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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.

Posted on December 06, 2005 to Good Gift Game Guide


Great job on this year's list! They are all very good games that would work well as an introduction to new era boardgames.

Posted by: Ed Rozmiarek on December 6, 2005 8:46 AM

Your description of For Sale is backwards. Players bid money (coins) for properties, then bid those properties for checks, and whoever ends up with the best checks wins. Unless, of course, we've been playing it wrong in my group :)

Posted by: Steve Dupree on December 6, 2005 9:21 AM

Great guide! I like the focus on shorter games but I was wondering if you could give a few shout-outs to those of us who don't mind games that last 2 or 3 hours?

Posted by: Vinnie on December 6, 2005 9:36 AM

Great list - but I'm surprised Cluzzle didn't make the list. We brought it with us for the family Thanksgiving this year (having bought it after reading your review here), and it was very much enjoyed by all from ages 6-60.

Posted by: Elizabeth on December 6, 2005 11:05 AM

You left GameSurplus (www.GameSurplus.com) out of your game store list. I am in no way associated with them (well, other than as a happy customer), but I will say that I regularly find their prices to be the lowest -- and they have excellent customer service. (When my copy of Shadows Over Camelot arrived slightly damaged, they sent Niagra for free!)

Posted by: Dug Steen on December 6, 2005 11:48 AM

THANK YOU!! Ironically i was just going to send you an email asking for this. I read your article last year and bought Ticket to Ride and BuyWord for the wife as presents and we Love them! It's now going to become a holliday tradition to get a new game each year..

Thanks for posting this again!

Posted by: Tom Kamnikar on December 6, 2005 11:50 AM

Card games: If you haven't already, check out Set, a game in which you try to make sets of cards all alike or all different (Hmmm... is there a dwarf with an axe in there somewhere?) I learned to play it on a homemade deck, but you can now buy one ready-made:


Posted by: Carny Asada on December 6, 2005 2:42 PM

Card games: If you haven't already, check out SET, a game in which you try to make sets of three cards all alike or all different (Hmmm... is there a dwarf with an axe in there somewhere?) I learned to play it on a homemade deck, but you can now buy one ready-made:

http://SET, the card game

Posted by: Carny Asada on December 6, 2005 2:47 PM

Hey Matthew, I was wondering what your take on the WoW board game was, if you've had a chance to look at it that is.

Posted by: Ryan on December 6, 2005 3:39 PM

Another excellent card game to check out is called "Fluxx" - as in, "the rules are always in..." Awesomely fun, very quick and easy to learn, and enjoyable for adults and kids. I highly recommend!

Posted by: SMurph on December 6, 2005 4:26 PM

Very interesting list. I am intrigued by a number of games on this year's list, and also by some of the supplemental games you wrote about here.

Incidentally, I had a seven-player run with Shadows Over Camelot on Saturday night. It was a tremendous hit, and we finally beat the damn game. Ironically by losing a Pict campaign, which pushed the number of swords over 12, but still left us with a majority of white swords.

I had a lot of very happy friends who enjoyed it tremendously, and who were all quite irritated with Morgan LeFay. (grin)

Posted by: Keith on December 6, 2005 6:36 PM

Well, if you ever find yourself over in Wenatchee with about 4 or 5 hours to kill, give he a holler and War of the Ring will hit the table. It's a darn fun game that always seems to come down to the last few rolls/tile draws. Great fun, and it does seem to generate some fun stories.

I've been torn on Niagra, it sure seems to generate some varying opinions... Same with Around the World. Poison will be in my next order (along with Caylus)...just waiting on Reef Encounter...maybe.

Posted by: chuckles on December 6, 2005 9:23 PM

Good selection!
BtW: This years runner up was "Himalaya" not "Maharaja" (That was last year... Both are great games though :-) )

Posted by: Peer on December 7, 2005 12:07 AM

Once again, you make buying birthday presents for my brother and sister-in-law a simple matter. Thanks very much.

Posted by: Sparticus on December 7, 2005 1:28 AM

Anybody know of a good reatiler in the Toronto, ON area that would stock any of these games? I think it's a little late to get these games from online retailers.

Posted by: endothermal on December 7, 2005 7:04 AM

If you can spare a Saturday night, I know at least a couple people at my regular gaming group who own and like to play War of the Ring.

Posted by: Steve Dupree on December 7, 2005 9:08 AM

Funagaingames.com owes you a cut, man, half those titles are out of stock and I'm positive your recommendations are a factor. I'll send my husband after Christmas to thank you for inspiring his favorite gift.

Posted by: holley on December 7, 2005 10:33 AM

I'd highly recommend a game called nano-fictionary. It's a card game based on assembling elements of a story (character, plot, problems, ending) and then telling the resulting story. Scoring is based partially on how quickly you assemble your story elements, partially on how many elements there are, and partially on who tells the best story (as voted by the players). It's a blast for creative, talkative types.

Posted by: Bill on December 7, 2005 2:46 PM

Thanks man. I've really been looking forward to the 2005 list and it does not dissapoint in the least.

Posted by: JtB on December 8, 2005 10:48 AM

I think that Warhammer is still the best table-top game around. But...gee that costs alot.

Posted by: Tony on December 10, 2005 8:46 AM

I was waiting for this list to come out, because it saves me a lot of time doing the ol' holiday shopping every year. Thanks again, it's really appreciated!

Posted by: Jon on December 10, 2005 2:55 PM

You always make great game recommendations, but I played Niagra a few weeks ago and pretty much hated it. The novelty of making the river run and dropping boats off the end faded very, very quickly, and then it was a long, boring, tedious ride until someone finally won.

Posted by: rachel on December 12, 2005 10:55 PM

I caught your spot on KUOW this afternoon, and thought it was great (as an avid player of games already, though). I was surprised, however at the inclusion of China for a Risk-alike. I would have thought something like Memior '44 (a current favorite with my regular Wed. night group) would have been a shoe-in.

I heard the reccomendation for Diamant, and said Doh! That's what I had decided to get my girlfriend's niece and nephew (age 7 and 11) for the holidays a month ago, and then promptly forgotten. I got them Techno Witches instead. :)

Posted by: JustinNewstrum on December 14, 2005 12:03 AM

My husband and I listened to the KUOW spot yesterday, and he thought that Shadows Over Camelot sounded like such fun that I zipped out and bought the last copy at Gary's Games in Greenwood today (and ran into another woman who had also heard your spot; sadly, they were out of all the other games featured, too!)

I was also looking for a two-player game, and was gratified to find just what I was looking for in your reviews. I picked up the LOTR game and I look forward to trying it out. Thank you for this!

Posted by: Sunnie Reed on December 14, 2005 11:10 PM

My husband bought us Snorta as a family Christmas gift, on recommendation from the game shop owner at Overboard in Manzanita, OR as a good game for beer drinkers. It is hilarious! It's great for multiple players, not so fun with a few (too easy unless they're really young). You pick a farm animal out of the bag, declare what sound your animal makes, then hide the animal in your barn. Then you turn over cards, and whenever two people get matching cards, they must try make the sound of the other person's animal first. It's silly but very fun! We played several times over the holidays and got a lot of good laughs.

Posted by: Bonnie Rames on January 17, 2006 12:03 AM