A favorite Lake Effect tradition at this time of year is our annual "Games to Gift" segment, helping you to find the perfect present for the board game enthusiast and casual player on your list.
Lowder's Top Picks:
KING OF NEW YORK
Publisher: Iello; Designer: Richard Garfield
2–6 players; 10 and up; $50
Giant monsters battle each other and the military in an epic struggle to conquer Manhattan and be declared king of New York. This game is a sequel of sorts to last year’s fun, but more lightweight King of Tokyo. The mechanics added this time around by designer Richard Garfield open up more opportunities for both strategy and giant monster mayhem.
Publisher: Gamewright; Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
2–5 players; 8 and up; $15
In this quick and charming card game, players collect the best combinations of sushi over three rounds. Points are earned from the specific groups of sushi selected, but the card drafting mechanic makes this more than just a luck-of-the-draw affair. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast play each round, but you also need to be mindful of longer-term strategy so you don’t find yourself penalized for having the fewest pudding cards when the game ends and it’s time for dessert.
PANDEMIC: THE CURE
Publisher: Z-Man; Designer: Matt Leacock
2–5 players; 8 and up; $50
This dice-based version of the outstanding Pandemic board game has players working cooperatively to battle four diseases plaguing the world. Each player takes a different role, which uses its own set of dice and grants specific abilities, and the team strives together to prevent outbreaks and find cures for each of the four maladies. Too many outbreaks and the team loses. Gameplay is faster than the board game, making this even more appealing to groups with disparate ages.
SAILS OF GLORY
Publisher: Ares; Designer: Andrea Angiolino & Andrea Manini
2–4 players; 13 and up; $90
The long hours required to pore over detailed rules and paint all those little armies have long rendered miniatures games inaccessible to all but the most ardent hobbyists. Like its predecessor, the WWI/WWII aerial combat game Wings of Glory, Sails of Glory does a spectacular job of making a historical miniatures game both accessible and fun. Players can recreate famous battles from the Age of Sail or stage their own skirmishes using the pre-painted ship miniatures and the easy card-based movement system. The starter game comes with a quartet of ships—two French and two British—as well as movement card sets for each ship and everything else you need to begin play.
Publisher: Thinkfun; Designer: Dan Shapiro
2–5 players; 4 and up; $25
This clever game for younger children teaches the basic concepts of computer coding in the guise of robot turtle wrangling. Players utilize code cards to dictate the movements of their turtles across the game board. Play continues until all the turtles have reached their target jewels and everyone wins, which minimizes competitive conflict. Advanced obstacles and code cards mean the game can be scaled up in difficulty as the players master the earliest levels.
ONE NIGHT ULTIMATE WEREWOLF
Publisher: Bézier; Designers: Ted Alspach & Akihisi Okui
3–10 players; 8 and up; $25
The townsfolk have only one day to figure out who among them is a dastardly werewolf. This streamlined version of the popular social deduction game Werewolf has players taking on one of a dozen roles, each with a special ability, and then trying to either survive, if you’re the werewolf, or eliminate the threat. The game is completed in a single round, with no player eliminations. With its simple rules and a play time of around ten or fifteen minutes per game, this makes a great ice breaker for parties or a change of pace between longer games.
FIREFLY ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions; Designers: Monica Valentinelli, Mark Diaz Truman, et al
2-? players; 13 and up; $50
2014 was a stellar year for role-playing games, and several deserve your attention. The new Firefly RPG stands out because it offers everything you need to play in a single book, including story hooks and a gaming system that foregrounds player interaction and storytelling over combat. The game is more attractive to people who already know the setting from the TV show Firefly, but at its heart this RPG can provide the foundation for any kind of space opera adventure.
DEAD OF WINTER
Publisher: Plaid Hat: Designers: Jon Gilmour & Isaac Vega
2–5 players; 12 and up; $80
Dead of Winter shows that there are still original things to be done with zombie games. Players control a group of harried survivors in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. Everyone is cooperating toward a common goal, but each player must also complete a secret personal objective that may or may not cause conflict within the group. This is a wonderfully story-centric board game, particularly through its use of the narrative “Crossroads” cards.
Publisher: AEG; Designers: Dave Williams & Mark Wootton
2–4 players; 12 and up; $40
Players battle it out for control of a town in the Weird West in this recasting of the collectible card game from 1998. Use poker hands and card pulls to settle gunfights and cast hexes to destroy the enemy factions. Since this is now a deck-building game with fixed sets of cards, it avoids the unequal resources trap common to collectible games, where the player with the most money can just buy the rare collectible components needed to make him or her unbeatable. The game’s setting, known as Deadlands, is rich and compelling, with future expansions for Doomtown promising to add even more depth and complexity.