Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the fourth annual Boards and Bees Post-Holiday Gift Guide! Each year, I put together a slightly off-center gift guide because I’d say the traditional gift guides are pretty easy to find, wouldn’t you? This tradition began in 2013 with a look at small games you could get with leftover money on your gift cards. In 2014, I gave some suggestions for games to get when you trade in the mass market stuff well-meaning relatives got you. In 2015, I suggested some games to go with common New Year’s Resolutions many people make. This year, we’re going to look at last minute gifts. I mean, REALLY last minute. I mean, wake-up-Christmas-morning-with-dawning-horror-because-you-forgot-to-get-someone-a-gift kind of last minute. So what does that mean? Print and play. Here are some suggestions for games that I’ve found that require minimal investment on your part – usually only a few pages and very few other components involved. Have fun!
1572: The Lost Expedition (Mike Heim, 2016) is a map-building solitaire exploration game where you are leading a team of conquistadors that has ventured a little too deeply into the New World, and now must make their way back to the Atlantic Ocean. The game only requires one page, as well as 12 dice and two pencils (one of which is colored). You have 42 days, or rounds, to reach the Atlantic Ocean from your starting point.
Each day has 12 phases. In the planning phase, you roll five dice (with one reroll if you wish), and assign the rolled numbers to their corresponding phases (2-6, with 1s as WILD). These numbers give +1 to dice rolls in phase 2 (movement), phase 3 (mapping), phase 4 (exploring), phase 5 (native control), and phase 6 (hunting). Different things will happen in each phase based on what you roll with 2 dice (plus modifiers). In phase 7, any interests that occur are resolved, and in phase 8, you eat rations (one food). In phase 9, you move if you have five movement points to spend, and in phase 10, you gain or lose morale based on if you moved and where you moved. Phase 11 is where you advance the day tracker, and phase 12 is where you can journal about what happened (i.e. write the story). If you make it to the river delta on the right by the end of the 42nd day, you win. If all six of your conquistadors die, you lose.
This is a very tough game. I died horribly on day nine in my first play, but really enjoyed the map building aspect. Journaling was fun too – it kind of adds that thematic touch that is needed. For a last minute gift, just print out several copies of the player sheet (as well as a copy of the rules), and grab some dice and pencils to go with it. There’s also a nautical follow-up, 1672: The Lost Crew.
30 Rails (Julian Anstey, 2016) is a route-building puzzle game for 1-8 players (although you could play with as many people as you want to as long as you have enough game sheets). You need one sheet per player, two dice (one white and one colored) and a pencil per player.
To start the game, you seed the board with five mountains, a mine, and four stations on the edge. The game consists of 30 turns, and on each turn, you will roll the two dice. The white die indicates the row or column where you’ll need to draw a track. The colored die indicates which type of track you’ll be drawing. After 30 turns, the map will be full and you’ll score points for connecting stations, as well as connecting stations to the mine. The player with the highest score wins.
30 Rails is very mucha puzzly game, and it’s a tough one. Figuring out where the tracks will go takes skill, and it’s not a game you’ll be good at right away. It really is multiplayer solitaire, and the solo game is just playing for your highest score, so take that as you will. For a quick gift, print out several copies of the game sheet and throw in a couple of dice. If you’ve got more time, you may even want to laminate the game sheet so the player can enjoy it over and over without killing too many trees.
Austerity (Jake Staines, 2015) is a solitaire economic game where you trying to clean up the finances of your debt-ridden country. The object of the game is to get rid of all of your debt, but to do it before employment, public safety, wealth, health, or popularity sinks too low. The game only requires one page for the board, but you’ll also need to provide markers of some sort (such as cubes).
Game rounds are identified as years. You start with certain cubes seeded in a bag or cup, and pull them out two at a time. The combination of cubes you pull out will determine an event, with every possibility listed on the chart in the center of the board. If you ever have a black cube, which represents debt, you’ll have to make cuts to Private Enterprise, National Security, or Private Enterprise. Make too many cuts, and your employment may go down, your health may go down, and your crime may go up. When all cubes have been drawn, you check to see if you have won (this happens if all black cubes have been removed from the pool). If the game continues, you’ll adjust tracks and continue with a new year. If employment, public safety, wealth, health, or popularity sinks to zero, you lose.
This is the type of game some people call “bag-building”, but as you’re not actually building a bag, I’ll just call it a pool building game. You’re trying to add good cubes to the bag and remove bad ones, but those bad ones are tough to deal with. I’ve won once out of three tries, and I appreciate it as a good fast game. For a last-minute gift, you’ll need to print out just one sheet (there is a low ink version available) and also grab a handful of cubes – 10 in each of 5 colors, and 9 in a sixth color as markers. There are also some markers you could cut in place of the cubes, and some cards for an advanced version if you have more time to craft. No pencil required for this one.
The d6 Shooters (Eric Hermann, 2009) is a solitaire game all about leading a posse through the desert to your ultimate goal, Reno. You have 40 turns (days) to make it all the way to then end, and this is done through some Yahtzee-style rolling. In order to play, you need a single sheet that lays out the trail, as well as a pencil and eight dice (five white and three red, or some other combination with that distribution).
Each day, you will roll all eight dice. If any of the the three red dice are a 5 or 6, they are locked (only on the first roll). You have two rerolls to try to get what you want, then you resolve your dice. Each 1 allows you to move one space along the path. Every two 2s gives you a food. Every three 3s gives you a gold. Each 4 could be used to fight the Griggs Gang, or to hide, or to take shelter from a storm, or to take a backroad and get an extra move (you need two 4s for that one). A 5 represents the blazing hot sun which could lose you food or a posse member. A 6 is an attack by the Griggs Gang, which must be fought using any 4s you set aside or you lose a posse member. Along the path, you’ll hit different towns where you can buy new equipment, recruit more posse members, or even gamble for more money. You’ll also find events that will cause different things to happen based on the roll of the dice. If you ever run out of posse members, you lose the game. If you make it to Reno, you win and calculate your score.
The d6 Shooters is a fun Western-style game with a lot of potential for randomness, but a good story. It uses the Yahtzee-style of dice rolling to great effect, and will surely appeal to anyone who likes that Western journey theme. There are two official maps available – The Long Road to Reno and Ghost Town Showdown. All you need to do for your quickie gift is print out one of the maps (possible both) and throw in some dice and a pencil. The player may need to read the rules, but the pertinent information is printed on the player sheet.
Delve: The Dice Game (Drew Chamberlain, 2009) is a solitaire dungeon crawl game that also uses a Yahtzee-style rolling mechanism to drive the experience. All you need to play is a map, some dice and a pencil or some other markers.
You’ll form a party of four adventurers, each with their own special abilities. Then you’ll go through a series of encounters. Roll six dice, and keep as many as you want. You get up to two rerolls. Once you’ve finished rolling, you activate any special abilities of your heroes that you want to/can. Usually, you’re trying to hit a monster or heal your party. Once your turn is done, you roll for the monster(s). Each encounter has its own special rules to it. If you make it all the way through without losing all of your adventurers, you win.
Delve is quite a fun game with a lot of variability. There are a few maps out there, as well as random encounters you can choose from. For a quick gift, all you need to do is print off a map or two and throw in some dice. If you want to put a lot more effort into it, you could make a bunch of cards to go with the heroes or potential encounters so you could have a truly random experience.
Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of the Four Kings (Matthew Lowes, 2015) is another solitaire dungeon crawler game, except that this one uses a standard deck of cards. And actually, that’s all you need for the game.
To set up, you pull out the 2-10 of hearts and stack them in reverse order (10 on top). This is your life deck. The remaining cards are shuffled. To start the game, you’ll flip cards until you get to a 2-10 or spades, clubs, or diamonds. These are encounter cards. You’ll then start flipping more cards and taking actions, depending on what the encounter was. 2-10 of spades are monsters, and are defeated by a card of an equal or higher value (lower value gives you damage). 2-10 of diamonds are treasure traps, and you have one chance to beat the trap with an equal or higher value card. 2-10 of clubs are doors, and failure to open it will cause you to lose cards from the draw deck. Jacks are special skills you can get to help you with encounters, and Queens are divine favors that allow you to win automatically. At a certain point, you have to retreat, which means you need to play another encounter underneath the ones already completed in reverse. If you complete an encounter under your first one, you survive and count up your score. If not, or if you draw all four Aces (burnt out torches), you are lost in the dark forever.
Dungeon Solitaire is a different way to approach solitaire with a standard playing card deck – it adds a theme and some subtle strategies to go along with a lot of luck. And the best part is that you don’t even need to print out anything (except perhaps the rules) – you can just give them a deck of cards and tell them to go for it. If you want to put in a little more effort, you can mark cards with indications as to what they are in the game.
K-Day: Kaiju War (zombie homer, 2013) is a solitaire dice game where you are Zillasaur, a giant monster trying to inflict as much destruction as possible over the course of 14 days. What you need for this one is a play sheet, 2 tokens, 11 dice, and a pen or pencil.
To start the game, you’ll roll to place Zillasaur, then roll to determine the Guardian kaiju and its placement. Each day, you get four action points to spend. You can spend 1 AP to move to a new space, 1 AP to attack a city, 4 AP while at a nuclear plant to heal, or 1 AP to engage the Guardian. At the end of the day, the Guardian will move and possibly heal. If you manage to survive for all 14 days and have managed to score 300+ points, you win.
This is the only game on this list that I haven’t played, but I like the concept. It has a kind of Yahtzee thing going on in the attacks, but it’s not really anything like, say, King of Tokyo (other than thematically). For a quick gift, you just need one sheet of paper and some dice.
micropul (Jean-François Lassonde, 2004) is one of the only multiplayer games I have on this list. It’s for two players (but can also be played solo), and is a kind of abstract tile-laying game. There are three sheets of tiles to print out, as well as an optional sheet of markers (any marker will do – they’re using stones in the picture above). You will need three markers in each of two colors.
Each player gets a hand of six tiles and three stones in their color. The remaining tiles are put in small stacks known as the core. On your turn, you either lay a tile out, draw tiles from your supply, or put a stone on a group of micropul. When you lay a tile, it must go next to an already placed tile and must connect. This means that white circles cannot be next to black circles, but they can be next to circles of their own type or a catalyst (which is a dot or a plus). If you activate a catalyst, you’ll either draw a tile or two to put in your supply, or will play again. When placing a stone, you’ll be trying to place on a continuous group of the same micropul. At the end of the game, you’ll get one point per micropul in a group you have claimed, as long as it is closed. You’ll also get two points per tile remaining in your supply and one point per tile in hand. When the last tile is drawn from the core, the game is over, and whoever has the high score wins.
micropul is a fun and engaging area control type game. It has a simple ruleset, as most abstracts do, and the minimalist style of the tiles is very nice to look at. For a quick gift, just print out the tiles and throw in some stones. If you want to put some more work into it, glue the paper tiles to some wood tiles, or even just print them on yourself.
Reiner Knizia’s Decathlon (Reiner Knizia, 2003) is a 1-4 player game that uses dice to simulate different events of a decathlon. All you need is a score sheet for each player and eight dice.
To play, you go through the ten listed events. Each event has its own special rules. For example, in the 100 Metres event, you have a total of seven rolls to get the best score possible, throwing four dice at a time and sixes are negative. For Shot Put, you roll one die at a time and can decide when you want to stop as a one will invalidate the attempt. And so on. Once you’ve completed all ten events, add up your scores from the events and the player with the highest score wins.
The game says it’s for 1-4 players, but you can play with as many people as want to compete. It really is multiplayer solitaire. You could make a real event out of it, giving out medals or something if you really get into it. A quick gift would just be printing out a bunch of score sheets and adding some dice.
Six Sons of the Sultan (Todd Sanders, 2014) is a 1-2 player game where you are trying to gain prestige by trading tea. For the game, you need a sheet of nine cards, three dice and some cubes to mark prestige on each card.
A game last for 10 rounds. The first player rolls three dice. One of these dice is an Order that will advance a cube on the track for one of the six available teas. One of the dice is a Wealth die that will increase your Wealth so you can pay for the tea. And the other die is the Passing die that you give to your opponent, who will have to use the result as one of their three dice on the next turn. As you advance up the tracks, the first person to arrive at certain marked spaces will get to use the special power of that particular tea. After ten rounds, you add up the prestige gained from each tea and the player with the most total prestige is the winner.
Six Sons is an interesting area control type game that moves pretty quickly. It’s got a kind of dice draft going on, and a reasonably unique theme. I’m not crazy about the solo version, but it’s good for two. The quick gift is just to print out one page, giving some dice and cubes with it. You could cut out the cards, but it’s really not necessary.
Utopia Engine (Nick Hayes, 2010) is a solitaire dice game where you are trying to prevent doomsday from happening by constructing the Utopia Engine. To do this, you’ll have to collect all of the pieces, activate them, then put them into the machine. You’ll need to print out two play sheets, and use two dice and a pencil. Don’t use a pen on this one – there’s a lot of erasing to do.
On each turn, you’ll choose a location and mark the first space of its time track. You’ll then roll the dice, and enter each number into one of six squares. You are building two three digit numbers that you will subtract, with the goal of getting as close to zero as possible. If you get within ten, you’ve found a part. If you get within 100, you’ve found a component that can be used in activation. If you get more than 100, or a negative number, you’ll have an encounter with something nasty. Once you’ve found a part, you’ll need to activate it by subtracting numbers and hopefully getting high results. Once you have all six parts, you’ll need to turn the machine on by once again subtracting and getting a low number so that your final roll-off will be successful. Do all this before time runs out, and you win.
Utopia Engine is probably my favorite game on this list. It’s got a very exciting narrative arc to it, and a cool kind of post-apocalyptic feel to it. I definitely recommend it. The quick gift is just two sheets, two dice and a pencil.
Thanks for reading this Post-Holiday Gift Guide! See you in 2017!