Holiday Gift Guide: Games We Want to Give and Get

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Board games are an essential part of our holidays, and while we will be playing many old favorites over the break (Adventure Time Munchkin, The Battle for Hogwarts, Castle Panic, Gloom, and King of Tokyo are stacked in the middle of our dining room table right now), we’re also excited to add some new games to our collection (and to the Junior High’s game closet at Jason’s school). Here are the ones we can’t wait to play:


Bring Your Own Book

I actually picked this up to perk up my son’s reading log — he gets bored with narrations and mini book reports, and this is a really fun way to mix things up. With a stack of books on the table, you flip through a volume to find rhymes for a rap, dating advice, tabloid headlines, and more based on the requirements of the card you’ve drawn. (It sounds dorky, but it’s a ton of fun.) We’ve enjoyed playing it as a twosome, but it’s even more fun with bigger groups.



Genius Games Cytosis: a Cell Biology Game Board

This game started out as a Kickstarter project and it’s an obvious fun addition to your biology curriculum, but you don't have to be into science to enjoy this fast-paced strategy game. You’re in charge of a human cell, so you’ve got to figure out how to create resources with your available organelles and use those resources to keep your cell healthy. It’s surprisingly addictive.


Munchkin Shakespeare Deluxe

Screw your courage to the sticking place, and get ready for this Bard-themed edition of Munchkin. We are big Munchkin fans here, so this one was a must-get for us. I am looking forward to some treachery, backstabbing, and serious punning in the weeks ahead.



I think I’ve had this on my wish list for a couple of years in a row, but telling me that a game plays like a mash-up of Dixit and Clue will pretty much always have me shouting “Take my money.” And we tend to dig cooperative rather than competitive games, so this one is right up our alley.


Rock Me Archimedes

This critical thinking game is surprisingly challenging: You have to get four marbles to your end of the teeter-totter board without tipping it over.


Modern Art

Yes, please, I would like to run an art museum! I love the idea of this game — it’s a lot like those strategy city-building games, only instead of dealing in crops and fortresses, you’re buying and selling modern art. I think I’m going to DIY some cards for other modern artists and call the time we spend playing this game “art appreciation.” 



If you’d rather run a zoo than an art museum (see above), this is the game for you. (For some reason it’s super expensive on Amazon right now, so I would definitely wait for the price to drop again!) My kids used to play “zoo” with their Littlest Pet Shop collection, so I think they might love this one.



A friend brought this game over for a party earlier this year, and I thought, “Really? Bean trading?” But oh gosh, it’s so much fun — very fast-paced and action-packed as you decide what beans to plant and where and what beans to trade with other players. This is the game my kids both put on their wish lists. Don’t let the weird art put you off trying it.



I love word games and am always trying to get people to play with me, but I am kind of a bad winner, so it’s hard to do. This year I am pinning my hopes on this word game because my kids really, really love it when I blank on a word, and there seem to be lots of opportunities to do that. I’m also thinking of snagging an extra copy for the school.



I promise this isn’t edutainment! It’s really fun. Players have cards depicting various historical events that they have to put — as the name suggests — into chronological order. It’s challenging —was chewing gum invented before or after the sinking of the Titanic? — but also friendly, since there are plenty of opportunities where a little reasoning and critical thinking will carry you over a card you aren’t sure about.



The point of this game is to create gorgeous stained glass window — which gets challenging as your windows get more and more complex because of the game’s restrictions on what pieces can and can’t go together. It’s like a beautiful puzzle that changes every time you play it.


Magic Maze

Also more complicated than it initially seems, Magic Maze lets players team up for a heist at a labyrinthine shopping mall. Each character has to nab the weapon that matches his color — the catch is that you can move every character but only in specific ways (like, you might be able to open doors or move south), and you can’t talk to the other players while the game is going. It gets pretty intense really fast.


Near and Far

If you were as hooked on Choose Your Own Adventure novels as I was, you will appreciate the fact that this game plays like a Choose Your Own Adventure story — the story is where the action happens. You and your game mates set off on adventure in the mystical land of Arzium, where you run into major choice points that will significantly affect the rest of your gameplay. It’s really fun.


Thames and Kosmos Exit : The Polar Station

Rebecca introduced me to Thames and Kosmos science kits, but apparently they have board games, too! This one hops onto the “escape room” trend — you play as a bunch of climate change researchers locked in an Arctic lab who must solve a series of coded puzzles to get out before you freeze.



I promise: This game is as fun as it is scientific — it’s not one of those learning-is-fun games that make the kids groan every tim you pull them out. You’ll need to use your critical thinking and strategic planning skills to plant, grow, and harvest your trees, and the game play is more like chess than Candyland. (I’m giving this one as a gift this year because the board and pieces are so pretty.)


Nmbr 9

This game is like Tetris with a little bit of math, and like Tetris, it’s super-addictive.



Ex Libris

I feel like all I need to say about this game is that it lets you pretend you are the Grand Librarian of a magical library. I am pretty much all in for that, any time. (I would play this just for the book titles.)