Early Birds’ 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Here it is, the beginning of September and Fairway’s trying to beat the major retailers in getting that holiday stuff out there. He’s got a list of eleven games that would make excellent gifts for families, kids and gamers alike. 

You can never be too prepared. So, for those who are looking forward to the Holidays (3 months away!), I’ve compiled a list of some go to games that would make excellent gifts. I’ve put this list together in no particular order and I’ve tried to pick less-than-obvious ideas or ones that might have flown under the radar.

The Captain is Dead ^

The Captain is Dead is a criminally underrated cooperative board game. Now the game is in wide, retail release thanks to AEG. The game is set in a Star Trek like universe and features much of the campy humor and tropes without the expensive Star Trek license. It plays a good number of players really well and also includes a solo mode. While AEG hasn’t picked up the expansions yet, the print-on-demand version includes a bunch of other episodes that could extend the game when they do. and is a great game to pick up as a gift for anyone who likes cooperative games or science fiction or Star Trek or saving a spaceship from a core breach.

Herbaceous ^

Want a game that smells delicious, even if it’s just your imagination?  Herbaceous is light, quick game filled with some spicy strategy. The beautiful illustrations by Beth Sobel add a wonderful touch of seasoning to a game. The game has some simple mechanics that force players into a gentle competition for the various herbs and spices. The game has just enough push-your-luck to make it interesting, but not so much that players feel let down when they can’t get all the cards they need. If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer (for someone with very large stockings) or a game that you can teach to anyone, Herbaceous is a good pick.

Photosynthesis ^

I haven’t gotten around to reviewing this game, but it’s just a gorgeous little game. Players each are a faction of trees. During the game, they’ll take their trees through their life cycle from seedling to giant tree in an effort to gather enough sun energy to expand and score more point. Players trees are cardboard cutouts that stand up when planted on the board. In the game, the size and positions of your trees on the board matter. It’s both beautiful and clever.

Roll Player ^

Do you have a roll playing fan you need a gift for?  What about someone who just likes dice? What about someone who just like characters with ridiculous back stories?  The Roll Player would make an excellent gift idea. Last year, you couldn’t even get your hands on a copy if you didn’t back the Kickstarter. This year, if you don’t wait too long, you can snag a copy at a good price. The game rightfully has gotten a lot of praise for both its breadth and depth of game play. What appears to be just a simple dice placement game is so much more.  In essence, the game is “character creation” step of roll playing games and the dice are the player’s attributes. You score points by getting those attributes to align with your character. It’s fantastic fun.

Go Nuts for Donuts! ^

I’ve reviewed this game twice. First when it was just a prototype from Daily Magic Games before the Kickstarter and then when it was the final release by Gamewright. All I can say is that my kids love this card game. Go Nuts for Donuts! is an excellent game to play with a family. It supports a family-sized number of players, is easy to learn, and has delightfully happy illustrations. It would make a particularly great gift for friends who think Uno is the epitome of a great card game.

World’s Fair 1893 ^

I still put World’s Fair 1893 at the top of my game suggestions for new gamers. It is a really clever introduction to area of control games and features nice components and beautiful illustrations. The game’s mechanisms for placing cubes, collecting cards, and advancing the round tracker (Ferris wheel) are elegant, simple and clever. For these reasons, I’ve found it an excellent introduction to modern board games. World’s Fair would make an excellent gift for someone who’s just getting into board games or for someone who enjoys a thoughtful game play.

Wombat Rescue ^

You have to admit, a game centered around wombat poop is at least intriguing. That’s the basic premise of Wombat Rescue. In the game, players are momma wombats trying to save their little wombat babies. To get around the board, players must eat then digest food and poop out square cubes to form a network of paths around the board. Kids find the whole concept fascinating and amusing. Plus there’s adorable little baby wombat meeples that players are rescuing. Hidden behind this veneer of adorableness is actually an interesting strategy game in which players spend time optimizing paths to rescue their babies lest their momma wombats wander around aimlessly.  This is a top-notch, hidden gem of a game.

The Great Dinosaur Rush ^

Filled with lots of dinosaur bones (little wood sticks), The Great Dinosaur Rush pits players against each other to make up the most marvelous dinosaurs the world has ever seen. The game is based on the time period when people would just lump all bones together to make exciting and scary dinosaurs that never actually existed. The fun dinosaur-building mechanism is good fun. This would be an excellent gift for anyone who is a wannabe paleontologist or just a lover of all things dinosaurs.  Some parts of the game are a bit too complicated for younger players, but those rules are easily bypassed for the more kid-friendly aspects: like the idea you’re going to make up your own dinosaur fossil!

Small Card Game Ideas ^

There’s a bunch of small card games that would make excellent gift ideas too.

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction ^

Looking for a really inexpensive gift idea? Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a small card game with a nifty card-chaining mechanism. The game is essentially a deck of cards. Players take turns building chains of cards in an attempt to build enough atom bombs. In an interesting turning of tables, it’s even fun to watch your opponents build really long chains of cards even if it means you’re going to lose. That’s a sign of a good, exciting game. Unlike other games in the Manhattan Project franchise, Chain Reaction is a breeze to set up and break down. Games take very little time and quick enough to get in a few hands between longer games. This game would make an excellent gift idea for anyone who enjoys card games with clever card play.

Best Tree House Ever ^

I know I did this when I was a kid: pick a tree and imagine the coolest possible treehouse. It was never going to happen, but it was fun to think about. But that imaginary tree house is the premise of The Best Tree House Ever. In the game, players build a tree house by playing cutely-illustrated cards onto a tree. The rules make it so that you need to keep the room types connected and you have to build the treehouse so not to sway the tree too far. At the end of the game, each player has a tableau of cards that makes up their imaginary tree. For people who enjoy games like Sushi Go!, this game will be a breeze to pick up: it’s got the same card-passing and drafting mechanic. The box is little enough to make a great small gift or stocking stuffer.

Red7 ^

The Fluxx series of games is popular, in part, I think because of the way rules changes occur to the frustration of every other player. Well, what if a game implemented that same idea but in a thoughtful and strategic sort of way. Enter Red7. Don’t let this game fool you: it’s not Uno or Fluxx. This game is small but full of very subtle strategy. This game is an excellent idea for a gamer who needs an easily portable game with a small footprint, but who wants a lot of strategy packed into that little package. This game is an excellent idea for playing at a restaurant or camping.

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