The State of Games: The 2018 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
Seasons Greetings, Dear Readers, and welcome to the 8th annual Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide! This year’s guide comes to you a tad late as it has been one busy season here at Dice Hate Me HQ. But there are still two full weeks and weekends before Santa drops off that copy of Fireball Island for you, I mean the kids! Ahem. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Grab your Dice Hate Me mug, fill it with cocoa, and enjoy this carefully curated list of awesome treats for under the tree. Happy Holidays and Happy Gaming!
Best Toy Game to Get The Family Cursing Away From the Dinner Table: Fireball Island
If you were a kid 32 years ago, chances are this epic monstrosity was on your holiday wish list. In the original game, you and up to three other adventurers raced across a multi-leveled 3D island trying to capture the Heart of Vul-Kar – the cursed gem of an ancient, fireball-spitting tiki god – and make it to the dock and off the island before getting a fireball to the face and having someone steal your treasure. Today, this nostalgic gem has been reimagined from Restoration Games so you can fireball your friends once more! The island is a bit different now, turned into a tourist destination where you and your fellow tourists will race to explore the island, take pictures, discover treasure, and make it back to the Hellocopter before everything explodes. There’s a bit more control over gameplay in the modern version, but the marvelous mayhem remains intact. With Fireball Island, you can stoke the fire in the fireplace as well as on the kitchen table this holiday season.
Fireball Island is a game for 1-4 intrepid tourists from Restoration Games. It retails for $75 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store. (Note that many online discount retailers are out of stock of this product)
Best Game for Uncle Tony Who Runs that “Pawn Shop”: The Big Score
Any fans of the blog or The State of Games podcast knows I love a good heist, and nothing says Christmas like a little touch of crime on the tabletop! The Big Score is really two fun and approachable heist games in one. In the first phase of the game, you and the other crooks will draft and train crew, assigning them to up to 6 jobs around the city. When the big reveal happens, you may have hedged your bets that another team has assigned some of the crew that was needed to pull off the heist, and you’ll all score the loot if that’s the case. Fail, however, and you all have to pony up 20,000 clams for bail. In the second phase of the game, you and your crew will take on the bank, pulling chits from the vault to increase your score and deciding whether to continue each round or get out before the cops arrive. It’s a great press-your-luck bookend to a wonderful night filled with good cheer and goodfellas.
The Big Score is a game for 1-6 safecrackers by Jason Mowery and Chase Williams. It retails for $49.95 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game to Move Em On Up from Ticket to Ride: Pioneers
If you’re tired of your Aunt Sally constantly blocking that one route you need from Oklahoma City to Santa Fe in Ticket to Ride, it’s time to get her and the family building different routes out west in Pioneers. In this game, you’ll all send a stagecoach hither and yon to drop off different passengers with special abilities, all while hoping to build a long, well-connected trail network to prosper your final score. The more settlers you drop off, the quicker you’ll empty your stagecoaches, scoring you more points in the interim. You’ll also get the opportunity to drop off settlers of the same type as your opponents on their turn – provided you pay them for their troubles. With deeper gameplay than its railway-themed predecessor combined with a comparable learning curve, Pioneers is definitely your ticket to a better ride.
Pioneers is a game for 2-4 western wanderers by Emanuele Ornella. It retails for around $50 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Party Game for Your Mom Who Loves Crosswords & Word Puzzles: Decrypto
Alright, settle in. This one’s a little complicated to describe. Players compete in two teams, and each team has a decoder screen in front of them, hidden from the other team, with four cards with words printed on them. A designated team member draws a clue card that has a three-digit code on it – like 3-1-4 – and that team member must write down clues to their teammates that will cause their teammates to guess the words on the decoder screen that matches the position of the words on the clue card. If the team passes correctly, everything is good. If the team guess wrong, they draw a failure token. The words that the clue giver provided is then provide to the opposite team, and vice versa; each team now gets a chance to guess the opposite team’s three-digit code for that round. If they can, they gain a success token. The game ends when one team has two failure tokens (resulting in the opposite team winning), or two success tokens (meaning they win). It’s a bear to describe in text, but after the first round of play in person Decrypto reveals itself like one of its decrypted clues, causing “aha” moments and making everyone want to play again and again after the game is through.
Decrypto is a game for 3-8 cryptographers by Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance. It retails for around $20 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for Your Tetris-Addicted Sibling: Scarabya
Scarabya is the kind of game that takes about five minutes to explain and can easily be played at least two or three times in an hour. In other words, it’s the perfect game for family and for gatherings of friends with mixed gaming experience. At its core it’s a puzzle game; one person draws a card that has a certain polyomino piece (sort of like Tetris pieces, but can be bigger) that must be placed inside each player’s identically-oriented yet thematically-different discovery area. Over time, these polyominoes will create spaces that enclose 1 to 4 scarabs that are worth points depending on how many scarabs are in the enclosure. After all 12 tiles are drawn and placed, the game ends and the player with the highest score from enclosed scarabs wins. It’s just that easy, and oh-so-rewarding. I can’t recommend this game enough for those looking to have a bit of puzzle with their pie after the holiday feast.
Scarabya is a game for 1-4 puzzling prospectors by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc. It retails for $29.95 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for Your Favorite Lovecraft Freak: Arkham Horror 3.0
There are a couple of staples on the ol’ Holiday Gift Guide – dice and Cthulhu – and here’s a game that has them both. Arkham Horror has been haunting game tables since 1987, and its first makeover in 2005 from Kevin Wilson and original designer Richard Launius has become a modern cooperative gaming classic. This third edition of the storied title combines a little bit of the best bits of everything that’s come before - Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror: The Card Game - into an amazing game filled with extraterrestrial terrors and existential dread. What more could you want in your nightmare before Christmas?
Arkham Horror 3.0 is a game for 1-6 intrepid investigators by Nikki Valens, based on an original design by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson. It retails for around $60 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for That One Friend That Says They Hate Cooperative Games: Spirit Island
Before we delve too deep into Spirit Island, a few caveats: Yes, my company publishes the game; yes, the game is pretty darn complex, and, yes, it’s not terribly cheap. But, all that said, it’s truly a game that will shock and compel hardcore gamers that are used to competitive fair. Spirit Island is all in the title – it’s about an island that is protected by spirits. There are natives on the island that worship the spirits both in awe and fear, and there are settlers that have shown up on the island to plant a flag and reap the fertile bounty. Unsurprisingly, the spirits are a little upset about this. The players take on the roles of those ticked-off spirits, using variable player powers, special ability decks that can grow and evolve throughout the game, stark raving fear, and the island natives themselves to push back, deter, and otherwise devour the incoming invaders. It’s rich, it’s diverse, and it’s an awesome gift for that special gamer that just might like a competitive environment in a cooperative shell.
Spirit Island is a game for 1-4 paranormal protectors by R. Eric Reuss. It retails for around $60 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for those iOS-Addicted Relatives: 7 Wonders
In my humble opinion, 7 Wonders is one of the best games of all time and is ranked in the top 50 by users on BoardGameGeek.com. The digital adaptation of this card-drafting classic is superb, with opportunities to play online against multiple friends or strangers, as well as a variable AI that will challenge you when playing solo. Since some of the card text and icons can be a bit tiny on smaller devices, players who are experienced playing 7 Wonders on the tabletop will get more out of this port. But players new to the wonder of this game will catch on soon enough after their first few plays.
Best Stuffer for the Stocking: Piepmatz
A vast number of “cards with numbers” games have hit the scene in the past few years, some more approachable than others. This charming gem from Fleet designers Matt Riddle & Ben Pinchback is about as approachable as they come with aspects of trick taking, set collection, and a wonderful theme filled with lots of bird watching while chasing pesky crows and squirrels away from the feeder. Wonderful art, wonderful production, and you’ll easily wonder why it’s not already in your collection and on your shopping list.
Piepmatz is a game for 2-4 finch feeders by Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback. It retails for around $15 and you can buy it online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for Your Favorite Bibliophile: Graphic Novel Adventures
Another entry on the gift guide from publisher Van Ryder Games, but with good reason – these amazing and entertaining books are a true amalgam of classic Choose Your Own Adventure novels, board and roleplaying games, and sequential comics. There are five different novels to choose from and they all offer something unique, whether it be in theme, story, or gameplay. If your cousin Billie likes a twist of horror with some classic roleplaying game elements, then Captive will captivate them. If brother Steve loves town-building tabletop games or westerns, then Your Town is a sure bet. With other stories involving werewolves, sacred Japanese sprouts, or even Sherlock Holmes, you’ll find a novel for just about any special person on your list.
Graphic Novel Adventures is for 1 pulp adventurer from Van Ryder Games. You can buy them online or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
And The Review I Wrote Before Realizing Nobody Has It For Sale:
Best Reprinted Classic that the Whole Family Will Enjoy: Finca
A retro holiday staple is the fruit basket; my dad used to get one as his Christmas “bonus” every year from the mill he worked in, and I’d eat all the tangerines way before the holidays got into full swing. Consider Finca the new holiday fruit basket, as essentially you’re just collecting pieces of fruit to sell at market in Mallorca. Each round you’ll pick up a worker on the windmill and move that worker as many spaces as the number of workers in the beginning tile. You’ll pick up specific fruits depending on the tile you land on – again, the number of fruits taken depends on the number of workers in that destination tile. Eventually you’ll sell those fruits to fulfill tiles in the market, and earn more points depending on larger demand tiles. It’s easy, it’s breezy, and it’s a perfect taste of the warm Mediterranean during those cold winter nights.
Finca is a game for 2 to 4 fruit peddlers by Wolfgang Sentker and Ralf zur Linde. You can find some copies in specialty shops online for really exorbitant prices but don’t pay those unless you really, really like fruit and donkeys.
Although we provide convenient links to buy many of the games in the gift guide online, we highly encourage all of you dear readers to shop at and support your local game store. Without the heroic efforts of the intrepid brick and mortar store owners, the hobby wouldn’t be half as amazing as it is today.