As the weather turns cold, the days shorten, and the smell of pumpkin spice fills your nostrils you know what time it is. That’s right, the holiday season is upon us. And with Black Friday just around the corner, the shopping season is here as well. And since everyone knows board games make the best gifts (we looked it up, it’s a scientifically proven fact), you might be wondering where to start.
Well the BGQ team is here to help with that. We’ve consulted with Santa, tinkered with the elves, lit the candles and have prepared our annual Board Game Gift Guide. Whether you are shopping for the picky euro gamer or a plastic-loving thematic gamer, we’ve got a recommendation for you. Happy shopping!
2023 Board Game Gift Guide
Classic Board Games
Every year we try to start off the guide with the classics. These are games that have not only made their mark on our hobby, but have stood the test of time. If you are not sure where to start, any of these gems would make the perfect gift. They have been enjoyed by millions of gamers and are readily available in most major stores.
Ticket to Ride (review)
Designer Alan Moon created this gem back in 2004 and it continues to make its way to gaming tables 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.
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. It has also inspired a number of thematic offshoots should you be looking for more Pandemic options.
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 one of the ultimate “gateway games.”
7 Wonders (review)
7 Wonders is a fantastic card game that introduced players 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 unique, it has a quick playtime, 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 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 to them.
Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps
From its action-packed sequences to its amazing one-liners, Aliens has to be one of the most iconic action movies in history. And for those looking to experience this movie on their tabletops, look no further than Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps. In this cooperative miniatures game, players control a team of grunts trying to survive. From Hudson, to Apone, to Ripley (and yes, even Burke), you’ll embark on a series of missions through the plot of the movie. And just like you might expect, the aliens are swarming and combat is fast and frequent. Every meal, a banquet, every paycheck a fortune. I love the corps!
This year brought us the unique city defense board game from publisher Elzra Games. In Monster Pit, players are working together to defend the city from a host of invading monsters. Using a mixture of dice rolling and worker placement actions, players will build out their armies and use them to attack not only the main boss but many its minions who are invading the city. With a large variety of decks, several unique bosses, and even multiple play modes, Monster Pit has a ton of replay value. If you are shopping for a cooperative gamer who enjoys both dice rolling and a bit of euro game love, Monster Pit is a great choice!
Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. features a massive roster of 20 Marvel superheroes for you to control as you take on the forces of evil. In this globe trotting board game, you’ll team up to fight minions, defeat schemes, and try and stop one of four Marvel super villains. The game has a great action system that offers a ton of flexibility, and its character creations allows you to pair your favorite super hero with different roles on the team. It’s a fun dice rolling game with a ton of replay value for the super hero fan on your list.
Micro Macro Crime City
Imagine a Where’s Waldo puzzle, yet instead of just trying to find Waldo, you are looking for his killer. Enter Micro Macro: Crime City. In this cooperative game, you will be given a mystery to solve and must hunt around a city map trying to piece together the clues of the crime. The doodle art is shown in stages and will have you tracing paths of victims and culprits. Its unique gameplay is both engaging and addictive, and its minimal components and rules let you jump right into the action.
Horrified: Greek Monsters
Now in its third iteration, the Horrified series jumps into Greek mythology. Horrified is a great pick up and deliver game where you and your fellow players are trying to stop a monster from legend. Greek Monsters takes the gameplay from the original Horrified and thrusts players into the shoes (sandals?) of Greek Gods working to recapture these monsters. Horrified: Greek Monsters includes six unique adversaries to face and has an accessible ruleset that can be enjoyed by just about anyone.
While the name may suggest that these are games to play at a party, they are really more about social interaction and casual gameplay. A party game can usually accommodate a large number of players (but not required) and features really simple rules with lots of interaction.
A fast-paced party game of deduction that plays in half an hour, Dubious challenges you to conceal your Occupation and Secret while answering a series of questions about your character. At the same time, you will also be trying to decipher your opponents’ identities. Don’t be too secretive though! You will score points if someone (but not everyone) guesses your hidden information correctly, as well as scoring points for correctly guessing your opponents’ identities
Everything Ever is a party game that only takes seconds to learn and 15 minutes to play. The premise is simple. On the table there will be a couple of cards that have a category on them, such as Every Dinosaur Movie or Every Type of Tree. On your turn, you have to name something from both categories within 10 seconds. If you can’t do this, you can either take a card as a penalty or play one of the limited cards from your hand to change the category to something you can guess. Sounds easy right? Not so fast as you can’t duplicate any previous answers! If you are looking for a game with a ton of interaction that can be played with just about anyone, Everything Ever is it!
Noobs in Space
In Noobs in Space, 3-5 players are working together to complete a set of missions. The gameplay features a series of cards and a challenge for the players. However the wrinkle is that you must work with your fellow players to complete the mission, yet each player only has a piece of the puzzle. That means that you must use both your teamwork and also deductive powers to figure out how to accomplish your mission.
That’s Not a Hat
This game of bluffing and memory is both easy to play and quick to get to the table. Each player is given a card with a random object on it: hat, glove, water bottle, egg, bread, etc. Then all the cards are turned face down and, one at a time, players pass their cards to their neighbor, naming what they are (or what they think they are). The goal is to try and remember what each card is, and call out other players’ bluff if you think they’ve forgotten what card they are passing you is and just making something up. That’s Not a Hat is a fun game that can lead to lots of silly moments of laughter.
Fire in the Hole
This great-looking dexterity game is not only a blast to play, but has a really good table presence. Just open the board and watch the pirate ship jump up like a pop-up-book. The goal of Fire in the Hole is to toss felt balls into the pirate ship and link 4 cannonballs together. However, this isn’t just a game of tossing and hoping for the best. Each turn you’ll need to choose a card to play, which will determine your action. However, there is also a good chance all your opponents will be taking the same action at the same time as you for some mayhem! Fire in the hole is quick to set up and a lot of fun to play!
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 two-player game will fit the bill.
When it comes to two-player games, Onitama has entered the modern classic territory. This abstract game has an “easy to learn, difficulty to master” feeling to it. It’s a game of perfect information where each player is trying to eliminate their opponent’s leader or move into their leader’s start space. The trick is that there are only 5 movement cards in a game, and you only have access to two of them (your opponent has two as well). Once you use one, you swap it with the fifth leftover one. It’s a delicate back-and-forth duel that’s sure to captivate players who love to strategize. Onitama comes in a beautiful tower-shaped box with magnetic closure and includes a gorgeous playmat.
Star Trek: Away Missions
The most recent Star Trek game to grace tabletops, this miniatures game has your teams competing to complete their missions before time is up and you have to return to your ships. Each player has an away team of 4-6 members, a deck of missions, and a deck of support cards. There’s some degree of combat and skirmishing involved, but the focus is more on your mission cards and finishing them to earn points (unless you’re playing a Klingon away team… then they’re the same thing!). Each faction in Star Trek: Away Missions plays differently, so there are potentially many ways to play. Four team expansions are out now, with more on the way.
For fans of abstract strategy games, publisher Smirk and Dagger makes some amazing titles. One of their best games is Shobu, but newcomer Boop definitely is a great follow-up. In this cat-themed game, you are trying to get your cats into position on the bed. However, everytime someone places a cat meeple, it “boops” all adjacent cats one space away! It’s a thinky game that fits into the mantra of “easy to learn, difficult to master.”
Undaunted: Battle of Britain
For fans of the Undaunted Series, there are now quite a few options to choose from. From the breakout hit Normandy, to North Africa (which added vehicles), to Stalingrad (which added campaign mode), the lineup keeps getting even more diverse. The newest offering, Undaunted: Battle of Britain takes players to the skies over the UK as they dogfight in this tactical deck-building game. The core gameplay of the Undaunted series is still here, but not wrapped around some tactical aerial combat!
7 Wonders Duel
7 Wonders pioneered the “pick and pass” card drafting genre and is an amazing game. When there are only two of you though, 7 Wonders Duel is a better option. Instead of passing cards back and forth, players are drafting cards from the center of the table trying to build their empire. And with a handful of expansions already released, 7 Wonders Duel has a ton of replay value and makes a great for players who primarily play as a pair.
In stark contrast to war games, the euro game prioritizes managing resources and collecting victory points over direct conflict. Many games fall in this category, from light to heavy, and the euro game can appeal to a broad number of gamers.
The White Castle
In The White Castle, players will be drafting dice to use as action pawns to perform a myriad of different actions depending on the color of the dice, and the value of the face. These actions all help the players move up social rank within the titular White Castle, all for the sake of most victory points. Oh, and did I mention you only get 9 actions to achieve all of this? For those Euro gamers looking for action efficiency and number crunchiness condensed into an hour experience, nothing holds a candle to The White Castle.
Released a couple years ago, Ark Nova has skyrocketed to #4 on the Board Game Geek best games ever list. And the praise is well deserved. Ark Nova has players planning out a zoo, but having to carefully balance making an entertaining and fun place for visitors while also sponsoring conservation projects. The action selection system gives players 5 different actions they can take when you choose an action it resets to it’s least powerful and everything else slides up. There’s even a new Marine expansion if you need some more water-based animals to expand the options. Ark Nova is a heavier option that is certainly a complex, multi-hour experience, but it’s worth digging into repeatedly.
The Castles of Burgundy
I could make the argument that The Castles of Burgundy belongs at the top of this list as an evergreen classic game. It’s a medium-weight euro where players will roll two dice every turn and spend each die to take an action. You’ll mostly be grabbing hex tiles from a main board and then placing them into your estate. Each tile has a different way to score or bonus that it gives you. It’s fairly simple to explain and get your first time underway but a lot of depth of strategy to keep coming back to. There’s a very nice 20th anniversary edition available… or if you want to jump off the deep end a recently published super deluxe edition with all the expansions and pretty components you could ever want.
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 sculptures look, minis games are more popular than ever. Most of the time the gameplay in minis games is tactical with lots of combat and dice chucking.
Cyberpunk Red Combat Zone
Based on the popular IP of Cyberpunk 2077, this skirmish game will have two players each creating their own team and fighting it out on the streets of Night City. The core set features the cybernetically enhanced Malestrom gang facing off against the deadly Tyger Claws. Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone uses the [RE]Act system that’s not only color-coded for super smooth gameplay but also has a unique mechanic that lets you take an out-of-turn reaction when one of your units takes damage. With a ton of expansions gangs already released as well, this one has a ton of options for the skirmish gamer to enjoy.
Snap Ship Tactics
If the makers of Lego decided to make a scifi dogfighting game, it’d be Snap Ship Tactics. This core set comes with two spaceships that you’ll first build, lego style, and then fight it out in a 1v1 skirmish. While not actually Lego pieces, the connecting ability of the ships is superb, and the ruleset for the game is really amazing. You can customize your ships to your heart’s content, and with upcoming expansions, add in more options or even extra ships to fight with.
Resident Evil: The Board Game
In 2002 Capcom made a genre-defining survival horror video game called Resident Evil. It has since spawned a number of sequels that fans of the series have eagerly lapped up. And now, publisher Steamforged Games has brought this beloved IP to our tabletops. Resident Evil: The Board Game is a tense cooperative game where players will attempt to survive through 19 scenarios with horrible monsters to fight and puzzles to solve. Much like in the video game, there are resources to be managed, with even your supply of ammunition is limited.
Card games come in many shapes and varieties, 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.
Star Wars: Deck Building Game
Deck-building games have been around since 2008 brought us the genre-defining game Dominion. One of the latest games to use this core mechanic is the Star Wars Deck Building Game. In it, one player takes on the role of the Empire trying to destroy the rebel bases, while the other player controls the heart of the rebellion hoping to stop the empire once and for all. Players will be not only recruiting cards from a shared center row, but will even have the opportunity to attack their opponent’s cards in the market, earning them valuable resources while denying their opponent access to those cards.
The newest card game from Portal Games is an engine-building game that not only has a good amount of variety but is quick to play. Imperial Miners is a multiplayer solitaire card game that will have you playing cards into your tableau each round, and then activating every card up the chain that they are connected to. This allows for tons of combos and endless strategies as you hone your engine into a victory point-earning machine.
One of the hyped card games to come out of Gen Con this year was Forest Shuffle from publisher Lookout Spiel. In this point salad style game, you’ll be playing cards into your tableau, either trees or animals. Every animal and plant you play will also give you a way to score points, meaning that you’ll be able to refine your strategy as the game plays out. There is a lot of interaction between the cards, with some chaining off each other, or allowing combos during scoring. If you are a fan of games with lots of ways to score points, Forest Shuffle is it.
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.
Frostpunk: The Board Game
Based on the brutally hard video game of the same name, Frostpunk: The Board Game takes the post-apocalyptic city builder and brings it to your tabletop. Game publisher Glass Canon Unplugged left no stone unturned with this translation and many things from the video game make an appearance here. The game is definitely not easy to win, yet is highly thematic as you’ll not only need to manage your resources and the needs of your survivors but have plenty of brutally hard decisions to make.
Thunder Road: Vendetta
Ever wanted to drive a card through a deadly race Mad Max style? Me neither, but that doesn’t stop me from loving the new Thunder Road: Vendetta board game. This racing game tasks players with winning a race through a desert course filled with hazards, obstacles, and even other cars determined to beat you–either with their bumper or their guns. It’s a chaotic good time filled with lots of vehicular carnage that definitely does justice to its namesake.
This anti-colonial board game puts the players in the roles of island spirits determined to stop the invading colonists. Each spirit has its own unique theme, be it fire, water, or even supporting the local population. In Spirit Island, you’ll be using your presence on the island, and tons of innate powers to destroy towns, villages, and invaders in the hope of driving them from the island before they cause too much damage.
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.
The Quest Kids
This is a competitive dungeon crawler for your little ones that makes a great entry into the genre. There is almost no reading required so it can be enjoyed by kids as young as 5-6. In The Quest Kids, you’ll move your character around the dungeon turning over the room card you enter. They will either be resources to collect, or monsters that are banished by playing the correct number of resource cards. And even though this is a competitive game, there is still the ability to help your fellow players (for a small reward), helping to ensure that the game never gets too mean.
Hansel and Gretel
This cooperative game tasks players with placing tiles of candy pieces hoping to match up the shapes. The goal is to keep the titular Hansel and Gretel away from the evil witch who is trying to eat them. The game uses a neat mechanic where players have to be aware of the colored dots on the outside of the tiles, which notes how fast the players will move their pieces each round. This helps add a nice layer of strategy to the game as Hansel and Gretel must position themselves carefully as if they move too slow or too fast and she’ll catch them and it’s game over!
“Is it my turn?” is one of the most common questions I get when my family plays games together and for kids, and some adults who act like kids, waiting for their turn is the worst. Enter Junk Drawer by David Smith and published by 25th Century Games that solves that problem with simultaneous play as each player is trying to fit polyominos onto their own player boards. Each board is split into four quadrants, each with their own scoring goal. Each round, four cards showing various items, are flipped over one at a time and each player needs to place one item per quadrant per round until someone can’t fit an item. This could be as early as the second round of cards. This is a good game for gamers to play with non-gamers and has an inoffensive theme that most adults will get while kids will still enjoy playing with the pieces.
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.
GAP is the quintessential stocking stuffer. It’s small in size and very affordable. It’s also really easy to learn and get to the table. The premise is simple: The bigger the gap between your collected cards, the more points you’ll score. In each round, you‘ll play the cards in your hand to collect cards from the center of the table. At the end of the round, you‘ll score for the color you collected the most of, minus the color you collected the least of. For people who love traditional-style card games, GAP is a great option.
Air, Land, and Sea: Critters at War
Based on the game Air Land & Sea, Critters at War offers the same competitive 2-player experience, but now with cute animal art in vibrant colors! In this game, each player is vying for control of the three theaters of war. Cards are played to each of the theaters, sometimes with special powers, to try and wrest control of it. Whoever controls two of the three theaters each round claims the points. But how many points depends on how long your opponent stays in the round. The sooner someone folds in the round, the fewer points they give up. So it’s a careful balancing act of staying in to try and win, vs folding and not giving up too many points. This is a stocking-sized game that packs a big punch!
This award-winning card game takes the trick-taking genre and breathes some new life into it. Scout, more accurately described as a climbing game, tasks players with playing higher sets of cards hoping to win the round. The trick is that you aren’t allowed to rearrange the cards in your hand. So you have to play the cards literally as they are dealt to you. It’s a small rule, but one that impacts the game immensely. Both fun and easy to learn, Scout makes a great gift for just about anyone.
Super Mega Lucky Box
While Super Mega Lucky Box might have a silly name, and some basic visuals, but it’s actually a lot of fun and a very accessible game. Take the gameplay from Bingo, but ratchet the interest up a notch by creating the ability to combo extra boxes after completing rows. It’s simple, but the perfect recipe for when you are looking for a quick filler game that anyone at the table can enjoy.
Deep Sea Adventure
Deep Sea Adventure is a quick-playing, push-your-luck game that will have you and your fellow players trying to dive down into the sea in search of treasure. Each turn you’ll roll the dice and see how far you can move. However, once you start collecting treasure, it will slow down your moves. You’ll need to decide when you’ve collected enough treasure to then turn around and head back to the surface. Leave too early and you won’t have enough points to win. Wait too long and you’ll run out of air and collect no points!