November 27, 2009

Critical Gamers' 2009 Holiday Gift Guide


Welcome to the one-stop index page for all of our Holiday Board Game Gift Ideas for 2009! There have been some tremendous games that were released this year. Some released created new genres of games, others lovingly refined old formulas. We'll break down these top releases and let you know the perfect present for your gaming friend or love one, all while avoiding the frenetic crowds and annoying cell phone vendors at your crazy local mega mall.

So lets kick things off with our favorite game of the last year, Dominion, which has two new expansions this year!

[Amazon, Funagain]
Expansions: Dominion Intrigue, Dominion Seaside

An Approachable Card Game, Fun as Heck, Amazingly High Replayability

Dominion.jpgIf anyone were to brand something as 'fun in a box', then this is it. Dominion is technically a card game, but Board Gamers who've played it love it. It's made gamers out of people who don't game. Often reluctant spouses have become avid Dominion fans in a single session. Just about everyone in our group now owns a copy to play at home with their family or drunken friends.

The idea is this: everyone starts with 10 really weak cards in their deck. They draw 5 cards each turn, so their deck will only last 2 turns out of the game. However, every turn they will play cards from their hands, spending them like money, to buy better cards from a common pool of cards in the center of the table. Any card they spend goes into their discard pile to be drawn again on future turns. Any card they buy from the Pool also goes into their discard pile to be played on future turns. When their deck is exhausted (by the end of turn two) they shuffle both new and old cards from their discard pile into their deck, and draw 5 more cards.

Basically they're building a deck from scratch, every game, custom tailoring it to fit their own strategy, and to combat the strategies of their opponents.

The various cards in the pool do different things. Some let players steal money from their opponents, or give them more chances to do things on their turn (usually you can only play a set number of cards) Some cards are basic money upgrades, boosting a player's early on chump-change into hard hitting cash money. The various cards work very well together in interesting ways, and the sense of discovery of how certain cards could with each other in certain scenarios is top notch.

That's already awesome, but this makes it even better: the game ships with 26 card types, and you only play with 10 card types in any given session. We randomly pick which card we use each game, and with the base set that's 8,262,698 different configurations of cards. Simply amazing. Never the same game twice.

Dominion plays fast, it's interesting with crazy amounts of fun, and immensely replayable. We'd recommend it to anyone who has a pulse, from strategist to the family gamer. This is the best Holiday prize you could buy. And If you know someone who already has it, then pickup one of the two expansions: Dominion Intrigue or Dominion Seaside. They both make an already incredible game even better.

More info about Dominion can be found in our previous stories:

Small World
[Amazon, Funagain]

Civilization-style, Family Friendly, Strategy Light

SmallWorldRaces.jpgA fun game for the young gamer at heart (though there's enough depth here for older games as well). Small World takes place a continent where each player controls a race of ancient peoples (with fantasy themed creatures, too). The game is a land grab from the start. Players expand their influence every turn, and surprise surprise, there isn't enough land for everyone so civilizations bump heads quickly bump heads in power struggles.

The twist is that each turn you'll have a choice of different characteristics that members of your tribe will have. How you place your new tribesmen and women around your territories, take into consideration your opponent's realms of influence, and the characteristics of your surviving tribesmen from past rounds, create some pretty interesting strategies. Your clever combination of characteristics and placement plays a strong role in your land's defense, and in your ability to grow into your neighbor's domain.

More info about Small World can be found in our previous stories:

Warhammer: Chaos in the Old World
[Amazon, Funagain]

A marriage of the classics of Risk with the intrigue of Diplomacy.
Strategic, Dynamic, Fantastic

WarhammerChaosInTheOldWorld.jpgA smash hit board game for the strategist with a Risk-like background Warhammer Chaos in the Old World is a strong contender for our game of the year.

Now it takes place in the dark and gritty Warhammer world, which isn't the high mainstream fantasy of England, but more the dark forests fantasy lore of Germany. That is to say that the Humans in the Warhammer Worlds are often in pretty tough spots with the world crashing in around them.

And so the four players don't play as the fledgling inhabitants of Warhammer, but take on the roles of four different Warhammer gods of Chaos attempting to conquer the land. Yes, the players play the baddies.

The players aren't destroying innocents, though. Instead they're racing to gain control of the most of the world before the opposing players do.

Each god has their own agenda on how they can win the game. For instance, the player who controls the god of Pestilence scores points for corrupting the land his forces walk on. The god of Blood has the strongest troops and scores bonus points for killing off the minions of the opposing players (Risk like dice combat), while the militarily weak God of (chaotic) Change scores points when his worshipers live long enough to work with the alchemy-like Warpstones randomly littered across the board.

This game is top notch because nothing is straight forward. You don't necessarily know the goals of the other players because they could be pursuing one of two agendas, and even more interestingly, a player may switch his agenda depending on how things progress throughout this game. Mix this with the fact that you two have your own win condition, and must divert resources away from your win condition in order to impede another players, sometimes in ways their faction isn't very efficient in, and you have some very interesting turn decisions and momentum shifts in the game.

A 4 1/2 star game in our book. Only loses points for some confusing art clashes between pieces and board, but this game is amazingly well balanced despite the disparate factions and goals, and hums along brilliantly once you know the easy to learn rules.

More info about Warhammer: Chaos in the Old World can be found in our previous stories:

[Amazon, Funagain]
Expansions: Pandemic On The Brink

A family friendly cooperative board game, Save the World in 30-60 minutes

A stark contrast to our previous game, Pandemic puts players in the roles of scientists in the CDC. The board in this game is the map of the world where different diseases are spreading across the various continents. The players have to work together to position themselves in key locations to not only fight the diseases before they take over the planet, but also develop a vaccine before too many outbreaks occur.

Each player takes on a particular role that gives them special abilities. For instance a scientist can develop cures faster and easier than other players. The dispatcher can move other players in location at key times, and the Medic is the all-out best at curing the diseases in the field.

But time is running out, and players must communicate well and plan-out moves. That's because each turn a 3-5 randomly selected cities across the world will have 1 of 5 diseases spread to them. If a disease is left to fester in a city for too long, then it spreads exponentially to it's neighbors cities. Choosing which mess to clean up, in what order, with who, and while simultaneously diverting resources to discover a cure is all part of the fun of the game.

More info about Pandemic can be found in our previous stories:

Other Games that We Recommend:

PowerGrid.jpgPower Grid
[Amazon, Funagain]
A fantastic, elegant, classic board game gets a well deserved reprint.

Warhammer: Invasion LCG
[Amazon, Funagain]
An incredibly interesting Card Game system set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting. The system will have monthly installments of cards, but is far cheaper from the standard Collectible Card Game or Trading Card Game money sink. Plus, the game kicks butt, too.

Stone Age
[Amazon, Funagain]
A family friendly gateway game with an engaging theme of resource collection, trading and technological advancement in the primitive stone age.

Enjoy your games, and Happy Holidays everybody!

Read More in: Board Games | Card Games | Collectable Card Games | Gaming Culture | Gaming News | Our Game Reviews | Party Games | RPGs

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at November 27, 2009 9:40 AM

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