GameCentral presents the top 10 board game and role-playing gifts for this Christmas, including new Dungeons & Dragons and Catan sets.
Board games and Christmas go together almost as well as turkey dinner and a family row, so it’s no wonder that companies have made sure to have their most tempting offerings ready for the festive season. The long winter nights are prime tabletop gaming weather and there’s everything from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings tie-ins to a Blade Runner RPG and a Skyrim board game.
Away from the licensed games there’s also the likes of Catan: Dawn Of Humankind and the excellent new 3000 Scoundrels. Although none of them are cheap there’s tabletop games are the one Christmas gift everyone can enjoy at the same time.
Since winter is a busy time for the industry we’ll also have a preview soon on what’s to come in 2023, including a new Star Wars skirmish game called Shatterpoint, made by Atomic Mass Games – the team behind the excellent Marvel Crisis Protocol. We’ve just got a preview copy in of miniatures game Deep Rock Galactic, an adaption of the space mining video game of the same name. So enjoy Christmas and look forward to an even better new year!
Probably our favourite tabletop game of the year so far, 3000 Scoundrels is easy to learn and quick to play. Its setting sees sci-fi and the Old West collide, as two to four players assume the roles of rival leaders attempting to steal precious technology left behind by the enigmatic Traveler. We especially loved the innovative new mechanic of overlaying cards to create unique scoundrels for you to play as. Mix trait cards and plastic job cards and you might get a Filthy Chef or a Funny Judge or any of 2,998 other possible combinations.
It’s fundamentally a card game about bluffing, that takes three rounds and about an hour to play, with player interaction at its core. There’s also a need for some deduction skills, as each round you have four poker cards to use, to perform actions with. A turn goes through three phases: plan, use abilities, and hire a scoundrel or use the Sheriff’s Office. With a fistful of dollars to start, the goal of the game is to steal the most future tech you can and have the highest value of tech points at the end.
Unexpected Games – RRP £35
Star Wars: The Clones Wars – Pandemic System
In case you’re wondering why the Pandemic system hasn’t been mentioned in Star Wars before it’s actually a board game, not a series of planets. It started in 2008, as you and friends race to find the cure to a deadly disease. As you can imagine, it was a lockdown favourite for ironically minded tabletop gamers and despite the premise seeming to be fairly specific it’s actually proven highly adaptable to other settings.
In the Star Wars version, each turn players must take any of four actions: move, attack drones or the villain, attempt missions, or draw another crew card. Then you activate the main villain and place battle droids onto the board, similar to infections in the regular Pandemic game.
Fun and fast, the card play is simple to understand and you can become really engrossed by the theme due to the excellent components and miniatures, including seven hero miniatures and four villains, plus 36 battle droids. Compared to standard Pandemic there is much more replayability, with the four villains, multiple different missions, and the different combination of heroes.
Z-Man Games – RRP £59.99
The Lord Of The Rings: Battle Of Osgiliath
If you’re not up on your Middle-Earth geography, Osgiliath was the city towards the end of The Two Towers, where Frodo and co. were captured by Boromir’s brother and everything nearly went pear shaped. This is one of Games Workshop’s biggest Christmas releases and features updated rules for the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game, including the chance to play as Faramir and the forces of Gondor.
It has everything you need to get started, with 12 warriors of Minas Tirith and 12 rangers of Gondor, ready to be stalked in the ruins of the city by the brutal Gothmog, lieutenant of Sauron, and his battle force of 24 Morannon orcs – plus a ferocious Mordor troll. There’s also some magnificently modular Gondor terrain included, which is more than enough to make you forget the shortcomings of the recent Rings of Power.
For something a bit more festive themed from Warhammer though, how about the Goff Rocker miniature, who’s already got a slaying seasonal song on Spotify.
Games Workshop – RRP £100 (pre-order from December 10, on sale December 17)
EXiT Advent Calendar: Hunt For The Golden Book
If you want a more interactive countdown to Christmas, compared to just snacking on a tiny chocolate every day, it’s time to sack off Wordle and set yourself to solving some of these riddles! This is a regular EXiT game but stretched out to a 24 day long adventure, with each door in the calendar revealing a unique room containing an exciting new conundrum, which will lead you to which door to open on the next day.
Don’t forget your decoder, as you’ll need it to track down Santa Claus’ golden book, containing all the world’s Christmas wishes. If the book isn’t found by Christmas Eve then everyone gets a lump of coal instead of a PlayStation 5. It’s not cheap, given the lack of replayability, but barely any more than all those Lego advent calendars that are already so popular.
Kosmos – RRP £33
Catan: Dawn Of Humankind
It’s been slowly trying to supplant Monopoly as a family favourite for years now but if you want a new take on board game classic Catan then how about swapping medieval town planning for the dawn of humankind from 300,000 years ago?
Seemingly inspired by the beginning of Civilization, you must gather resources for your tribe of proto-humans, then migrate and settle in new areas – all while trying to advance your technology and culture. In this more open version of the game things seem slower paced than the regular game, so it’s probably not one for new players.
Existing fans, though, should love seeing Neanderthals and sabretooths stride across the tiles, alongside oversized armadillos, in a game that’s familiar but different enough to serve a purpose beyond just novelty.
Catan Studios – RRP £69.99
Magic: The Gathering – The Brothers’ War
The Brothers’ War is all about steampunk and sleeper agents, as the 94th Magic expansion sees a compelling crossover of technology and magic, with planet killers and powerful magic competing for domination. Despite the high-tech angle, it’s actually set in the past of the series’ history, as it refreshes the meta with some compelling new artefacts, creatures, and planeswalkers.
There’s plenty of impressive cards to keep players happy – even as more and more begin to complain about the cost of collecting – including Urza Lord Protector, who accelerates all your artefacts and sorcery spells by reducing their casting cost by one generic mana, already making it a highly sought after card. The Phyrexian Fleshgorger, which looks a bit like the sandworms in Beetlejuice, will also be big trouble when it squirms onto the playmats this month.
Wizards of the Coast – RRP ~£40
Blade Runner The Roleplaying Game
Living in the alternative future Los Angeles of 2019 would be a nightmare for most people, if it were real, but playing at being a Blade Runner is great fun, in a new role-playing game from the makers of the excellent Mörk Borg spin-off Cy_Borg.
The game has the same moody art style we have come to expect from Free League, the Swedish company responsible for the Alien role-playing game and the Tales From The Loop board game. The straightforward rules are complimented by written introductions to settings and characters that set an evocative tone reminiscent of the first Blade Runner.
You can play as human or replicant and all the characters can be created with their own unique specialties, personalities, and memories, but there’s more to the game than just retiring replicants. Featuring more existential drama and moral conflict than the average Christmas dinner, this should keep fans busy until the Cyberpunk 2077 miniatures Kickstarter gets fulfilled next year.
Free League – RRP £39.99 (released December 13)
Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonlance – Shadow Of The Dragon Queen
HBO’s House of the Dragon may be over but there’s a whole new world full of fearsome fire breathers coming to Dungeons & Dragons this Christmas, with the release of a new Dragonlance book. This is a massive adventure that marks the return of Krynn, one of Dungeons & Dragons’ oldest campaign settings. Break out the flame-resistant underwear, as in the lands of Solamnia a storm is coming. And that storm is the army of Takhisis, the Dragon Queen.
With the Christmas gift giving season clearly in mind, Shadow Of The Dragon Queen can also be bought in a bundle with The Warriors Of Krynn board game. So, if you’re having fun campaigning with your DND5e party using the Dragonlance book, feel free to treat the board game as a companion piece to your campaign. It’s a lot to drop at once but the perfect thing to keep your occupied during the long, cold nights to come.
Wizards of the Coast – RRP £59.99 RRP (book only) or £154.99 (boardgame bundle)
Pokémon Trading Card Game: Sword & Shield – Silver Tempest Elite Trainer Box
Thanks to the release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet there’s a ton of new Pokémon stuff out at the moment, but if you’d like to spend the festive period playing on the tabletop, rather than the Switch, then Silver Tempest is the perfect gift to find under the tree.
Galgar may be gone but the appearance of fossil cards in this trainer box shows the commitment of the Pokémon Trading Card Game to history and legend, even as the focus moves to Paldea. The headline cards in this box are based on Lugia, but there’s also Regieleki and Regidrago, as well as a cameo from Professor Willow. Although it’s still based on the previous mainline video game, this is definitely a set any collector will covet.
The Pokémon Company – RRP £34.99
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim The Adventure Game
Finally set for a general retail release, Skyrim: The Adventure Game is a 1 to 4 player co-operative board game based on Bethesda’s classic action role-player. You can play solo or co-op across two campaigns, each with three chapters. The first campaign is set 25 years before the events of the video game, while the second campaign starts before the arrival of the Dragonborn; although you can move the timeline on further with two expansions: Dawnguard and From The Ashes.
You character has their own unique set of powers and abilities and decisions made early on will have consequences for the length of the campaign. If you’ve already spent hundreds of hours in the video game this could easily keep you busy for a few dozen more, especially given the excellent miniatures for Altmer, Dunmer, Imperial, Khajiit, Nord, and Orsimer characters.
It can be a bit of a grind to play, more so even than the video game, but it’s a fun adaptation that’s the only new game in town until The Elder Scrolls 6 finally decides to put in an appearance.
Modiphiüs Entertainment – RRP £100 (released December 2)
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