Top Games to Gift in 2015

Dec 21, 2015

Every December since 2010, Lake Effect has been joined by writer and game expert James Lowder. He suggests new and notable games to give as gifts - for nearly every age and ability level. 

James Lowder is editor of the award-winning essay anthologies Hobby Games: The 100 Best, and Family Games: The 100 Best. His next game-related project--The Munchkin Book, an official companion for the hit card game--is due for release in February.

Here are his top picks:

Hobby Category:

1. T.I.M.E. Stories - A narrative board game that allows players to live adventures in various worlds, through the eyes and characteristics of their characters. The box includes four different scenarios throughout time that the temporal agents must solve. "There are puzzle aspects and choose your own adventure aspects. It's a really kind of novel hybrid - nothing quite like it has been seen in the market before," says Lowder.

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2. 7 Wonders & 7 Wonders Duel - A civilization building game that includes military forces, scientific discoveries and wonders of the ancient world. "Seven Wonders Duel" strips it down to two players and makes the card draw mechanic more complicated.

3. Pandemic Legacy - "Pandemic in and of itself is a wonderful game...but this is really kind of a spectacular recasting of that. It makes it a community event because the people you play with, they're the ones who actually change the board," says Lowder.

4. 504 - Scientists have created 504 alternate earths, each with their own set of rules. The game includes 504 different games. There are 9 modules/game mechanics for the different worlds such as race, military, majority rule, etc. Two to four players pick three modules for a world, making for "a remarkable range."

Family Category:

Shakespeare: The Board Game - Deemed "the board game for English majors," players become a theater manager in Elizabethan England with six days to recruit artisans and actors to put on a command performance. The player with the most prestige points wins.

Role Playing:

Shadow of the Demon Lord - "A very dark game in which the fantasy world you inhabit is heading toward chaos. The heroes can either take a futile noble stand against chaos or help things along," says Lowder. The designer of the game worked on Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition), making the rule set and character creation very simple for all players.

Children's Games:

Animal Upon Animal is a tactile game that has children ages three and up racing to place all their wooden animals upon the pile.
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1. Animal Upon Animal & Rhino Hero - stacking/dexterity games

2. Loopin' Louie, or Loopin' Chewie (for Star Wars fans) - players try to protect their chickens from crazy barnstormer Louie by flipping his plane away whenever he gets close. Though designed for children ages four and up, Loupin’ Louie is also fun for adults of the right mindset. The new Star Wars version has Chewbacca circling in the Millennium Falcon, trying to bump off Stormtroopers. The player with the last trooper standing wins.

3. Mystery Dish Diner - "A very charming game" by Melissa & Doug in which two players play the customer and restaurant.

Party Games

1. Love 2 Hate - (14+) Subtitled "a game for inappropriate people," the judge picks a card that finishes a "____ love/hate it when..." sentence phrase.  

2. Codenames - Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of twenty-five agents, but the spies working for them only know them by their codenames. The two teams compete to see who can identify all their agents first, using the spymaster’s one-word clues to guess which words indicate friendly agents and which are enemies.

TOP PICK: Mysterium - "A cooperative game with a clever design. This is a game you're going to want to play again and again," says Lowder.

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A group of psychic detectives gather at Warwick Manor for a séance. The manor’s resident ghost responds by sending them strange visions, represented by game cards. But their contact with the spirit world only lasts seven hours, so they must work quickly to interpret the visions and discover the ghost’s murderer, the weapon used and the crime’s location. That last bit may sound familiar to anyone who has ever played Clue, but the similarity stops there.