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The Top Five Board Games to Gift and Play This Holiday Season

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When it comes to holiday gift shopping, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Between the deadly Black Friday crowds and high prices, it’s hard to find the cash and the courage to find the perfect present for your loved one. But what if I told you that there was a whole category of gifts that are easy on your wallet while bringing hours of fun for all ages?

I’m talking, of course, about board games.

The board game industry grew by 28% from 2015 to 2016, and with popular party hits like Cards Against Humanity, that statistic might not surprise you. But while Cards Against Humanity is easy to learn, the fun ends once you know all the cards. Then you’re stuck buying expansion pack after expansion pack, desperately yearning for that first playthrough.

Thankfully, there are games that are unique each time you play, promoting engaging competition and plenty of bonding time. Not to mention, it gets everyone off their phones for a little while.

Below, I’ve listed five of my favorites that are sure to bring holiday cheer to the table.

5. The Chameleon

Image via Geek and Sundry

This is a game of bluffing, that’s sure to be fun whether you’re playing with a new group or friends you’ve known for years. The idea is to blend in or catch the chameleon, depending on which card you draw. Each round, a category card (countries) is drawn for the table, with sixteen specific words (Japan, Canada) within that category. The players take turns describing the word, being specific enough that people don’t think you’re the chameleon, but broad enough that the chameleon can’t guess the word for themselves. But if you’re the chameleon, you don’t know the specific word. Will you be able to fake it ‘till you make it?

Players: 3-6

Time to Learn: With these helpful instructions, you’ll be playing in ten minutes or less.

Time to Play: I’ve found it depends on just how long you want to play, but on average games last around fifteen minutes.

Replay Ability: This game comes with 40 category cards, but it also comes with a dry-erase card to create your own, keeping it interesting for quite a while.

Where to Buy: Target sells in-store and online for a modest $19.99.

4. Sheriff of Nottingham

Image via Domestic Geek Blog.

If you’re into bluffing games but want a more intricate playthrough, Sheriff of Nottingham is for you. Players act as merchants, taking various items to market. With apples and cheese, you can make your money honestly, but there’s contraband to sell if you dare. Each player takes turns acting as the sheriff, choosing whether or not to inspect the other players. If they declare their items honestly and the sheriff inspects, the sheriff has to pay, but if they get caught sneaking illegal items into the market, the fine is hefty. The goal is to accumulate the most money by any means necessary. Personally, I’ve found that gameplay is enhanced if everyone uses a cockney accent.

Players: 3-5

Time to Learn: As I said, this one is a little more complicated, meaning it takes more time to learn. After reading the instructions, opt for a few practice rounds.

Time to Play: Approximately an hour.

Replay Ability: With endless strategies to take, this game will only get old once you know the other players’ tells. It’s like poker, but the money isn’t real and it’s arguably more fun.

Where to Buy: Amazon’s got you covered for $34.99, or $19.54 with Prime.

3. Catan

Image via the Catan Shop

I’d be amiss if I didn’t put Catan on my list. It’s almost thirty years old, but “the original strategy board game” has stood the test of time by remaining popular throughout the world. Each player takes turns building roads and settlements on the board, harvesting their land’s goods for trade or construction. What keeps players coming back to the land of Catan again and again, is the promise of a different game every time. A die roll keeps each round random, but your success depends on what strategy you take: will you turn your settlements into cities, cover the most ground with roads, or dominate a resource? It might be slightly vindictive, but hey, it’s just a game, right?

Players: 3-4

Time to Learn: It’s easy to learn, but impossible to master. The beauty of Catan is that more complex components, like “the robber” can be added in as you get better at the game.

Time to Play: Approximately one to two hours.

Replay Ability: It truly is a different game every time, but if you’re desperate for more, expansion packs are available.

Where to Buy: On sale at Target for $33.99.

2. Mysterium

Image via Asmodee.

Vision Cards via Arstechnica.

Of all the board games I’ve played, Mysterium is by far the most beautiful. Each card is meticulously detailed and artistic and the game pieces are just as elegant — be warned, gameplay may be halted due to hypnotization.  Players take the roles of psychic detectives trying to solve a murder, while one player acts as the ghost, only able to communicate through “vision cards.” These cards are abstract, as dreams often are, but they hopefully point the psychics in the direction of the murderer before the time runs out. Rather than being a competition like most board games, all the players are working as a team to discover the meaning of their visions, with the opportunity to vote on each other’s guesses for extra points. What really makes Mysterium great is that the interpretive gameplay is extremely immersive; it’s less of a board game and more of an experience.

Players: 2-7

Time to Learn: Mysterium has been translated into English, so the instructions are a little confusing. I recommend watching this 10-minute tutorial instead.

Time to Play: Thirty minutes to an hour, depending on how much time you spend appreciating the cards.

Replay Ability: Gameplay is vastly different depending on who the ghost is, but with thousands of murder-weapon-location combinations, it’s always a fresh game.

Where to Buy: On Amazon for $49.99, or $39.99 with Prime.

1. Munchkin

Image via Dad’s Gaming Addiction

Munchkin ultimately placed first on my list. There are a lot of games out there, but this is the only one that has literally had me jumping with excitement. Similar to Magic: The Gathering, the idea behind Munchkin is simple enough: you build a character by collecting cards, (classes, weapons, armor, allies, etc.) that contribute to your overall point value. Then, you fight monsters that also are assigned a point value. If you defeat ten of them, you win. Sounds simple, right? Well, the other players are bound to get involved, adding power-ups, curses, and monsters of their own to your combat, either to help or hinder. Munchkin is a perfect blend of strategy and luck, of simple and sophisticated gameplay, making for an all-new adventure each time. It takes a little while to learn, but once you do, you won’t want to stop playing.

Players: 3-6

Time to Learn: Learning the steps for each turn is easy, but each card has detailed instructions and conditions. The best way to learn is to start playing; by the end of the first game you’ll have it down.

Time to Play: Approximately one to two hours.

Replay Ability: Munchkin depends on the order the cards are drawn, so the combat situations are guaranteed to be different, even with repeat monsters. It’s also one of those games that have a variety of versions, from Marvel to Adventure Time.

Where to Buy: On Amazon for $29.99, on sale for $19.12.

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