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Board Game Buying Guide: 15 Board Games to Give as Gifts

I may look like your typical mid-thirties mom of two with my Starbucks in one hand and Target shopping cart in the other. But, I have a confession to make. I am also a board game enthusiast! Ten years ago, I would not have pegged myself as someone who could be labeled a “board game enthusiast.” And yet here I sit, in a home with over 80 different board games ranging in genre and play style. I really owe it to my husband, as he is the one who has succeeded in increasing my love of board games considerably during the time we’ve known one another. Additionally, as someone who loves buying the perfect gift for family and friends during the holiday season, I LOVE recommending board games. Thus, I created the following list with great board game gift ideas for your loved ones, organized by category!

But first, a few things you may not know about board games:

They aren’t what you think.

We are not talking about Monopoly, UNO, or Catchphrase here. Don’t get me wrong–there is nothing wrong with these games. Each of these games used to be a game I looked forward to playing at gatherings with family and friends…UNTIL I was introduced to the broader world of board gaming. There are so many types of board games that go beyond what you will see on the shelf of your local big-box store.

They’re popular!

There are board game conventions! Each year thousands of people attend conventions where board game enthusiasts play both newly released games as well as old favorites, talk to publishers, and visit with board game bloggers and podcasters. Last summer my husband and I attended a board game conventions with over 18,000 attendees!

They’re complex. 

Yup, there are board game bloggers and podcasters. Many release regular updates about many things in the board gaming world. Our favorites include The Dice Tower, Shut Up and Sit Down, Table Top on Geek and Sundry (hosted by Wil Weaton, the kid turned adult, from Star Trek!).

They’re local.

There are at least three board game stores in the Iowa City Area:

Hobby Corner
Critical Hit Games
Geek City

All of these stores will carry many of the games I’ve listed below. You can even try out some of the games, in store, because they have a board game library with demo copies you can play!

Okay, are you feeling overwhelmed? Sometimes people can feel overwhelmed by all of this new information about board gaming. If so, take a minute to watch this video by Shut Up and Sit Down. It should help you feel a little bit better.

Now, for the 15 board games you should buy as a gifts. Each board game name is linked to a website called Board Game Geek, which has detailed descriptions and reviews of each game.

board game gift guide

Games for Kids:

Let’s start with kids’ games. If you’d rather bathe a cat than play another game of Candy Land or Hungry Hungry Hippo, try these great kids games:

board game gift guide
Animal Upon Animal

This is a great first board game for a kiddo. This game utilizes a wooden alligator as the “base.” On your turn you stack a wooden animal from your pile on top of the alligator. You stack until you’ve stacked all of your animals without knocking anything over. The animals are difference shapes and sizes. They fit together in fun ways to accomplish the task of stacking! We like this game because it is easy for littler kids to play, and is also fun for older kids too.

Rhino Hero

If you or someone you love enjoys building card towers out of playing cards, Rhino Hero is the game for you. In this game you take turns adding wall and roof cards to a base card that makes your building increasingly taller and taller, all while moving the Rhino Hero farther and farther up each floor. Be the first to play all of the roof cards in your hand and you win! And don’t knock over the tower, because you will automatically lose. Now listen parents, my husband and I have been known to pull this game out after the kids go to bed, because it is that much fun! We like it because it doesn’t get boring, like so many kids games.

Also, fun bonus fact, an enhanced version of this game was released this fall called Rhino Hero: Super Battle and it looks epic!

board game gift guide

Side note: Both Animal Upon Animal and Rhino Hero are games produced by “Haba.” Haba is a German board game company and they put out amazing children’s games. I encourage you to check out their website for MANY more fun games that your kids will love!  

Monster Factory

This silly tile-drawing game asks its players to build a monster using the fun and creative tiles with various “monsters parts” on them. Players take turns pulling tiles out of the box to add to their monster. We like Monster Factory because it’s different every time, and it utilizes our children’s creativity.

Two-Player Games:

Two-player games are great to play with your spouse after the kids go to bed. We love pulling out a two-player game to pull us away from technology for a while. The three games I’ve listed are all games that can be played in a short amount of time, which is great because my eyes are usually trying to hide behind my eyelids around 9:30 p.m.

board game gift guide

Lost Cities

This is a great two player game that requires a bit of strategy, feels a little like solitaire, and takes 15-20 minutes to play. The theme surrounds two explorers who collect cards to explore undiscovered parts of the world. We like it because it mixes strategy with luck!

Battle Line

Another two player game reminiscent of rummy, requires strategy, and only takes 20-30 minutes to play. In this game you battle your opponent to capture flags by building a hand better than the hand they have placed opposite the same flag. Additionally there are some fun tactical cards you can play to surprise your opponent and win the game.


The final two player game on my list with a cute theme surrounding quilting. In this game players compete against one another to create the most beautiful quilt by picking pieces of fabric (game pieces) that will fit best on their creation. Games run 15-30 minutes, and the game is easy to learn. 

board game gift guide

Party Games:

Party games are typically more fun with a bigger crowd, but it doesn’t mean you MUST have a big crowd to enjoy them. The three games below can be played with as few as two and as many as eight (or more!).

board game gift guide
Code Names

This is a word association game where two spymasters compete to get their team to learn the identities of all of their agents by giving one word answers associated with numerous “spy cards” on the board. Hilarity often ensues.

board game gift guide

Spy Fall

This party game surrounds saavy question-asking. All players receive a card at the beginning of the game that indicates a location/role, except one player who receives the “Spy” card. Throughout the game players ask questions to try to determine who might be the spy, without giving away their location while the spy tries to determine where they are. Super fun!

Sushi Go

Sushi Go is a fast paced card game where players are at a sushi restaurant trying to make the best plate of sushi as cards fly past them. Each sushi type is worth points, and sets of sushi can add up to even more points.

Buying and Selling Games:

If you enjoy using resources to buy and sell components in a game, these games are for you. All of them involve trading up for better items, or using your resources to gain momentum in the game.

board game gift guide

This is a card development and chip collection game where you are playing a merchant trying to increase the gems you are in possession of in order to have the most prestige. And if you let me show some board game nerdiness for a moment, the components are fantastic!

For Sale

This quick card game isn’t new to the scene by any means, as it is 20 years old. It is like a toddler version of monopoly but for grown-ups! The game is simple, with two rounds. The first round involves buying real estate, and the second round involves selling it back at the highest profit possible while you try to anticipate the selling moves of your opponents.

Century Spice Road

This is a new game that we discovered at the board game conference this year! In this game you play spice merchants utilizing desk-building, and trade route strategy to bring spices to different parts of the world. This game had me hooked from game one! And if you will let me nerd out for a minute, the game components are legit and the artwork is beautiful!

board game gift guide

Cooperative Games:

 board game gift guide

If you are tired of playing AGAINST your family or friends in board games, the cooperative board game might be for you. In Co-ops you work WITH your teammates to play against the game. This is a fun twist on playing a board game while building a sense of team. The great part is that if one person wins, everyone wins!


Newer to the board gaming scene are Escape Room board games. I was hesitant about this type of board game, but I have been pleasantly surprised and have recommended every version I have played. In Unlock, you use a deck of cards to solve riddles and answer questions in order to work through puzzles to escape the room. You do so while utilizing a companion app, which serves as a timer and can provide hints (if needed).

A few of my other favorite cooperative board games include Pandemic and Scotland Yard! Another escape room board game series to check out is the “Exit: the Game” series, which has several versions, but we like Pharaoh’s Tomb the best.

board game buying guide

I hope this Board Game Buying Guide has sparked your interested in the vast world of board gaming! I suggest supporting a local business and checking out our local board game stores in the Iowa City area to make your holiday board game purchases. Additionally, you can find all of these games on Amazon. Your family and friends will love their new board game this holiday season.

Happy Holidays and Happy Gaming!


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5 Responses to Board Game Buying Guide: 15 Board Games to Give as Gifts

  1. Jessi December 8, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    Great list!
    You are missing some of my favorites: Puerto Rico, Castle Panic (a cooperative game), Tokaido, Wise & Otherwise, Wits and Wagers (we like the family version with kids)- oh man I could go on for awhile 🙂

    (I’m assuming you left off Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, and Ticket to Ride because they are well known games.)

  2. Linda Varvel December 8, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    Thanks for your comment Jessi! I love Castle Panic as well! I did leave off Settlers, Carcassone, and Ticket to Ride on purpose. They were on the list, but I needed to keep my post to a certain length, so they were the first to go because I wanted to focus on games new board gamers have never heard of. My original list was almost 30 games long, and that was after I edited it! I had to cut it down even further! I’m guessing I’ll have some additional posts about board games that I can tough on some more of my favorites!

  3. Katie Tunning December 8, 2017 at 11:26 pm #

    Linda! As soon as i saw the HABA games i scrolled to the bottom to find the author of this post! I remember playing these at Quinn’s birthday breakfast….i might have just found another gift to check off my Christmas list! Thanks for the great post!

  4. Erin PC January 5, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

    Thanks so much for such a great list (and helpful descriptions and photos) – love the cooperative games suggestions!

    • Linda Varvel February 2, 2018 at 3:50 pm #

      I’m glad you found the list helpful! As I have learned more about board games, it was fun to learn that “cooperative” board games existed. I really enjoy that genre a lot!

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