Post-Holiday Gift Guide 2013

First of all – Happy Christmas Adam! (if you haven’t heard that before, I’ll let you think about it)  Secondly, my apologies for the long absence.  A more full explanation is coming soon.

Everyone does a holiday gift guide.  But here at Boards and Bees, we like to try different things.  So, for your consideration, here is our first annual POST-HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE.

Here’s the idea.  You just got a whole bunch of Christmas cash, or possibly gift cards to your favorite FLGS or OLGS, and now that you’ve opened everything and know what you did and didn’t get, it’s time to spend money on yourself.  But alas – you’ve only spen $43 of $50, and don’t really want to get another big game and spend too much out of pocket, or you’re only a few dollars short of that magical free shipping mark.  That’s where the PHGG comes in – highlighting some of the best small, inexpensive games that can enhance your gaming collection while conveniently using up your remaining budget, small though it may be.

I’m going to organize this list by MSRP, low to high ($10-$20).  I’ll even provide some comparisons of online prices so you can make a determination of where your money is going.

LOVE LETTER (2-4 players, 20 minutes)

image by BGG user edbolme
image by BGG user edbolme

It’s odd that this little card game has made such a big impact on the industry in the last year.  Love Letter came out in 2012 from designer Seiji Kanai.  It was originally a game from Japanese company Kanai Factory, but it was AEG’s production of the game that catapulted it into the public consciousness.  The game consists of 16 cards and 13 red cubes.  It’s an exercise in simplicity – you have a card in your hand.  On your turn, you draw a card, then play a card.  Each card gives one of eight different roles, and when you play the card, an effect may trigger.  This can cause someone to be out of the round, or discard and draw a new hand, or trade hands, or reveal their hand to you.  When all cards have been drawn, all remaining players reveal their hands, and the player with the highest rank number wins a cube.  The first player to win a certain number of cubes wins.

Love Letter is small and compact, which makes it very easy to carry around.  Additionally, it is very easy to learn and has a lot more depth than is immediately apparent, making it accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike.  If you haven’t played, you can’t go wrong with this game.  AEG has also published the game in its original Kanai Factory iteration, which provides a slightly different experience.

  • MSRP: $10
  • CoolStuffInc: $7.49
  • Funagain: $9.99
  • Time Well Spent: $6.99

HEY, THAT’S MY FISH! (2-4 players, 20 minutes)

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

This game used to be a lot bigger.  When Mayfair had the rights to Hey, That’s My Fish!, it had large tiles and some very nice plastic penguins.  It also cost $40.  When Fantasy Flight picked it up, however, they miniaturized everything and put it into a much more affordable and portable package.  The game was originally released in 2003, designed by Günter Cornett and Alvydas Jakeliunas.  The idea is that you control a group of 2-4 penguins, and are trying to move from ice floe to ice floe to collect fish (1-3 on each tile).  The catch is that when you leave a tile, it is removed from the layout.  Penguins cannot cross holes in the ice, and it is possible they will get stranded.  The winner is the one who has collected the most fish when no penguin can move anymore.

Hey, That’s My Fish! is essentially an abstract game with a fun theme – the penguins and fish give the game a natural appeal that will draw people in.  It’s easy to understand, and has a ton of strategy.  I’m personally terrible at it, but it’s one that I like a lot.

  • MSRP: $13
  • CoolStuffInc: $7.99
  • Funagain: $10.49
  • Time Well Spent: $8.50

COLORETTO (3-5 players, 30 minutes)

image by BGG user nrihtar2
image by BGG user nrihtar2

Coloretto is a game I discovered on Matthew Marquand’s blog early in my gaming career, and I’ve never regretted purchasing it for a moment.  The game (designed by Michael Schacht) is a basic set collection game where you are collecting different colors with a pyramid points system based on the number of cards in the set (1=1, 2=3, 3=6, 4=10, 5=15, and 6=21).  The twist is that only three colors will score points for you – all other colors you collect will be worth negative points (there are seven colors in all).  Play is very simple – either you draw a card and place it in a row, or you take one of the rows for yourself (which ends your round).

The system later got adapted into the Spiel des Jahres winning Zooloretto, but I still prefer the simplicity of the original.  The push-your-luck element is very subtle as you have to agonize over which groups of cards to take in order to maximize your points.  Highly recommended.

  • MSRP: $15
  • CoolStuffInc: $9.29
  • Funagain: $11.99
  • Time Well Spent: $9.75

FARMAGEDDON (2-4 players, 30 minutes)

image by BGG user krinklechip
image by BGG user krinklechip

I first played Farmageddon at GenCon in 2012 with designer Grant Rodiek sitting nearby, and loved it immediately.  On the surface, it’s a game about planting and harvesting crops to maximize your income.  However, there are a ton of nasty things you can do to affect your opponents.  On a player’s turn, you can plant a crop, fertilize a crop (you must do this at least once on your turn), harvest a crop (but not one you’ve planted this turn), and play up to two action cards from your hand.  The action cards could allow you to draw new crops, take crops from your opponents, or even cause widespread destruction.  The player with the most money after the crop deck has run out wins.

Farmageddon is a very in-your-face type of game.  I use the term “delightfully nasty” all the time when describing it, and think it’s very apt.  The art is very cute, and it’s a little surprising how mean it can get.  I think it’s a lot of fun, and would suggest it if you think that’s up your alley.

  • MSRP: $15
  • CoolStuffInc: $10.29
  • Funagain: $11.99
  • Time Well Spent: $10.50

NO THANKS! (3-5 players, 20 minutes)

image by BGG user Zman
image by BGG user Zman

No Thanks! is a game that does not have a theme, but remains one of the more engaging fillers. Designed by Thorsten Gimmler in 2004, No Thanks! is a game about NOT getting points. Each player begins with 11 chips, and the game plays with one person flipping over a card. That player can either take the card, thus earning the number of points shown (3-35), or passes on it by putting down a chip. If a player passes, the next player gets a chance to take or pass, and so on until someone claims the card and any chips played on it. This goes on until all cards are out of the deck (9 are taken out at the beginning). At the end, all players add up their points – points from cards (with consecutive sequences only earning as much as the lowest card in the run) minus points equal to the chips they have left.

No Thanks! is a fame I can easily recommend to anyone. It’s very easy to learn, and very easy to play. There’s a lot of decisions to be made as you determine whether to take a card, or let it go around a couple of times to get some more chips. It’s a game where you CAN be mean, but there’s really not much point – you’re just giving points to yourself to make sure someone else doesn’t get any. It’s a great game.

  • MSRP: $15
  • CoolStuffInc: $9.99
  • Funagain: $11.99
  • Time Well Spent: $9.99

PIXEL TACTICS (2 players, 45 minutes)

image by BGG user Kyokai
image by BGG user Kyokai

I originally got Pixel Tactics as part of the Minigame Library from Level 99 Games, and it has since become one of the most popular of the set, even spawning a sequel. PT (designed by Brad Talton) is a tactical fighting game where each player has a symmetrical deck in a game with a distinctly asymmetrical feel. Players are attempting to destroy the other player’s leader by placing heroes in a 9×9 grid pattern. The unique part of the game is that each hero will do something different if placed in the front (vanguard), middle (flank), or rear of the grid formation. Additionally, each card could be played as an order, and every card has the potential to be your leader for the round.

Pixel Tactics is an amazing game. It’s fun and it’s always going to be different because of the variable nature of the cards. It feels like a video game, both in the graphic style and flow of the game. If you like fighting games, check it out. If you don’t like fighting games, check it out anyway – I have a feeling this will provide a unique experience for you.

  • MSRP $15
  • CoolStuffInc: $9.99
  • Funagain: $11.99
  • Time Well Spent: n/a

WALKING DEAD CARD GAME (2-10 players, 20 minutes)

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

This is the only game on the list that I have not played. However, I have played the game it was based on in a couple of incarnations – the original 6 nimmt! and the more recent Slide 5. 6 nimmt! was designed in 1994 by Wolfgang Kramer. The object of the game, like No Thanks!, is to get as few points as possible. Cards are numbered 1-104, and each player begins with ten of them. Four additional cards are laid out in a line. Players then choose a card and simultaneously reveal. In order from low to high, players put their card in a row where their card would be the next sequentially. If your card is less than any card out, you must take one row. If your card would bring that row to more than five cards, you get the entire row and leave your card to start a new one. Once everyone has played all ten cards, you total your points and continue to a set number.

The Walking Dead card game retains the play of the original, but adds a second mode where you get a character power plus are trying to get the most points. I don’t think you can easily get any other version right now, but it’s a great game, and if you or someone you love is a fan of the TV show, it will be a great buy.

  • MSRP: $15
  • CoolStuffInc: $9.99
  • Funagain: $11.99
  • Time Well Spent: n/a

FORBIDDEN ISLAND (2-4 players, 30 minutes)

Forbidden Island - image by BGG user keebie

Matt Leacock’s 2008 game Pandemic sparked a revolution in cooperative gaming, but it was really his Forbidden Island in 2010 that opened up the genre to a wider audience. In the game, players must move around an island and try to collect four treasures and make it to the helicopter before the island sinks. On a turn, you can move, shore up a tile that is partially submerged, give a card to another player, or turn in a set of cards for the associated treasure. Once your turn is over, you get new cards and flood new island tiles. It’s at this point that waters may rise, wreaking havoc on your plans. If too many of the tiles sink, or if it becomes impossible for explorers to make it back to the helicopter, or the helicopter pad sinks, you lose. If all explorers make it to the helicopter with all treasures in tow, then play the card that allows you to fly away, you win.

Forbidden Island provides a challenging cooperative experience that is nonetheless accessible to a wide range of players. Gamewright did a great job in producing a beautiful game – component quality is fantastic for the price point. Plus, the game is a great gateway experience that kids and adults of all ages and skill levels can appreciate.

  • MSRP: $18
  • CoolStuffInc: $11.99
  • Funagain: $14.40
  • Time Well Spent: $12.60

BOHNANZA (2-7 players, 45 minutes)

image by BGG user yayforme
image by BGG user yayforme

I avoided Bohnanza for a long time because it didn’t sound like something I’d like. Now that I’ve played it, I wish I hadn’t stayed away for so long. It’s a trading game where you are planting and harvesting beans to make the most money. Each player begins with a hand of cards that they can never reorganize. On your turn, you plant 1-2 beans from your hand (you can only have two types going at a time at first), then reveal two more from the deck. You can then trade with other players for the revealed cards or hand cards. Any cards that you gain are planted immediately, and you may have to harvest in order to make room (you may choose to purchase a third field). Harvested beans get you money based on how many you turn in. After you’ve gone through the deck three times, the game ends and whoever has the most money wins.

Uwe Rosenberg is better known these days for designing heavier games like Agricola and Le Havre, but Bohnanza shows his knack for designing lighter fare. It’s a lot more fun than its theme of bean farming would suggest. I think it’s a fantastic game, and would definitely recommend it for everyone.

  • MSRP: $20
  • CoolStuffInc: $12.99
  • Funagain: $15.99
  • Time Well Spent: $13.90
image by BGG user DrMayhem
image by BGG user DrMayhem

DUNGEON ROLL (1-4 players, 15 minutes)

When Dungeon Roll was on Kickstarter, it sold more copies than any other physical game had before. Designed by Chris Darden, this dice rolling dungeon crawl got people very excited. In each of three rounds, a player will roll a party, then proceed through a dungeon with increasing numbers of monsters on each level. You can choose to stop after any level, gaining experience points, but if you go too far, you get nothing. Along the way, you’ll also collect treasures that can be saved for points at the end or can be used for special abilities. Each player also has their own character with their own special abilities that can be used throughout the game.

Dungeon Roll has taken a lot of flak for being too deterministic – in other words, there’s usually a pretty obvious optimal decision to be made. However, I have fun with the act of pushing my luck and figuring out the best way to use treasures, as well as exploring the different characters. I think it’s a very good solo game, not so good with multiple players, but it recommend it for fans of puzzly games.

  • MSRP: $20
  • CoolStuffInc: $13.49
  • Funagain: $15.99
  • Time Well Spent: $13.99

MAXIMUM THROWDOWN (2-6 players, 30 minutes)

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The second card throwing game that I know of (after FlowerFall) is Jason Tagmire’s Maximum Throwdown. It’s a dexterity challenge where players take turns throwing cards on the table in an attempt to score points on your turn. At the start of your turn, if you have symbols completely visible, you can score, steal cards, get extra throws, and so on. It’s a very silly game, and probably overpriced at $20. However, I will recommend it (and as a bonus recommendation, FlowerFall is also very fun, though without the special abilities and at a cheaper price point – $15 instead of $20).

  • MSRP: $20
  • CoolStuffInc: $13.49
  • Funagian: $15.99
  • Time Well Spent: $13.50

So that’s the list.  Hope you found some stuff for your post-holiday orders.  Thanks for reading!

LINKS TO BUY ONLINE:

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