Board Game Gift Guide

This is our original Board Game Gift Guide – 2011.
We’ve also posted a new Board Game Gift Guide each year since.

It’s that time of year when families around the world are looking for great family board games to get for gifts during the holidays. And we think you’re right on track – board games and card games are great things to give for gifts since they promote interaction and building strong relationships.

In an effort to help out, here’s our board game and card game suggestions that you may want to consider for your family and friends.

As with most board game selections, a lot will depend on when the games will be played and with who. So we’ve broken down our suggestions to 4 games each in the following categories:

We’re not limiting our game guide to only games that came out recently. It doesn’t matter when a game was published – if it’s fun, it’s fun.

Games for Young Kids:

When your young kids want to just pick up and play a game on their own. It should be simple to play with easy concepts for youngsters to grasp.

Go Away MonsterGo Away Monster
Ages: 3+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 10 min
Go Away Monster is a game that encourages kids to conquer their fear of monsters by taking control. It also lets them experience some of the apprehension and excitement in deciding what’s real and what’s imaginary. Players reach in the bag to find the puzzle pieces that fit their bedroom game board. They need to distinguish between the different puzzle pieces and decide which one feels like the size and shape of a piece they need.

Gulo GuloGulo Gulo
Ages: 5+, Players: 2 – 6, Time: 20 min
Gulo Gulo is a dexterity and matching game that kids love. Players turn over tiles along the path and then rescue the matching colored eggs out of bin without tipping over the stick that’s in the bin with the eggs. Kids have a great advantage as smaller fingers have an easier time pulling out the eggs.

Rat-A-Tat Cat
Ages: 6+, Players: 2 – 6, Time: 10 min
Rat-a-Tat CatRat-A-Tat Cat is a great card game to sharpen memory and timing. The object is to improve you initial unknown 4-card hand so that you have a lower sum of cards than the other players. Players can peek at two of their initial cards and then choose to replace cards in front of them with those they draw throughout the game. When you think you have the lowest sum of cards, you call out “rat a tat cat”.

 

Memory
MemoryAnother great game to give young children as a gift is a simple memory game. Pick a memory game themed with something your kids will love.

You can tell what our kids loved when they were young since the memory game on our game shelf is Monsters, Inc.


Family Strategy Games:

When you’re ready for a bit of planning in your games. (Of course there’s still a mix of luck involved to keep you thinking on how to adapt.)

Ticket to RideTicket to Ride
Ages: 8+, Players: 2 – 5, Time: 45 min
Ticket to Ride is one of our suggested “must have” family board games. With simple gameplay, it can be learned quickly and has a great balance of luck and strategic decisions every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars that they then use to claim railway routes. The longer the routes, the more points they achieve. There are also various versions of Ticket to Ride depending on where their interest lies: USA, Europe, Marklin, Nordic, Switzerland, Asia.

See our full review of Ticket to Ride: Europe.

ZoolorettoZooloretto
Ages: 8+, Players: 2 – 5, Time: 45 min
Zooloretto is a Spiel des Jahres winner that has players collecting sets of animals to fill and expand their zoos. And if they match the animals up correctly and add a male and female animal in the same area, before you know it – they’ll have a baby in the area with them. Players can also add vending stalls that help them score more points. It’s great for a family with younger players since they’ll love the theme of collecting animals to get points. Don’t all kids love zoos?

See our full review of Zooloretto.

Stone AgeStone Age
Ages: 10+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 60 min
Stone Age is a family game that falls into the category that many people call “worker placement” games. These are games where you place your meeples (playing pieces) in different areas throughout the game depending on the resources you need.  In Stone Age some of those selections are hunters, collectors, farmers, and tool makers. As such, this game requires planning to determine your best roles each turn. But even with good planning, the dice rolls may make you adjust your decisions as you go.

Read more about Stone Age.

Settlers of CatanSettlers of Catan
Ages: 10+, Players: 3 – 4, Time: 90 min
Settlers of Catan is perhaps “The” game that gave rise to modern board gaming. It’s great for families because of the great mix of luck and strategy as players gain, trade, and spend resources to develop their settlements on the board. And with limited room to expand, it’s a race to see who can develop their settlements and achieve 10 victory points the fastest.

See our full review of Settlers of Catan.

It’s hard for us to limit this section to just 4 games since there are so many fantastic family strategy board games available. So we’ll throw in one more.  Consider it a bonus.

Survive: Escape from AtlantisSurvive: Escape from Atlantis
Ages: 8+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 60 min
Survive is a game about trying to escape a sinking island with waters full of peril. We’ve found this game to be more cut-throat since you’re not only trying to save your own people, but trying to send perils toward your opponents. So there may be some hurt feelings, but those are short-lived since it’s done in a fun way.

See our full review of Survive.


Cooperative Games:

When you’re more in the mood to work together to defeat a game, then cooperative games are here to fit the bill. And even though they mostly have recommended ages 10+, these are still great to include younger players with you. Younger players may not tackle these games on their own, but since you’re playing along with them as a team, it works out great.

Forbidden IslandForbidden Island
Ages: 10+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 30 min
Forbidden Island is a fantastic way to jump into cooperative board games as a family. In Forbidden Island, you work together to find relics and fly off the island before it sinks. Every player takes on a different role with different abilities so you’ll have to work together to win. And since the board is made up of individual tiles that are set up randomly, it’s different every time you play. And at only $15, we still believe it’s one of the best valued family board games available.

See our full review of Forbidden Island.

PandemicPandemic
Ages: 10+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 60 min
Pandemic is another great family cooperative game to get you started. But this time you’re stopping diseases from breaking out all over the world. Pandemic is perhaps the most popular family cooperative board game and the one that started a slew of others popping up. When new cooperative games arrive on the store shelves, people can’t help but compare them to Pandemic. We like it so much that last Christmas we bought the expansion for it – Pandemic: On the Brink that adds a lot of fun twists and challenges.

See our full review of Pandemic.

Castle PanicCastle Panic
Ages: 10+, Players: 1 – 6, Time: 60 min
The game name says it all: “Panic”. From the moment you begin, you’ll feel the panic as creatures start descending on your castle. Before you know it, they’ll be knocking down your walls and castle towers. And you’ll really have to work together to find ways to beat off the onslaught before your last tower falls.

See our full review of Castle Panic.

Defenders of the Realm
Ages: 13+, Players: 1 – 4, Time: 90 min
Defenders of the RealmIf your teenagers want a little fantasy with their cooperation, then this board game has them battling together to save the kingdom. You and your allies must embark on a journey to defend the countryside, repair the tainted lands, and defeat the four creature factions before any of them enter the City. It’s little longer than the other suggested cooperative games, but older kids will love the theme of the game.

See our full review of Defenders of the Realm.


Two-player Games:

When you’re up for some head-to-head competition, 2-player games deliver a great challenge. A lot of great abstract games are also very good for 2-players, but we’ve listed them separately below.

HiveHive
Ages: 9+, Players: 2, Time: 15 min
Perhaps our favorite 2-player game, Hive is great in so many ways. It’s easy to learn, quick to play, and takes some strategic thinking. The playing pieces represent different insects with different movement abilities and they’re extremely durable and can be played almost anywhere (we haven’t tried underwater yet).

See our full review of Hive.

Memoir ’44
Ages: 8+, Players: 2, Time: 60 min
Memoir '44Memoir ’44 is a historical board game where players face-off in stylized battles of some of the most famous historic battles of World War II. The game mechanics, although simple, still require strategic card play, timely dice rolling and an aggressive yet flexible battle plan to achieve victory. There are also a number of simplified war games with the same simple play mechanics, but Memoir ’44 is the cream of the crop. We’ve really never had an interest in war games and as such, never considered playing Memoir ’44. But this year we decided to give it a try – and we were hooked.

See our full review of Memoir ’44.

Ninja versus NinjaNinja versus Ninja
Ages: 10+, Players: 2, Time: 15 min
Ninja versus Ninja is a great 2-player board game for the younger crowd. We have a hard time understanding why this game is recommended 10+ while Memoir ’44 is 8+ because Ninja versus Ninja is clearly aimed at younger players. We really think it should be 6+ because it’s really a roll and move game. Yet it helps develop thinking skills in younger kids because of needing to figure out the best moves once you roll the awesomely themed dice.

See our full review of Ninja versus Ninja.

Lord of the Rings: The ConfrontationLord of the Rings: the Confrontation
Ages: 12+, Players: 2, Time: 30 min
For older players, we’ve found it’s hard to beat the tense feeling of Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. No matter which side you’re playing, the Fellowship or Sauron’s forces, you’ll feel like the other side has the advantage. Yes, you may need to like Lord of the Rings to really enjoy the game, but we consider this Stratego-like game a “must-have” for those who do.

See our full review of Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation.


Party Games:

When you’ve got a big group of folks gathered (such as at holiday occasions), here are some great games to pull out.

Word on the StreetWord on the Street
Ages: 12+, Players: 2 – 8, Time: 20 min
Word on the Street is a team tug-o-war of words where you’re competing to get the most letters to your side of the street. It’s always a hit at our parties as teams shout out the best words they can think of to move the most letters their way. There’s also a junior version that’s great for families with kids. In the junior version, all letters of the alphabet are included (vowels aren’t included in the regular version).

See our full review of Word on the Street.

Wits and Wagers
Wits and WagersAges: 10+, Players: 3 – 7, Time: 25 min
Wits & Wagers is a trivia game where you don’t need to know the answers to win. Players make their best guess at the answers by writing them on their dry erase board. Then the answers are placed in order from low to high and players place their wagers. So even if you don’t know the answer, you can win the game by making great bets.

See our full review of Wits and Wagers Family.

Rollick
Ages: 8+, Players: 6 – 24, Time: 20 min
RollickRollick is a charades game with a twist. Instead of 1 player acting out and the rest guessing, multiple people act out and 1 person guesses (always hilarious). Not only is Rollick requested at all our parties, but we’ve had neighbors borrow it numerous times when they have family get-togethers (that is, at least until they can’t handle it anymore and finally buy a copy of their own).

See our full review of Rollick.

Time’s Up Title Recall
Ages: 12+, Players: 3 – 18, Time: 90 min
Times Up Title RecallThis party game challenges players to guess the titles of books, films, songs, and more. Players try to get teammates to guess the same set of titles over three rounds. In round 1, almost any kind of clue is allowed. In round 2 no more than one word can be used for the clue. In round 3, no words are allowed at all (just sounds and gestures). Since the same titles are used every round, using less clues each time makes for lots of fun.

See our full review of Time’s Up Title Recall.


Abstract Games:

Sometimes the best games to pull out are those that have simple rules with strategic gameplay.

BlokusBlokus
Ages: 5+, Players: 1 – 4, Time: 20 min
Blokus is one of the most popular family abstract games available. It’s popular because it’s so great for players of any age. It has also spawned many iterations of the game including Blokus Trigon, Travel Blokus, and Blokus 3D. Giving Blokus for a family game gift is a fantastic idea and it’s easy to find in most stores that sell games.

See our full review of Blokus.

Quarto
QuartoAges: 6+, Players: 2, Time: 10 min
Quarto is a quick playing game where you try to get 4 matching pieces in a row. The challenge is that every piece has 4 characteristics and you can match up any of these characteristics to win. So you have to watch out for what your opponent is doing every turn. But the best twist is that you select which piece your opponent must play. It’s a great mental challenge that will keep you playing over and over.

See our full review of Quarto.

Go
Ages: 8+, Players: 2, Time: 90 min
GoThis ancient game screams “abstract”. By all appearances, it’s just two players taking turns laying stones on a 19×19 (or smaller) grid of intersections. But once its basic rules are understood, Go shows its staggering depth. One can see why many people say it’s one of the most elegant brain-burning abstract games in history. The game doesn’t end until the board fills up, or, more often, when both players agree to end it, at which time whoever controls the most territory wins.

Set
Ages: 6+, Players: 1 – 20, Time: 30 min
SetSet is an abstract card game where players are trying to spot sets of 3 cards to collect. Twelve cards are laid out, and the first person to spot a set of three collects those cards. The challenge comes in finding what makes cards a “set”. Each card contains 3 elements: color, shape, and shading. A set consists of three cards that are either ALL ALIKE or ALL DIFFERENT in each attribute.  It’s a mental challenge and will cause some frustration. But when you find a set, you’ll feel pretty good. Find the most and you win.

See our review of Set.


Deduction Games:

Do you know someone who loves solving mysteries or mental puzzles? If so, then you may want to consider giving them a deduction game for a gift.

Code 777Code 777
Ages: 10+, Players: 2 – 5, Time: 60 min
Code 777 is an extremely enjoyable deduction game where players need to guess their own code. All the other players can see your code and you’ll need to deduce what’s in front of you by the answers they give when it’s their turn. It’s a mental exercise that will keep you thinking. Even if there isn’t a lot of talking going on, everyone we’ve played with walks away loving the experience.

See our full review of Code 777.

Clue
ClueAges: 8+, Players: 3 – 6, Time: 45 min
This is perhaps the most well-known deduction game where players try to determine who the killer is, where they committed the act, and with what device. You’ve most likely heard references to Clue all over the place, “Colonel Mustard, with the Candlestick, in the Dining Room”. If you don’t like the standard version, there’s a wide array of themed versions to choose from.

See our review of Clue.

Mystery ExpressMystery Express
Ages: 10+, Players: 3 – 5, Time: 75 min
If you like the idea of Clue, but want to venture into new territory, take a ride with Mystery Express. Players board the famous Orient Express in Paris just as a murder occurs. The rest of the trip is consumed with determining the who, what, when, where and why of the crime. The one who correctly identifies the most elements of the crime by the time the train reaches Istanbul wins the game. It’s whoever identifies “the most elements” because you’ll never get them all. Don’t believe us, give it a try.

Mystery of the AbbeyMystery of the Abbey
Ages: 10+, Players: 3 – 6, Time: 120 min
If you’ve got more time on your hands, and can step it up to a 2 hour deduction game, then give Mystery of the Abbey a try. A monk has been murdered in a medieval French Abbey. Players maneuver their way through the Abbey examining clues and questioning each other to find out who the culprit is. Not only do you have to think about solving the matter at hand, but determine what questions to ask of the other players is a challenge in and of itself. A great twist on deduction games.

See our full review of Mystery of the Abbey.


For the Gamer:

If you’ve got a mega “gamer” in your family, here are some board games that they might love to receive this Christmas. Be warned that these are typically games that will take you away for hours on end.

Twilight ImperiumTwilight Imperium 3rd Edition
Ages: 12+, Players: 3 – 6, Time: 240 min
Twilight Imperium is an epic empire-building game of interstellar conflict, trade, and struggle for power that may take all day to play. Players take the roles of ancient galactic civilizations, each seeking to seize the imperial throne via warfare, diplomacy, and technological progression. With geomorphic board tiles, exquisite plastic miniatures, hundreds of cards, and a rich set of strategic dimensions that allows each player to refocus their game-plan, it’s well suited for experienced gamers.

Arkham HorrorArkham Horror
Ages: 12+, Players: 1 – 8, Time: 240 min
Arkham Horror is another super long game that gamers seem to drool over. It’s a cooperative adventure game themed around H.P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and there are tons of expansion sets that let players experience even more Cthulhu themed adventures. Players choose from 16 Investigators and take to the streets of Arkham to close mystic portals and prevent creatures from breaking into our world.

War of the Ring
War of the RingAges: 12+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 180 min
War of the Ring is a strategic wargame in a Lord of the Rings fantasy setting where one player takes control of the Free Peoples, and the other player controls Shadow Armies. The Free People player must balance the need to protect the Ringbearer from harm, against the attempt to raise a proper defense against the armies of the Shadow, so that they don’t overrun Middle Earth before the Ringbearer completes his quest.

Merchants and MaraudersMerchants & Marauders
Ages: 13+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 180 min
If galactic struggles, horror, or Lord of the Rings aren’t their style, then maybe pirate adventures are. Merchants & Marauders lets players live the life of an influential merchant or a dreaded pirate in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. Seek fortune through trade, rumor hunting, missions, and of course, plundering.


Our Favorite Family Games from 2011:

We’ll never have a way to play all the hundreds of games that came out every year, but we do play a bunch. While we each have our favorites, here are those that have generated combined favorable impressions and are good for the whole family.

Say Anything Family EditionSay Anything Family Edition
Ages: 8+, Players: 3 – 6, Time: 30 min
This is a great group game that let’s everyone be creative. Players take turns asking questions (from the given cards) and everyone else writes down their answer. The questioner then secretly selects the answer they like best and the other players vote on which one they think the questioner chose. Players score points based on what they voted on and if they wrote the chosen answer. The fun questions lead to very creative and entertaining answers.

See our full review of Say Anything.

Knock Your Blocks OffKnock Your Blocks Off
Ages: 8+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 15 min
Each round of Knock Your Blocks Off takes place in two phases; the first phase has players building up a structure and in the second phase players try knocking the crown off an opponent’s building. The first to build their structure gets a point and the type of structure will also give special powers during the demolition phase. Players also get points during the demolition phase depending on successful attacks or defense. Obviously the kids enjoy the destruction phase the most.

See our full review of Knock Your Blocks Off.

City Square OffCity Square Off
Ages: 8+, Players: 2, Time: 10 min
City Square Off challenges two players to place their Tetris/Blokus-shaped pieces in the most efficient manner on their board so they don’t run over the city limits (edge of the board). The cards dictate the order in which both players must place their pieces, so there is an element of luck in what comes next. But it’s the puzzle nature of the game and making your pieces fit well that makes it fun.

See our full revie of City Square Off.

Dixit Odyssey
Ages: 8+, Players: 3 – 12, Time: 30 min
Dixit OdysseyDixit won the coveted Spiel des Jahres in 2010 and we can see why. It’s a great group game that’s full of artistic cards and requires creative thinking. One person selects a card from their hand and tells a story about it (a story, a sentence, a statement, a sound – whatever the card makes them think of) and then the other players pick a card from their hand that may also fit the description. After the cards are randomly displayed, players vote on the card they think is the one from the storyteller. Points are then scored based on the voting. This is the third Dixit game and we think it’s the best because of how they’ve streamlined the game and it allows for up to 12 people to play.

See our full review of Dixit Odyssey.

Martian Dice
Martian DiceAges: 8+, Players: 2 – 99, Time: 20 min
Martian Dice is a dice-rolling, push your luck game. Players take on the role of aliens swooping in to abduct people, cows, and chickens while fending off the human tanks with death rays. The 13 custom dice have great artwork representing each of these items on every die. After rolling, a player decides which set of dice to set aside to score points. They can push their luck by continuing to roll to collect a set of a different type, but if the tanks outnumber the death rays, they won’t get any points that turn. It’s a light game of simple dice rolling with a funny theme that’s enjoyable to play together. And stopping after just one game is unheard of.

See our full review of Martian Dice.

TrollhallaTrollhalla
Ages: 8+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 60 min
It’s time to venture forth and find some fresh sea air! In Trollhalla, players join forces with fellow trolls to sail the seas in search of islands filled with pillage and plunder. Crunchy livestock, nervous monks, panicked princesses, piles of gold, and casks of grog await. But watch out for Billy Goats – they’ll knock parts of your precious stolen cargo out of the boat. Unlike the other games listed in our favorites of 2011 section, Trollhalla requires more strategy and planning to get your trolls in the most advantageous position to win.

See our full review of Trollhalla.

 

Conclusion

We know it’s a long list – 39 to be exact – but when deciding on board games and card games to give as gifts there are a lot of things to take into account. Hopefully our categories and suggestions in each have helped you get some good ideas of games that would be great for those on your list this year.

And if you’re looking for more great game ideas, head over to your local board game store and talk to the friendly folks there. Or check out the suggestions on the BoardGameGeek Gift Guide.

Bonus: We can’t leave off with just 39 suggested games, so consider this 40th one a bonus.

DominionDominion
Ages: 8+, Players: 2 – 4, Time: 30 min
Dominion is the granddaddy of “deck-building” card games. It burst on the scene so strong that it quickly rose to the top of the hobby games top sellers list. It has also spawned many clones trying to repeat the success of Dominion. We’re hooked by Dominion too. All it takes is one introduction and our friends likewise are struck by the Dominion bug. I think they all have at least one Dominion expansion on their wish list.

See our full review of Dominion.

We wish you the best in selecting great board games, card games, dice games, or party games to give your friends and family members as gifts!

Check out our annual Board Game Gift Guides: