), other places (such as archeological sites) will actually give you negative points if you are so unfortunate as to build over them. I left this off the main list because, frankly, I have seen so many easy to learn, 45 minute auction games that this just struck me as more of the same. But if you don't have such a game in your collection you should, and Metropolys is a fine candidate. [More info]


Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "2008 best game of the year" lists.

German Game of the Year

Deutscher Spiele Preis (A.K.A., "The Other German Game of the Year Award"):

  • Winner: Agricola - Great game (played it last night, in fact), and one that I'll review here soon, but too "meaty" for the G3 Guide.
  • Second place: Stone Age
  • Third place: Cuba

International Gamers Award

  • Best Multiplayer player: Agricola
  • Best Two-player player: 1960 - read my review here.

GAMES Magazine Awards


Prior G3s

The canonical G3s have been given their own page: defectiveyeti.com/ggg. This year I am inducting Thebes and Zooloretto, both of which were featured in the 2007 G3 Guide, and which I have played much of in the last year.

You can find previous G3 Guides here:
And all my defective yeti game posts are available in the archives.

November 28, 2007

Good Gift Games Guide 2007

The 2007 Good Gift Games Guide appears in The Morning News today.

Previous G3 Guides:
And all my defective yeti game posts are available in the archives.


Runners-Up

It was, as always, tough narrowing the field of good G3s down to just 10. Here are a few more, that just missed the cut.

Take It To The Limit (Burley Games, 1-6 players, 30 minutes, $60, family puzzle): This one was actually on the main G3 list until the very last moment, when I decided it was just too similar to Quirkle to merit inclusion. Nearly 25 years ago, Peter Burley invented Take It Easy, a clever Bingo-Meets-Jigsaw-Puzzles game that would unfortunately jam an Eagles song into your brain for weeks on end. Though that title is now out of print, Burley just released Take It To The Limit, an expanded version of the game that promises to get an entirely different Eagles song stuck in your head. As in its predescecer, Take It To The Limit has player placing hexagonal tiles and trying to form high-scoring, unbroken lines from one side of their gameboard to the other. Success requires a lot of luck, to be sure, but a little foresight will go a long way. [No Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

If Wishes Were Fishes (Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, 45 minutes, $35, family strategy): Catch a fish and you can do one of two thing with it: throw it back and have a wish granted, or sell it at market. Selling earns money and money's the goal of the game, but the wishes confer a host of benefits to the recipients. What to do, what to do? The only board game I know of that comes complete with giant rubber worms. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Iliad (Asmodee Editions, 2-6 players, 45 minutes, $25, card): One of my favorite light strategy games is Condottiere, in which player struggle for control in Renaissance Italy. The same designer now brings us Iliad, which employs the same basic mechanisms but does away with the gameboard, tightens the playing time, and turns the who enterprise into something a bit more suitable for casual play. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

To Court The King (Rio Grande Games, 2-5, 30 minutes, $30, dice): Yahtzee's been done a million times over, but never quite like this. Roll dice, set aside the ones you want, key rerolling until you get (or failt to get) a specific combination. Nothing new so far. But To Court the King has a number of characters; roll the dice combination associatd with a particular charatcer, and you'll get to use his special ability for the remainder of the game. The Jester allows you reroll a die; the Magician lets you change the value of a die to anything you want; the Nobleman gives you two additional dice; and so on. Works best with only two players, though three and four work as well. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Taluva (Rio Grande Games, 2-4, 40 minutes, $30, famiy strategy): Like the lovechild of Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, Taluva has players building a volcanic island, and expanding their settlements with huts, towers, and temples. The rulebook is only 4 pages long, and an entire session can be completed in half an hour, but it feels like there's a lot of game in there. [Official Page | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

I'd also like to point out that, while it comes nowhere close to being a Good Gift Game (too long, too complicated, and requiring a few plays to fully appreciate), Twilight Struggle was by far my favorite game of the year. Read my review here.


Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "2007 best game of the year" lists.

German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (A.K.A., "The Other German Game of the Year Award"):

International Gamers Award:

GAMES Magazine Awards:


Canonical G3s

While we're on the subject, here are my all-time favorite G3s.

Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder, 2-5 players, 45 minutes, $40, family strategy): Went directly to the top spot on my "Best G3s List" when it was released in 2004, and hasn't been dislodged yet. In fact Ticket to Ride: Märklin, a newer edition of the game, even manages to improve upon the formula. Why is TtR so great? It's familiar (much of the play is based on rummy), appealing (who doesn't love trains?), easy to learn (figure five minutes for explaining the rules, tops) and competitive without being confrontational. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek (original) | Boardgame Geek (Märklin) | Funagain (original) | Funagain (Märklin)]

Carcassonne (Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, 30 minutes, $25, family strategy): A serene game in which player collaborate and compete to build a pastoral landscape, full of roads, cities, farms, and monasteries. Since its release in 2002 a dizzying number of sequels and expansions for Carcassonne have been published, but the original is a fine introduction to the series. One of those rare games as accessible to kids as it is interesting to adults. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games, 3-4 players, 90 minutes, $42, family strategy): The game that launched the "German board game" craze of the mid-90s. Each players owns a small settlement on a island, and strives to become the dominant civilization by building roads, erecting cities, amassing armies, and raising sheep (yes, sheep). Trade is the key to success, as players may freely swap the natural resources they harvest; because these transactions can happen at any point during the game, every player is engaged all the time, even when it's not their turn. A marvel of elegant game design. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Slide 5 (Endless Games, 3-10 players, 30 minutes, $7.50, card): Curiously, many of the most enjoyable games are those that provoke the most agony in the players. Slide 5 (previously called Category 5 and, before that, Take 6!) is a prefect example. The deck contains cards numbered from 1 to 104. Every round begins with each person playing a card from his hand face down. After all are revealed simultaneously, the cards are added to rows in the center of the table in ascending numerical order. But if your card winds up as the sixth in a row, you take the other five as points--and you don't want points. I've been playing this one for about a decade, and still enjoy every game. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Lost Cities (Rio Grande Games, 2 players, 30 minutes, $23, two-player card): My default recommendation for a two-player game, unless I know the person well enough to suggest something more specific--and even then it's often the one I advocate. Lost Cities is essentially rummy, but with a specialized deck and the tension-quotation set to overdrive. Despite its simplicity, I routinely cite it as one of my favorite games of all time. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Wits & Wagers (North Star Games, 4-7 players, 30 minutes, $30, party): Finally, a trivia game for people who don't like trivia games--like me. Every question has a numerical answer; players write their best guesses onto erasable cards, and then throw them into the center of the table. Now everyone has an opportunity to bet on which responses are correct, and they are not obligated to wager on their own. A game in which knowing who's likely to know something is as useful as knowning the thing yourself. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Transamerica (Rio Grande Games, 2-6 players, 30 minutes, $28, family strategy): It's so simple it's just barely a game, but lots of fun nonetheless. Players are randomly assigned five cities on a stylized map of the United States. On every turn players build railroad track in an effort to connect all their burgs. But because no one "owns" any given stretch of track, you can link into your opponent's network and use it to further your own goals. A typical game takes half an hour and can be played by persons of all ages and game-aptitude. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

San Juan (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, $25, card): Your goal: construct the town of San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico. Every card in the deck is a building, each with it's own unique ability. To put a building into play, simply place it in front of you, and then discard additional cards from your hand equal to it's price. A light "civiliation" game (i.e., one where you start with little and slowly build up your infastructure), it is one of those rare multi-player games than actually works great with only two. Read my full review here. [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Hoity Toity (Uberplay, 3-6 players, 60 minutes, $35, family strategy): In Hoity Toity, players purchase antiques and earn points by showing off their collections to others, while dispatching burglers to swipe the valuables of opponents and employing policemen to capture rival thieves. This game uses a game mechanism called "blind bidding" which is one of my least favorite, so it's a testament to Hoity Toity's quality that even I think it's terrific fun. Read my full review here (the game was previously called "Adel Verpflichtet") [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

Apples to Apples (Out of the Box, 4-10 players, 30 minutes, $30, party): The Judge turns over an adjective card, like "Soft" or "Respectable;" everyone else slaps down Noun cards from their hands as quickly as possible. The Judge then decides which played card best matches his own--if the description is "Slimey," will he select "Frog," "Used Car Salesman," or "Bill Clinton"? Perhaps the most accessible and laughter-inducing party game I've ever played! [Official site | Boardgame Geek | Funagain]

December 06, 2006

2006 Good Gift Game Guide

The 2006 Good Gift Games Guide appears today in The Morning News. If you'd like to take a gander at pasts G3 Guides, you can find them archived here.

Runners-Up

A phenomenal number of games hit the G3 sweet spot this year -- so many that I not only had a hard time limiting the main G3 Guide to just ten, but picking only five runner-ups will be difficult as well. That said, here are some other games worthy of your consideration.

  • Aquadukt (Uberplay Entertainment, 2-4 players, 30 minutes, $22): This only reason this one was omitted from the main G3 Guide was because the list was already packed with simple, short, well-designed, semi-abstract family games, and I needed to make room for a few games of other genres. In Aquadukt, players first build houses, and then construct canals from the local spring to your humble abode. But as players take turns adding to the aqueduct, you never know when the flow of the water might zig when you desperately want it to zag. [More info]
  • Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (Days of Wonder, 3-5 players, 60 minutes, 45$): As with Aquadukt, I could have easily swapped this one into of the main list in place of, say, Masons or Blue Moon City. Players work together to construct a palace for the Queen of the Nile, but some may be tempted to cut corners and engage in shady deals. In the end, the richest player wins ... and the most corrupt player is sacrificed to the gods. Days of Wonder has a well-earned reputation for producing beautiful games, but they've outdone themselves with Cleopatra -- take a look at these components. [More info]
  • Voltage (Mattel, 2 players, 15 minutes, $16): Mattel is one of those enormous game companies not known for producing well-designed, elegant, "German-esque" games. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find Voltage under their banner, a simple but engaging card game for two players. Players place numeric cards to four terminals, striving to have the highest total if the polarity of the terminal is positive, and lowest total if its negative. Simple enough -- except, in a Machiavellian twist, the rules allow players to play cards on their opponent's side of the board, foiling their best laid plans. [More info]
  • Pickomino (Rio Grande Games, 2-6 players, 20 minutes, $20): The genre colloquially known as "push your luck games" (epitomized by the TV show Deal or No Deal) contains titles, that are simple, fun, and often nerve-wracking. Pickomino, for instance, has players as chickens, rolling dice Yahtzee-style and trying to acquire the tastiest worms off the barbecue. But if your total isn't high enough, don't despair: just steal another player's hard-won snack. Suitable for kids as young as eight, playable by up to seven people, and taking only 20 minutes to complete, this is a game suitable for just about any occasion. [More info]
  • Tempus (Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, 90 minutes, $50): This one's a smidge heavier than some of the other games I'm recommending (which is the only reason it didn't quite make it to the G3 Guide proper), but it was one of my favorite of the year. The buzz of Tempus, before it was released, was that it was going to be "Civilization in two hours" -- that is, the wildly popular computer game distilled to its essence and shorted by about 99.7%. When the board game finally hit the market, though, people began carping that this wasn't exactly the case. Yes, you start at the dawn of time and shepherd your society up through the age of flight, occasionally expanding your territory and sparring with your neighbors. But to get the whole thing down to a reasonable time scale, designer Martin Wallace (one of my favorites) hand to simplify things -- oversimplify things, if you believe the critics. What they seem to have missed is that Tempus, stripped of the unrealistic expectations, is a great little game, even if it's a bit more abstract than folks had anticipated. Judged on its own merits, this is one of the better "city-building" games to come out in years. [More info]
And while I usually only include new games on these G3 lists, there were three reprints this year that I'd be remiss not to mention. Winner's Circle is a renamed version of one of my longtime gamenight staples, Royal Turf (full review here). Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation Deluxe Edition is an expanded version of one of my all-time favorite two-player games (full review of the original LotR:C here). And Simply Catan is a beginner's version of what I have often called the best Good Gift Game of all time, The Settlers of Catan. If you'd prefer to pick up a game that has already stood the test of time, check out one of these.

Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "2006 best game of the year" lists.

German Game of the Year:

  • Winner: Thurn & Taxis
  • Special Prize for Complex Play: Caylus (my favorite new game of 2006, but too long and complicated to qualify for the G3 Guide)
  • Special Prize for Fantastic Play (I have no idea what that's supposed to mean): Shadows Over Camelot (one of my G3 picks from 2005, and fully reviewed here).

Deutscher Spiele Preis (A.K.A., "The Other German Game of the Year Award"):

International Gamers Award:

  • Best Multiplayer Game: Caylus
  • Best Two-Player Game & Best Historical Simulation: Twilight Struggle (Man, I gotta get that ...)

GAMES Magazine Awards:

Where To Find

If you live in Seattle, check out the stores page of SeattleSpiel, which lists all the outlets for these games in Puget Sound. Online stores are listed there as well, for those readers who live elsewhere.

December 06, 2005

The 2005 Good Gift Game Guide

People from all over the globe (by which I mean two people who are not housemates) have written to ask if I am doing my annual overview of the year's best boardgames for non-gamers.

Done! The 2005 Good Gift Game Guide.

And now, supplimental material just for you, my loyal yeti readers.


The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

I didn't write a whole lot about games this year ("more blogging about games in 2006" sounds like a good candidate for a resolution), but, of the games on TMN list, I did review Shadows Over Camelot and Jambo. You can also see previous G3 Guides for the years 2002 - 2004, 2001, and 2000.


Other Good Games

Here are some games that, for one reason or another, just missed the cut for The Morning News piece.

  • Cluzzle (Eagle Games, 3-6 players, 45 minutes, $35): I wrote a full review of this one calling it one of the better party games I have played, and it was only omitted from the official list because it was released in 2004. Players sculpt puzzles out of clay, striving to make them of "Goldilocks" difficulty: not too easy, not too hard. The game is very derivative of the older game Barbarossa, but I cut Cluzzle some slack because Barbarossa was, at the time of my review, out of print. Barbarossa has just been re-released, though, so take your pick. I still give the nod to Cluzzle: simpler rules and a short playing time make for a more fun game.
  • China (Uberplay, 2-5 players, 45 minutes, $35): China is a re-released and retheming of one of my favorite games of all time, Web Of Power. It's fairly simple, but the whole thing hinges on a brilliant scoring system that rewards strategic play. Best of all, China is one of those rare games that works exceptionally well with three players.
  • Fairy Tale (Z-Man Games, 2-5 players, 30 minutes, $15): The only reason Fairy Tale was left off the main list is because it was not released in English until (literally) today. Before, when this game was only available in Japan, gamers were plunking down 40 bucks for a copy of it in Japanese, so that oughtta tell you something about its appeal. Fairy Tale takes the "drafting" aspect of Magic: the Gathering, and builds a clever little middle-weight game atop it. Plus, the art is gorgeous.
  • Travel Blokus (Educational Insights, 2 players, 15 minutes, $20): I went back and forth on whether to include Ingenious or Travel Blokus on the main list, and finally went with the former because it accommodates up to six players (sort of). But, like Ingenious, Travel Blokus (which goes by the vastly superior name Blokus Duo in Canada) is one of those abstract games that even people who profess to hate abstract games (such as myself) wind up loving. I enjoy Ingenious more, but Travel Blokus is easier, cheaper, smaller, and better suited as a gift for a couple.
  • Caylus The Good Gift Games Guide is intended to showcase offerings that work well with non-gamers, so I typically leave off the heavier strategy games. If you're looking for something meatier, though, the game Caylus has been getting incredible buzz this year. I have yet to play it (it was released yesterday) so I cannot provide a personally recommendation, but those who have seem pretty united in calling it the best game of the year. I'll review it myself just as soon as I can get my hot little hands on a copy.


The Canonical G3 List

There are hundreds of great G3s from year's past. Here a sampling from the Canonical G3 List:

Family Board Games

Family Card Games

  • Bohnanza: A game about bean trading. For real.
  • Mamma Mia: A game about making pizzas. For real.
  • Category 5: A new version of the classic "Take 6!"

Two-player Games

Party Games

Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "2005 best game of the year" lists:

Spiel des Jahres (a.k.a. "The German Game Of The Year"):

International Gamer Awards:

GAMES Magazine's game of the year:

Gamerdad's Unplugged 2005 Game Guide.


Where To Find

If you live in Seattle, check out the stores page of SeattleSpiel, which lists all the outlets for these games in Puget Sound. Online stores are listed there as well, for those readers who live elsewhere.

December 06, 2004

The 2004 Good Gift Game Guide

My 2004 Good Gift Game Guide appears in The Morning News today.

In my games archive you can find full reviews for three of the games mentioned: Ticket To Ride, San Juan and Hansa. You can also see previous G3 Guides for the years 2003, & 2002, 2001, and 2000. Enjoy the broken links and images!

Other Good Games

This was a pretty good year, and I had a tough time narrowing my choices down to ten. Here are some worthy of honorable mention:

  • High Society and Razzia (Society: Uberplay; Razzia: Ravensburger; Both: 3-5 players, 30 minutes, $20): Two of Reiner Knizia's classic games, High Society and Ra, have been out of print for a while. Both were rereleased this year, although Ra has been given a new name (Razzia), a new theme (Mafia) and simplified rules. Players are obscenely wealthy in High Society, purchasing yachts and mansions while dodging the taxman; gangsters divvy up their ill-begotten booty in Razzia, and try to secure getaway cars and drivers before the cops arrive to shut their operation down. Both games have ingenious auction systems at their heart, and are perfect for families or friends at a pub.
  • St. Petersburg (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, $28): Hire craftsman, build buildings, and recruit aristocrats in eighteenth century Russia. St. Petersburg was considered by many to be the best game of the year, but I find it a little to mathematical to make an effective G3. Thematically similar to San Juan , and the "gamier" of the two.
  • Attika (Rio Grande games, 2-4 players, 45 minutes, $33): I got totally addicted to Attika for a while, but the game is too abstract (and the rules a smidgen to convoluted) for make it suitable for gift-giving. Expand your city across the Greek Peninsula, beating your opponent to best building sites and making the best use of the available resources. Although rated from 2-4 players, I find that it really only works well for two. That said, it was my favorite two-player game of the year (aside from Memoir '44).
  • Hoity Toity (Uberplay, 3-6 players, 60 minutes, $35): While not a new game -- it was first released in 1990 and promptly won the German Game Of The Year award -- this is the first English edition in a long time. In Hoity Toity, players purchase antiques and earn points by showing off their collections to others, while dispatching burglers to swipe the valuables of opponents and employing policemen to capture rival thieves. This game uses a game mechanism called "blind bidding" which is one of my least favorite, so it's a testament to Hoity Toity's quality that even I think it's terrific fun.
  • 10 Days In The USA / 10 Days in Africa / Europa Tour (10 Days in *: Out Of The Box; Europa: Schmidt Spiele; All: 2-4 players, 30 minutes, $20): The same game (with minor modification) set on three difference continents. Despite the frightening "educational game" appearance, these arefirst and foremost ight and fun rummy variants -- learning the capital of Tunisia is strictly a fringe benefit. Another of those rare games that plays up to four but works wonderfully well with two.

The Canonical G3 List

All of the games listed at The Morning News and above were released in the past year. There are, of course, hundreds of great G3s from year's past. Here a sampling from the Canonical G3 List:

Family Board Games

  • Settlers of Catan: Now and forever the #1 G3.
  • Carcassonne: This is "the original Carcassonne" mentioned in The Morning News article.
  • TransAmerica: Looks similar to Ticket To Ride to the untrained eye, but they are two entirely different games.

Family Card Games

  • Bohnanza: A game about bean trading. For real.
  • Mamma Mia: A game about making pizzas. For real.
  • 6 Nimmt!: Recent rereleased as "Category Five"

Two-player Games

Party Games

Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other "best game of the year" lists:

Spiel des Jahres (a.k.a. "The German Game Of The Year"):

International Gamer Awards:

GAMES Magazine's game of the year:

Gamerdad's Unplugged 2004 Game Guide.

Gamefest's Gift Games Guide.

Where To Find

If you live in Seattle, check out the stores page of SeattleSpiel, which lists all the outlets for these games in Puget Sound. Online stores are listed there as well, for those readers who live elsewhere.

December 03, 2003

Good Gift Games 2003

Note: If you heard me on The Beat and are are looking for more information on the games described, head on over to SeattleSpiel.


It's everybody's favorite holiday tradition:  Matthew Baldwin's Annual Good Gift Games Guide!

Every year I assemble a list of those games that, in my opinion, make swell presents for the holiday season.  In compiling these guides, I start with the assuption that the gift recipients are not habitual game players, so the games selected (with a few exceptions) are those with few rules and a focus on fun.  I also try and emphasize inexpensive games but, this year, I largely failed in that regard.  Oh well --  the economy's pickin' up, right?

A quick word on "complexity". I've included five  levels, here:  "No-brainer," "Simple," "Average," "Moderate" and "Advanced."  This indicates how easy the game is to learn or teach, but not necessarily how easy it is to play well.    Also, I'm grading on a curve here -- "average" does not mean "halfway between Hi-Ho Cherry-O and Dungeons and Dragons," it means "Average" in terms of a G3. All of the games listed would be suitable gifts for non-gamers (with the possible exception of Amun-Re, the one advanced game).

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just those that came to mind as I was writing this.  If there's another game you want an opinion on, drop me a line at matthew@defectiveyeti.com -- my knowledge in these matters is frighteningly encyclopedic.  And don't confine yourself to this year's games alone: be sure to check out the G3s 2000, the G3s 2001,  and last year's guide, which also includes the Canonical List of G3games.

Enough jibba-jabba!

Coloretto (Complexity: No-brainer; Number of Players: 3-5; Playing Time: 20 minutes; Cost: $10):  You want to hear all the rules for Coloretto?  Here you go:  On your turn you can either (a) draw a card and add it to a row, or (b) take all the cards in a row.  That's it. Well, okay, maybe there's one or two other rules, but, honestly, I've hit the highlights.  And yet, it somehow manages to be terrific fun.  Go figure.

Clans (Complexity: Simple; Number of Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $20):  I typically don't like abstract games, but there are two game designers who have a knack for creating abstract games that are simple, clever, brief, and contain just enough theme to win me over.  Leo Colovini is the first, and I find his Clans --   a souped-up version of Nim ostensibly about the formation of prehistoric villages -- to be unaccountably addicting.

Paris Paris (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 45 minutes; Cost: $20):  Michael Schacht is the other designer who manages to create abstract games I like-- in fact, his Web of Power is one of my all-time favorites.  Web of Power is now out of print, alas, but Paris Paris fills much the same niche:  it is easy to learn, it plays in under an hour, and it will leave you saying "let's try that  again."

Pirate's Cove (Complexity: Moderate;  Number of Players: 3-5; Playing Time: 90 minutes; Cost: $40):  Enough with the abstracts; on to the themes!  I recently bought Pirates Cove as my annual "Holiday Game," and it has been filling the role admirably.   Captain a pirate ship, send it to the four corners of the globe in search of booty, 
and greet rival corsairs with blast of cannonfire. Puts the "Arr!" into "replayable."

Mystery Rummy: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $10):  This is the fourth in the "Mystery Rummy" series, and many folks think it's the best.  I harbor a slight preference for Wyatt Earp, but I like that Capone (unlike Earp) can be played as a four-person partnership game.

Queens's Necklace (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 3-4; Playing Time: 40 minutes; Cost: $20):  Queen's Necklace is one of those rare games that's superb with three.  Set on the eve of the French Revolution, players become Royal Jewelers, vying to purchase valuable gems and trying to curry favor with the court.  And check out the well-done online tutorial.

Smarty Party (Complexity: No-brainer; Number of Players: 3-8; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $20):  Remember Outburst, that game where someone reads a category ("Parts of the body that come in pairs") and then everyone shouts out answers for 60 seconds or so?  Okay, Smarty Party = Outburst - the time limit + clever scoring system + rubber pants.  The cards contain some errors (which drives me nuts), but overall this is a very fun party game.  And I'm not kidding about the pants.

New England (Complexity: Moderate; Number of Players: 3-4; Playing Time: 90 minutes; Cost: $35):  The sleeper hit of the year.  When New England was released in German it received little acclaim, but the new English version has been garnering raves and just bagged the GAMES Magazine "Game Of The Year" award.  The heart of the game is an innovate auction system in which the amount you agree to pay for items also dictates whether you'll have the pick of the litter or have to pick through the dregs.  It's also quite nice to look at.

I'm The Boss (Complexity: Moderate; Number of Players: 4-6; Playing Time: 60 minutes; Cost: $30): I've owned the German version of this game for years, but it's been so long out of print that my friends who enjoy it (and many do) have been unable to get their own copy.  Thankfully, the game has been reissued, this time in English.  I'm The Boss is pure negotiation, as you  wheedle, beg, and coerce your opponents into collaboration on a series of business deals.

Amun-Re (Complexity: Advanced; Number of Players: 3-5; Playing Time: 90 minutes; Cost: $30):  Amun-Re has a pretty steep learning curve, but it's a game worth the effort.  Players strive to build pyramids, farm the Nile, and placate a fickle Sun God.  How Amun-Re rewards players (as a group) depends on how much they sacrifice (as a group), and it's this delicate balance between cooperation and competition that makes the game hum.

Balloon Cup & Odin's Ravens (Complexity: Average; Number of Players: 2; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $15):  Two different games with lots of similarities:  both are card games, both are for two players, both are short 'n' simple (Balloon Cup a little more so), and both are quite fun.  Most prefer Balloon Cup slightly (me, I like Odin's Ravens a smidgen more), but both are perfect for a game-playing twosome.

The Bucket King (Complexity: Simple; Number of Players: 3-6; Playing Time: 30 minutes; Cost: $20):  Why wasn't this on last year's list?  I have no idea, but it certainly should have been.   Protect your pyramid of buckets while sending farm animals out to knock over the pyramids of others.  So, yeah, the theme is stupid. But that won't prevent you from totally stressin' out when a sheep is maurading towards your bucket cache.

Other Great Games

A couple of games I'd hesitate to give as gifts but are worthy of mention.

  • Age of Steam:  Age of Steam meets none of the criteria for a Good Gift Game:  it's long (3 hours), it is expensive (40 bucks), and it's way too complex for casual gamers.  But it was my favorite of 2003, so I'd be remiss to omit it.
  • Alhambra:  Only absent from the above list because most would probably prefer to wait for the English version to be released late next year.
  • Fresh Fish: Me, I love this game, but it's certainly not for everybody.  Suitable for those who enjoy puzzles, spatial reasoning, or headaches.
  • Settlers of the Stone AgeSettlers of the Stone Age is as fine a game as any of the above, but, honestly, if you're giving gifts (or even purchasing for yourself), the original Settlers of Catan is still the way to go.   That said, Stone Age is a great substitute for Catan if you've played the latter to the point of indifference.
  • Edel, Stein & Reich:  A wonderful game but, at the moment, only available in German.

Second Opinions

Don't trust the yeti? Here's some other "best of" lists for your consideration.

  • The 2004 GAMES Magazine Games 100:
    • Game of the Year: New England
    • Best Advanced Strategy Game:  Wildlife (this is by my favorite designer and on a theme that fascinates me, but I have somehow managed to never play it. Buy it and invite me over.)
    • Best Family Game:  ZooSim
    • Best Family Strategy Game:  I'm The Boss
    • Best Card Game:  Queen's Necklace
    • Best Two-player Game:  Balloon Cup
    • Best Party Game:  Dibs (very similar to Smarty Party, listed above)
One last note. All the links in this guide point to Funagain.com, which used to be my retailer of choice (and continues to have the best website of any vendor, bar none). But I've recently begun using Game Surplus for all of my ordering, as their prices are lower and their customer service is exemplary. FYI.

December 02, 2002

Good Gift Games 2002

Hey kids and/or adults that I am facetiously referring to as "kids"!  Know what time it is?  Yes, it's time for Matthew Baldwin's Annual Good Gift Games Guide, where I assemble a list of those games that, in my opinion, make swell presents for the holiday season.  It is assumed that the gift recipients are not hardcore game players, so the games selected (with a few exceptions) are those with few rules and a focus on fun.  I also try and emphasize inexpensive games, although some games are too good to omit despite their higher price tag.

2002 was considered by many (myself included) to be kind of an off-year, game-wise -- with the exception of Puerto Rico (and, to a lesser extent, Trans America) there were no "must buys" released.  Still, the diamonds in the rough are listed below, followed by selections from previous G3s.  (If you wish to browse the previous G3s, you can do so here:  G3s 2000, G3s 2001.)

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just those that came to mind as I was writing this.  If there's another game you want an opinion on, drop me a line at matthew@defectiveyeti.com -- my knowledge in these matters is frighteningly encyclopedic. 

Without further ado, here are the 2002 G3s.

New (to me) Games

Not all of these games are "new" in the sense of having been released in the last year, but here's a sampling of the best I've purchased in the previous 12 months.

Royal Turf:  If you've attended one of my personal gamenights recently, you've played Royal Turf, the biggest hit since Time's Up. Over three rounds players bet on and root for the seven stallions running in a good ol' fashioned horse race. Simple rules and a touch of bluffing makes this an idea game for families or for play over pints at the local pub.  [Reviews:  mine | BGG]

Trans America: It's so simple it's just barely a game, but it's lots of fun nonetheless. Players are randomly assigned five cities on a stylized map of the United States. On every turn players build railroad track in an effort to connect all their burgs. But because no one "owns" any given stretch of track, you can link into your opponent's network and use it to further your own goals. A typical game takes half an hour and can be played by persons of all ages and game-aptitude. [Reviews: BGG

Vom Kap bis Kairo:  And speaking of train games ... Players strive to build railroad across eight African landscapes and be the first to complete  a line "From The Cape To Cairo".  Cards are auctioned off every round, and each features not only a landscape but a number of railroad tracks.  The landscapes show how difficult it will be to traverse that particular region -- savanna is a snap, while mountains are difficult -- and the tracks shown can be applied towards your goal. If you don't have enough track to complete a terrain you can buy extra track segments, but be careful: you also need that money for the auctions.  A clever family game with an engaging theme.  [Reviews:  BGG]

Puerto Rico: Easily my favorite game of 2002 Build up your Puerto Rico community by planting farms and constructing buildings. Ship corn, indigo, sugar and coffee to the Old World in the role of Settler, Mayor, Craftsman and even Gold Prospector. Puerto Rico is a gamer's game -- it has no shortage of pieces or rules -- but if you want something meatier than the regular fare, it's the best game to come down the pike in years. [Reviews: mine | BGG]

BANG! Who will rule the old west: the Sheriff or the outlaws? Players are randomly assigned to one side or the other, but all identities begin a secret. The best way to find out who is on your team is to shoot first and ask question later. BANG! is a clever little game for larger groups -- it plays best with six or seven -- and is one of the flat-out fun-est game's I've picked up in a spell. [Reviews: BGG]

Pueblo: I do not like abstract games. So what is it about Pueblo that makes me want to play it again and again? Every turn you plonk a piece on the board as you collaborate with your opponents to build a New Mexican village. The trick is to do so in such a way that none of your pieces are visible from the outside. As much puzzle as it is game, Pueblo is perfect for both the spatial reasoner and the casual game player. [Reviews: BGG]

Adel Verpflichtet:  Bluff, guess, and second-guess your opponents as you strive to assemble the best collection of kooky antiques. And if you find yourself lacking in either money or goods, why, just steal some from your fellow players! Adel Verpflichtet is only available in German, but there's some cheat sheets you can print out that make the game perfectly fine for we Yankees. [Reviews: mine | BGG]

Barbarossa: First you make little sculptures out of clay, then you try and guess what everyone else has made. And don't fret if you're artistically-inept: the better your sculpture looks, the more likely you are to lose (because people will guess it right away). Closer to a party game than a board game, Barbarossa generates a lot of laughter. [Reviews: mine | BGG]

Babel:  In this two-player game, you and an opponent strive to build the largest temples.  Your workers come from five ancient civilizations, (Assyrians, Sumerians, etc.), and when you get three or more of the same tribe together you are able to break one of the game's rules.  Babel falls just on the border between the "puzzle games" (Ricochet Robot, Pueblo) and strategy games (Lost Cities and Citadelles). [Reviews: BGG]

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation:  Another two-player contest, LotR: The Confrontation is a nice update of the classic Stratego formula. "The Confrontation" pits Sauron  (who is stronger) against the Fellowship (which is more resourceful) , and every character on the board has his own special power. Furthermore, each side has a different goal:  Frodo and Sam want to bring the ring to Mount Doom, while the forces of darkness want to slay the hobbits before they can complete their journey.   A typical game of The Confrontation will last approximately half and hour.  [Reviews: BGG]

From Previous Years
There is no excuse for not owning games marked with a *

Board Games

  • Settlers of Catan*:  Oh fer Pete's sake, would'ja just buy it already?!  Sheesh!  [Reviews: BGG]
  • Carcassonne:   I've always been a fair-weather fan of Carcassonne, but many folks love it, and the two expansions (called "The Expansion," crazily enough, and "Hunters and Gathers")  add a lot of spice, or so I'm told. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • Web of Power:  My favorite new game of 2000 sat on the shelf for most of 2001 because I played it until I was sick of it.  But I recently played it again and remembered exactly why I so loved this game:  it's easy to learn and can be played in less than an hour. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • Princes of Florence:  Second only to Puerto Rico as my favorite game in recent years.  [Reviews: BGG]
  • Lord of the Rings: What sets LotR apart is that it is cooperative rather than competitive:  players work as a team instead of against each other.  A unique and exciting game.    [Reviews: mine | BGG]

Card Games
  • Bohnanza*:  A game in which you plant and harvest beans.  No, I am not kidding.    [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • 6 Nimmt!*(A.k.a. "Take 6"):   As addictive as it is agonizing.  [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • Citadelles*:  A gamenight favorite of bluff and intrigue. [Reviews:  mine | BGG]
  • Pig Pile:  I haven't the slightest idea why I like this game.  Aside from the fact that it comes with a bunch of small, pink, rubber pigs, I mean. [Reviews: BGG]
  • Wyatt Earp:  Rummy in the old west.    [Reviews: mine | BGG]

Two-player Games

  • Lost Cities*:  A really great, easy-to-learn, two player card game similar to rummy.   [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • flowerpower:  A very placid tile-laying game -- not too deep, but not as shallow as it looks, either.   [Reviews: BGG]
  • Hera and Zeus: More complicated that Lost Cities and flowerpower, but worth the "learning curve".  Stratego meets Magic:  The Gathering.   [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • En Garde:  It costs nine bucks, it plays in 15 minutes, and the rules could fit onto a business card.  Plus:  fun!  [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • Battle Cry:  Expensive, but worth it for anyone who likes games where you get to fire artillery at you opponent.  [Reviews: BGG]

Party Games
  • Time's Up*:  The best party game in existence. Seriously. [Reviews: BGG]
  • Call My Bluff*:  The ultimate dice game: all luck and bluffing, no pesky rules.   [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • 25 Words or Less:  A thinking-person's Taboo. My first copy was played until it fell apart, whereupon I promptly bought another. [Reviews: mineBGG]
  • Apples to Apples*: The game we played so much at Gamenight that I came to hate it. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't own it. And you should. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
  • Werewolf: Actually, this one is completely free.  Just print out the rules from here.

Second Opinions

What, you don't trust me? Well, here's some other "best of" lists for your consideration.
Places to Buy Games Online

  • Funagain.com:  This is where I buy all my games:  they carry just about everything, the have a great website, their prices are low and they are located in Ashland, OR (so shipments reach me in 2-3 days).
  • Boulder Games:  I've heard great things about this online store too, but they are on the East Coast so I stick with Funagain.  Still, if you are in, say, New York, these guys would probably get it there quicker.
  • Amazon.com:  Amazon carries a few titles, notably those in the Mayfair (Settlers of Catan, Manhattan) and Avalon Hill (Acquire, Cosmic Encounter) lines.  But they never seem to be in stock. 

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