ToyDirectory
November 26, 2020

TDmonthly Magazine

October 2020 | Vol. XIX - No. 10


Top 10 Board Games for 2020 Holiday Season

By TJ Mullaney
October 2020

Board games bring people together. They’re an opportunity for people to step away from their devices for a while and enjoy the company of friends and family as they compete with or against each other. Board games are always great to bust out at a party or for a relaxing night in with the family.

With so many different types of board games it can be hard to choose. Do you want a strategy game that will test the player’s ability as a thinker? Do you want a classic, like Monopoly, where the goal is to hoard the most money and property? Or perhaps a more lighthearted game, with a few quick rounds of trivia and laughs. The following 10 games are an excellent blend of all types of board games that you should add to your collection for the 2020 holiday season.

1.       Death at a Dive Bar ($29.99)

When the owner of a local dive bar dies under suspicious circumstances, one of his employees seeks out the player's help to solve the mystery. In this game you will use your detective skills to decode cyphers, solve puzzles and unlock clues to uncover the true killer of the dive bar’s owner. Players will combine realistic clues and documents to create timelines, confirm alibis and establish testimony while trying to crack the case of the death at a dive bar.  

Death at a Dive Bar is made by renowned mystery game company, Hunt a Killer, having shipped over 2 million games worldwide.

This game can easily be played in one sitting, taking about 45-60 minutes to complete, and can accommodate 1-5 players. And while Death at a Dive Bar is recommended for ages 14+ the game does come with optional use clues for the players, making it a bit easier for those on the younger side.

Death at a Dive Bar is meant to be played collaboratively, so while there is no competition amongst your friends, it makes for a great alternative to an escape room style game to be played WITH a group as opposed to AGAINST a group.

Amazon reviewers seem to love the game with 76% five-star reviews compared to only 7% with one star. Many reviewers saying that this stand alone game from Hunt a Killer has encouraged them to sign up for their monthly mystery game subscription service.

Top 3 Reviews on Amazon:

  1. Jen

5.0 out of 5 stars

“So much fun for at-home date night!! We put the kids to bed early, ordered in, poured some wine, and solved a mystery!! This set is VERY well priced. We were amazed at the value of what we got and how much fun we had together. We went through every document and piece of evidence, took notes, made a timeline, deciphered the code, and correctly solved the murder! Definitely buying the Hunt A Killer subscription service; this is the perfect monthly date night.”

  1. Booklover

5.0 out of 5 stars

“This is a one time purchase, not a subscription. The pictures provided by the seller pretty much shows you the whole deal. The padlocked bag is not leather of any kind, but fabric. You are given the solution in a sealed envelope, but I encourage you to look for help online if you get stuck. There are a lot of folks who will be happy to help, without spoiling the whole game for you, you just need to ask.”

  1. Danielle

5.0 out of 5 stars

“I love this stand alone investigation game so much! Hunt a killer please continue to make more of these I will purchase every single one!

I really did enjoy this much more then needing to purchase a 6 month series. It was just as enjoyable if not more plus I didn’t have to pay $140+ to get 6 boxes of stuff just to solve one case.

They were very thorough and detailed and were still able to form a good story within this one box.

It also includes a lot more items and materials then I was expecting so I was very pleased with that.

I would love to see more of these in the future and also some other versions such as Empty Faces since I’m a huge paranormal fan. Can’t wait for the next one!”

Bottom 3 Reviews on Amazon:

  1. Jon

1.0 out of 5 stars

“The crucial lock combination which opens 3 additional items and the clues needed to solve this mystery was set incorrectly. I had to use the website “reveal” to confirm that the combination was set wrong prior to packaging. I’m giving away the game, so I set the combination to match the given clues so that the next person doesn’t have the same problem.

The mystery is Immersive and creative, but the manufacturers error ruined the game flow.”

  1. Alys

1.0 out of 5 stars

“The main clues Which were inside of the locked bag could not be accessed because the lock on the bag was defaulted or set to the wrong code. We verified this by going to the death at the dive bar website and confirmed that about code was correct yet it still would not work no matter what we did. I would not suggest buying this game as you were left without important information to solve the crime”

  1. Brittany

1.0 out of 5 stars

“We bought this for a fun date night in - we love escape rooms and are really good at them, so we were looking forward to this. unfortunately, the code to the bag was set when we opened it (which did NOT match the numbers the clues led to). Thankfully since it was already on the “wrong” numbers, we were still able to get into the bag. We looked through every piece of evidence trying to find the “deeper meaning” because it seemed too obvious at first glance. Nope - nothing more to see/find. We spend THREE hours trying to figure out what we were missing, so we definitely felt like we wasted a lot of time for nothing. We had wanted to try the subscription, but if the boxes are all like this, we won’t be. It’s too bad - we really looked forward to this.

 

2.       Marvel Villainous ($34.99)

Choose from one of five Marvel villains; Thanos, Hella, Taskmaster, Ultron or Killmonger and use your characters signature abilities to fight your way to victory. In this asymmetric card game players will use their villain to take control of their domain, using ally, item, effect and specialty cards from their personal “villain decks” and a shared “fate deck”. The specialty cards make their debut in Marvel Villainous, making this game stand out from other Disney Villainous games. These specialty cards make each villain even stronger and each player can play one once per turn. Each turn a player must move to a new space in their given domain and follow the actions on the space in any order they choose. The game ends as soon as a player’s villain fulfills their main objective.

Players can also attempt to impede the progress of their fellow villains with, ally, item, event and specialty cards. Specialty cards leaving a penalty on the field until an ally or event is used to stop it. Marvel Villainous also includes three different “game modes” allowing for different levels of difficulty and strategy. Accommodating 2-4 players age 12 and up and taking only about an hour to complete one game, Marvel Villainous is an excellent choice for family game nights this holiday season.

Top 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Ghere

5.0 out of 5 stars

“It's a great asymmetric game and perfect twist on the Villainous games. The shared fate decks make sense since all villains are in the same universe. It may not be the easiest game to learn but if you have any interest in strategy games you'll learn this perfectly.

Definitely worth buying if you're a marvel fan and into asymmetric games.”

  1. Aaron

5.0 out of 5 stars

“This game is very similar to, but NOT an expansion of, the Disney Villainous game. The villain pieces are hard plastic instead of soft plastic and a few game mechanics are changed, but my "uninitiated" (board game noobs) friends like this one substantially more than the Disney Version. Lots of fun and more interactive than the Disney game.”

  1. AM

5.0 out of 5 stars

“I’m in love with the Villainous Games, and the Marvel edition is no exception. Contained in its own universe, rather than an expansion, this one comes with features unique to the Marvel universe. They have even made different ways, or levels, for many different ways to play. This is a game that gets different every time you play it, and varies with the amount of people playing. A bonus thing is that it doesn’t get boring when only two people are playing. Love this game!”

Bottom 3 Reviews on Amazon

  1. Brittany

1.0 out of 5 stars

“Not anything like the original Villainous games. Definitely seems like a cheap knockoff and not worth the purchase at all”

  1. brad

1.0 out of 5 stars

Being a massive Marvel fan, and already owning the rest of this game and all expansions, we knew we just had to have this game. It seems that they charged more, for a subpar game. The game itself is fun, but the quality is horrible. The pieces do NOT look like they do on the ads on the website or even here, they have a cheap "just bought this from the dollar general" type feeling. If you see the picture provided, our infinity stone cards even stuck together, and while carefully removing them, as you can see three of the cards are SERIOUSLY damaged, one of which even had the cardboard falling off of the picture. I do hope this is a one off, and that future sets wont be made in such a cheap way or i might have to stop dumping money into this experience.”

  1. JR

1.0 out of 5 stars

I was pretty excited when I saw this. Then I realized that a few of the pieces looked not as good as the traditional Disney Vill games, but that I could deal with. What I COULDN'T forgive is that this in not compatible with out existing collection. I guess they thought the Marvel audience was different from the Disney one, but way to not care about different family members being able to play together. I am a HUGE marvel fan (have seen every MCU movie and read comics my whole life) also a pretty big disney fan, but there is no way I can support this by buying it. :-(“

 


3.       Cover Your Assets ($14.99)



A game by Grandpa Beck, developed by a family for the family. In this “matching” style game players are tasked with creating identical pairs of assets, ranging from cars, to houses, to money hidden under your mattress. The purpose of the game is to amass the most wealth by creating the most pairs. However, pairs can be stolen by other players, increasing that pair's value. The only way to keep a pair safe is to cover it with another pair; literally covering your assets. Players can steal by “challenging” other player’s pairs with a card from their hand (that matches said pair) or by using a Gold or Silver wildcard.

Cover Your Assets is a fast-paced card game sure to create memorable moments and laughs, and starting at just 8 years and up, it’s an excellent choice for every member of the family. The game can play up to 8 (but is optimal with 5-6) and Amazon reviewers absolutely love this game with an astonishing 94% 5-star reviews.

Top 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Janna

5.0 out of 5 stars

“My best friend came to visit with her family and we played this game together for days. When they left and after I waved them goodbye I came back in to find my friend had used a piece of paper and wrapped the game up as a present and wrote a lovely thank you note on the paper. BEST. GIFT. EVER!

We’ve purchase about 5-6 of this game. We lamanited a copy to send with my daughter to swim meets. We sent a couple sets with my daughter when she went to college. Everyone loves Cover Your Assets!

We also enjoy all of Grandpa Beck’s games. When we met him we felt like he was a celebrity because we talked about him so much.

The cards, case and directions are sturdy and well made - they won’t last in a swim meet though ;)

We bought 20+ grandpa Becks games for our neighbor Christmas gifts this year. It felt so good to know #1 I didn’t have to make treats, #2 My neighbors didn’t have to have more treats around to tempt them, and #3 that they were getting something that bonds families and builds traditions.”

  1. Ms. HRNB

5.0 out of 5 stars

“You know when you open a new card game and read the rules and it seems like it might be kind-of complicated? And that feeling of doubt creeps in where you're just sure there's no way THIS game could turn out to be as fun as all of those reviewers said it was? Were they mistaken? But you reluctantly decide to play a round and "see how it goes". This was us, and by the end of the first round... we were hooked. HOOKED!! Me, my husband, and our kids. We have played this game every night since we opened it up. And if one of us doesn't feel like playing, the other 3 will play a round but they're soon joined by the fourth. It's addicting, fast-paced, and fun. One of the best new games we've played in years, I'm so glad I gave it a try!!”

  1. J. Friesen

5.0 out of 5 stars

“Love this game! So interactive and unpredictable. This is great for a bigger group of people and only takes a few minutes to teach newbies. You definitely can employ strategy in this game but that being said new players can win too. Our teenage kids loved playing it over the Christmas break and when we introduced it to the larger family at our Christmas gathering they loved it too! The part I love best is that its really interactive with the other players and everyone gets into it... after all none of us like getting stuff stolen from us... until we get to steal it back!”

Bottom 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. TLH

3.0 out of 5 stars

“It’s okay. Not as fun as some of the other reviews claim.”

  1. Jonathan D

3.0 out of 5 stars

“A little too simple. I don't see replay value in it being so simple.”

  1. MNMommy

3.0 out of 5 stars

“This game is really fun but we have played it a couple times and there is no way we can end the game with a million dollars! lol We played with four players so not sure if that matters. It was fun however”



4.       The Alpha ($24.99)


 

The Alpha is a light strategy/chance game in the same vein as Risk. Although unlike Risk, players cannot be eliminated. In this game each player controls a pack of wolves on the hunt for new territory, food and prey. Positioning the wolves in your pack in strategic ways will help the player complete these tasks. Confrontation over territory, food and prey are handled with a dice roll between the competing players, which is where the chance comes into play. Even the best laid strategies can fall apart. Failing a challenge against another can result in the loss of food or even injuries to members of the pack. The game is won by whichever pack has the most food at the end of 5 weeks (rounds).

The Alpha is a super choice for any game night this holiday season. It’s quick play time of 45 minutes and ability to support up to 6 “packs” means you can get multiple games in, to perfect your strategies. The Alpha is recommended for ages 10+ so even some younger members of the family can get in on the hunt!

Top 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Patrick

5.0 out of 5 stars

“The Bicycle company is known mostly for playing cards and supplies.This is their first attempt to make a board game and they did it right.First off the heavy cardboard pieces are well made and should last for a long time.The cutouts came out very easy and didn’t have any bad edges.The light wood wolves are evenly painted and the dice are very well made.They are made special for the game ,after removing all the specific parts they all easily go back into the box.

The game play is relatively simple,but it has room for additional rules or special types of play.It is based on a combination of The Prisoners dilemma and Share/Hoarding society theory.Since there can be only one Alpha,it requires diplomacy and fighting at the same time.The game goes by fairly quickly but with some rule additions,such as a meeting time to discuss privately if you attack someone or not ,you can make a game longer.

Good game for families or friends to play,not hard to learn and encourages interactions between players ,while adding liuck of dice.”

  1. Michael

5.0 out of 5 stars

“There's some light strategy, some prisoner's dilemma, a lot of luck, and good variety in the gameplay. It's easy to learn and not complicated. It's not weighty, but you don't get bored because of the varied gameplay. It's always good to have an easy-to-pick-up game that six people can play (that isn't just a card game!).

The components are really good. I like the artwork and carboard parts, but the wood animal meeples are on point! The manual is short,` but does a good job teaching the game.

I do feel that you need more than 3 players for it to play well, but we also found six players pretty slow. Now I'm playing with a wide age range, so that may also have slowed down the six player game. The only other bad is that luck plays a big part. We like the game, but you have to be able to accept that the roll of a die may determine your fate.

It's fun. It's a little different. I like the theme and am ok with it being about predators. I like seeing how each person deals with the choices they have in relation to the risk/reward. I'm not sure if I'll remember it beyond 2020, but I'm having fun playing with my family and my youth group.”

  1. Bradley

5.0 out of 5 stars

“This is a fun game centered around the prisoner's dilemma. Each player is a wolf pack going after different animals. The goal is to get the most food. But if other wolves go for the same animal, you might have to fight or share. There are a few different strategies you can take, but over all it's a light, simple family game. Easy to learn and a lot of fun. Good quality components.”

Bottom 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. DJY51

3.0 out of 5 stars

“The parts of this game are well made, but alas, after playing the game once, none of us wanted to play again.”

  1. Jeff & Wendy

4.0 out of 5 stars

“True, we still need a little more time with it to fully understand the nuances, and since it requires 3 or more players, we don't get a lot of opportunities to play.

The strategy seems pretty simple at first, but you quickly learn that what seemed like trivial decisions could have a profound affect on how your pack thrives. There's some strategy, some luck, and some psychology involved.

It's a beautiful game. The artwork and game pieces are wonderful. This would make a great gift for any strategy-game/wildlife fan. They've done a great job.”

  1. J. Fuchs

4.0 out of 5 stars

“In The Alpha, players take on the role of wolf packs that must hunt to stay alive. Will you share your hunt with other wolves, thereby lessening your share but keeping the peace? Or will you risk wolves to fight for what's yours?

Components are top-notch for the price (the wolves, in particular, are really cute) and the game is easy to learn but strategic to play. Only downside is that you need at least three people to play (so no two-player games) but it can accommodate up to six people and shines at higher numbers.

A good game for family gatherings or for introducing light gamers to strategic games.”





5.  Exchange ($25.99)

Exchange is a strategy game all about the stock market. Players try to outwit their opponents and corner the market to become the richest person on Wall Street. At the beginning of the game each player is given a broker card, telling them how many banks, stocks and bonds they own as well as cash on hand. These values are used to determine how each player should attack the game. Each of the 5 rounds is played in 3 phases: Players deciding what they’d like to trade, how much they would like to trade (this number is kept secret until the end of the round) and then players influence the market by raising or lowering a security by 1. However, the game is flipped completely on its head when a security increases over $90/share or below $10/share – the value of that security flips causing the market to “burst” and making players switch up their strategies. At the end of 5 rounds the player that has the most money wins!

Featuring custom broker cards, a market board and other custom pieces as well as a brisk play time of 35 minutes, Exchange is certain to be an up and down thrill ride during anyone’s holiday game night. The game can be played with 3-6 players ages 10+ so even the youngsters can get in on the stock market action. Amazon reviewers love the game as well, with every review being over 3 stars, the majority in the 5 star range.

Top 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Amazon Customer

5.0 out of 5 stars

“If you know boardgames you should know who Tom Vasel is. He says "this game has no right being as fun as it ends up being". I totally agree with Tom. It's a stock market simulation but somehow Bicycle games made a family friendly game that hits the sweet spot of fun, accessible and with a surprising amount of strategy. I don't write many reviews but I felt compelled to support this game with a positive review because it is the perfect style of light strategy that fits well with my family and most gamers I know. It's probably a filler game for hardcore gamers but one that they would enjoy also for that spot in their rotation.”

  1. Andy

5.0 out of 5 stars

“Let me give you the highlights:

1. Easy to learn

2. Very replayable

3. Not too long of a play time

4. Can be highly strategic with the right people

5. 100% cutthroat and could potentially destroy friendships, families, marriages, and the like.”

  1. Seth

5.0 out of 5 stars

“First off, note this is labelled as a "light strategy" game. You should understand what this means. It means there is still a learning curve, and although the game mechanic is ultimately pretty straightforward, it is not a simple game to learn. "Light" here means this is not a "heavy strategy" game like "Civilization", but it is not a light-hearted game like "Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza" either. More in line with "Settlers of Catan".

The game was fun. It also goes pretty quickly. The listed time of 35 minutes seems right. This was our first game, and we had three players. With more players game play will be a bit longer. The goal is to finish with the greatest net worth by buying and selling three investments: bonds, insurance, and banks. "Bonds" I get, but the other two choices are puzzling. Why not stocks and commodities? You have a limited ability to affect the prices of these three, and there are random events that also affect the price. So it is your typical buy low and sell high scenario.

The instructions are not great. The use of more diagrams/photos in the instruction book would help a lot. For example at one point it says to pass each player the "Phase Cards"… which cards? How many? The deck has numbers 1, 2, 3 on the backs and various face values… it was not at all clear at first (of course we did figure it out). Turns out each player get the same "deck" for each phase -- a picture showing all the cards in the deck that each player gets would have been useful.

Finally, a couple of quotes from my 12 year old and 9 years old daughters' respectively:

"I thought a game about the market would be boring, but it was actually a lot of fun"

"I thought it would take 5 hours, but before I knew it, we were done"”

Bottom 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. W. Simpsen

3.0 out of 5 stars

“We've played this game several times and it is alright. It is well-made with solid pieces and clear printing. It all stores well in the box, but there aren't separate compartments for each type of card. They need to be sorted before each time we play.

The first time, we had some trouble understanding how to set up the game for play. I found the instruction booklet to be a little lacking in details. After an initial trial game, it made more sense. It is a fun strategy game. All the players have the ability to affect play for everyone else with each round. Depending on the cards played by each player, the additional lobbyist, and the card drawn from the pile, the trading prices of three commodities move up or down. There are five rounds and the player with the most money at the end wins.

There isn't a whole lot going on with this game. It's not nearly as complex or strategic as something like Monopoly. The game goes quite quickly and can be played in about 20 minutes. It's for ages 10 and up and I think it is a good way for young kids around that age to learn a little bit about how the stock market works. It can certainly invite a deeper conversation for anyone who is interested. Overall, it's an okay game and we'll play it now and then when we have family game nights.”

  1. Doggymcnuggets

3.0 out of 5 stars

“Exchange by Bicycle is a moderately fun little strategy game but isn't one I expect will get lots of replay in our house. The quality of the game components is very good, but the art design is only so-so by my tastes. The instructions are also surprisingly unclear. Once you figure out the gameplay it's not overly complicated, but we found the instructions unnecessarily confusing. Games play pretty quickly and combine some light strategy with some luck. For whatever reason, none in our family found it especially compelling and I suspect we won't be playing this one too often. It's not bad, and it might be a good way to ease younger gamers into strategy gaming, but it's not great either. If you want a really, really great investment-themed game, try Acquire. It's a flat out classic and there's a reason it keeps getting re-released. This one might be worth a play now and again but classic it ain't.”

  1. RomRVier

3.0 out of 5 stars

“A learning curve. Took me longer to understand how to play this game than most of my older kids did. This game has 3 different phases with different cards to keep, display, and add to. We were glued to the instructions for the first 2 games because it’s not that intuitive to play. The whole idea of buying and selling was easy but it was what to do at the different phases that gave us many pauses. It’s like the old school way of doing stocks before the internet. Some of my older kids appreciated it and some thought it wasn’t much fun.”



6.       Catan Starfarers 2nd Edition ($99.99)



A new spin on game night staple, Settlers of Catan, Catan Starfarers 2nd Edition tasks the player with becoming the new ambassador to the Galactic Council in the year 2700. However, to become the ambassador (and win the game) the player must discover new solar systems, extraterrestrial life and use their skills of diplomacy. Each player is also given a unique and customizable “mothership” that determines how the player can move, negotiate and trade.

Catan Starfarers uses the same gameplay mechanics as the original game, so for returning players it should be easy to pick up the new intricacies. And as with the original it shouldn’t be too difficult for new players to pick up and play as well. The game is recommended for 1 month and up, but with some small choking hazards and some strategy involved in the game, Starfareres is best suited for those 10+. The reviews on Amazon are outstanding; 91% 5 stars, with many reviewers raving about how this new addition kept so much of the original game while adding a ton of original content.

Top 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Tobie B

5.0 out of 5 stars

“We love Catan Starfarers. It's a GREAT addition to our game nights! We love playing Catan Seafarers and this game did not disappoint. It has just the right amount of Catan basics and NEW functionality to add variety to game play.

Thought it was going to be overwhelming at first, but it WAS NOT! If you already know Catan, just watch the tutorial(s) on YouTube and you'll sail right into game play. If you like the Catan series, you'll definitely enjoy this one!”

  1. Amazon Customer

5.0 out of 5 stars

“This game is not for everyone. It has a steep learning curve and takes a good ten minutes just to set it up for game play. There are a lot of moving parts, rules, things to know in order to play well. Not for gamers who don't have patience or want to play a quick game. This game can take a couple of hours to complete. And, it is expensive. If all of this does not scare you away, the game itself is fun.”

  1. Amazon Customer

5.0 out of 5 stars

“This game is not for everyone. It has a steep learning curve and takes a good ten minutes just to set it up for game play. There are a lot of moving parts, rules, things to know in order to play well. Not for gamers who don't have patience or want to play a quick game. This game can take a couple of hours to complete. And, it is expensive. If all of this does not scare you away, the game itself is fun.”

Bottom 2 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Lynn

3.0 out of 5 stars

“Good variant of catan. Prefer seafarers version to this version. This is interesting but the encounter cards are not as fun as we expected. A lot more to keep track of that has more luck to it than skill. Understand any dice game has some luck involved. Fun but not as fun as some other games. Graphics, cards, and pieces are top notch though. Good game but would not be top choice if picking a game to play. Still a good one to have as an option.”

  1. Riku

4.0 out of 5 stars

“Easy to put together but I feel like since it's a standalone game it doesn't have the same repeat playability that the others have. I have a bunch of catan games and we inter splice many game modes to play huge games to like 25 points. Easy to learn and fun though”


Aailable at: https://www.target.com/p/catan-starfarers-2nd-edition-game/-/A-80885901


7.       2000’s Trivia by Buzzfeed ($14.99)

With over 400 question cards, 2000’s Trivia by Buzzfeed is a must for any fan of pop culture in the new millennium. Players will have to answer questions about fashion, trends, movies, tv, music and much more. The game also features special challenges where players may have to divide into teams, face on in a head to head, draw or a identify and image. 2000’s Trivia also features a scannable code; when scanned with a cell phone or tablet will send you to a playlist of 2000’s music curated by Buzzfeed.

While not a complex game, 2000’s Trivia by Buzzfeed offers a quick and lighthearted break from some of the more plotting games on this list. Sporting a play time of 25 minutes, multiple rounds can be played in one sitting. The game is recommended for ages 14+ but if your youngsters were hip to the trends of the 2000’s they’ll have a blast with this game.

No reviews as of this article's publish date.

Available at: https://www.target.com/p/2000-39-s-trivia-by-buzzfeed-8211-ultimate-trivia-game/-/A-79396253

 

8.       Cosmic Encounter ($53.95)


 

Cosmic Encounter is an epic struggle of war and diplomacy to colonize the galaxy. 3-5 players control a unique alien species all on the hunt for galactic control. The only way to win the game is to colonize 5 planets. The only problem is, there are other species on all of those planets. When players wish to colonize a planet outside of their home world, the must decide if they want war or diplomacy. If they seek war, they can call for assistance from other players (the defending planet can ask for help as well) and then using the cards in their hand the two species battle it out for the rights to the planet. If both players agree on diplomacy however, it is up to the players to decide how the planet will be divided. Each player is also given a unique roll. These rolls grant the player special abilities that will either help then win the game or hinder the other players chances at victory.

Cosmic Encounter sports a hefty playtime of 1-2 hours, depending on how many players are in your group, but the constant maneuvering, changing alliances and shifts in balance of the game make it fly by. Requiring a bit of complex thought and a lot of strategy, Cosmic Encounter is recommended for ages 15+. The reviews on Amazon are outstanding and the reviewers absolutely love the special abilities each player are given at the beginning of the game.

Top 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Debbie

5.0 out of 5 stars

“For a game that has been around for over 40 years (or somewhere around that number) its has stood the test of time and is easy to teach with some depth and complexity the more you play it. With all the expansions available this game has a ton of replay-ability. I could not give this a higher recommendation for a competitive type negotiation, battle space/alien game. Lots of interaction among the players, no sitting around waiting for you turn, your involved with everyones's turn and the different alien powers are so much fun.”

TomsBurger

5.0 out of 5 stars

“I would say this game is in my top 2 board games. It's random and has luck involved. A lot of people may this is a weakness of any board game. But, this is what makes this particular game so great.

Everyone will be dealt a unique power at the start of the game. This power is only unique to you and allows you to curve the basic rules in some way. Of course, not all powers are created equal, and some will seem much more overpowered than others. But, this is where the game thrives. It's up to you to be cunning, deceptive, and manipulative to climb your way to the top. The social aspects really makes the game. Negotiations and betrayal. Figure out how to properly implement your power to gain the advantage. Easy to learn, and a lot of variability. Even if you don't like space themes, the game mechanics are too strong for it to matter. I hate space theme, I love this game. Can't recommend this game enough.”

3. Ben Harris

5.0 out of 5 stars

“My family grew up playing the original Cosmic Encounter, and this modern version maintains the same charm. The mix of old powers and new makes every game feel familiar but new at the same time, and some of the new concepts are highly creative (look up how to win with the Masochist). While I was sad to see some of my favorite elements removed from the game (Lucre, certain edicts, etc.), the game is more streamlined and progresses at what seems like a faster pace. I like that the new version does a great job of explaining when certain powers or artifacts kick in, which makes it easier to teach people how to play, but I wish it came with a more comprehensive guide as to all of the powers and flares as the old game did. Overall, I had a fantastic time playing this edition with friends who had never even heard of the game before, and I can't wait to explore the new possibilities that the numerous expansions offer. Well-deserved 5/5 stars.”

Bottom 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Darci

1.0 out of 5 stars

 Art work is great

However, game mechanics are dull, unchallenging and random. None of my friends are willing to play it. The game sits on the shelf looking pretty”

  1. Eric

1.0 out of 5 stars

I've played this game 3 times with my regular gaming group. While some enjoyed it, I found it to be hideously boring, poorly thought out and completely random.

The game is the opposite of a "strategy game". You have little choice during your moves. You attack the person the deck tells you to attack, try to use your special power, and then try to take a planet. In all 3 games I played, I never got more than 2 turns, and in one 6-player game, I got one turn the entire game.

I really fail to see the enjoyment of spending 2 hours playing a game for one turn, and having few options on how to play my hand when I do get a turn.

The only thing my friend told me in defense of this game is that he loved it as a teen. I'm sure back then they had fewer gaming options, but today this game is the worst combination of boredom and annoyance I've encountered in a long time.”

  1. Dr. Tobaggan

1.0 out of 5 stars

Did not ship at speed advertised during checkout. Otherwise a very good game.”



9.       Ticket to Ride spin-offs ($40-$55)

Ticket to Ride has been a game night must-have for years and its spin-off games are no different. Featuring locations like London, New York, Amsterdam, Germany, Asia, India and more, Ticket to Ride will take you to just about any spot on the globe you can imagine. While switching up the destination the mechanics of Ticket to Ride’s spin-off games stay the same; Players must connect the most points on the map with railways to earn points. To claim a route, just play the matching number of train cars that the route requires from your hand. The player with the longest continuous route is also awarded bonus points.

Each game takes about an hour to play and can be played with 2-6 players, making it great for a night with friends or even a date night. Even the kids can get in on the action with Ticket to Ride, being recommended for ages 8+. Ticket to Ride spin-offs also boast excellent Amazon reviews, many saying Ticket to Ride: Europe is their favorite version of the game.

Top Amazon Review:

  1. C World

4.0 out of 5 stars

“Fantastic game and my favorite version of Ticket to Ride. Below I list out the features that I think make this version more interesting, or at least different, than other versions.

But first! I do have to report that the first game box that was shipped to us was damaged (no damage on the box it was shipped in). I didn't bother opening it to see if there were missing game pieces, I just ordered an exchange. The new game arrived two days later - no damage and no missing pieces. Reading the reviews, a lot of people have this issue. This shouldn't be happening! But at least the exchange process was easy.

Interesting game play features:

1) Train stations - Train stations allow you to use a single claimed route of one your opponents to connect two cities. If the city in which you place the train station has multiple claimed routes originating from it, you need to specify which connection you are using. Knowing that you won't completely ruin your planned path when someone claims a route you wanted adds a bit of relief; however, you still have to use train stations sparingly. You only get 3, and for any unused stations, you get 4 extra points at the end of the game.

2) Tunnels and Ferries - This map has both tunnels and ferries. This adds many complications to your strategy while claiming routes. The most obvious being that for ferry routes you'll need locomotives (wild cards) and for tunnels you may want to have a few extra cards of the color route your claiming, or perhaps some extra locomotives. On maps that only have ferries or tunnels, the people I play with tend to be less motivated to pick up wilds, especially with Ticket to Ride: US, which is tunnels only.

3) Only 3 Long Routes - The map has two routes that are 6 train cars in length (15 points) and one that is 8 train cars (21 points) and all three are either a tunnel or ferry route. The US version had multiple routes along the top that are 5 or 6 train cars long. Claiming those routes, coupled with the destination tickets connecting the east and west coasts can allow you to rack up a serious amount of points and take a commanding lead over your opponents. With a fewer number of high point routes, and the fact that these routes are harder to claim, you may find yourself changing your strategy a bit.

4) Only One High Point Destination Ticket per Person - Each player only gets one high point destination ticket (blue background) at the start of the game and the rest are placed back in the box. You can choose to discard it before game play starts, but you won't get a chance to pick up another.

4) Regular-Sized Cards - This may sound silly, but it drives me crazy that the US version has smaller sized train cards and destination tickets. It makes it annoying to sort through the cards in your hand if you have a lot of train cards. It's also annoying to shuffle the decks. Luckily, the cards for the Europe version are a normal size (think traditional set of cards). As it should be!

Bottom Amazon Review:

  1. Wolfgang F.

1.0 out of 5 stars

“This game is terrible. There are SO many directions on how to play (7 pages!) and so many different rules. It's just too much to figure out, that it is not any fun. I hate it and so does my daughter. I would have returned it, but we missed the return window yesterday!”

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfjbb6vZ8nc

Available at: https://www.daysofwonder.com/en/products/guide/ticket-to-ride/


10.   Codenames ($15.39)

In Codenames two teams compete to make contact with all of their fellow agents. There are 24 agents to be contacted (12 for the blue team and 12 for the red team) and one assassin that both teams want to avoid. The game is controlled by each team’s Spy Master who knows the identity (whether their card is red or blue) of each spy, their teammates only know their codename. The spymaster must give one-word hints that will help their teammates reveal their fellow agents without their teammates revealing the assassin. Reveal the most spies, you win. Reveal the assassin, you lose instantly.

Codenames seems simple enough but with only one-word clues and the spies sharing similar codenames to each other and the assassin, it makes it a difficult and hilarious game. Recommended for at least 4 players, age 10+, Codenames is a solid choice for a game night with friends or the family. Codenames has a 4.8/5 star review on Amazon because players love how fast it can be learned and played.

Top Amazon Review

  1. ultraconsumer

5.0 out of 5 stars

I admit I wasn't particularly excited when I saw the initial reviews and playthroughs of this game. The name/theme make it sound like a hidden role type of game a la The Resistance, but that's really not what it is. The theme is spy-based, sure, but only to make this more interesting than a generic word game. Nothing about it besides the artwork makes you feel like you're playing as or against a spy.

What this game IS, however, is a very solid word game with a little bit of deduction, press your luck, and "party" thrown in.

In short, the game plays like this: two teams, each with a clue-giver (spymaster) and one or more guessers. On the table are 25 random words. Each spymaster is trying to give their team one-word clues that help them relate one or more of the words on the table together (without saying the actual words, of course) so that the guessers can figure out which of the random words are affiliated with their team (only the spymasters know this information). The spymaster hopes their team will pick the words that they intended based on their clue without picking cards affiliated with the enemy team, neutral words, or the "spy" word, which immediately ends the game. Whichever team can identify all their words first wins.

As an example, a clue of "animal" might be great if you're trying to get your team to guess "cat" and "dog", but horrible if the opposing team also controls the "lion" card. On the other hand, maybe the word "pet" gives just enough information about a cat and a dog without also implicating lion. Should you risk it?

A little tricky to explain in one paragraph, maybe, but takes about 2 minutes to teach to a group in person.

Personally, I think this game works best with 4 or 6 players, where each team has a spymaster and 1-2 guessers. We tried playing it with 8 and in my opinion having that many guessers on each team does nothing to enhance the experience of the game. Instead, it felt to me like a lot of people sat and waited around while each of the spymasters tried to come up with good clues, then argued more than was necessary about which cards to guess.

Despite the fact that this game appears "meh" based on the concept, it's a lot of fun to play. Spymasters will agonize over what clue can safely implicate their own cards on the table without overlapping (and therefore helping) those of the opposing team. Teams will struggle to come up with the logic that the spymaster *must* have used, some wrong guesses will be made, hilarity (and frustration) will likely ensue.

There is some downtime when the spymasters take a while to come up with their clues, so be prepared for that. Otherwise this game is a blast and easily one of the best in my collection under the $20 price point. I have no doubt I'll be able to pull this out with any type of group (gaming, friends, family, work, etc.) and have a great time. It is a must buy at retail price ($20) or less.

(***Note: This review is for the original Codenames, and NOT Codenames: Pictures. Amazon combined the listings after I wrote this review***)”

Bottom 3 Amazon Reviews:

  1. Page

1.0 out of 5 stars

 “We are gamers, I own almost 100 games. I was excited to try this game due to the high rating. It was an epic fail. First you have to try to give clues that are only for your group of cards and none of the other teams. You give a one word clue that is suppose to relate to one or more cards (only you know which ones) and your partner better have the same thought train. The guessers complained we took too long between giving clues UNTIL the next game when they became the clue givers and saw it wasn’t easy. This is not a fun light hearted game and I doubt young children could play at all.”

  1. Cynthia

1.0 out of 5 stars

“My friends and I didn’t enjoy this game. Giving clues is so easy and so is guessing them. Your turn ends when your timer ends or your team guesses wrong. My team guessed all the words to “win” before the sand timer was even done, not giving the second team a chance. When we started a new game with the other team, THEY won everything without my team having a chance due to how easy the words were. We followed the rules, gave clues for the words and finished a round in 5 minutes. Really boring and I don’t recommend. I’m not sure why it has so many good reviews.”

  1. Susan

1.0 out of 5 stars

“I agree with all the negative reviews. I wish I had read them before purchasing. To those who are getting the game with missing pieces or cards punched out, it is probably because these games have been returned. I wish I could return mine.

I don't understand why anyone thinks this game is fun. It has so many raving reviews, and is even on wedding gift registries. I played with adults 28 years and up. None of us liked it. We thought it was boring, simple, and no strategy. It might be fun for younger children. We put it away after a few rounds. I went back to read the directions in case we were missing something, looking for strategy....nope. Then I read the negative reviews and felt better that I am not the only one who thinks it is a waste of time and money.”

Available at: https://www.target.com/p/codenames-board-game/-/A-50364627




Footnotes:

Death at a Dive Bar:

1.       https://www.amazon.com/Hunt-Killer-Immersive-Independent-Detectives/dp/B085ZNYPR3/ref=zg_bsnr_166225011_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=19DWSSXFWZMH29BTW38M

2.       https://www.huntakiller.com/deathatthedivebar

Marvel Villainous

1.       https://www.amazon.com/Ravensburger-Marvel-Villainous-Infinite-Strategy/dp/B086B7QPTB/ref=zg_bsnr_166225011_8?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=19DWSSXFWZMH29BTW38M

2.       https://www.ravensburger.us/discover/games/marvel-villainous/index.html

Cover Your Assets

1.       https://www.amazon.com/Grandpa-Becks-Family-Friendly-Set-Collecting-Creators/dp/B0077Q0NP2

The Alpha

1.       https://www.amazon.com/Bicycle-Alpha-Strategy-Adults-Family/dp/B087KQP47D

2.       https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/307832/alpha

The Exchange

1.       https://www.amazon.com/Bicycle-Exchange-Light-Strategy-Game/dp/B087KW33FY/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

Catan Starfarers 2nd Edition

1.       https://www.target.com/p/catan-starfarers-2nd-edition-game/-/A-80885901

2.       https://www.amazon.com/Catan-Studio-CN3005-CATAN-Starfarers/dp/B07YFFZ9DT

2000’s Trivia by Buzzfeed

1.       https://www.target.com/p/2000-39-s-trivia-by-buzzfeed-8211-ultimate-trivia-game/-/A-79396253

Cosmic Encounter

1.       https://www.amazon.com/dp/1589944968?tag=georiot-us-default-20&th=1&psc=1&ascsubtag=t3-us-1347375182343633200-20

Ticket to Ride

1.       https://www.daysofwonder.com/en/products/guide/ticket-to-ride/

2.       https://www.amazon.com/Days-Wonder-DO7201-Ticket-Ride/dp/0975277324?th=1

3.       https://www.amazon.com/Days-of-Wonder-DO7202-Ticket/dp/B000809OAO/ref=pd_lpo_21_img_1/145-9474629-8429201?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B000809OAO&pd_rd_r=6985dbfe-e0bc-4266-812f-238c2a343437&pd_rd_w=UrLpB&pd_rd_wg=6fBOO&pf_rd_p=7b36d496-f366-4631-94d3-61b87b52511b&pf_rd_r=B2XYKTGX7JABRRMD7QX0&psc=1&refRID=B2XYKTGX7JABRRMD7QX0

Code Names

1.       https://www.target.com/p/codenames-board-game/-/A-50364627

2.       https://www.amazon.com/Czech-Games-00031CGE-Codenames/dp/B014Q1XX9S/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3QAYKBOFGXQZ2&dchild=1&keywords=codenames&qid=1601912615&sprefix=coden%2Caps%2C-1&sr=8-2








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