Our Board Game Curator’s Board Game Gift Guide for 2020!

holiday board game recommendations

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From November 16th-30th, we have 10% off all merchandise including board games and gift cards by using the coupon code happybirthday at www.wonderlandkingston.com. If you’re looking for any of the games below that may be out of stock, or any other board games, we can also order it in for you and have it here before the holidays! Just shoot us an email at info@improbableescapes.com to order. If you live locally in Kingston or the surrounding areas, we offer free same-day local delivery if you order by 5 PM, otherwise, it’ll be added to the next day’s delivery. Happy shopping!

Hey there! Sean here, one of your friendly neighbourhood game curators at Improbable Escapes: Wonderland, with some ideas for your holiday shopping this year. Whether the gamer on your list has played everything under the sun or hasn’t played much since Monopoly or Scrabble when they were a kid, we’ve got you covered! So let’s get started, shall we?

New to Board Gaming?

Are you new to the wide world of gaming, or are you shopping for someone who is? No problem! These days players are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to “gateway games” — games that are easy enough to learn or to play that they serve as great entry points for getting into the board gaming hobby.

For example, it’s hard to go wrong with modern classic Ticket to Ride. Players take on the role of rail barons, and collect sets of coloured cards to build up their networks of trains and score points by completing the routes on their tickets. Gameplay is simple enough to pick up in a few turns, but still offers enough interesting choices to satisfy all kinds of players. And if the base game’s North American setting doesn’t do it for you, there are a variety of expansions and editions that take the trains around the world and add new gameplay elements along the way.

Another great way to get into gaming yourself or to get your friends in on the action is to take a look at a co-operative game, one where players work together against the game itself rather than competing with each other. 5 Minute Dungeon is a favourite of mine in this genre: it’s quick to learn and just as quick to play (rounds take, unsurprisingly, about 5 minutes each). Best of all, everyone’s working together, so experienced players can help newer ones ease into the gameplay so everyone has the best chance of making it through the dungeon in one piece.

Other great board games if you’re new to board gaming:

Easy to Learn (But Still Tons of Fun!)

Big, long games aren’t for everybody, whether because of the time it takes to play them or just the time it takes to learn them, so games that are easy to learn, and then teach to new players, are a great place to start your game collection. And of course, games that are easy to learn can still be tons of fun!

Tsuro is a simple spatial game in which players, taking on the role of majestic dragons, build the board as the game progresses, laying down tiles from their hand to create their paths through the sky. If that path takes a dragon off the board, however, that player is out. The goal, therefore, is simple: be the last dragon still on the board. But once the board starts to fill up, and players start to get closer and closer to each other, staying on the board is easier said than done!

Other great easy-to-play board games:

Strategy Games

Some gamers like to sit and have a think during their games, to pore over their options, ponder the best course of action, and have their fate decided by their choices rather than a roll of the dice. Strategy games are made for these gamers, with little to no random elements and all of the outcome hinging on the decisions made by the players.

Two-player game Onitama is a simple enough example of this — a little like chess, but with only 5 pieces on each side, and a total of just 16 cards in the whole game — but the small package belies big strategy. Unlike chess, where each piece always moves a certain way, Onitama’s pieces move based on the patterns found on the aforementioned cards. Each game only uses 5 cards of the whole deck, 2 in the hands of each player and one in the middle of the table, and when a player uses one of their cards to move a piece, they then swap that card with the one on the table… which means that players have to think ahead about how their opponents might use the card they’re about to put down because that card will be in their opponent’s hands soon enough! Great strategy, replayability (just shuffle the deck and grab 5 new cards to play again) and portability make Onitama a lot of gaming value in just a small box.

Other great strategy games:

Big, long games aren’t for everybody, whether because of the time it takes to play them or just the time it takes to learn them, so games that are easy to learn, and then teach to new players, are a great place to start your game collection. And of course, games that are easy to learn can still be tons of fun!

Tsuro is a simple spatial game in which players, taking on the role of majestic dragons, build the board as the game progresses, laying down tiles from their hand to create their paths through the sky. If that path takes a dragon off the board, however, that player is out. The goal, therefore, is simple: be the last dragon still on the board. But once the board starts to fill up, and players start to get closer and closer to each other, staying on the board is easier said than done!

Strategy Games

Some gamers like to sit and have a think during their games, to pore over their options, ponder the best course of action, and have their fate decided by their choices rather than a roll of the dice. Strategy games are made for these gamers, with little to no random elements and all of the outcome hinging on the decisions made by the players.

Two-player game Onitama is a simple enough example of this — a little like chess, but with only 5 pieces on each side, and a total of just 16 cards in the whole game — but the small package belies big strategy. Unlike chess, where each piece always moves a certain way, Onitama’s pieces move based on the patterns found on the aforementioned cards. Each game only uses 5 cards of the whole deck, 2 in the hands of each player and one in the middle of the table, and when a player uses one of their cards to move a piece, they then swap that card with the one on the table… which means that players have to think ahead about how their opponents might use the card they’re about to put down because that card will be in their opponent’s hands soon enough! Great strategy, replayability (just shuffle the deck and grab 5 new cards to play again) and portability make Onitama a lot of gaming value in just a small box.

Escape Room Board Games

We might be a little biased here at Improbable Escapes, but I think anyone who’s done an escape room before would agree that successfully navigating the clues and puzzles needed to make your escape can be a lot of fun, not to mention very satisfying. But it can sometimes be hard to get your team together, especially these days with all the social distancing and limitations on social gatherings that COVID-19 necessitates. Never fear, though — there are a variety of games that bring the escape room experience home.

The Unlock series offers a whole bunch of different stories and settings to play through and explore, but one of the newest entries takes things to a galaxy far, far away… Unlock: Star Wars includes three different scenarios that will have you smuggling goods for Jabba the Hutt, escaping the ice planet Hoth, and gathering intelligence on Jedha. Solve puzzles and riddles together and see if you’ve got what it takes to get out of some scrapes pulled straight from the movies.

Campaign Games

Maybe you’re looking for something with some serious meat that you can sink your teeth into, something that will keep you and your gaming group going for weeks or months of fun… or even longer… Campaign-style games are the perfect solution, offering gameplay that connects one session to the next or tells an overarching story over multiple games. Dungeons & Dragons is a classic example that many are familiar with, even if they’ve never played, but it is far from your only option.

Most of us have probably spent a lot of time in 2020 wishing we could do something about COVID — Pandemic: Legacy will have you saving the world from your kitchen table even if we can’t all break out of our social bubbles just yet. Built on the co-operative base game of Pandemic, which tasks players with working together to travel the globe curing diseases, Pandemic: Legacy adds in the concept that each game played affects the next across a “season” of games (like a season of a TV show). And there are already a couple of seasons of Pandemic: Legacy available, so you can safely save the world for many gaming sessions to come.

If a fantasy-themed experience is more your speed, Gloomhavenoffers dozens and dozens of hours of dungeon crawling fun. Players each control a hardened mercenary with their own abilities and motivations, and must all work together to fight their way through a set of adventures that reacts and evolves based on their play. Throw in a couple of expansion sets that exist for Gloomhaven, and you could be slaying monsters and slinging magic for a long time to come.

Other great legacy games:

Drafting Games

Drafting games present players with a group of options that they make a choice (or choices) from, leaving the rest for the next player around the table. This most often takes the form of a hand of cards that gets passed from one player to the next, with each player taking their choice of card along the way. Usually there are a whole host of ways to score points or achieve your goals, letting players chart their own paths to victory.

Sushi Go! Is one of my favourite examples of a drafting game. Players are tasked with crafting the highest scoring selection of sushi from the cards travelling around the table, with different types and styles of sushi, condiments, and desserts scoring points in all kinds of different ways. The cartoon sushi characters that adorn the cards are super cute, making this one great fun even if players don’t like or have never had sushi.

But making delicious sushi is such a small undertaking, in the grand scheme of things — what if you want to craft a civilization and make your mark on history? 7 Wonders will let you do just that, as you take the reins of one of ancient history’s storied cultures and guide its progress through the ages. Players draft cards that let them focus on science, commerce, culture, or just conquering their neighbours, meaning that it can be anybody’s game no matter what choices they make.

Push Your Luck Games

Some games require that you risk it all to win big, and reward those who are willing to push their luck the farthest. The card game Blackjack might be the most common example, but there are plenty of other options for those who like to skirt the line between risk and reward.

Zombie Dice takes the familiar story of survivors trying to escape hordes of the undead and flips it on its head — players are instead the zombies in this one, rolling dice to try and eat the most brains before their fellow ghouls can do the same. But be careful not to get too greedy, because if those tasty survivors you’re chasing happen to turn around and fight back, your turn is up and you lose any brains you haven’t banked. And perhaps best of all, Zombie Dice plays great whether you’ve got two players or ten, and it comes in a nice compact package so you can take it anywhere.

If, however, you’d like to brew potions instead of chewing on hapless survivors, take a look at Quacks of Quedlinburg. In this one, players are all attempting to concoct the best potions from the ingredients in their bags. But care is required because too much of the wrong thing will make your cauldron blow up in your face! Strike the right balance, though, and your magical mixture just might win you the day.

Other great push your luck games:

Games for Kids (And Kids of All Ages!)

Kids can be one of the hardest groups of gamers to shop for, if you’re looking for something a little more interesting or unique than just classics like Candyland or Chutes and Ladders. It’s important to find something that kids can not only participate actively in, but also compete in right alongside everyone else.

Catch a Falling Star is great for exactly that reason — anybody can play, and anybody can win. It’s got shades of games like Jenga and Kerplunk, but in reverse: players all start with same number of rays of starlight, and are trying to rebuild the fallen star by carefully inserting their rays into the precariously balanced creation being built by everyone around the table. Knock any rays of starlight out of place, and they’re yours to deal with now, with the first player to get rid of all of their starlight being the winner!

Other great games for kids:

Games for Families

It can sometimes be hard to find the right game for everyone in the family to play together — something that kids enjoy isn’t always going to appeal to parents, and vice versa. Simple can be best, so that everyone can participate, but a game needs to hold everyone’s interest and offer fun for all ages and skill levels to stick around in the family gaming collection.

Codenames is a great place to start when looking for this kind of game. Players divide into teams, with team members taking turns giving and receiving single-word clues to get them to guess their team’s codewords. Whoever is giving clues has to try and connect as many words (or pictures, depending on which version of the game they’re playing) as possible, but be careful: there is an assassin hiding out there, and if anyone’s clue leads players to him, it’s game over! Codenames also comes in a variety of ‘flavours’ too, from Marvel Codenames to Harry Potter to The Simpsons, so whatever you’re a fan of, there’s probably a Codenames for you.

By this point in 2020, many gamers will be familiar with raunchy party game Cards Against Humanity, which can be a riot with the right group, but is hardly suitable for the kids in your life (let alone Grandma…) That’s where hit game Apples to Apples comes in — gameplay is similar, with one player each turn reading out a phrase or statement from a card that’s got a blank in it, and the other players submitting words to fill that blank, but the tone of the phrases and the words used to fill in the blanks is much more family-friendly. The silly fun, however, can be just as big.

Other great games for families:

Wargames

Sometimes you just want to sit down across the table from a friend or family member and CRUSH THEM! Wargames typically let players control armies and move them across the board to engage in combat with their opponents by rolling dice, playing cards, or perhaps some combination of both. Lots of players enjoy the tactical decisions they have to make when it’s just them, their soldiers, and their wits against the enemy.

Risk: Legacy takes one of the most venerable wargames of them all and adds the legacy-type systems that are so popular across many gaming genres these days. Players control science fiction-flavoured armies in a game world that changes from game to game. Maybe your units will improve over time, or maybe the geography of the map will be irrevocably altered by your actions — who knows what the next roll of the dice will bring?

History buffs might prefer something a little more grounded than the sci-fi shenanigans of Risk: Legacy, so look no further than Memoir ‘44, a World War 2-themed game that’s grown to encompass any scenario your favourite armchair historian might care to recreate. The base game offers lots of tactically rich gameplay and card-based movement and combat on its own, but by this point there are so many expansions and add-ons that players could potentially be re-fighting WW2 for longer than the real thing.https://giphy.com/embed/75bJxutnJgyZ2

Regardless of what kind of game you’re looking for, or what kind of gamers you’ve got in your life, Improbable Escapes can help! You can, of course, always pop into our Wonderland location in Kingston’s west end and browse to your heart’s content, where we’ll be offering extended holiday shopping hours in December to help you get everything crossed off your list. But you can also check out our wide selection of games and puzzles at our online store. If you make an online order before 5pm, we even offer same-day local delivery free of charge (orders placed after 5pm will simply go out the next day). 

So give the gift of games, and make some memories this holiday season!