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Games for Gala Gatherings: Tabletop Gift Guide 2017

Posted by Amoebite, December 18, 2017 07:52pm | Post a Comment

Tabletop Games Gift Guide 2017

By Chris Curtis

With the holidays upon us once again (yipes!), thoughts turn to gift-giving and social gatherings. How about giving a present that pulls people away from screen-staring for an hour or so? One that provokes human interaction, giggles, and cognitive function? Tabletop games (which are better than ever) provide all this and more, and when stacked against other forms of (more passive) entertainment like a night at the movies, are a real value, especially when replayability is considered.

So let’s take a look at four worthy titles all (except one) released in 2017, and none priced at more than twenty dollars. If you want to go the extra mile with your gift, check out the rules or a tutorial video online, and straightaway you’ll be ready to explain the game and join in yourself!

Sundae Split (Renegade Game Studios, designed by Nate Bivins)

Ingeniously efficient, Sundae Split utilizes a simple game mechanism and manages to create a great deal Sundae Splitof suspense, tough decisions, and lots of laughter and fun. The ultimate goal of this fast-moving card game is to have the best scoring combination of ice cream flavors and toppings, while avoiding the negative points from vegetable cards (I love broccoli but not with whipped cream and sprinkles!). If you’ve ever shared a piece of pie with a friend by slicing it into two portions and letting the friend pick one of them, then you’ll get the gist of this easy-to-learn title.

The mechanism the game is based upon is called “I split, you choose” (someone needs to come up with a catchier term!) and in Sundae Split it can be a challenge for both the splitter and the chooser! On your turn you will arrange the cards into as many piles as there are players and, starting with the person on your left, each player will take a pile until you are left with the last one remaining. Clouding the decision-making process for the choosers, several cards can be placed face down. So the splitter might hide the vegetables by turning them face down, or perhaps hide some good cards by turning them face down and having the vegetables face up to dissuade others from selecting a particular ingredient group. It’s impressive how much decision-making can be derived from such a simple concept, as it’s surprisingly tough to make your crappy piles desirable and your coveted piles unattractive.

The game features appealing artwork with a classic ice cream shop motif (lots of pastel stripes!) and the cards are of nice quality. The theme has broad appeal across ages and personalities, because almost everyone likes ice cream! Even a vegan like myself can appreciate the subject matter, with so many delectable non-dairy and earth-friendly ice cream varieties available nowadays (go buy a pint now!). A semi-superfluous score pad is enclosed in the package, which might be helpful for your first few games or if you plan on playing multiple games in a session, but since the scoring is pretty straightforward, you probably won’t need it. A typical game plays in about 15 minutes, but it’s likely you will hear a chorus of “Let’s play again!” after the final points are tallied.

Sparkle*Kitty (Breaking Games, designed by Manny Vega)

Another title that can be enjoyed by just about anyone is the charming recent release Sparkle*Kitty. All Sparkle*Kittyplayers - up to 8 of them - choose from an impressive array of princess cards (delightfully illustrated by Leah Artwick) and start the game with their character trapped by the evil feline queen Sparkle*Kitty in a tower made up of face-down cards. You’ll need to use your best magic and some guile to escape first and win the game! All cards in play have a single word on them and a distinct color, except for wild “rainbow” cards. Everyone takes turns making two-word magical spells by placing cards from their hand atop two discard piles (a tiny board that resembles a spellbook). Like Uno, you must either match an icon or a color when you lay down a card. Unlike Uno, in your most authoritative princess voice, you must announce the word combination you just created as your “spell.” So you’ll get goofy combos like DUCKY JIGGLE and GRUMPY DOODLE. You can also use “dark magic” cards to add an additional word to your spell, to create amalgams like MEGA OTTER OVERLOAD, along with the wild cards that allow special abilities.

It’s the surreal and wacky spells and the interaction between players that really make the game shine. Sure, it’s definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum, with few options for deep strategy, but clever players will hold their action cards until the optimum time to play them. And paying close attention will provide opportunities to trip other players up or escape the tower more quickly. But this game wasn’t created to be a brain-burner. It’s more of an interactive social experience, an all-ages “family” game in the best sense, and can be learned and played quickly by virtually anyone who can read. Because it can accommodate eight players, it’s great for holiday parties and get-togethers.

In the game’s spirit of inclusiveness, the princesses are all very diverse both in their appearances and interests. Plus it’s very cool that they all save themselves instead of waiting around for a prince to show up! I was introduced to the game in its prototype stage at a game convention, and played it several times with a variety of groups (and since its release, at home with friends and family). Virtually every player, from kids to sullen teenagers to senior adults, wound up laughing and having a good time. SoCal designer Manny Vega has created a very accessible game with first-rate graphic design that should appeal to a broad range of folks.

Battle Kittens (Ultra Pro Entertainment, designed by Chris Castagnetto)

Do I hear hissing? Oh my, it looks as though another cat game is angry about us spending so much timeBattle Kittens on Sparkle*Kitty. You’re a feisty one, Battle Kittens. Actually, you’re kind of adorable too. This cheap and cheerful kitty card game features a multitude of feline fighters with names and outfits inspired by classic characters from myth, fiction, and folklore.

You play as a subject of the Cat King, charged with assembling a cuddly cadre of whiskered warriors. After drafting your best battalion of seven kitten cards, you will deploy your troops to various battlefields, competing to have the greatest strength, wisdom, agility, and cuteness. Many of your choices will be obvious, but since some kitten cards have special abilities, a bit of basic strategy and cunning will be useful to collect the most points (in the form of fish tokens). Because all players are involved in shared activity, there is very little downtime, which makes the three rounds per game play quite fast. There are also some variant rules for playing with smaller children, as well as rules to make the game play even faster. With quality components, and affordably priced at $10, this light, quick, and fun little game will delight even finicky feline fanciers.

Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, designed by Bruno Cathala)

Every year since the late '70s, an independent jury of German board game critics has given an award forKingdomino the “Game of the Year,” the Spiel des Jahres. Awarding excellence in design and presentation, as well as the game’s accessibility to a wide range of players, the annual prize has been credited with greatly increasing the quality of German games. As these games became known worldwide, designers in other countries began applying some of the new innovations, eventually leading to the international tabletop renaissance we now enjoy. Among the more well-known past winners are Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Qwirkle, and Codenames, all of which have benefited greatly in popularity due to the prestige of the award. For 2017, the jurors chose (wisely, I think) an unassuming little title called Kingdomino.

In their jury statement, they say the game “lifts the time-honoured principle of dominoes to a new level – without losing any of the sleek elegance of its predecessor.” No knowledge or love of conventional dominoes is required, however, as the game can be explained and understood in minutes. Using a cleverly designed selection method, each player picks tiles from a common supply. Each tile has two images of different types of terrain, and they must be placed adjacent to a matching image. You’ll be trying to maximize areas with the same type of landscape, and make sure you have some tiles with crowns in the corner (not all of them do), because that’s how you’ll score points.

It’s fun to watch your tiny kingdom form around the miniature castle you start out with. The tiles are nice Kingdominoand chunky, and have a pleasing gloss to them. Colorful little wooden king meeples increase the cuteness factor, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a game only for wee folk. Adults will find plenty of strategic possibility and tactical options when pitted against a worthy foe (or foes). The rules offer several variants for more skilled players, which I encourage you to try out. The game plays very quickly, in around 15 minutes, but if playing with two, it can be extended by allowing for a larger grid of dominoes. Recently, a sequel/companion piece by the same designer was released, which we also carry at Amoeba Hollywood. Queendomino is a slightly more complex, more strategic game that can be played by itself or combined with Kingdomino to make larger landscapes.


If none of the preceding games scratch your gift-giving itch, there are plenty of others to choose from! Sushi Go! is one of Amoeba’s best-sellers, and the super kawaii artwork and easy gameplay make it a favorite (along with its deluxe and customizable sibling Sushi Go Party). Star Realms is a portable deck building game for two players, and is great for SF fans. Rick and Morty enthusiasts are well-served by the co-operative card game Total Rickall as well as the more elaborate Anatomy Park. King of Tokyo and its expansions provide great fun for lovers of battling giant monsters, and its straightforward mechanics (similar to Yahtzee but with more strategy and increased awesomeness) make it easy to learn. Two beloved micro-games are sure to please: Love Letter and Coup, which I wrote about in more detail HERE. Love Letter also has a holiday themed edition called Letters to Santa. You’ll also find dozens of other great designer games when you visit the store and browse our curated section! Happy holidays, analog people!

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Chris Curtis (7), Games (10), Tabletop Games (8), Tabletop Gaming (8), Amoeba Hollywood (843), Sundae Split (1), Sparkle*kitty (1), Battle Kittens (1), Kingdomino (1), Rick And Morty (2)