The 10 best board games to buy for Christmas in 2018
Games make great gifts.
By Jason Bailey and Sarah Pulliam Bailey
You’re sitting at the dinner table and a natural lull brings the conversation to a halt. You’ve tackled all the topics: politics, sports, pets. What next? If you have even a small library of board games, you could continue the night with a few more hours of fun.
If you think, “I’m not a board game person,” maybe you just haven’t found a genre that fits your personality or interests. Don’t stop exploring board game options with Settlers of Catan or … [shudder] … Monopoly. Try Dixit. Try Sushi Go. Try Camel Up. Try different kinds of games like you would try different musical genres. Maybe check out a party game or a modern classic. We have several previous lists you can peruse.
Board games are exploding in popularity, and are now featured in mainstream stores like Target and Barnes and Noble. Here’s a list of 10 games that could make a great gift for a friend.
Game of the Year
Azul: The Spiel des Jahres winner is an elegant design with beautiful components, thoughtful decisions and surprising versatility. You can play it collegially, by focusing on building a gorgeous mosaic. Or you can play it cutthroat, by forcing opponents to make ruinous selections.
$40, 2–4 players, 30–45 minutes, ages 8+
Kingdomino, 2017: Weave together a grid of domino-like tiles to build a kingdom.
Codenames, 2016: Devise clues to connect words in a shrewd party game.
Colt Express, 2015: Assign actions to rob a train, and expect it to go haywire.
7 Wonders, 2013: Select cards that will escalate in power as your city grows.
The Mind: It doesn’t sound difficult to corporately build a sequential pile of cards from lowest to highest. But try doing it without talking. Rather, without communicating at all. Unlike in Hanabi, logic is of minimal use here. The Mind is a lovely case study of group dynamics and courage.
$30 (normally $15 but is running out of stock), 2–4 players, 15 minutes, ages 8+
Patchwork: The designer Uwe Rosenberg is known for taut worker placement games like Agricola, but here he produces a quiet two-player masterpiece. Spatial awareness is at a premium as each person tries to construct the most complete quilt by taking the perfect patch.
$30, 2 players, 15–30 minutes, ages 8+
Strategy Games (from easiest to hardest)
Qwixx: Almost everybody has played Yahtzee, and this shares those nostalgic elements of dice rolling and personalized scorekeeping. Qwixx is a game of risk vs. reward: You need to cross off numbers to score points, but doing so too quickly may leave you little room to maneuver.
$12, 2–5 players, 15 minutes, ages 8+
NMBR 9: It’s amazing to see how quickly each player’s board can deviate when on each turn everyone must place the same number tile — which is physically shaped like the numeral. But those differences are vital as you decide whether it’s best to build atop or aside your creation.
$20, 1–4 players, 20 minutes, ages 8+
Luxor: Your choices matter a great deal in this exploration game even though only two of your five movement cards are legal to play each turn. You must balance the journey of multiple characters, and the route will constantly change as players race to collect sets of treasures.
$50, 2–4 players, 45 minutes, ages 8+
Gizmos: This is an engine-building game to the extreme, with marbles adding a satisfying tactile experience. If you have built an efficient contraption, picking a red marble may trigger a cascade of important actions, from drawing cards to converting resources to scoring victory points.
$35, 2–4 players, 40–50 minutes, ages 14+
Orbis: For those who wanted a little more meat to the pick-up-resources-then-spend-them gameplay of Splendor, Orbis gives you something to chew on. Each type of tile features different scoring mechanisms, and the restrictions on where tiles can be placed limits analysis paralysis.
$40, 2–4 players, 45 minutes, ages 10+
Notre Dame: Don’t let the foreboding rats plague your gameplan in an inspired Stefan Feld design that features drafting of cards, worker placement and heaps of tension. Although there are multiple pathways to victory, you can be rewarded greatly for focusing your efforts.
$25, 2–5 players, 45–75 minutes, ages 10+
Classic Game (at least 10 years old)
For Sale: It is impressive when a 20-year old game remains relevant, and For Sale is popular because it plays quickly and can accommodate six players. Two distinct halves — first bid on properties, and then sell them in a blind auction — combine into a short, satisfying experience.
$15, 3–6 players, 30 minutes, ages 10+