The holidays are a magical time of the year full of seasonal drinks, delicious food, obnoxiously catchy music, and, of course, the nerve wracking experience of trying to find the perfect gift that shows that you care enough about your loved ones to pay attention to their interests.
This can be particularly stressful when buying for someone whose interests are utterly alien to you. So what do you do when you want to buy a gift for your gaming loved one and you don’t know a frelling thing about nerd culture? Here’s a little board game gift guide from a seasoned gamer for those of you who love the gamers in your life but whose closest touchstone to nerd culture is Big Bang Theory. (Pro tip: Don’t buy Big Bang Theory merch for your gamer unless you know for a FACT that they are a fan.) I’ve tried to include gifts for every budget, as well as appropriate gifts for both the seasoned gamer and those just getting into the world of dice and miniatures.
Gifts for the new-to-gaming
After years and years of playing board games and my more recent experience with teaching them, several board games pop out as great beginner’s games. Board games go WAY beyond the classics of your childhood. Sorry, Clue, Monopoly…they are as relevant to modern board gaming as a magnifying glass is to the Hubble telescope. The following games are what we call “Modern Classics”, games that present a great introduction to the world of serious board games. Not only are they well known and well loved, but they all have comparatively simple rules that provide a good foundation for more complicated games down the line. Think of them like gaming prerequisites.
A classic for a reason and one of my favorites. Quick to learn, difficult to master, and the mechanics from this game are used in a host of other games as well.
Ticket to Ride
If your gamer likes Risk or other games where you control a map this is a fantastic choice. Build railroads across the country to fulfill tickets. And bonus! Way less likely to cause fights than Risk.
Probably the simplest game on the list but a beautiful, well designed one. Using domino mechanics (match like sides on tiles) build yourself an organized kingdom to maximize points.
This is a “deckbuilder” style game, and probably the best introduction to the mechanic. Buy cards that help you build your wealth over the course of the game. It has tons of expansions so this is a gift you can build on over the years.
Settlers of Catan
THE classic board game. If you know someone into board gaming, odds are this was their first. Settle the island of Catan, harvesting its natural resources to expand your empire.
King of Tokyo
Yahtzee-like mechanics and possibly one of the best concepts of the list. You are a giant monster battling other giant monster for rights to lay waste to Tokyo. Plays up to six players, has adorable characters and hilarious powerups. I only wish I was any good at this game. I don’t think I have ever won.
A gamer’s first intro to the world of cooperative gaming. Work together as a team of scientists attempting to stop outbreaks from taking out the globe. Has a lot of different variants…I’m particularly fond of the Cthulhu version.
Party game gift ideas
Party games are exactly what it says on the tin. Games ideal for large groups of people. As a rule these have pretty simple rules. If you’re hoping to gift your gamer with something the whole family can break out after the holiday feast to play together, this is the kind of game you want to buy.
If you ever played Mafia at summer camp with a deck of cards, you are already familiar with the mechanics of Werewolf. A secret identity game where a group of townspeople work together to figure out which among them is the werewolf killing people in the night.
Ultimate Werewolf has some extra roles and mechanics that can really take the game to new heights. The best thing about this game is the sheer number of people who can play at once without it getting clunky. Assign the narrator role to someone creative and funny and you’ve got a great party on your hands.
Cards Against Humanity (CAH) and similar games
Ok, at this point you have to be familiar with Cards Against Humanity. It’s a great choice for a family with a good sense of humor that’s comfortable with being inappropriate together. If that’s not you, good news! There are tons of games with a similar mechanic of “play cards to the judge’s liking”.
Apples to Apples is the original but there’s also the irreverent What do you Meme?, the hilarious Joking Hazard and – if you’d rather argue together than with a single judge and you thrive on debate – Superfight.
Comes in regular, nsfw (not safe for work), party (which plays up to 12 people) and a handful of expansions. An elimination game where you draw cards from a deck and hope you aren’t drawing an exploding kitten. Most of the entertainment comes from the hilarious art so make sure you’re reading your cards.
If you like the nonsensical humor of Exploding Kittens but don’t want people to get bored when they’re eliminated, try Unstable Unicorns. Also…there’s Unicorns. This game gets more fun the more people you add to it so it’s a great party choice.
Role playing game (RPG) gift ideas
Getting into Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) or other RPGs can be a slightly overwhelming undertaking. D&D in particular has some pretty expensive rulebooks. I highly recommend starting with PDF versions…they can often be found online.
If your budding tabletop RPG enthusiast is already committed, the main things a beginner needs for D&D are the core rulebooks (Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook, and Monster Manual) which can often be found in a box set. The current edition of D&D is the fifth…and it’s a great start for beginners.
But if you want to save a little money, hit up a second hand store and find an older edition. As long as each book is from the same edition you’re in good shape. If they’re a little more on the fence, Beginner’s Kits are a great way to find out if you’re into it. They contain pre-made characters and an easy-to-run adventure as well as dice and maps.
Dice are another low-cost option for the newly initiated. Grab their favorite color of polyhedral dice and start a lifelong addiction that’s much more healthy than the average.
Gift ideas for the seasoned tabletop gamer
Ok, so maybe your gamer has been doing this for years and you’ve finally decided this is the year you contribute to their passion. Chances are they already have the basics…what now? It’s hard to tell what games a person has if they’re already into gaming…they tend to accumulate fast. (The Venn Diagram of Collectors and Gamers is basically a circle).
Go a little more obscure. I’m really into Era of Kingdoms these days. It’s new enough they likely won’t have it, was funded on Kickstarter, has stunning art and – major bonus – it’s locally made! The designer of the game and the artist are both from Kansas City so buying this is extra cool.
I have to recommend We’re Doomed and Hellapagos. Both are semi-cooperative, madcap fun, and sure to start lighthearted fights at any event. We’re Doomed is a frenetic, fast paced game that only takes 15 minutes and asks players to work together to build an escape rocket before the world blows up. Hellapagos is basically Survivor the board game but instead of having to eat bugs you might play a card to turn your friends into food rations (Cannibal BBQ Kit anyone?)
Your seasoned D&D player is going to have pretty much everything they need, so the key here is getting them things that are more…refined. Replacing a hand drawn grid paper map with a classy and reusable dry-erase play mat shows your players that you are a serious business DM and your gaming loved one will love it.
Dice are always a good option because you can seriously never have enough, but if you’re willing to spend the extra money a good set of gemstone or metal dice are the epitome of class. There’s also a serious market in really cool polyhedral jewelry, both on sites like Etsy and the Chessex official site.
Herobook is a seriously cool Kickstarter find that is the ULTIMATE player’s tool…essentially a really nice journal that’s been optimized for repeat campaign use.
Heroforge, meanwhile, is a fantastic website that lets you customize miniatures for a unique gift card sure to impress.
Extra credit gaming gift ideas
Not fond of any of these ideas? Too scared they may already have them? Don’t worry, there’s more.
- If your gamer is the type to hit up conventions, buying their tickets for them ahead of time is a great way to let them save money for merch and autographs.
- Cosplay materials are wonderful for the fan who likes to dress up. Craft foam, patterns, paints, sewing things, hot glue guns….you’d be surprised the lengths people will go to.
- Know a really good artist? Commission them to draw your Tabletop RPGamer’s character (they will go bananas for this, I promise).
And when all else fails, get them credit to their local gaming store or even *cough* buy them a membership at Pawn & Pint. I’ll be happy to teach them some new games.
About the author
Brie Clemens is a geeky gamer girl at heart. She works at Pawn & Pint where she teaches board games. For five years, Brie has taken part in Extra Life, a charity that raises money for Children’s Miracle Network with a 24 hour gaming marathon, the last two years in a leadership capacity. She plays Dungeons and Dragons whenever she can get a group together, and consumes fantasy and science fiction books, television and movies to the exclusion of almost every other genre. With a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of nerdy t-shirts, Brie attends several conventions a year.