2019 Holiday Gift Guide for Games
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The Family Gamers received many of these games from publishers at no cost. However, we recommend games based on our experience. All games listed below, we would buy and give as gifts to our loved ones.
Board games bring families together around the table. So why not give games to your loved ones this holiday season? Here are our suggestions for every age and ability level.
Games for Very Young Children
For your littlest gamers, our top recommendations will always be Go Away Monster! (our review) and Hisss. Both provide a valuable introduction to turn-taking and matching. But for preschoolers who want a little something more, we have found a few games for pre-readers that are easy enough for a 4 year old but won’t bore the adults:
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game – This dexterity game encouranges turn taking and color matching. Children will develop their fine motor skills as they spin the wheel and pick up matching acorns with the special squirrel-shaped grabber.
My First Castle Panic (our review) – Team up and protect your castle from the monsters that want to knock it down! Draw cards and match their symbols with the symbols on the path to defeat the monsters and throw them in the dungeon. So easy to learn, your preschooler may start setting it up and playing it on their own!
Dragon’s Breath (our review) – This 2018 Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game of the Year) winner has been a big hit with kids of all ages in our house. Dragon children collect sparkling stones as “Dragon Dad” melts the ice column by removing one ring at a time from the center stack. Preschoolers will need some help to set up the game, but it cleans itself up as they play.
Games for Early Elementary (under age 8 or so)
At this age, games still need to move quickly and keep reading to a minimum, but there are more options for strategy and different play styles.
Gnomes at Night (our review) – Use this cooperative game to encourage children to communicate as they race to find a path to the treasure. Gnomes at Night challenges players to understand that the path they can see is not the same as the path others can see.
Dirty Pig (our review) – This fast, portable game for 2-6 players will have your kids slamming down “rain” and “barn” cards as they try to clean their neighbors’ pigs while keeping their own pigs dirty. The neoprene carrying pouch means you can bring Dirty Pig with you anywhere you’d like, and the sturdy cards will hold up to whatever the kids dish out.
Valley of the Vikings – Winner of the 2019 Kinderspiel des Jahres, Valley of the Vikings features adorable Viking kids competing in a game of strategic paddle-bowling. Knock down barrels and leap-frog over each other’s positions for the best rewards. Collect the most coins in your Viking ship by knocking your friends off the dock. No reading is required but a firm understanding of sequencing is important.
Drop It (our review) – Our favorite game of 2018, we’d recommend this for any age. It’s a great way to sneakily strengthen math skills, and your kids (or your parents!) will be asking to play it again and again.
IceCOOL or IceCOOL 2 (our review) – Get both body and brain moving as you flick penguins around the “school” to catch fish and avoid the hall monitor. Kids love the cute penguins and the opportunity to send them flying across the board. Combine them both for a massive game that supports up to eight players!
Games for Older Kids
Kids in upper elementary school or middle school are ready for games with math, reading, and battling each other.
Dragonrealm – A sequel to the hit game Dragonwood (our review), it may be a bit challenging for younger kids to learn, but not for them to play! Play sets of cards to Sneak, Search, and Storm your way into all sorts of areas – whenever an area is full, the players with the most and second-most pawns there get the points. Finish up by infiltrating a dragon’s lair!
Honga (our review) – Honga introduces players 8+ to action selection and resource gathering. Score points by bartering your resources, but don’t let the adorable saber-toothed Honga eat your food! Encourages kids to explore different paths to victory and a sand-box like feel to it. At $50, it’s pricier than we usually recommend, but maybe your kids can ask Santa for it.
Dice Throne (our review) – Although it can be played at 3+ players, Dice Throne is our favorite one-on-one battle game. Each character is themed differently and requires a different strategy to play well, but all make for a fun battle. Pick one of the two-character boxes for a inexpensive gift.
Games for Teens and Adults
These games are approachable for children 10+, but the themes are more interesting or appropriate for adults.
Grimm Masquerade – Take on the role of fairy-tale characters at a masked ball. Can you collect your “boon” items and puzzle out your companions’ identities before they can unmask you? “A deduction game for people who hate social deduction,” you can play up your character as much as you’d like but you’ll never need to bluff.
Spell Smashers (our review) – Craft words to defeat monsters, and try to avoid getting too many “wound” cards that will make it harder to create strong words in the next round. If you’ve ever wished you could play a word game that tells a story, Spell Smashers will be a welcome addition.
Quacks of Quedlinburg – Winner of the 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres (“hobby game of the year”), Quacks of Quedlinburg has been hard to find until recently. Draw ingredient chips from your bag to make the best “potion” you can, and cash in for even better ingredients to add to the bag for next time. The simplicity of play and interactions between ingredients (and a hefty dose of luck) will keep you coming back to play again and again.
Wingspan – The 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner is finally available on Amazon. Players attract birds to their wildlife habitats and create powerful chaining combinations to gain food, eggs, and points. Painted eggs, beautiful art, and a dice tower bird feeder will impress any gamer, but the game play is accessible for new gamers and bird enthusiasts.
Games for Two
Dice Throne – We already recommended Dice Throne above, but we feel it plays best as a head-to-head battle, and the two-character packs are well within most gift budgets.
Shobu (our review) – A two player game that immediately feels classic. Make a “passive” move then a matching “aggressive” move to push all your opponent’s stones off any one of the four boards. Beautiful wood boards and polished stones make this a game anyone would be proud to have out on the table.
Sports Dice: Football (our review) – The fastest game of American football you’ve ever played! Spend time as both offense and defense in this fast-moving game, enjoyable for sports fans and non-fans alike.
Party Games & Large Groups
Sometimes you need a game for a crowd, whether it’s a fast-moving silly games or a deeper game that allows for many players simultaneously.
Get the MacGuffin (our review) – Be the last person with cards left to play in this very silly and very short game for up to 11 players. Portable, quick, and under $10, it’s one of our favorite party games!
Anomia – We recommend this (or Anomia Kids) every year, because it’s incredibly portable and draws people in. Match symbols and come up with the right word faster than your neighbor; but you might find yourself tongue-tied and unable to remember what fits the category. Anomia Kids eliminates the trivia and concentrates on matching sounds – which is harder than it seems.
Sparkle*Kitty (our review) – Best for players in touch with their inner pre-teen girl, ready to be a little ridiculous. Play cards and speak the resulting silly word combinations out loud, your “magic spells” that will break your princess out of her prison tower.
Tiny Towns (our review) – Be the mayor of your own tiny animal town. Draft cubes to build buildings that score the most points. Build your own special monument for unique point-scoring opportunities. Tiny Towns by AEG features all of this and more. Best yet, their “Town Hall” variant allows players to play together no matter how they’re connected – This is a game that could be played with a loved one over FaceTime.
Welcome To… Your Perfect Home – In theory, you could play this with an unlimited number of players. Flip cards and choose the best combination(s) to write down on your player sheet, creating the best neighborhoods. Race to be the first player to meet neighborhood goals, but balance the other needs of your neighborhood, too.
Stocking Stuffers & Gift Exchange
Need a gift that’s under $20 and has wide appeal? We’ve got you covered.
Dinosaur Tea Party (our review) – A suprisingly family-friendly game, players of all ages will enjoy putting on their poshest accent while deducing the other players’ identities. We especially recommend this one for grandparents.
EXIT: House of Riddles (our review) – An EXIT box is perfect for teens who might not want a “game” but would be open to an escape-the-room puzzle. This one is accessible even to pre-teens, and not too scary.
Brainwaves (our review) – You’ll have fun while exercising your memory with any of these three games. At less than $15 each and 10-15 minutes to play, you can challenge your own brain or bring in the whole family.
Panic Island (our review) – Rescue all the islanders, dodo birds, and eggs in under a minute in this challenging and fast-paced memory game. Suitable for solo or group play, it comes in a portable tin for under $13.
Deep Sea Adventure – Dive deep for treasure, but don’t run out of air! This ultra-portable game supports 2-6 players and is one of our family’s perennial favorites.
The best part about giving games as gifts is that you’ll often get a chance to play them with the recipient! Our list is already long, but if you didn’t find quite what you wanted, check out our lists from 2018, 2017, and 2016.