It’s that time of year again…Christmas! The season where I get several board games as presents and no one seems to give me grief about it! My collection has grown considerably over the last year as I am nearing 100 games but there is always room for more…especially good games!
In this post, similar to my post late last month on 10 Wargames to Buy Your Wargamer for Christmas, I will share some hidden gems that I think are really good games that will make great gifts! The games are not new and none have been released in 2016. These games are varied in their theme, mechanics and complexity and will appeal to gamers of all interests. The games are not ranked in order and I assure you that they are all good as each holds a spot in my personal collection. Here they are:
Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala by Days of Wonder
Designed by Bruno Cathala, Five Tribes builds on a long tradition of German-style games that feature wooden meeples. Here, in a unique twist on the now-standard “worker placement” genre, the game begins with the meeples already in place – and players must cleverly maneuver them over the villages, markets, oases, and sacred places tiles that make up Naqala. How, when, and where you dis-place these Five Tribes of Assassins, Elders, Builders, Merchants, and Viziers determine your victory or failure.
As befitting a Days of Wonder game, the rules are straightforward and easy to learn. But devising a winning strategy will take a more calculated approach than their standard fare. You need to carefully consider what moves can score you well and put your opponents at a disadvantage. You need to weigh many different pathways to victory, including the summoning of powerful Djinns that may help your cause as you try to win the Sultanate.
Lancaster by Queen Games
In 1413, the new king of England, Henry V of Lancaster, has ambitious plans: The unification of England and the conquest of the French crown! Each player takes the role of an ambitious aristocratic family. Who will be the best supporter of this young king, and the most powerful Lord of his time?
In Lancaster the players want to proceed from simply being a Lord to the most powerful ally of the king. They may achieve this by developing their own knighthood as well as by clever deployment of individual knights in the counties of England, at their own castle, and to conflicts with France. In parliament, they try to push laws from which they will benefit themselves most. The player with the most power points at the end of the game is the winner.
Every turn, players send their knights to the different locations:
• Counties, where they compete with knights from other players for rewards and the favor of the nobles.
• The castle, to receive income or new knights.
• Into conflict with France, where all players combine their power and try to gain power points.
In the counties the strength of the knights is important as you can remove the knight of another player by placing a knight of your own with higher strength in the same location. This game combines traditional worker placement with an interesting twist on voting for laws that benefit you and don’t necessarily assist your opponents.
La Granja by Stronghold Games
In La Granja, players control small farms by the Alpich pond near the village of Esporles on the island of Mallorca. Over time, the players develop their farms and deliver goods to the village. Players are vying to earn the title of “La Granja” for their country estate!
Over the course of 6 game rounds, players will expand their farm by adding fields, farm extensions, market barrows, and helpers. They will earn VPs by delivering goods to the village of Esporles. It is important to observe the actions of other players, manipulate turn order, and adjust your strategy based on the dice and cards.
La Granja is a fascinating game that requires careful planning. Timing and speed is crucial. However, successful players must cope with the uncertainty of events during the game. The player who has earned the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner and new owner of the La Granja estate!
Quantum by Funforge
In Quantum, each player is a fleet commander from one of the four factions of humanity, struggling to conquer a sector of space. Every die is a starship, with the value of the die determining the movement of the ship, but also its combat power – with low numbers more powerful.
Each type of ship also has a special power that can be used once per turn: Destroyers can warp space to swap places with other dice and Flagships can transport other ships. These powers can be used in combination for devastating effects. You’re not stuck with your starting ships, however: using Quantum technology, you can spend actions to transform (re-roll) your ships. Randomness plays a role in the game, but only when you want: Quantum is very much a strategy game.
You win by constructing Quantum Cubes – massive planetary energy extractors. Each time you build a new one, you can expand your fleet, earn a new permanent ability, or take a one-time special move. The board itself is made out of modular tiles, and you can play on one of the 30 layouts that come with the game or design your own. The ship powers, player abilities, and board designs combine to create a limitless set of possibilities for how to play and strategies for how to win.
With elegant mechanics, an infinity of scenarios, and easy-to-learn rules that lead to deep gameplay, Quantum is a one-of-a-kind game of space combat, strategy and colonization that will satisfy both hard-core and casual players. Ready my review here.
Dominant Species by GMT Games
Dominant Species is a game that abstractly recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an ice age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing earth.
Each player will assume the role of one of six major animal classes—mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, arachnid, or insect. Each begins the game more or less in a state of natural balance in relation to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest”.
Through wily action pawn placement, players will strive to become dominant on as many different terrain tiles as possible in order to claim powerful card effects. Players will also want to propagate their individual species in order to earn victory points for their particular animal. Players will be aided in these endeavors via speciation, migration, and adaptation actions, among others.
All of this eventually leads to the end game—the final ascent of the ice age—where the player having accumulated the most victory points will have his animal crowned the Dominant Species. Read Tim’s review here.
Biblios by Iello
You are an abbot of a medieval monastery competing with other abbots to amass the greatest library of sacred books. To do so, you need to have both the workers and resources to run a well-functioning scriptorium. To acquire workers and resources, you use a limited supply of donated gold. In addition, you must be on good terms with the powerful bishop, who can help you in your quest.
The object of the game is to score the most Victory Points. You win Victory Points by winning any of the 5 categories: Illuminators, Scribes, Manuscripts, Scrolls, and Supplies. You win a category by having the highest total number of workers (Scribes, Illuminators) or resources (Manuscripts, Scrolls, Supplies) in that category. This is determined by the numbers in the upper left corner on the cards. At the start of the game, each category is worth 3 Victory Points. As the game progresses, the values on the Value Board will change and some categories will become worth more or less Victory Points than others. The game is divided into 2 stages: a Donation stage and an Auction stage. During the Donation stage, players acquire free cards according to an established plan. In the Auction stage, players purchase cards in auction rounds. After the two stages, winners of each category are determined and Victory Points awarded. The player with the most Victory Points wins.
The game involves a good deal of strategic planning, some bluffing, and a little bit of luck. The rules are easy to understand, but you have to play it a few times to develop a playing strategy. It plays differently from 2-4 players, but each game is equally fun and challenging.
Viceroy by Mayday Games
Viceroy is a board game of bidding and resource management set in the fantasy universe of the famous Russian CCG Berserk. As the players struggle for control over the world of Laar, they recruit a variety of allies and enact various laws. These cards allow players to develop their state’s military and magical might, increase their authority, and get precious gems they need to continue expanding their nation.
As the game progresses, each player builds his own power pyramid using character and law cards. Each card has its own effect that depends on the level of the pyramid where the card is played. These effects may give more resources, more cards, or victory points. The player who has the most power points at the end of the game becomes the ruler of entire Laar and the winner!
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 by Z-Man Games
Pandemic Legacy is a co-operative campaign game, with an overarching story-arc played through 12-24 sessions, depending on how well your group does at the game. At the beginning, the game starts very similar to basic Pandemic, in which your team of disease-fighting specialists races against the clock to travel around the world, treating disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues before they get out of hand.
Each month in the game, you have two chances to achieve that month’s objectives. If you succeed, you win and immediately move on to the next month. If you fail, you have a second chance, with more funding for beneficial event cards.
During the campaign, new rules and components will be introduced. These will sometimes require you to permanently alter the components of the game; this includes writing on cards, ripping up cards, and placing permanent stickers on components. Your characters can gain new skills, or detrimental effects. A character can even be lost entirely, at which point it’s no longer available for play.
Tzolk’In: The Mayan Calendar by Czech Games Edition
Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar presents a new game mechanism: dynamic worker placement. Players representing different Mayan tribes place their workers on giant connected gears, and as the gears rotate they take the workers to different action spots.
During a turn, players can either (a) place one or more workers on the lowest visible spot of the gears or (b) pick up one or more workers. When placing workers, they must pay corn, which is used as a currency in the game. When they pick up a worker, they perform certain actions depending on the position of the worker. Actions located “later” on the gears are more valuable, so it’s wise to let the time work for you – but players cannot skip their turn; if they have all their workers on the gears, they have to pick some up.
The game ends after one full revolution of the central Tzolkin gear. There are many paths to victory. Pleasing the gods by placing crystal skulls in deep caves or building many temples are just two of those many paths…
Stone Age by Z-Man Games
The “Stone Age” times were hard indeed. In their roles as hunters, collectors, farmers, and tool makers, our ancestors worked with their legs and backs straining against wooden plows in the stony earth. Of course, progress did not stop with the wooden plow. People always searched for better tools and more productive plants to make their work more effective.
In Stone Age, the players live in this time, just as our ancestors did. They collect wood, break stone and wash their gold from the river. They trade freely, expand their village and so achieve new levels of civilization. With a balance of luck and planning, the players compete for food in this pre-historic time.
Players use up to ten tribe members each in three phases. In the first phase, players place their men in regions of the board that they think will benefit them, including the hunt, the trading center, or the quarry. In the second phase, the starting player activates each of his staffed areas in whatever sequence he chooses, followed in turn by the other players. In the third phase, players must have enough food available to feed their populations, or they face losing resources or points.
I hope you are able to enjoy these games. I’ve done a search on Amazon, and all of them can be purchased. Merry Christmas and happy gaming!