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Good Gift Games 2000

Every year I try to assemble a list of Good Gift Games:  games that, in my opinion, make swell presents for the holidays season.  It is assumed that the gift recipients are not hardcore game players, so the games selected are those with few rules and with a focus more on fun than on strategy.  I also try and emphasize inexpensive games, although this year a few big-ticket items (Cosmic Encounter, Acquire and Battle Cry) snuck in because they were so damned good.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just those that came to mind as I was writing it.  If you see another game that you want an opinion on, drop me a line (matthew@acesup.com) -- my knowledge in these matters is frighteningly encyclopedic, so I may be able to offer some feedback.

Without further ado, here are the 2000 G3s.

Family Board Games

Settlers of Catan:  This is going to be the #1 game on the G3s forever, so you may as well buy it now.   Players vie for dominance on the tiny island of Catan, building roads, settlements and cities.  But this is not a wargame:  you expand your empire by trading resources with the other players.  Plus, one of the key elements of the game is sheep.  How could you go wrong with that?  [Reviews: BBG]

Cosmic Encounter:  Cosmic Encounter is my favorite game of all time.  Yes, I know I've said that about every game I own at some time or another, up to and including Parcheesi, but this time I'm serious.  I brought a copy of CE with me in the Peace Corps and Volunteers would travel for miles to play.  Now it has been re-released in the ultra-snazzy version you see to the left.  Unfortunately, the new version is somewhat limited (it only accommodates 3-4 players and is greatly simplified) but an expansion set will probably be released soon which will jazz it up and upgrade it to a 3-6 player game.  It's a tad expensive, but well worth the price.    [Reviews:  BBG]

Web of Power:  My favorite new game of the year was also GAMES Magazine's "Best Family Game" for 2000.  Place Cardinals and Advisors on a map of Europe in an attempt to control the continent.  Fairly easy to learn, Web of Power's short playing time (< 60 minutes) make this a great game for lunchhour, casual gatherings and family get-togethers.    [Reviews: mine, BBG]

Manhattan: I played this one until I got sick of it, then put it on the shelf for a year, and recently started playing it again.  Build skyscrapers in New York -- or just steal the skyscrapers your opponents have been working on.  A little "meaner" than some of the other games, but it's all in good fun (and I've never seen anyone get too disgruntled). A very simple game, but one that most people love.  [Reviews: BBG]

Acquire:  You own a Monopoly set, but you never play it.  Why?  Because (a) it's dull game and (b) it's a long, dull game (c) it's not even a very good economic simulation (it encourages monopolies, fer crissakes!)  Throw it out and buy Acquire, the best economic game of all time.  The one thing that has been holding this game back is that the components in all previous versions were drab and uninspiring, but the new Avalon Hill version (see image, right) looks GREAT!    [Reviews: mine, BBG]

Honorable Mention - Hare and Tortoise: I'm a bit lukewarm on this game, but a lot of people love it, including some Gamenight regulars.  It has just been released in English and is generally considered to be one of those classic games that every family should own.  It also won the first ever "Game of the Year" award, so don't just take my (disparaging) word for it.    [Reviews: mine, BBG]

Family Card Games

Bohnanza:  I have given more copies of Bohnanza as gifts than any other game – and that was before there was an English language version.  The new version also supports up to seven players, which is two more than the original.  The popularity of Bohnanza seems universal:  it is well liked by men and women, young and old, causal and hardcore game players.  If I had three thumbs they'd all be up.  [Reviews: mine, BBG]

Citadelles: Citadelles (properly called "Ohne Furcht und Adel") has one strike against it:  it's in German.  But I'm tellin' ya it doesn't matter:  I've played this countless times and the language thing has never been a problem.  Besides, people think you're cool when you pull out a German game.  (I mean, y'all think I'm cool when I pull out German games, right?  Right?)  Beautiful art and the game is different every time.    [Reviews: mine, BBG]

6 Nimmt!: Second only to Bohnanza in the "Game Most Given as Gifts by Matt" category, this one also comes from Germany but doesn't have a lick of text on the cards so it doesn't matter a bit. 6 Nimmt! is an oh-so-aggravating (and yet, somehow, oh-so-fun) card game with rules that can be explained in, like, two minutes. And it's popular enough to have spawned it's own t-shirt, which oughtta tell you something right there. [Reviews: BBG]

Mamma Mia:  One of Denise’s favorite card games (and I like it too) has players striving to make the most pizzas.  Plays best if you insist that all players use their most outrageous and politically incorrect Italian accents throughout ("I make-a a pizza!").  This one gets high marks on the fun-ometer.      [Reviews: BBG]

Two Player Games

Lost Cities: This game has just a few rules, but is so full of agonizing decisions that playing a game is like watching a suspense movie.  A perfect gift for a couple, especially one that doesn't play a lot of games.   [Reviews: mine, BBG]

En Garde:  Possibly the simplest game on this list, but also one of the tensest.  With only 25 cards and a few dice, this game manages to provide an uncanny simulation of fencers in a match.  A fantastic stocking-stuffer.  For two players.  [Reviews: BBG]

Hera and Zeus:  I just recently played this for the first time and it's currently my favorite two-player card game.  It's a little daunting the first time through -- there's lots of little rules to keep track off -- but by the second game it really smokes.  Plays in about half an hour and you'll immediately want to play again.  [Reviews: BBG]

Honorable Mention -- Battle Cry:  I just bought this one for myself and haven't played it yet, but it looks great and has been getting rave reviews.   A little more complicated that the other games on this list, but not terribly so.  A neat gift for the closet wargammer on your list. [Reviews: BBG]

Party Games

25 Words or Less:  I got this as an x-mas gift while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and that copy got played so much that I had to buy a new one when I got back.  It's like a cross between a thinking-person's Taboo and "Name That Tune", and just about the only word-based game that I really, really like.  [Reviews: BBG]

Apples to Apples:  This was my #1 Party Game pick last year, but I discovered that it has limited replay value.  But let's face it:  few people play games as often as I do, so for most folks this is an excellent choice.  And if you are worried about replayability, you can also pick up the expansion set.  [Reviews: mine, BBG]

Call My Bluff:  I probably played this game more often and with more people than any other in 2000 -- and I bought it mid-year.  A light dice-and-bluffing game, it's all the fun of poker without any of the annoying "money losing" aspects.   And this is really one for the whole family:  kids as young as 8 could play it (and probably beat me).  [Reviews: mine, BBG]

The Great Dalmuti:  Remember the card game "Asshole" (also called "Presidents") in college?  Maybe not.  That's what this is:  Presidents with a specialized deck, although the specialized deck does make the game a lot more enjoyable.  This isn't a game you play to win, it's a game you play simply because it's tons o' fun.  And if you play it with your family you won't hafta refer to your Mom as "Asshole", which is a plus.    [Reviews: Luding]

Honorable Mention -- Democrazy:  This game is a little uneven, but certainly topical in this time of Election Madness.  The game starts with just a few rules; the players propose and vote on new rules as the game progresses.  Plays with up to 10 and named GAMES Magazine's "Best Party Game" for 2000. [Reviews: mine, BBG]

Places to Buy Games

Online Brick 'n' Mortar / In Seattle