One of the best gifts you can buy for another person in the holiday season is a board game. Board games? You mean those lame games where excitement goes to die? Played only by old people or nerds who will never know the touch of another human being?
Well, hypothetical reader, board games are a lot more varied and popular than that, and they are ideal for Christmas. Unlike a video game, that you can only play alone or with one other person, or a film, that silence everyone in the room as you all stare blankly at the screen, a board game can be played with a large number of people in the same room. Board games encourage conversation amid (hopefully) friendly competition amongst players, and could help make your Christmas parties a lot more entertaining. It’s a lot better than the traditional game of charades, right?
But what games to buy? When it comes to board games, the first examples that pop into most peoples heads are the old-school games like Monopoly or Cluedo, but board games have exploded into an unbelievable variety in the past few decades. Luckily, you have us at n3rdabl3 to help sift through this board game ocean and bring you some of the brightest pearls out there.
In no particular order, let’s begin:
Settlers of Catan
With a Settlers of Catan film announced to be in production earlier this year, why not grab the game that started it all? Settlers of Catan is a wildly popular strategy game developed by Klaus Teuber, a man with the most Germanic name possible without having a ‘von’ in it somewhere. The game is one of the most tactically diverse yet fun and simple games ever made.
In Settlers of Catan, each player takes control of a different clan attempting to colonise the uninhabited land of Catan. Your aim is to gain ten points before any other player. How do you earn these points? Well, in many different ways is the answer. You earn points for settlements, more points for cities, but you can also earn points for secret development cards you can purchase, or by having the largest army or road on the board. By earning points in a multitude of different ways, you can employ a wide range of different strategies to win, and therein the fun begins.
What do you buy or purchase all this stuff with? Well, with resources of course. There are a number of different resources in the game, all balanced perfectly to pay for different things. Resources are generated every turn by a dice roll, and if you have a settlement or city on spot adjacent to the resource just rolled you obtain it. However, you can also choose to trade with other players, and this adds to another layer of fun. See, while you are competing with other players, you are also forced to work with them in order to get all the stuff you want. This means you have to cultivate working relationships with them. Sure, you want to use your soldier cards to steal resources from them and then crush their nation into the dirt, but you really need ore to build a city and that other player does have a city earning them lots of ore…
This means the game has a constantly shifting network of alliances between players. Maybe you have been trading frequently with Player A for wood throughout the game, but suddenly they have 8 points and are poised to win. You decide to use a soldier card against them and start trading with Player B instead.
Part of what makes the game so great is the replayability of it, and a lot of this comes down to randomisation. The island can be arranged in any way, with the frequency of each resources changing from game to game too. The dice rolls also ensure this random element of the game, meaning that winning comes down to a blend of skill and sheer luck. Even an expert can lose to a novice if the rolls are simply not in their favour.
The game also has a huge number of expansions to it, so if your purse strings can stretch that far, I would also recommend checking them out if you love the base game.
You can buy Settlers of Catan on Amazon.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
The oddly titled One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a perfect game to play on Christmas Day: it is simple, can be played with a wide range of players, is very quick to play, and involves everyone talking to one another. It is also cheap, since it is only a card game, and so should not eat into your bank account as much as many other games on this list.
In One Night Ultimate Werewolf there are two main teams: the villagers, whose job it is to discover which of their neighbours are secretly werewolves, and the werewolves, who are trying to not get caught by shifting the blame onto someone else. There are a number of different types of villager, some of which have special actions they can perform, and you can mix and match which roles you want in each game. The game opens with a round where everyone has their eyes closed, and certain roles have to perform their actions. After that, everyone has to open their eyes, and a great debate begins as the villagers must work out who are the werewolves, while the werewolves try to conceal their identity. Once everyone has made their mind up, there is a vote and whoever has the most vote… well, dies.
If you are a werewolf, you obviously need to lie. You could say that you are a villager, and play it safe. You could play aggressively and say that you are a Seer, and you looked at Bob’s card and he is definitely a werewolf. It is entirely up to you, and the different roles promote different lies you might use. The fun comes in people accusing one another of lying and everyone debating to try to work it all out.
There is also my favourite role in the game: the Tanner. The Tanner is not a werewolf, but he is suicidal. The Tanner’s aim is to be accused of being a werewolf and get killed, presumably because of how awful being a Tanner was (seriously, look it up!). This means, a Tanner has to pretend that they are a werewolf to get killed, but not make it obvious enough so that they are clearly a Tanner. You have to lie badly, but not too badly, and this makes it so satisfying when you win.
Additionally, there is an expansion called Daybreak, which adds more werewolf and human roles to the base game, and One Night Ultimate Vampire, a standalone that switches out werewolves for, you guessed it, vampires, who play by slightly different rules. If you know enough people, you can play all of these games at one in what must truly be a nightmare of a game.
You can buy One Night Ultimate Werewolf on Amazon.
3. Snake Oil
Snake Oil is another simple (and reasonably priced) game, making it perfect to play on Christmas day with family.
The game is very easy to understand: You are given a variety of cards with different words on them. You are then asked to make a product to suit a certain role, a fireman for example. Then, combining two of your cards to make a product name, you have to advertise your product as best you can. The person who set the role you are advertising to selects who they think made the best product.
That’s about all there is to it really. The person who chooses the job rotates with each round, much like other similar games such as Cards against Humanity. The fun of the game is the ridiculous products you have to try and sell as earnestly as possible. Having worse cards actually makes the game more fun in away, as it results in you trying to sell a homeless person a ‘knife puppet’ so he can both threaten and entertain people into giving them more money.
The game forces you to be creative, charismatic and, most importantly, have fun. Plus, you will get a deeper insight into the twisted way your friends and family’s minds work, which is always illuminating.
You can buy Snake Oil on Amazon.
4. Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter is a recent zombie survival game. Yes, it’s one of those zombie games, which seem to be flooding the market at the moment, and all cost an absolute fortune. While all of those things do apply to Dead of Winter, this game helps elevate it so much higher than many of its peers.
The premise of the game is rather simple: The players all control small groups of people attempting to make sure their settlement survives the Winter during a zombie apocalypse. So far, so standard. Where the game begins to shine is in its emphasis on the ‘survival’ part of the ‘zombie survival’ genre. The difficulty can be extreme at times, as there are many different aspects you need to worry about: there are zombies massing at the settlement, you need to make sure everyone has enough food to eat, garbage is piling up in the settlement making everyone sad, you have your weekly objective which offers another problem.This means that working together is absolutely necessary and by the end of the game you will all feel closer together, much like people bonding through shared trauma.
The game is also very complex, if that wasn’t clear enough already. There are a huge number of characters you can have in your group, each with their own special abilities, ranging from a janitor who can clean up trash quicker to a dog who cannot die from a zombie bite (by the way, there is nothing stopping that same dog from using guns, which is always fun to imagine). Additionally, there are an enormous number of random events that can be triggered, both good or bad, which can really mix things up a bit. There are also a number of different objectives: there’s the main objective you are all working towards, a different random crisis you have to solve each round of the game, and finally each player has a hidden objective they must keep to themselves.
Player objectives are something that can really make the game interesting: they are normally something mundane like make sure there are enough barricades in the settlement at the end of the game. There are, however, traitor objectives that may appear in each games. Players with these objectives will be secretly working to ensure the downfall of the colony. To combat this, players can hold a vote to exile people they think are traitors. Exiled traitors normally change their evil ways, and start to help the colony from afar. Exile someone who isn’t a traitor though, and they will become a thorn in your side.
Despite being a really enjoyable game, there are some downsides. Firstly, it takes an annoyingly long time to set up and requires a lot of space. On Christmas Day, when most tables are cluttered with food, crackers and presents, I could imagine this being difficult. Plus, I don’t think a game this difficult is best played with your ageing Nan. It is pretty expensive too, which may put some people off. Still, I wholeheartedly believe it is worth the investment and a lot of fun.
You can buy Dead of Winter on Amazon.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault
Star Wars: Imperial Assault is a blend of two of the most nerdy things in existence: Board games and role playing games. The game is set, shockingly enough, in the Star Wars universe, set at the time of the original trilogy for people who care about that sort of thing.
Most players take control of a different protagonist, who range from Wookie smugglers to Jedi-in-training, and have to complete different objectives for the rebellion. One player gets all the fun of controlling the Empire units and trying to ruin everyone else’s day. Gameplay takes places over a huge variety of different maps
The role playing element comes in as the protagonists gain experience from each mission and can level up their different abilities. As each mission can take a while, a full campaign can also take several sessions to complete. Additionally, just losing one game against the Empire does not mean you have lost the war, it instead just means you play a different mission next. This means that every time you play, you are bound to face a different experience.
Both sides have a lot to offer. When playing as one of the rebel protagonists, you are always facing a superior foe and have to use stealth and speed to complete your objectives. Being the Empire is more strategic, and ensures you have to be very tactical with your placement and predict what your oppenents will do. Plus its always fun when you finally get to use Darth Vader.
The game is really expensive and can take a while to get into. Once you are immersed, though, it is a very rewarding experience.
You can buy Star Wars: Imperial Assault here.