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Top games to gift in 2023

The hand throws two yellow dice on the blue field of the fantasy game. Gaming moments in dynamics. Luck and excitement. Concept Board games strategy
Oleshko Artem/Artem - stock.adobe.com
The hand throws two yellow dice on the blue field of the fantasy game. Gaming moments in dynamics. Luck and excitement. Concept Board games strategy

Playing games is a year-round hobby for some, but buying and exploring new games is also a great holiday tradition. And games are an everyday endeavor for writer and gaming designer James Lowder. Every year he joins us to share his Games to Gift list, which includes everything from family games, two-player games, to tabletop games and games for experienced gamers.

Lowder notes that trends of 2023 in gaming include a continued and growing cultural acceptance of the once-marginalized tabletop and hobby games, plus the growth of academic institutions teaching tabletop (not computer) game design and using games in education — even publishing games themselves. Two of the highlight games this year qualify as examples of that educational impetus: the family game Daybreak and Lowder's top pick, Votes for Women.

So whether you’re just curious about getting into gaming or looking for a gift for the serious gamer in your life, chances are Lowder has a suggestion for you.


Publisher: Fort Circle Games; Designer: Tory Brown
1–4 players; ages 12 and up

Fort Circle Games

"The game itself has just world-class educational content. The idea for the game is players are either trying to pass or oppose the 19th Amendment to get women to vote and it's essentially a card based war game," says Lowder. "The cards and all of the content for this game are steeped in this historical material. There is not a way to play this game without learning something, which is great!"

This game can be played cooperatively, competitively, or in solitaire mode, and in each version players must navigate the historic events, movement schisms, and political challenges of the era to win. The board is a simple to set and the artwork is inspired by the classic designs used by suffragists themselves.

Family Games

Publisher: CMYK; Designers: Matt Leacock, Matteo Menapace
1–4 players; ages 10 and up

Daybreak is a cooperative (co-op) boardgame all about stopping climate change. Players control world powers trying to reign in global warming, and over the course of the game players try to de-carbonize their economies and energy systems so that the carbon generated is decreased and the Earth's ecosystem can survive. However, if the global temperature rises above a certain point or if player's plan have enough human cost that cause crises, everyone collectively loses.

"It's got very serious educational weight to it, this is a game that can be played in classrooms, however it's just a great game design ... but it takes a very positive take on [climate change] so that as a game it's entertaining. You can cooperate and work together and have positive impact on this thing that is a very important problem," says Lowder.

Quick mentions:

    Publisher: Restoration Games; Designers: Dave Chalker, Brett Myers, Noah Cohen, et al
    2–4 players; ages 10 and up
    Publisher: Ravensburger; Designers: Ryan Miller, Steve Warner
    2–6 players; ages 8 and up
    Publisher: Renegade; Designer: Sid Sackson
    2–6 players; ages 12 and up
Hobby Games


Publisher: Days of Wonder; Designers: Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock, Alan R. Moon
2–5 players; ages 10 and up

"Ticket to Ride in and of itself is a very accessible family game," notes Lowder. "You claim train routes across maps of different parts of the world. What the Legacy version of this game does is it's late 19th century, you're trying to build [your railroad company] starting on the East coast."

Days of Wonder

Over 12 different sessions of the game expands player maps and changes the rules depending on game play. Secret components are unlocked after a certain number of games as you grow your own North American railway company.

"Ticket to Ride in and of itself is a fantastic game. This is moving that into the hobby space where you play through your 12 games and the great part about it is at the end of those 12 games you have a version of that game that you can then just continue to play. That's your version of Ticket to Ride Legacy from there, and that's an innovation from a lot of earlier Legacy games," Lowder says.

Quick mentions - Hobby games:

    Publisher: Stonemaier Games; Designers: Connie Vogelmann
    1–5 players; ages 14 and up
    Publisher: PlayMonster; Designer: Josh Derksen
    1–4 players; ages 14 and up
Kids Games

Publisher: Next Move; Designers: Günter Cornett, Alvydas Jakeliunas
2–4 players; ages 8 and up

Next Move

This new edition 20 years after its original release improves the play components. You control a penguin, moving in a straight line across ice flows collecting as many fish as you can. However, as you move across the ice you remove the ice you cross.

"So it changes the game and it's really actually an abstract strategy game because you're then manipulating the board to try and corner the other players' penguins so they can't move. That makes it a little cutthroat as a kids game but it's a really clever design ... that makes it a really fun kids game that parents are going to want to play too," says Lowder.

Quick mentions - Kids games:

    Publisher: SmartGames; Designer: Raf Peeters
    1 player; ages 7 and up
    Publisher: Keymaster; Designer: Scott Almes
    2–8 players; ages 8 and up
Two-Player Games

Publisher: Le Scorpion Masqué; Designer: Luc Rémond
2 players; ages 12 and up

"Sky Team is I think going to go down as a long-term classic as a two-player game," notes Lowder.

This co-op game has two players trying to land an airplane at various airports around the world. The game is played in two phases: a communication phase where you talk about what you're hoping to do, and then a dice rolling and dice placement phase where you can't talk with the other person you're playing with.

"You're trying to place these dice that you've rolled on the control panel for the plane to control the tilt axis, the speed, and all of the other things and not move so fast that you run into the other planes that may be in your way — but you can't talk while doing it," explains Lowder. "It's really a tense game, a lot of fun [and] it plays over 15 minutes... it's just a great design and just a novel approach to two-player games."

Quick mentions - Two-player games:

    Publisher: Gigamic; Designers: Romain Froger, Didier Lenain-Bragard
    2 players; ages 8 and up
    Publisher: Darrington Press; Designers: Will Hindmarch, Alex Roberts
    2 players; ages 14 and up
Role-Playing Games

Publisher: Snowbright Studio; Designers: Grace Collins, Donn Stroud
1–6 players; ages 13 and up

Snowbright Studio

"Your characters are all dead. That's where you start, and you are moving through the ink trying to balance out your spirit and your shadow - which are different aspects of your character - to basically succeed and grow as a character so you can escape the ink and move on from the afterlife," Lowder explains.

A clever game with a basic six-sided die, it can layer on to other role-playing games. Lowder adds, "If you have a favorite Dungeons & Dragon or Call of Cthulhu character that died at the end of the game, you can kind of segue into Ink and continue playing that character and do some more interesting storytelling with that character. It's a very innovative design that's also quite thoughtful. The things that you're trying to accomplish with your character are not the usual [actions that] people commonly think of as role-playing game combat."

Quick mentions (RPG starter sets):

9th Level Games

Honorable mention: WOMEN ARE WEREWOLVES
Publisher: 9th Level; Designers: C. A. S. Taylor, Yeonsoo Julian Kim
2–6 players; ages 13 and up

"It's another one of those really thoughtful setups for a role-playing game," says Lowder. "All of the players play nonbinary characters in a world where your families think only women are werewolves. So the game is how you negotiate the family politics and the gender politics and the other things that go on around that basic core concept for the game. Like the science or educational leaning games, this is tackling a serious topic in a way that makes it accessible and opens up your game table for potentially serious, awesome discussions."

> READ James Lowder's Full Guide for Games to Gift 2023


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
James Lowder has worked in fiction and hobby game publishing for more than three decades. He is the editor of the award-winning anthologies Hobby Games: The 100 Best and Family Games, available in print and now in select ebook formats. The anthologies feature short essays by the top game designers and publishers from around the world, sharing their personal selections for the most enjoyable and innovative card games, board games, miniatures games, and role-playing games of the last century.
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