Hey kids and/or adults that I am facetiously referring to as “kids”! Know what time it is? Yes, it’s time for Matthew Baldwin’s Annual Good Gift Games Guide, where I assemble a list of those games that, in my opinion, make swell presents for the holiday season. It is assumed that the gift recipients are not hardcore game players, so the games selected (with a few exceptions) are those with few rules and a focus on fun. I also try and emphasize inexpensive games, although some games are too good to omit despite their higher price tag.
2002 was considered by many (myself included) to be kind of an off-year, game-wise — with the exception of Puerto Rico (and, to a lesser extent, Trans America) there were no “must buys” released. Still, the diamonds in the rough are listed below, followed by selections from previous G3s. (If you wish to browse the previous G3s, you can do so here: G3s 2000, G3s 2001.)
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just those that came to mind as I was writing this. If there’s another game you want an opinion on, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org — my knowledge in these matters is frighteningly encyclopedic.
Without further ado, here are the 2002 G3s.
Not all of these games are “new” in the sense of having been released in the last year, but here’s a sampling of the best I’ve purchased in the previous 12 months.
Royal Turf: If you’ve attended one of my personal gamenights recently, you’ve played Royal Turf, the biggest hit since Time’s Up. Over three rounds players bet on and root for the seven stallions running in a good ol’ fashioned horse race. Simple rules and a touch of bluffing makes this an idea game for families or for play over pints at the local pub. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
Trans America: It’s so simple it’s just barely a game, but it’s lots of fun nonetheless. Players are randomly assigned five cities on a stylized map of the United States. On every turn players build railroad track in an effort to connect all their burgs. But because no one “owns” any given stretch of track, you can link into your opponent’s network and use it to further your own goals. A typical game takes half an hour and can be played by persons of all ages and game-aptitude. [Reviews: BGGVom Kap bis Kairo: And speaking of train games … Players strive to build railroad across eight African landscapes and be the first to complete a line “From The Cape To Cairo”. Cards are auctioned off every round, and each features not only a landscape but a number of railroad tracks. The landscapes show how difficult it will be to traverse that particular region — savanna is a snap, while mountains are difficult — and the tracks shown can be applied towards your goal. If you don’t have enough track to complete a terrain you can buy extra track segments, but be careful: you also need that money for the auctions. A clever family game with an engaging theme. [Reviews: BGG]
Puerto Rico: Easily my favorite game of 2002 Build up your Puerto Rico community by planting farms and constructing buildings. Ship corn, indigo, sugar and coffee to the Old World in the role of Settler, Mayor, Craftsman and even Gold Prospector. Puerto Rico is a gamer’s game — it has no shortage of pieces or rules — but if you want something meatier than the regular fare, it’s the best game to come down the pike in years. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
BANG! Who will rule the old west: the Sheriff or the outlaws? Players are randomly assigned to one side or the other, but all identities begin a secret. The best way to find out who is on your team is to shoot first and ask question later. BANG! is a clever little game for larger groups — it plays best with six or seven — and is one of the flat-out fun-est game’s I’ve picked up in a spell. [Reviews: BGG]
Pueblo: I do not like abstract games. So what is it about Pueblo that makes me want to play it again and again? Every turn you plonk a piece on the board as you collaborate with your opponents to build a New Mexican village. The trick is to do so in such a way that none of your pieces are visible from the outside. As much puzzle as it is game, Pueblo is perfect for both the spatial reasoner and the casual game player. [Reviews: BGG]
Adel Verpflichtet: Bluff, guess, and second-guess your opponents as you strive to assemble the best collection of kooky antiques. And if you find yourself lacking in either money or goods, why, just steal some from your fellow players! Adel Verpflichtet is only available in German, but there’s some cheat sheets you can print out that make the game perfectly fine for we Yankees. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
Barbarossa: First you make little sculptures out of clay, then you try and guess what everyone else has made. And don’t fret if you’re artistically-inept: the better your sculpture looks, the more likely you are to lose (because people will guess it right away). Closer to a party game than a board game, Barbarossa generates a lot of laughter. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
Babel: In this two-player game, you and an opponent strive to build the largest temples. Your workers come from five ancient civilizations, (Assyrians, Sumerians, etc.), and when you get three or more of the same tribe together you are able to break one of the game’s rules. Babel falls just on the border between the “puzzle games” (Ricochet Robot, Pueblo) and strategy games (Lost Cities and Citadelles). [Reviews: BGG]
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation: Another two-player contest, LotR: The Confrontation is a nice update of the classic Stratego formula. “The Confrontation” pits Sauron (who is stronger) against the Fellowship (which is more resourceful) , and every character on the board has his own special power. Furthermore, each side has a different goal: Frodo and Sam want to bring the ring to Mount Doom, while the forces of darkness want to slay the hobbits before they can complete their journey. A typical game of The Confrontation will last approximately half and hour. [Reviews: BGG]
There is no excuse for not owning games marked with a *
- Settlers of Catan*: Oh fer Pete’s sake, would’ja just buy it already?! Sheesh! [Reviews: BGG]
- Carcassonne: I’ve always been a fair-weather fan of Carcassonne, but many folks love it, and the two expansions (called “The Expansion,” crazily enough, and “Hunters and Gathers“) add a lot of spice, or so I’m told. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Web of Power: My favorite new game of 2000 sat on the shelf for most of 2001 because I played it until I was sick of it. But I recently played it again and remembered exactly why I so loved this game: it’s easy to learn and can be played in less than an hour. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Princes of Florence: Second only to Puerto Rico as my favorite game in recent years. [Reviews: BGG]
- Lord of the Rings: What sets LotR apart is that it is cooperative rather than competitive: players work as a team instead of against each other. A unique and exciting game. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Bohnanza*: A game in which you plant and harvest beans. No, I am not kidding. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- 6 Nimmt!*(A.k.a. “Take 6”): As addictive as it is agonizing. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Citadelles*: A gamenight favorite of bluff and intrigue. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Pig Pile: I haven’t the slightest idea why I like this game. Aside from the fact that it comes with a bunch of small, pink, rubber pigs, I mean. [Reviews: BGG]
- Wyatt Earp: Rummy in the old west. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Lost Cities*: A really great, easy-to-learn, two player card game similar to rummy. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- flowerpower: A very placid tile-laying game — not too deep, but not as shallow as it looks, either. [Reviews: BGG]
- Hera and Zeus: More complicated that Lost Cities and flowerpower, but worth the “learning curve”. Stratego meets Magic: The Gathering. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- En Garde: It costs nine bucks, it plays in 15 minutes, and the rules could fit onto a business card. Plus: fun! [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Battle Cry: Expensive, but worth it for anyone who likes games where you get to fire artillery at you opponent. [Reviews: BGG]
- Time’s Up*: The best party game in existence. Seriously. [Reviews: BGG]
- Call My Bluff*: The ultimate dice game: all luck and bluffing, no pesky rules. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- 25 Words or Less: A thinking-person’s Taboo. My first copy was played until it fell apart, whereupon I promptly bought another. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Apples to Apples*: The game we played so much at Gamenight that I came to hate it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own it. And you should. [Reviews: mine | BGG]
- Werewolf: Actually, this one is completely free. Just print out the rules from here.
What, you don’t trust me? Well, here’s some other “best of” lists for your consideration.
- The GAMES Magazine 2003 Games 100:
- The 2002 German Game of the Year award:
- Funagain.com’s Top rated games.
- Funagain.com’s Bestselling games.
- Funagain.com: This is where I buy all my games: they carry just about everything, the have a great website, their prices are low and they are located in Ashland, OR (so shipments reach me in 2-3 days).
- Boulder Games: I’ve heard great things about this online store too, but they are on the East Coast so I stick with Funagain. Still, if you are in, say, New York, these guys would probably get it there quicker.
- Amazon.com: Amazon carries a few titles, notably those in the Mayfair (Settlers of Catan, Manhattan) and Avalon Hill (Acquire, Cosmic Encounter) lines. But they never seem to be in stock.