Let’s be honest- things have been tight this year. A lot of folks have had to make due with less, and everbody is feeling the redirection in the economy. Still, the holidays are upon us, and it’s always nice to get the ones you love something special to show you care. So, what follows is a collection of inexpensive small box games, that will hopefully bring families together around the table this season.
One of my longstanding favorites, Fox in the Forest (Foxmind Games, Renegade Games) is a gentle two player trick taking game, better played by fireside than than in the fluorescent pall of game night.
I think at this point, everyone is familiar with the Codenames game system. I highly recommend Codenames Duet* (CGE) as a cooperative alternative to the standard formula. Work together to find all the spies!
Hanabi* (R&R Games) is a fantastic experience, but can be a bit difficult to learn out of the box. The basic rules are there; be patient with yourselves and you will eventually unlock the subtext and strategy that makes this game so impressive.
Loot (Gamewright) is somehow a combination of player initiated area control, and a simple card game. Despite its easy to learn, pick up and play nature, I don’t really recommend this one for kids- it can be a bit mean.
Coup* (Indie Boards and Cards) is a bright little bluffing game, and is by many considered to be a modern classic. The game is a little heavy on take that, but the 15 minute play time reduces the sting of attacks or elimination.
Citadels Classic* (Z-Man Games) is a role selection game where players are competing to build the best city. This game is a wonderful addition to any library, and has been one of my favorites for quite some time now.
Air, Land & Sea (Arcane Wonders) is a newer title; a quick little majority control micro-game. The catch is that the longer you fight for a territory, the more it’s worth. By folding quickly, you’ll deny your opponent points!
The newest, hottest game in the industry, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine (KOSMOS) is a cooperative trick taking game with limited communication. Can you take the card you need to fix the ship?
In Tides of Time and Tides of Madness (Portal Games) you will draft from a total of 18 cards to build a set of 5-7 down on the table. There are a few different scoring conditions. Both games are quick, fun, and reward repeated play.
Point Salad (AEG) has been gaining steam since release, and it’s easy to see why. In a point salad game, players earn points in a variety of different ways. Embracing the mechanism as a theme was a stroke of genius.
Love Letter* (Z-Man Games) is a sort of hidden role/deduction game, and at this point it’s something of a hobbyist darling. No matter what theme you might want, there’s a love letter for you with Batman, Cthulhu, and now Marvel!
Honestly, you have to play The Game (Pandasaurus) in order to grasp it. You’re trying to play 98 cards into four piles in ascending or descending order without communicating. It’s more of a challenge than you imagine.
The Resistance or Avalon (Indie Boards and Cards) is probably my favorite social deduction game series, distilling the game down to just the conversations and votes that make these games so memorable.
Sushi Go (Gamewright) is probably the most charming and accessible card drafting available. You’ll collect adorable little smiling sushis into set to score points.
It’s a complete shame, but a lot of folks missed out on Secrets (Repos Production). It’s a charming social deduction game in which you act as CIA, KGB, or hippies. You’ll have to be clever to win!
Spicy (HeidelBÄR Games) is a simple bluffing game in which you’re attempting to shed cards by placing them face down on a pile. Now, the hook is that you’re supposed to play cards in ascending order…
Arboretum* (Renegade Games) is a set collection and tile laying game, with the most complex scoring system of any game on this list. You’ll need to play it more than once in order to wrap your head around it, but each game will be more rewarding than the last.
Fox in the Forest Duet (Foxmind Games, Renegade Games) is a sequel to the top game on this list, but takes a cooperative approach. The game features an escalating danger system that I really like.
Ohanami (Pandasaurus) is a ladder climbing game, with card drafting thrown in to up the strategy. It has a really interesting sort of diminishing returns scoring system, that will definitely keep all players engaged.
The Deadlies (Smirk and Dagger) is a silly little card shedding game perhaps best played with old friends. It’s not a particularly serious game, but taken for what it is will certainly provide a night of laughs.
Well there you go. Twenty games you can put under the tree without breaking the bank. I hope you enjoyed the list, and if it helped you find something for someone you love, let us know in the comments below!
A Note: There are multiple versions of some of the titles on this list (marked *), and some of those may cost more than $20. In most cases, one version is not inherently better than the other. Unless you’re a hobby gamer, I will almost universally recommend the cheaper option.