It’s that time of years again. The weather has turned cold, the days shorter, and the holiday shopping season is upon us. And what better gift to give someone than a board game! It’s a scientifically proven fact that board games make the best gift (don’t @ me). But with the craziness that has been 2020, and the lack of gaming conventions this year, you might not be sure what games are worth gifting out this year.
That’s where we come in. We’ve sent the elves to the gaming tables, rolled the dice, shuffled the cards, and are ready to present to you our 2020 Board Game Gift Guide. As usual, we’ve broken the guide up into several categories so you can jump right to the section that’s most relevant for the person you are shopping for. Enjoy!
2020 Board Game Gift Guide
Classic Board Games
Every year we try and start off the guide with the classics. These are games that have not only left their mark on our hobby but have stood the test of times. If you are not sure where to start, any of these gems is a perfect choice. They have been enjoyed by countless gamers and continue to sell years later.
Ticket to Ride (review)
Designer Alan Moon created this gem back in 2004 and it continues to fly off the store shelves even to this day. It’s fun, accessible, and has a ton of expansions for added variety. In Ticket to Ride, you are trying to build train routes across major cities on the board. The gameplay makes this one quick to learn and fast to play. If you have played card games like Rummy or Gin, then Ticket to Ride should be an easy transition.
No game is more relevant this year than Pandemic. Designer Matt Leacock has created a cooperative game that has players racing against time to cure four diseases threatening the world. Pandemic is one of the most popular cooperative board games and has long since become a staple in every gamer’s collection. Pandemic is easy to learn and very challenging to win, which helps give the game high replay value.
Catan is the granddaddy of board games and is probably most Americans’ first experience with a “Eurogame.” In this game of trading and construction, players must build up their settlements and roads by using the island’s five resources. The game features very easy to learn mechanics and a healthy dose of player interaction via the importance of trading resources. Catan is a game that every gamer will probably play at least once and is probably one of the ultimate “gateway games.”
7 Wonders (review)
7 Wonders is a fantastic card game that introduced us to the card drafting (pick and pass) genre. In 7 Wonders, after you select your card, you then pass your remaining hand of cards to the player sitting next to you. The gameplay is very unique; it has a quick play time and expands all the way up to 7 players with zero loss of quality or added length. 7 Wonders is easily one of our favorite games and one we’re always willing to play.
Carcassonne is a tile-laying game with almost no setup time because you build the game board as you play! In Carcassonne, players are building out cities, roads, monasteries, and farms to try to score the most victory points. Each turn, a player will draw a tile and add it to the tiles already played on the table. If the player completes one of their buildings, they score victory points for it. The rules are simple, the turns quick, and the game is very accessible.
Cooperative Board Games:
Board games don’t always have to be about head to head competition. Sometimes, the joy of camaraderie and working together is what people crave. Cooperative board games pit you and your fellow players against the game itself. Some are more action-oriented, while others have a more puzzly nature.
Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time
This acclaimed mobile game of the same name comes to your tabletop with a cooperative, tower defense board game. Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time features campaign-style gameplay and asymmetrical hero powers as players must protect their kingdom from waves of rampaging enemies. For those not interested in campaign play, Kingdom Rush also has a standard mode that can be replayed as much as you want. If you want a game that not only has a unique playstyle, but also looks great, Kingdom Rush is definitely worth checking out.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island (review)
Robinson Crusoe has been a staple of cooperative gaming for a while now. This thematic game of survival drops players on a deserted, tropical island and tasks them not only with surviving, but also trying to accomplish one of the games scenarios. Robinson Crusoe makes no apologies for how difficult it can be, yet it never feels like it cheats either… making the victories in this game oh so savory. And with several expansions already released, this one has a ton of replay value as well!
Marvel United (review)
There are no shortage of games using the Marvel theme, yet Marvel United still manages to stand out on its own. From the simple, streamlined gameplay to the great looking chibi-style miniatures, Marvel United is both quick to get to the table and fun to play. In the game, players must work together to take down one of three iconic marvel villains by playing cards into an action timeline. Time is limited, so players will need to coordinate their actions if they hope to win.
Deck Box Dungeons (review)
For the gamer on the go, Deck Box Dungeons is a great way to play dungeon crawler without requiring tons of rules or tablespace. This pocket-sized game uses a series of cards and dice to represent the dungeon, monsters, and heroes. A free digital app will not only give you your quest but also creates the dungeon for you as the game progresses! Deck Box Dungeon only requires the contents of a small deck box and a smart phone, meaning it’s the perfect gift for the gamer on the go.
Back to the Future: Back in Time (review)
Are you a fan of the Back to the Future movies? Of course, you are! And if you are looking to recreate the Back to the Future experience on your tabletop there is absolutely no better game to do it than Back to the Future: Back in Time. In this cooperative game, players will need to collect the parts of the time machine, rekindle the love of Loraine and George, and get the DeLorean into position… all before lightning strikes the clock tower. Oh, and of course Biff and his gang are going to make trouble for you along the way.
While the name may suggest that these are games to play at a party, they are more about social interaction and casual gameplay. A party game can usually accommodate many players (but not required) and features really simple rules with lots of interaction.
Paranormal Detectives (review)
In this deductive game, one player takes on the role of a ghost, while the rest of the players are investigators trying to figure out how the ghost was killed. Each turn, a player can ask the ghost a question, but the ghost can only reply using a series of unusual methods: string art, letter puzzles, and thematic meters are just the tip of the usual ways a ghost must convey information. Paranormal Detectives is also not a cooperative game as players are each trying to be the first to solve the mystery.
Playing Stay Cool is easy… you just have to do everything at the same time. When you are the active player, you must verbally answer questions from the player on your left, while also trying to answer questions from the player on the right using dice as text. Oh, and you only have two minutes to answer as many questions as you can… so you better stay cool!
This team-based game will have you trying to get into the mindset of your fellow teammates. Each round the active member checks the hidden wheel to see where the bullseye is. They must then give a clue to their teammates to get them to move the wheel into the correct range. It may sound easy, but Wavelength requires teammates to guess the deeper meaning and intentions of your clue without giving too much away to your opponents who will try and steal the points.
Not every game needs a group of players to be enjoyable. Whether it’s simply you and a friend, or you are looking for something to play with your significant other, a 2-player game will fit the bill.
Super Fantasy Brawl
Super Fantasy Brawl not only boasts some amazing looking miniatures, but its gameplay gives players a fun, accessible skirmish game. Each player drafts a team of three heroes and uses them in the arena to try and earn trophies. Players will not only be fighting their opponent’s heroes, but also trying to claim area control objectives. Combat in Super Fantasy Brawl is fast, and positioning is also important making this much deeper than just a slugfest.
Air, Land, and Sea (review)
In this area control game, players will be playing cards to one of three theaters of war hoping to control it. Each card in Air, Land & Sea not only has a strength, but also a special power so the order you play your cards can matter as much as where. Each player only has six cards to play during the battle and can drop out of the contest at any time… yet the longer a player stays in, the more victory points the winner earns!
Conspiracy: Abyss Universe
Most people probably don’t know that there is a two-player game set in the Abyss universe. But Conspiracy will have each player drafting familiar Abyss lords and building an inverted pyramid. Much like in the original game, players will be using lords to collect pearls and control locations. There are quite a few ways to score in Conspiracy, giving players a few paths to victory in this lighter version of Abyss.
Warhammer 40,000: Heroes of Black Reach
The “Heroes System Tactical Scale” from Heroes of Normandie gets a sci-fi makeover as it joins the Warhammer 40k universe. This tactical skirmish game uses no minis, and instead is played with all cardboard tiles. While that doesn’t sound as cool, it actually works out really well as the tiles have all the unit’s relevant stats on it, plus some cool top-down artwork. Players in Heroes of Black Reach will control either a squad of Ultramarines or the feared Greenskins in a series of escalating scenarios.
In stark contrast to war games, the eurogame prioritizes managing resources and collecting victory points over direct conflict. There are many games that fall in this category, from light to heavy, and the euro game can appeal to a broad number of gamers.
This tile laying, city building game will have you drafting tiles of buildings and using them to construct a city. In Neom, every building will help your city in some ways—be it scoring you points, earning you money, or giving you access to one of the games many resources. If you like the pick and pass style of drafting and are a fan of the city-building genre, then this is the game for you.
Taverns of Tiefenthal (review)
This dice drafting game will have you running your own tavern in a sleepy little town. Each round you’ll draft several dice, and use the results to serve customers beer and activate workers in your pub. The Taverns of Tiefenthal has a little bit of engine building, some resource management, and a lot of drafting, giving it a nice mashup of different mechanics.
Expedition to Newdale (review)
Game designer Alexander Pfister takes his popular Oh My Goods card game and successfully builds a board game around it. Not only that, but it’s a campaign game with interesting choices from worker placement, to how risky to be when trying to run buildings, and also how to optimize your actions through the game’s seven rounds. Each chapter of the story will also give you new goals to work on, helping each game of Expedition to Newdale feel unique.
Miniatures games, or minis games as they are more often referred to, are games for people who love those little plastic figures. Whether a painter at heart or just someone who can appreciate how cool the sculpts look, minis games are more popular than ever. Most of the time the gameplay in minis games are tactical in nature with lots of combat and dice chucking.
Planet Apocalypse (review)
Hell has awakened and it’s up to your ragtag band of heroes to save the world. In Planet Apocalypse players must work together in a tower defense style board game—fighting demons, laying ambushes, and ultimately trying to defeat the demon lord before doom comes to us all. Heroes in Planet Apocalypse feature unique powers, and also a flaw, which helps them feel right at home in this doomed world.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures: Change is Constant (review)
In Change is Constant, players control the four, iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a series of missions. This dice-based, miniatures game can either be played 1 vs Many or fully cooperatively. The unique dice system will have players rolling dice for their actions, and also using symbols of the dice that their neighbor rolled, helping to create a lot of player interaction in this cooperative game.
Marvel Crisis Protocol
In this tactical miniatures game, players form teams of Marvel superheroes and villains and duke it out over control points. Even though Marvel Crisis Protocol is a miniatures skirmish game, the rules are streamlined enough that players can jump in pretty quickly. While the miniatures do require a bit of assembly, once put together they look fantastic. And with new expansions consistently being released for this game, players will have a lot of options when building their squads—which can be either villains, heroes, or a mix of both!
Street Masters (review)
If you’ve ever played one of the classic fighting games like Street Fighter or Double Dragon, then you know where the inspiration for this game came from. In this cooperative game, players will be controlling a unique fighter as they attempt to take down the big boss before he completes his mission. Street Masters uses Blacklist Game’s modular deck system, so players have plenty of variety when they mix fighters, bosses, and stages each game.
Card games come in many shapes and variety, but they usually lack a large game board and tons of plastic pieces. This not only makes them more budget-friendly, but also a lot easier to take with you on the go.
Santa Monica (review)
In Santa Monica, you and your fellow players are competing to build the most appealing neighborhood in Southern California. Each turn, you’ll draft a card into your beachfront—either as a retail shop or waterfront property—in the hopes of scoring the most points at the end of the game. You’ll need to cater your selections to appeal to tourists, locals, and even VIPs as different cards will attract specific types of clientele.
Villagers is a tableau-building game where players are drafting villagers into their town to create production chains and earn gold. The gameplay in Villagers is easy to learn, but creating chains of people can turn your village into an economic engine, as a single villager can unlock access to much more powerful craftspeople.
In this interactive engine-building game, players are creating new lifeforms in the depths of the ocean. Each round in Oceans you’ll either start a new creature or adapt an existing one by giving it new traits. Fish can either be casual grazers or vicious carnivores that attack other players’ creatures. And with a massive deck of “deep” cards, this one boasts a large amount of replay value.
Sometimes you don’t want to hunt for victory points, but instead, want a game that draws you in with its story or world. These games usually combine great production values with engaging gameplay that draws you in from the very start.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game – Season One (review)
If you ever wanted to be a police detective like on those cop shows, Detective: Season One is the way to go. This is a streamlined version of the origins Detective game that just lets players focus on the reason they are here: piecing together clues and solving crimes. The game also uses an online database where players will be logging evidence, researching suspects, and examining clues. Detective: Season One has three different cases in the box, each of which will take you to different locals and presents you with a crime to solve.
Chronicles of Crime: 1400
This unique investigation game takes players back to the year 1400 as they must solve crimes as a knight living in Paris. The Chronicles of Crime: 1400 uses Lucky Duck Games Scan & Play technology as players will be scanning QR codes to question suspects and witnesses. The app also uses your digital device to virtually examine the crime scene letting players physically search for clues and evidence in a really neat merging of technically and tabletop gaming.
Forgotten Waters (review)
If you are looking for a game where you can immersive yourself into a story, then look no further than Forgotten Waters. In this adventure game, you and your fellow players are crewmates on a pirate ship embarking on missions on the high seas. While the mechanics aren’t very deep, the story is fantastic. Forgotten Waters also features an app to help run the game with full voice acting and sound effects for all the text!
Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion
Most gamers have probably heard of Gloomhaven by now, but not everyone has wanted to pay the triple-digit price tag to check out the gameplay. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a simplified version of the Gloomhaven gameplay that is quicker to set up and easier to play. If you’ve ever wanted to try out this dungeon crawler but weren’t ready to spring for the big box, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the lion is the perfect way to test out the system.
Ready to put on your spurs and head out waste to make your mark? That’s just what you can do in Western Legends. An open-world board game set in the old west, players have a few different ways they can build their legend. Do you want to be a cattle rancher… or how about a rustler instead? Maybe you want to be an outlaw, robbing stores or the bounty hunter that brings those outlaws to justice. Western Legends gives players a lot of ways to run their character.
If you are looking for games that can be played not only with family members but also non-gaming friends, then Family Games are an excellent choice. Easy to learn rules, friendly themes, and minimal downtime are hallmarks of the genre.
Catacombs Cubes (review)
Catacombs Cubes lets you embrace your inner builder as players compete to build structures throughout the kingdom with polyomino shaped blocks. The game can be played in two ways—either using dice to roll for resources or tokens instead for those that want a more strategic game. But in either case, Catacombs Cubes hits a sweet spot of not being super competitive and accessible rules making it perfect for families looking to build their structures without being knocked back by more aggressive players.
Enchanters is a fantasy card drafting game where you are creating an artifact and then upgrading it each round. Each game is started by taking several kingdom decks from the pool and shuffling theme together, making each game feel unique. The artwork in Enchanters is great, and the rules are light enough that players will be able to jump right in with minimal explanation. If you are looking for a game with engaging gameplay and high replay value, then you’ve found it with Enchanters.
This cooperative, real-time board game will have players rushing around the city trying to save people and stop invading monsters. Players will have exactly 20 minutes to accomplish their goal of defeating each of the monsters. The rules in Last Defense are light enough that it can be easily played with kids as young as 8 (if not younger) and there are very minimal reading requirements as well. The digital app will control what the monsters do, and also provides thematic music and sound during the game.
Zombie Kidz Evolution
Zombie Kidz Evolution is the first legacy style game made for the younger gamer. In Zombie Kidz Evolution, players will be working together to stop a zombie attack on their school. Between games, players will track their development through a trophy-sticker system reminiscent of video games, and open envelopes that contain new material for future games.
Azul: Summer Pavilion (review)
Azul has been a staple of abstract strategy games since its release. While the core of the game has remained the same with each release, there have been a few new twists in each title. Azul: Summer Pavilion is the third incarnation of Azul and the most family-friendly. Players will be drafting tiles and using them to create mosaics on their pavilion. The take that rules from the original Azul are gone in this version, making it the most family-friendly of the bunch.
If you are looking for just a little something extra for someone on your list, then check out these Stocking Stuffers. These are great games that won’t break the bank; all under $25.
In this devious little card game, you are trying your best to rid your hand of all your cards… while your opponents want to stop you. The rules in The Deadlies are easy to pick up: each turn you’ll play as many cards as you can—either of the same suit, number, or straight—while the topmost card of the set you play activates its special ability. This will either help you even more or hinder your opponents! Some great art and accessible rules make this a good choice for just about any type of gamer!
Tides of Time (review)
This two-player micro game will have players trying to earn points over the games three rounds. Tides of Time not only boasts some gorgeous artwork but also has some really addictive gameplay. Each round, you’ll be drafting five cards into your empire, each of which has an icon and a way it will score you points. And as you can save a car between rounds, it also features just a hint of engine building as well. Tides of Time is not only easy to learn, but highly portable making it a title you can play just about anywhere!
If you are looking for a low cost, quick-playing filler game, than Illusion fits the bill. The rules can be explained in seconds yet winning is anything but easy. Each round you will be playing a card into the lineup, arranging it by increasing color amount. How good is your color acuity? Illusion will test that out with its variety of optical patterns.
Floor Plan (review)
A roll and write game that will have you becoming an architect and interior designer. In Floor Plan, each round you’ll roll a set of dice, and then you must use those results to either build a room in your house or add features (furniture, trees, windows, etc.). But you are also not just building whatever you want as there are clients with their own demands that you’ll want to meet for extra points!
Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade (review)
Probably one of the most thematic roll and writes we’ve ever played, Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade seeks to recreate a pinball machine on your tabletop. No, this is not a dexterity game, but a strategic one where you’ll be moving your ball around your pinball table each turn, using dice results to trigger different areas of the machine. Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade is both thematic, and also includes a few different thematic tables, giving this one some nice replay value.