So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game Buying Guide 2011


We have hit that time of the year when everyone is wondering what to gift to give.  I thought I would give you my two cents on what game to give as holiday gifts.  I have done this in the past in spoken word, and have already helped a few people this year, but now that I am blogging I figured I would write it down – before you spend all your gift money on Black Friday. 

First, let’s talk about where these games can be purchased.  There are a lot of websites, blogs and podcasts that will give you game gift ideas.  My approach will be a bit unusual; I expect that you, the reader, are not a “gamer”.  I am writing this as I do the rest of the articles here, with a focus for those who are casually interested in the boardgaming hobby.  Therefore, while these games will be available through local game stores or online, they should also be available through some larger, mass-market outlet.  These games are not only easier to learn and play but also easier to find.  Hey, that’s why I’m here!

Links to my reviews of these games are embedded in the text.  Now back to the show!


Type 1: “I loved playing games as a kid!”
This person has fond memories of playing Risk and Monopoly as a kid, and probably played these games at least some as a teenager.  He or she might well play them now, if they could find the time and opponents who don’t mind a four hour game.  This gift recipient will love the revised edition of Risk (or the deluxe version, Risk: Onyx Edition).  The game plays in roughly 90 minutes according to the box, and experience shows that to be accurate.  This game has all of the familiar game play and fun of the original, with different end game conditions to close out the game earlier.  A copy of the revised version of Riskcan be found at nearly any mass media outlet.

Type 2: “I loved playing Clue!”
It would be natural to assume that this would be a subcategory of those above, but it’s likely this person did not like Monopoly or Risk.  There are many people, like my sister, who do not like direct confrontation in a game, and prefer the skullduggery of Clue.  Honestly, one of the best games for this person is to get them a new copy of Clue.  Of all of the mass-market games of old, this is actually one of the decent ones in the mystery genre.  However, I would first look for a copy of Scotland Yard.  I have not played this game, but it was published in the early ‘80’s and is still in print.  Furthermore, it won the Spiel des Jahres in 1983.  I am completely comfortable recommending this game.  Scotland Yard is currently being sold at Barnes and Noble.

Type 3: “We love/loved Scrabble.”
Interestingly, this is one game adults continue to play, and Scrabble has never had the reputation as something “only kids play”.  This group is at once the easiest and the hardest to buy for, since they are open to playing games but laser focused on one.  A more focused approach is called for:
Subtype 1: Families with small children.  Buy Qwirkle.  Not only is this the latest Spiel des Jahres winner, but it has been around in the United States for several years.  Qwirkle can be found many places, including stores for educators.  Target has been carrying it almost since first publication.
Subtype 2: Families older children or no children.  Find a copy of Bananagrams.  This is definitely a game for wordies, but it plays in 20 minutes.  Furthermore, it plays five and could probably play as many as six if you wanted to push it (not that I am recommending it!).  I originally blew it off, but after playing it found that I really enjoy it.  This is one of the more economical choices, too.  Furthermore, it’s actually hard to find a store that doesn’t carry Bananagrams; it’s the easiest game to find.  All of the mass-market outlets will have Bananagrams.

Type 4: “My family plays/played cards when at family functions.”
This is another tough group.  There are some great card games out there, and I will recommend something that is going to make hardcore gamers roll their eyes: Mille Bornes.  This is not a highly regarded game in the boardgaming community, but my wife and I have had a lot of fun with it and have introduced it to friends successfully.  The only warning I have is that there is a lot of “take that” in the game, so with little ones it can result in wailing and gnashing of teeth.  This game comes in a deluxe edition that is reasonably priced, and the basic version is found everywhere in the card game section of the store.  The basic version is very inexpensive, so it works as a stocking stuffer or in a $10 gift exchange as well.

Type 5:  The family/casual boardgamer
This starts to get tricky, because there is the chance that you will give a gift they already have.  However, if they have a few hobby games that they play casually, there is a decent chance they don’t have Dominion.  I realize in writing this post that I have been remiss; I have not reviewed this game.  I will correct that very soon.  In the meantime, trust me here.  This is an excellent game.  It’s a small step up in complexity from Ticket to Ride or any of the other games mentioned here, but anyone with a little experience will be able to read the rules and play.  This game works pretty well for those who used to play Magic: The Gathering, Pokémonor other collectible card games.  Dominion has recently become available at Target and Barnes and Noble.

Type 6: The Dedicated Chess Player
Handkerchiefs.   Seriously, this person is not hard to buy a game for; they are impossible.  The dedicated chess player has already ruled out any other games from their life.  Furthermore, they probably play a particular opening, prefer certain styles of pieces, and even have a favorite chess author.  No kidding.  I don’t consider myself “dedicated”, yet I have all of those things.  You are more likely to buy them something they don’t want.  If you live in New York City, there are brick and mortar stores specializing in chess items, so you could get a gift certificate.  My guess would be that’s true in London and Moscow (I’m talking Europe here) also.  If you live anywhere else in the world, buy handkerchiefs.  If you are worried about that taking all of the challenge out of gift buying, get 100% cotton handkerchiefs.  At least where I live, they are nearly impossible to find.  And then buy yourself a game, since clearly gift buying is a game you play already!

Type 7: The Gamer
Here’s another tough one, since you are more likely to get it wrong than get it right.  You have a few other options, though, that makes this person easier to buy for than the Dedicated Chess Player.  If they are looking for a specific game, you can find a local store or order online.  If you don’t know of a particular game, get a gift certificate.  If you prefer to do business locally, and game stores aren’t convenient, buy a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble that can be redeemed online.  Both B&N and Amazon carry games now.

Type 8: Kids
This is actually tougher than one might think, since there is so much out there that is just garbage.  I will suggest Blokus, which is not specifically a children’s game, but is kid-friendly and is colorfully eye-catching.  This game should be easy to find.  It was bought from the original publisher by Hasbro a while back, and since then Blokus has become available in the mass-market stores.

Type 9:  Families with no gaming experience
Subtype 1: Competition encouraged.  For this group, either Blokus or Qwirkle is a good choice.  Qwirkle is a little more flexible when it comes to number of players (we’ve pushed it to six players and it worked), but Blokus is a little less expensive.  Your pick.
Subtype 2:  Cooperation encouraged.  I will go with the game I was widely recommendung last year: Forbidden Island.  All players work together trying to take treasures off a mysterious island.  In the meantime, the island is sinking, threatening to take the treasures and players down to the depths below.  This is a great game!   Since everyone is working together, little players can be freely helped, making this a fantastic family adventure.  This game is also a great value, yet comes with very nice components packaged in a tin.  Barnes and Noble has carried Forbidden Island ever since it came out last year.

Type 10: Couples / Everybody Else
Seriously, you can buy anything discussed in this post and it will be a great choice!  However, I will make one more suggestion, and that is HiveThis game is an abstract strategy game the is incredibly popular in our Scout troop, and it is easy to learn.  Furthermore, it comes with a travel bag, so it is easy to pack and nearly indestructible.  I recently found Hive at Barnes in Noble.
It’s worth noting that every one of these games is available at Barnes and Noble.  (Just to be clear, I have no affiliation with B&N.  It’s not even my favorite bookstore.)

I hoped this helped!  If you would like more personal suggestions, email me at
I will be glad to answer any questions!

It’s Your Move!

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