Ars Technica has published a boardgame buyers guide which is pretty darn good. If you’re looking for some boardgames as gifts this season, it’s a really good place to start, as it’s long and pretty comprehensive.
BUT NOT COMPREHENSIVE ENOUGH.
Going to add my own two bits with some of the boardgames (new, newish and not *too* old) that have been staples at my table. I’ll provide links, and I’ll mention that if they’re Amazon links, I totally get a cut. 🙂
Greedy Dragons – So, yes, this is a little shameless as it’s an Evil Hat game, but there’s a bit more to it. I like all of our board and cardgames (obviously) but this one particularly hits my sweet spot because it’s small, fast and different enough each time that we can play it multiple times in a row. I have a small bag of fast, portable games (which also has things like Coup, Love Letter and Jumpdrive in it) which this has a place of pride in. Yes, commercially I wish this was a big hit, but emotionally I’m sad it’s not because it really is a great game.
Space Base – We have played a LOT of this one. The spaceship theme is all well and good, but the thing that really makes it for us is that it has a lot in common with Machi Koro (a perennial favorite) but with some tweaks that improve play. If you’re familiar with MK, the big difference is that you start with a full tableau (2-12) of things that trigger on your turn, but you can only have one card in each “slot”. When you replace a card, it flips, and now has a (lesser) effect that triggers on other people’s turns. So you get this very nice upgrade mechanic, but never have the dead turns that can sometimes ruin a game of Machi Koro. My sole complaint is that the card stacking is sometimes cumbersome at the table, and I feel like a slightly different board design would have helped with that. But all in all, that is a very small blight on a really excellent game.
Shards of Infinity – So, the guys who made Ascension saw the small, fast games like Star Realms and decided to make a game in that model. It shares enough DNA with Ascension that if you’re at all familiar with it, this is easy to pick up. However, it also has enough differences (most notably that it’s fast and small, but also in gameplay) that it doesn’t make you wonder why you’re not just playing Ascension. Also, the expansion for this just dropped, and it adds a little bit of variety to the factions without fattening the game too much, which is welcome.
Dice Throne – If I could I would recommend starting with the Season 2 box (gameplay is similar, but the components are upgraded), but they just fulfilled the kickstarter, and its availability is uneven. Thankfully, the season 1 box is awesome. It’s a dice battle game, where 6 characters each have a unique board, deck and set of custom dice which are used to drive their attacks. They then…well, fight each other. It is probably strongest at 1 on 1 play, but can scale up to 6 people. This is one that I tried at Pax Unplugged last year, promptly bought, and made multiple subsequent sales as people tried it out. Just fun.
Santorini – I’ve talked before about how much I like this game, and it lead to a bunch of blog posts, so it would be very silly if I did not at least give it a nod. Easy to learn, fast to play, vastly, vastly replayable. There’s a lot to love here. I think this edition has a little less cardboard in it (to reduce cost) but that comes at no penalty to gameplay, which is simple and robust (and the tower bits are the actual fun components)
Sentinels of the Multiverse – Yes, there are a ton of expansions and they’re all great, but the core game is all you need to have a fantastic time in what is my favorite co-op AND favorite supers game. If you just kind of dig it, all is well, but if you REALLY dig it, then the expansions are waiting for you. When I first picked this up many years ago, the thing that grabbed me was how much playing The Wraith (one of the hero decks) *felt* superheroic, but also felt differently superheroic than the other decks.
Addendum for parents – My son is 9, and probably better than average at learning games, but not some kind of alien super genius or anything. All of these games are ones I have played extensively with him (because that is where a lot of my gameplay happens), and not only does he love them all, he will absolutely kick my ass at many of these.