Spotlight on Games > Features > Holiday Game Lists

Game Ideas

November 4, 2002

The holiday period finds us spending time with family and friends. Avid players may find themselves amidst folks for whom the usual strategy games, for reasons of concentration, complexity or time, simply will not do. So let's take a look at what's new in strategy boardgames also of interest to a wider audience. They might even come in handy as gift ideas. Who knows, there might even start a new game giving tradition.

General Board Games
A simple yet exciting track-laying game is
Transamerica (Rio Grande). All players contribute to a common rail network on a map of the United States. Who can connect all of his cities the fastest? It's not only about efficiency, but also about subtle bluff and who can best use the efforts of others without giving much away himself. . . . Royal Turf (Rio Grande) is a pleasant game of handicapping and horseracing. Roll the special die and decide which horse to move. Are you helping the one you secretly support or is it more useful to keep others in the dark? . . . A similar game of bluff is Under Cover (Rio Grande), but here the players are all spies. . . . Beyond the world of bluff is Africa (Rio Grande), the game of 19th century exploration of the "dark continent". Travel about making discoveries, collecting artifacts and scoring points by a wide variety of methods. . . . Slightly more complicated, but only just so, is Industrial Waste (Rio Grande). Players run their own conglomerate each turn drafting new opportunities in the form of cards. They'll want to develop their businesses as fast as they can, but avoid getting caught producing too much illegal waste. [Top]

An interesting party game is Barbarossa (Rio Grande), here the name of the medieval wizard. The players represent apprentices trying to test one another with riddles. These take the form of objects modeled in reusable clay! The goal is not to make the best objects, nor the worst, but the most average is rewarded, with the game winner being the one best able to guess those of others. A game designed and published by the same people who created The Settlers of Catan. [Top]

There are quite a few new possibilities for card game fans. A Rummy-style card game is Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue (US Games). Up to 4 players represent investigators like Monsieur Dupin trying to amass evidence in the famous detective story. Colorful artwork and fine decisionmaking delight in this game which can also be played by four in partnership. . . . A game for players of Bridge and other trick-taking games is Where's Bob's Hat (Rio Grande). Over a series of hands players bid to take the most cards of a particular suit, or the fewest. Each of the three suits shows a different type of hat, but watch out especially for the 14 and 15 cards because they show Bob's Hat and whoever is last to take one will gain or lose a lot of points. . . . An unusual card game is The Bucket King (Rio Grande). In addition to cards, each player has 15 tiles in the shapes of buckets. Stack them up in the form of a pyramid and then lead a card. Take turns playing cards of the same suit or lose a bucket of the same color and all the buckets on top of it. . . . Zaubercocktail (Kosmos) is an evaluation game. The flavor is that of a futures market as players are busily trading cards with one another in real time, trying to accumulate the most value in the largest set. It may seem to some like a more colorful version of the classic game Pit. Most of the cards are different colors so there is little difficulty for non-German speakers. . . . A final German only possibility is Land Unter (Berliner Spielkarten). A little bit more demanding than the others, especially on the players' memories, here is a game of choosing a secret card trying not to be the second highest. It's a tricky, but often amusing challenge, made comical by the funny cartoon artwork. Can you keep your head above water? [Top]

Two Player
A couple of nice games for gaming couples are both published in German, but there are no language depdendent components. Kupferkessel Co. (Goldsieber) means Copperpot Co. Players move their pawns to collect various magical items for their wizardly endeavors. But watch out, because the number on the card you collected is the amount you must move next turn! Can also be played with reasonable competency by children. One caveat: good vision is needed to distinguish some of the similarly-colored items. . . . A game which in some ways may remind of Dominoes is Flowerpower (Kosmos). Attractive double-ended tiles show flowers that the players try to place so create large groups of the same types. They may try to steal credit for a few from the opponent's garden. Created by the design team of Angelika Fassauer and Peter Haluszka. [Top]

Gnumies (Rio Grande) is card game of silly, fantasy characters. Players each put a card face down to bid for a revealed points card. They try to collect sets and avoid the negative cards. Intended for ages 8 and above. . . . Ghost Chase (Rio Grande) is a spooky game. One player, Max the ghost, hides in a beautifully illustrated 54-room mansion. The others must find him. Max is invisible and only pops up from time to time. The Max player needs to be honest and the others need to work cooperatively for the game to work. Intended for ages 8 and above. . . . Savannah Café (Eurogames) is set on the wild plains of Africa, but rather than the law of the jungle, what's at stake is a race to be the first to order a cool drink. Each player has a lion, a gazelle and a hippo. By clever card play they try for their animal to be the first to reach the goal. Intended for ages 8 and above. . . . An game of more domestic animals is Hick Hack in Gackelwack (Zoch), a German language only game set in a barnyard. Once the rules are translated there are no language dependent components, however. Players secretly choose either chicken cards to visit one of six barnyards and consume grain or fox cards to catch the chickens. Delightful illustrations by Doris Matthäus grace the components in this game which is also enjoyable for adults. Intended for ages 8 and above. . . . Many will remember Jenga. Now there is the more colorful Villa Paletti (Zoch). Players build up a large villa consisting of sticks and platforms. When they run out of sticks, they try taking some from the bottom to continue on top. Can you see any flaw in this building program? German language only, but with no language components. Intended for ages 8 and above. . . . Cairo (Schmidt) is set in Ancient Egypt. Players roll a die to move a tall, wooden felucca down the central Nile. Where it stops, they place on it either three small cubes, one large cube or a die and attempt to flick them into a scoring zone, possibly knocking out others, reminiscent of Shuffleboard. German language only, but with no language components. Intended for ages 8 and above. [Top]

Players who enjoy abstracts like Chess or Checkers may enjoy a change of pace with one of these offerings. In Pueblo (Rio Grande) players add funny shaped three dimensional pieces to a central structure, hoping to be as invisible as possible to the passing chief. It's part game and part puzzle. . . . Dvonn (Don & Co.) is played on a hexagonal board with nicely made white, black and red stackable pieces. The board begins empty and slowly fills in as pieces are added and then changes dramatically as stacks are moved. Pieces which become isolated are removed. Easy to play, but difficult to win. . . . Another in the same series is Zertz (Schmidt). Here players compete to acquire sets of balls of three different colors. This is mostly accomplished by jumping one ball over one or more others, Checkers-style, on a hex board. A player's turn consists of either jumping (which can be forced) or placing any color ball on the board and removing an empty space from the edge of the board. In this manner, the play space continually shrinks until it is over. [Top]

There are a number slightly older games which look now if they are going to gain classic status. If you haven't tried them out yet, if they are new to you or your audience, they are pretty much guaranteed to be hits. In Carcassonne (Rio Grande) players take turns drawing and placing beautiful tiles depicting the French medieval town. As play continues, a beautiful panorama unfolds before the eyes. The simple sequence of play is very accessible and since everyone knows which tile must be played, it is easy to level the playing field with discussion and suggestions. Also available now is the new, similar German language game, Carcassonne: Die Jäger und Sammler (Rio Grande), which moves the theme to prehistoric times. . . . One of the world's most beloved and bestselling games is The Settlers of Catan (Mayfair). Up to four players are settling a newly-discovered island, racing to be the first to reach ten victory points. There is not much one can do to harm the others – a robber baron steals a card once in a while – but there is great fun in trading supplies and deciding what one should build next. . . . Those already familiar with the The Settlers may also like to try The Seafarers of Catan (Mayfair), which allows construction of boats and exploration of the seas. . . . And now there is even a version transporting the player to biblical times: The Settlers of Canaan (Cactus). . . . A card game which is all about trading and evaluation is Bohnanza (Rio Grande). This near classic about, of all things, bean farming, is humorously illustrated and can be played with high analytical seriousness or wild abandon. . . . Finally a two player card game (expandable to four) is Lost Cities (Rio Grande). Cards played represent expeditions to five remote areas and, reminiscent of Gin Rummy, can be a maddening experience as one hardly knows which card to play and which to discard. Extra large cards designed to render more accessible the attractive illustrations are a nice bonus. . . . Grandma & Grandpa Like Games Too is another list of games you may like to investigate. . . . Visit the 2003 edition of this guide. . . .


by Rick Heli