It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and all through the house, my brain was a-stirring and so I took to my mouse! So my rhymes are not perfect but the season’s just right – these Dice Hate Me holiday gift picks will guide you alright! Ok, ok, enough with the cheesy rhymes; I don’t want all you Dear Readers to run off just yet, as there’s lots of fun in store in the 2014 edition of my favorite holiday tradition!
Each year, I present this guide for those of you who may be looking for that special gift of cardboard for the hard-to-shop-for significant other, friend or relative. Hopefully you’ll find a gem, or three, for the stocking or tree, so let me know what inspires you to wrap these gifts up in glee! (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
Best Game to Buy the Kids and Then Play It More Than They Do
When it comes to games geared toward kids that adults just love to play, no one does it better than HABA. Last year’s entry in this category – Tier auf Tier – is from HABA, as is Rhino Hero, which happened to be the surprise gamer’s game hit of GenCon. Based on the old art of card stacking, players take turns placing bent playing cards on the next level, then carefully placing a card from their hand on top to create floors of a rickety, makeshift building. The next player has to react to whatever card layout is stated on the current floor without knocking the structure over. To make things really interesting, some cards require a player to place the titular Rhino Hero – a wooden rhino meeple decked out in superhero attire – onto the floor which their building. Not surprisingly, the building structure can grow very, very tall, and very, very delicate. During the game, much oohing, ahhing and, quite often, cursing ensues. Just make sure to make little Timmy wear earmuffs when playing around the more savory adults.
Rhino Hero is a game for 2-5 card stackers from Scott Frisco and Stephen Strumpf. It retails for about $13 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game For Your Bridge-Loving Aunt Sally You’ll Play Without Alienating The Rest of the Family
Say the term “trick-taking” to many gamers and a hearty yawn will ensue. After all, there are a ton of trick-taking games on the market, many of which are just subtle variations on classics like Hearts and Spades that you could play with a plain ol’ deck of cards (and which remain largely superior classics to other clones even to this day). However, put the legendary Mike Fitzgerald to the task and you get a fresh take on a solid classic with Diamonds. The goal is simple: Gain as many “diamonds” as you can (represented by tiny plastic gems) over a set of rounds to become the winner. Just as in traditional trick-takers, the first player leads with a suit, and players must follow suit, if possible. However, if you manage your cards right and play off-suit, you can take an action associated with that particular suit: take a diamond from the center to place in your vault (protecting it from a steal), take a diamond and place it in front of your vault, steal a diamond from in front of another player’s vault, or shift a diamond from in front of your vault to inside the vault. The actions are really the heart and soul of this game, and can truly bring a lustrous shine to an old classic card game.
Diamonds is a game for 2-6 trick takers from Mike Fitzgerald. It retails for about $25 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game with Dice for Players Who Hate Dice
Yes, in full disclosure, this is a Dice Hate Me Games title, but VivaJava Dice is awesome fun! It’s also my holiday guide, so I can do what I want. In this dice game – based on the original VivaJava – each player is working for the VivaJava CoffeeCo., trying to make the company prosper, but also trying to stay ahead of the other suits. Roll dice each turn and decide whether to blend – using sets of beans to create a nice Featured Blend, or beans of different colors for the coveted Rainbow Blend – or take a group of beans and Research, opening up a wide array of abilities which will help you manipulate the dice, your blends, or other players, and may eventually add to your score. With over 24 Research abilities, expansion game coasters, a solo mode, and myriad paths to victory, VivaJava Dice will deliver a bold and varietal treat for the holidays.
VivaJava Dice is a game for 1-4 coffee lovers from TC Petty III. It retails for about $30 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Macabre Theme That Will Brighten the Holidays
You may have heard of Pompeii before – that beautiful historic town near Naples, Italy that rested neatly in the gorgeous splendor of nearby Mount Vesuvius that just so happened to one day explode and engulf thousands of Italians in smoke, ash and molten lava. Yeah, that was a bad day to be a Pompeiian, but in Downfall of Pompeii it’s good to be a player since the game is so much fun. The game is divided into two phases. First, players take turns playing cards from their hands and populating Pompeii with their little wooden Pompeiians. Next, Vesuvius erupts and it’s time to make a quick escape! Tiles representing lava flows are drawn and placed into the city, and residents are quickly moved toward the exits. If a lava tile happens to cover or corner any Pompeiians, they are promptly dropped into the little plastic volcano with devilish glee. The player with the most surviving Pompeiians at the end of the game wins! Despite the somewhat-ghoulish mayhem, it’s all in good fun, and Downfall of Pompeii should find most gamers on fire with enthusiasm.
Downfall of Pompeii is a game for 2-4 vulcanologists from Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It retails for about $32 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Stuffer for the Stocking
Last year’s stocking stuffer was another tin-filled offer from Asmodee games, Timeline. Unlike the breezy, casual game of Timeline, The Builders is a mighty exercise in brain power in a tiny little package. Players work hard to manage their money so that they can draft cards from the lineup, using those cards as workers or to open new construction sites. It’s a fresh, compact take on engine building and card management that will easily fit into any stocking – or pocket.
The Builders is a game for 2-4 construction specialists from Frédéric Henry. It retails for about $15 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for your NASCAR-Loving Mom
Yes, NASCAR. And, for the record, my mom loves it. Southern and female preference stereotypes aside, people just like racing, and no non-dexterity game I’ve played since Rallyman has adequately captured the thrill of zipping around really fast in a car quite like Thunder Alley. Players use a hand of cards to maneuver around a set of custom tracks, jockeying for position, and saving the best cards for the most opportune passing moment. Those mechanics may not sound all that special, but the drafting one certainly is – just like in NASCAR, players will often find themselves working together in order to form a chain of cars that can maneuver around opponents. Use your cards wisely, wheel and deal with the other drivers during the mid-game, and then put the hammer down to boogity boogity when it really counts.
Thunder Alley is a game for 2-7 racing enthusiasts from Jeff and Carla Horger. It retails for about $50 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for your Favorite Lovecraft Freak
This sort of category is typically dominated by Fantasy Flight’s collection of Lovecraft lore like Arkham and Eldritch Horror, but this year it’s time for something a bit different. Take Kingsburg and mix in a healthy bit of King in Yellow and you have Kingsport Festival – a dice-placement, area control affair that’s a tad darker than what you might normally find under the tree. The key mechanics work just like Kingsburg: Roll dice and use them to influence a certain spot in the game, in this case a Lovecraftian critter or Elder God, taking the associated action and adding a bit of influence to a locale in Kingsport. As the game progresses, your cultist powers grow exponentially, allowing you to exert more dark influence over Kingsport – but all at the cost of precious sanity. If you have someone special in mind that loves the dark tales of Dagon and Deep Ones, this is one game that will drive them insane with glee.
Kingsport Festival is a game for 3-5 cultists from Andrea Chiarvesio and Gianluca Santopietro. It retails for about $50 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for Your Graphic Designer Cousin Who Hates Party Games and Won’t Stop Talking About Typography
Concept is not so much a game as a social activity, much like the parlor games of Charades and Paper Telephone that precedes it. No matter – Concept is as enjoyable as just about any party game out there, and wholly unique to boot. The game comes with a huge board filled with icons of all sorts representing categories, concepts, colors and such. On a team’s turn, they place markers on icons that best match the concept of what they are trying to convey. For instance, the team may be trying to get the other players to guess “Batman”. They may start by placing the key concept – a colored question mark – on the icon for “book” or “film”, then move onto other subcategories such as “animal”, “man”, “fictional”, and then turn to “clothes” with a subcategory of the color “black”. If the other players are able to accurately guess the topic then that team scores a point, as does the guesser. In the end, as with Whose Line Is It Anyway, the points really don’t matter – it’s more the experience, and guaranteed laughter, that make all the difference.
Concept is a game for 4-12 graphic enthusiasts from Gaëtan Beaujannot and Alain Rivollet. It retails for about $35 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game to Move ‘Em On Up From Ticket to Ride
There are gateway games, and then there are hybrids – those games that skirt the line between hardcore hobby titles and the sort of fare like Carcassone. In that sense, Five Tribes is a bit of a strange animal. The rules aren’t all that difficult to explain, just like most Days of Wonder games, but the understanding and mastery of those rules takes some getting used to. The key mechanic lies in the mancala system of shifting dudes around the sands of Arabia. On a turn, a player takes a group of meeples in an area and then drops them off, one by one, across a path of tiles. When the last guy is dropped off, he should be paired with one or more meeples of the same color. Those meeples are removed and the player takes the action of that particular meeple, such as earning money for tiles of that particular color in the surrounding area or taking a market action to collect goods from a card stack. If there are no more meeples on the spot after the matching meeples are removed, the player puts a camel on that spot to show ownership, earning points at the end. There are also meeples that give you majority points at the end of the game, meeples which can help you buy Djinns with mystical powers, and even meeples that can kill off other meeples. Nope, this ain’t your mom’s Days of Wonder game, but if you want to gift something meatier with the amazing production value present in all Days of Wonder titles, Five Tribes is your diamond in the rough.
Five Tribes is a game for 2-4 Arabian knights from Bruno Cathala. It retails for about $60 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Zombie Game for Uncle Raimi
It’s no secret that the games of designer Sir Richard Launius are a standard staple of the Dice Hate Me library. And, although zombie games seem to be more prolific nowadays than Kim Kardashian’s tuckus, Run, Fight, or Die manages to bring a fresh, fun approach to the genre with a fast-playing system. In the game, you manage the dice rolled each turn to battle an oncoming zombie horde, constantly advancing on whichever hidey hole you have staked out for the moment. Depending on the dice rolled, you may use a baseball bat to bash a couple of zombies, open up the Book of the Dead to eliminate a whole slew with dark magic, or simply find some poor townie cowering in the bushes. Find enough of those poor saps and survive long enough and you can win the game. It’s the humor behind those survivor cards – and the lovingly-crafted B-movie tropes which they represent – that truly represent the heart and brrraaaiiinnnss behind Run, Fight, or Die.
Run, Fight, or Die is a game for 1-4 B-movie lovers from Richard Launius. It retails for about $50 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Two-Player Game For Your Trigger-Happy Significant Other
A beautiful wooden game for the coffee table where each player pulls a disc back on a stretched rubber band and tries to wing it through a tiny slot into the other player’s side. First player to get all the discs on the other side of the partition wins – and probably has to end up doing the dishes after Christmas dinner.
Fastrack is a game for 2 wood flingers from Jean-Marie Albert. It retails for about $29 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Gift To Bring To a Holiday Party
Another Dice Hate Me Games title, but a wholly appropriate one: Compete against other party-throwers to invite the most compatible guests throughout the night, all while enticing the titular Belle, who brings mirth, mischief and mayhem to the proceedings. Nothing says a fun Christmas party like announcing a guest like Gigglelack Lololol out loud amidst the wide-eyed consortium grouped around the punchbowl.
Belle of the Ball is a game for 2-5 party-goers from Daniel Solis. It retails for about $20 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
Best Game for Those iOS-Addicted Relatives
It’s Sentinels of the Multiverse as an app. ‘Nuff said.
Sentinels of the Multiverse is from Handelabra Studio. It retails for about $10 and you can buy it online here for multiple platforms.
Best Game For Your Grabby Eight-Year-Old
Put out cards with silly little cartoon farm animals and dice with colored faces on them, then roll the dice. First person to grab the cute, squishy farm animal that matches the animal just rolled wins that animal and the cards for points. Be kind to the kids when grabbing up those critters, but feel free to throw elbows when adults are crowded around.
Fun Farm is a game for 2-10 farmers from Luca Bellini. It retails for about $25 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.
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. Here is a list of Dice Hate Me-approved local game stores that we have either visited or have been helpful to us and the hobby. If you’re near one of these, buy there and give small business owners a warm glow this holiday season!
- Atomic Empire – Durham, NC
- Gamer’s Armory – Cary, NC
- Hypermind – Burlington, NC
- Game Goblins – Little Rock, AR
- Labyrinth Games & Puzzles – Washington, DC
- The Compleat Strategist – New York, NY & Boston, MA & Falls Church, VA
- Five Stone Bookstore – Lebanon, PA
- Past, Present, Future Comics & Games – Lauderhill, FL
- Chicagoland Games – Chicago, IL
- Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy – San Antonio, TX
- Orc’s Nest – London, England