Our resident board-game expert picks the best new games released this year
What are the hallmarks of a truly great gift? Number one: not a yam hastily wrapped in a CVS coupon flier addressed to “Resident.” Number two: prompts the recipient, upon opening, to look slightly puzzled and say, “What is this, some kind of board game?” Experts are divided on exactly which presents best fit these criteria, but “board games” may well be in the running.
But which board games to get? You could appeal to nostalgia and give someone a game they loved as a child. Alas, many of these too closely resemble yams in terms of entertainment value.
Another option would be to choose from the thousands of contemporary board games that are released every year. The trick here is to find a game that is fun and engrossing, but simple enough that that the recipient can figure out how to play it on their own. (Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t offer to teach it. Indeed, learning a game, giving a copy to a friend or relative, and then playing the gift you gave someone else is one of the greatest swindles of the modern age. Victimless crime!)
And so my annual Good Gift Games guide, shining a spotlight on recent games that make excellent gifts for others. Anyone on your list would be slightly puzzled to receive one of these…and enormously grateful shortly thereafter.
The Quest for El Dorado
Back in Ye Olde Twentieth Century, when I first started writing these guides, there were like four board game designers. Of them, the most prominent was Reiner Knizia, a charming gent with a knack for creating exquisitely elegant games. Knizia’s productivity has declined over the years but, as The Quest for El Dorado amply illustrates, his quality has not. In this light family game, adventurers must race from one end of a serpentine map to the doorstep of the legendary lost city, traversing jungle, camps, and lakes as they go. Each player starts with a deck of cards to help them on their journey—Explorer Cards enable players to move through forest spaces, Sailor Cards allow for water movement, and so on—but these same cards can instead be used to purchase better, more powerful cards. You can’t win without moving, but you also can’t win without upgrading your deck, and the tension between the two makes for some agonizing choices. El Dorado is not only an ingenious design, it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a game all year.