Spotlight on Games > Features > Holiday Game Lists

Game Ideas 2003

December 20, 2003

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 once again this site takes 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.

General Board Games
Those who remember that game of yesteryear, Rack-O, as well as those who don't can enjoy the fresh take that is
Europatour (Schmidt). Whereas before one tried by carefully drawing and discarding to create a sorted list of cards, now these cards signify a European journey across connected lands. To keep it from getting too difficult, jets and ships are available to help. . . . The same idea is also available for the United States and Africa in 10 Days in the USA and 10 Days in Africa, respectively. Both come in English editions from Out of the Box Games. . . . Another tourism-inspired effort is Paris Paris (Abacus) in which players claim spots on five different bus stop routes. Ingeniously, the stops not chosen are those where the bus tends to run. In addition, each player has secret knowledge of which bus will run at the end of the game. This quick-moving contest even works for two. . . . Another for two to four is O Zoo Le Mio (Rio Grande), another game of tourists, this time interested in zoological attractions. The players are zoo managers, seeking to capture the most tourist attention by bidding for the best animals on the open market and constructing their zoos in the most attractive fashion. . . . Those attractions which may be found on the inside of a bottle form the topic of Fantasy Pub (Mind the Move). Your team of hobbits, dwarves, warriors and orcs enter the pub loaded with money and seek to turn over as many as possible to turn them into beer, but not too many or the bouncer will boot the drunk to the curb. But drinking is not so easy in the Fantasy Pub – there are rules! One can only drink at a table of one's peers, or if there is no one like you at the table. Meanwhile orcs are clumsily forgetting their change while hobbits are busily sneaking off with it. Worst of all are those warriors, always throwing their weight around, demanding you buy them a drink. . . . A dark place of quite another variety is depicted in the beautiful Mystery of the Abbey (Days of Wonder). In the spirit of Umberto Eco's wonderful The Name of the the Rose, players seek to identify the guilty monk in a game reminiscent of Clue that features several new twists. . . . [Top]

An exceedingly cute and fun game of manual dexterity is Gulo Gulo (Zoch), a repetition of the German word for wolverine. Players attempt to remove an individual wooden egg from a bowl without knocking out any of the others or a stick set in their midst. By succeeding they race ahead, trying to be first to reach the goal. Even children should be able to appreciate this one. . . . Depending on the audience, this may be less true of the word game Attribute (Lookout Games). In this game of deciding which is opposite and which is like, some imagination – possibly even humor – is engendered as one player thinks up a topic. All players secretly choose one of their adjective cards, reveal, pause for laughter and race to identify them as like or unlike. . . . [Top]

It's been a great year for easy-to-learn card games there are many new ones choose from. Rummy-style games lead off the list. In History's Mysteries (US Games), produced in conjunction with the History Channel television program, players form sets using cards like the Loch Ness monster, crop circles and Area 51. By placing cards as Fact or Fiction they try to outwit their opponents. . . . A bit more involved, Mystery Rummy: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld is fourth in the popular series by US Games. In this Canasta-like affair, players compete to assemble gangs based on those of the Prohibition era. . . . An entirely different historical setting forms the background to King's Breakfast (Rio Grande). It seems King Louis of France has invited the players to a morning meal where they will endeavor to put away as much of the glorious repast as possible. But tsk tsk, they mustn't consume more than his majesty. The trick is that his highness gets all the food the players reject, minus that consumed by his clever pet dragon. . . . There's no particular setting for Coloretto (Abacus) in which players collect sets of differently-colored chameleons. A turn is very simple: either reveal a card and place it in a group or claim a group of them. . . . The title Scream Machine (Jolly Roger Games) may sound like a medieval torture device, but it's not, not medieval anyway. The theme here is America's theme parks and their various attractions. The players/park owners draft the colorful cards trying to outdo opponents in that oldest of American pastimes: making money. . . . Finally, fans of trick-taking games may enjoy the tricky Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Bambus) In this partnership contest, which aspect of the dual nature will dominate? Well, at least deciding which card to play won't be a problem. As the rules say, if you don't like any of your own cards, you may ask an opponent to play one for you. . . . [Top]

Two Player
Three games for two recommend themselves this year. Building on the success of its popular series is Carcassonne the Castle (Rio Grande). Now the action is contained by the city walls forcing you to confront your fellow player head-on. . . . Another delightful competition is Balloon Cup (Rio Grande). Playing cards to win various ballooning trophies gets tricky when cards can be played for you by the other side. . . . Another series entry Mystery Rummy: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (US Games). The fascinating feature here is that cards can only be played when the associated persona is in charge, i.e. after a potion card has been played. . . . [Top]

In play for children this year are a number of possibilities beginning with The Kids of Catan (Mayfair) for the youngest of them (4 and up). Play is very simple, but there are choices to make. Players take turns rolling the die, but it doesn't move them, Instead, the entire world rotates. The final position indicates resources for all to collect which keeps all players involved. Collection of the right set permits buying a building. As a second level, construction of all buildings permits building city hall which wins the game. This game can be a springboard to the ever-popular Settlers of Catan (10 and up). . . . For children 6 and older a nice card game is the German-language only Feuerschlucker (Ravensburger) which means "Fire Eater". Turns are very short in this circus setting as players play just one or two cards showing animal trainers, clowns, cotton-candy vendors, and so on trying to attract spectators. These might be taken from the general supply or from another player. Some cards need to be played in special ways or feature special scoring which enhances thinking. . . . Another possibility for the same age group is Capt'n Clever (Rio Grande) created by Liesbeth Bos. Players move their captains across cute wooden ships, each trying to reach his or her individual secret treasure island. Seems easy, but others need those ships too so they keep getting moved around. By close observation, who can detect where others are trying to go and make best use of this information? . . . For children 7 and up there is Igloo Pop (Rio Grande), which accommodates up to six players. In this party game players develop the skill of shaking an igloo trying to guess the number of "fish sticks" (beads) inside, from two to thirteen. When all have been guessed, players get the fun of seeing who was right and wrong. . . . For children 8 and above you might want to take a bite out of Crocodile Pool Party (Rio Grande). In this game for only two, players need to rescue their swimmers from the crocodiles who have somehow penetrated the hotel swimming pool. The trick is that the crocodiles are actually the reverse sides of swimmers. So the constant question becomes whether it is better to chase the opponent or save yourself, if you can! . . . Finally, read more about Pick Picknick – a game from last year now in an English edition – under Classics. . . . [Top]

Fans of an abstract contest can this year try three new offerings. Those who enjoyed Zertz (Schmidt) and Dvonn (Don & Co.) will no doubt savor the creator's latest two-player challenge, Yinsh (Don & Co.). Players jump their rings around the board, leaving markers behind. Jumping flips the marker over. In this way players try to align five markers in a row, which permits removing a ring. So as you make progress, your abilities become weaker. The first to remove three rings wins. . . . Blokus (Sekkoia) is a slightly older game, but has been steamrolling its way to wider attention lately. It will remind a little of the old computer game Breakout!, but the goal is not really to reach the other side so much as to place as many as the variably-shaped pieces as possible. These translucent plastic agglomerations of square tiles are very satisfying to handle. . . . Finally there is the German-language-only Rumis (Murmel). Also for multiple players, it will remind you of Pueblo (Rio Grande), one of last year's ideas, because both feature building in three dimensions with multi-cube pieces. But this one's goals are more like those of the aforementioned Blokus in that a player can only make a new play if he can link it to his last play. . . . [Top]

In the unlikely circumstance that none of the above are sufficiently appealing, it remains only to point to the Holiday Game List 2002 where are found several more appealing ideas. Of the games that were new in that year, Transamerica (Rio Grande), Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue (US Games), Where's Bob's Hat (Rio Grande), Kupferkessel Co. (Goldsieber) and Hick Hack in Gackelwack (Zoch) which has now appeared in an English edition as Pick Picknick (Rio Grande) have held up particularly well for me. . . .

Click here to bookmark the 2004 edition of this guide. . . .


by Rick Heli