Watching TV and playing video games with your loved ones is fun, but it’s good to get away from the screen every once in a while. Board games are a great way to spend time with friends and family away from the trappings of technology. And no worries if you’re tired of classics like Monopoly and Scrabble, as there are plenty of excellent alternatives. From crowd-pleasing titles to geekier fare, here are our suggestions for screen-free fun this holiday season.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
If you have a loved one who always wanted to try a Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing game but were intimidated by its complexity, then consider giving them Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Essentially, it’s a beginner-friendly version of the much larger and more complicated Gloomhaven that debuted in 2017; Jaws of the Lion was specifically designed for the casual player. It’s a cooperative game, too, meaning players should work together to defeat everything from evil cultists to giant vipers.
The game features a step-by-step tutorial so you can get started the moment you open the box, which is perfect for those who hate reading rule books. That, combined with its beautiful design, story book of maps and excellent character backgrounds makes this one of our favorite games of the year. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is sure to delight any fantasy fan, but it is also perfect for those who are new to board games.
Buy Gloomhaven at Amazon – $48Buy Gloomhaven at Walmart – $53
Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
It might seem a little on-the-nose to give someone a board game about a global pandemic in 2020, but Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 is not about eradicating diseases. Instead, it’s more about uncovering a network of Soviet spies during the Cold War in 1962. Players take on the role of medical graduates working for the CIA, tasked with preventing the creation of a deadly bioweapon, saving humanity in the process.
Though it’s designed as a prequel, you do not have to have played the other Pandemic Legacy games to enjoy it (don’t worry, no spoilers here). Much like Pandemic Legacy Seasons 1 and 2, Season 0 is a legacy-style board game, which means you’ll be ripping up cards, slapping on stickers, and permanently altering the state of the board as you play. Each decision you make will have consequences for the next game and so on. If your loved one is sick and tired of “normal” board games, then Pandemic Legacy Season 0 will make for a refreshing change, offering a board game experience that is as cinematic and dramatic as some movies.
Buy Pandemic Season 0 at Walmart – $72Buy Pandemic Season 0 at Target – $80
Back to the Future: Back in Time
Your loved ones don’t need to be a fan of the Back to the Future films to like this board game, but it sure helps. Set in the first movie, players take on the roles of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, Jennifer Parker and Einstein the dog (yes, the girlfriend and the dog don’t play significant roles in the movie, but board games are allowed to get creative). Their goal: help Marty’s parents fall in love and make sure the DeLorean speeds past the clock tower just as the lightning strikes. That, combined with the eye-catching comic book art and the DeLorean toy car makes this a great gift for anyone in your life who’s a fan of the movie, or simply someone who enjoys a solid family-friendly board game.
Buy Back to the Future board game at Amazon – $25Buy Back to the Future board game at Walmart – $25
Princess Bride Adventure Book Game
The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game is aimed at players ages 10 and up, but it’s also a great gift for anyone who’s a fan of the 1987 cult classic. In this game, players are tasked with advancing the plot of the story — be it climbing the Cliffs of Insanity, adventuring in the Fire Swamp, or saving Princess Buttercup — despite interruptions from a sick grandson. Inspired by the movie, the game is in the form of a storybook, where each chapter is represented by a board splayed out across two pages. It comes with miniatures of all of the movie’s characters, such as Westley, Princess Buttercup, Inigo Montoya and Fezzik. Fans of the flick will love the recognizable quotes — “Inconceivable!” — while those new to the film will at least get a good story out of the experience.
Buy Princess Bride board game at Target – $30
Perhaps you have a loved one who wouldn’t mind playing tabletop games, but isn’t into nerdy themes like fighting monsters or defeating zombies? Or maybe he or she is simply a fan of nature? Then Wingspan could very well be the gateway board game for them. In Wingspan, players are bird enthusiasts looking to discover and attract the best birds to their wildlife preserve. It comes with a super helpful quick start guide to help new players start playing without having to go through the whole rulebook (which, itself is pretty easy to understand).
The game is one of the most gorgeous we’ve seen, with beautiful pastel-colored egg miniatures, a dice tower that looks like a bird house, and thoughtfully arranged components; it even comes with a bird-decorated card holder. Plus, the game can be educational, as players learn a thing or two about bird species — like the burrowing owl or the scissor-tailed flycatcher — in the process.
Buy Wingspan at Amazon – $60Buy Wingspan at Walmart – $60
Maybe you have a loved one whose favorite holiday isn’t Christmas or Hanukkah, but Halloween. In that case, you might consider getting them Horrified, a board game where you’re tasked with defeating one of seven classic horror movie monsters. Be it Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Dracula, The Mummy, the Invisible Man or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, players need to work together to get rid of their monstrous enemy. If your loved one would rather get spooky than sing carols, then this could be a good gift for them.
Buy Horrified at Amazon – $30Buy Horrified at Walmart – $30
Star Wars: Outer Rim
The Star Wars universe isn’t all about Jedi mind tricks and dueling lightsabers. There’s also the dangerous and mysterious realm of the Outer Rim, which is where the Star Wars: Outer Rim board game takes place. In this game, players are outlaws competing against each other to complete missions like tracking down bounties or delivering precious cargo. If your loved one is a fan of Star Wars’ expanded universe and enjoys the lore of shows like the TheMandalorian, then this could very well be a suitable gift for them.
Buy Outer Rim at Amazon – $52Buy Outer Rim at Walmart – $65
Trogdor!! The Board Game
If your friend or family member was ever a fan of Homestar Runner, an animated Flash cartoon series that was popular in the early 2000s, then you should seriously consider getting them this board game. Players are tasked with helping Trogdor, the mighty one-armed dragon made famous from the series, in his quest to devour peasants and burninate the countryside while avoiding pesky knights and twin archers. You win when the entire peasantry is decimated, just like Strong Bad would have wanted.
Buy Trogdor at Amazon – $48Buy Trogdor at Walmart – $48
Unmatched Battle of Legends Vol. 1: King Arthur, Alice, Medusa, Sinbad
If you have a loved one who ever wanted to know who would win a battle, King Arthur or Medusa, then this is a great tactical combat game for them. In Unmatched, players get to pick their favorite legendary hero and pit them against another unlikely opponent. In Volume 1, you get to pick from King Arthur, Alice, Medusa or Sinbad, and each has their own unique abilities (King Arthur, for example, can sacrifice cards to increase attacks, while Alice can go big or small to change her attack or defense). And if your loved one does like the game, they can get even more Unmatched opponents like Robin Hood or Bigfoot in other combat packs.
Buy Unmatched at Amazon – $33