Looking for great gifts for tabletop gamers? Here are some of my suggestions, based on games I've enjoyed this year, games friends have suggested, and games I'd love to see in front of my Yule log this year.
I didn't start out with the intention of doing an almost entirely indie game guide, but when I asked friends what games were special to them this year, most of what came back were small press efforts. Nice to see.
For other great game gift suggestions, check our my 2020 and 2019 guides.
What were some of your favorite games of 2021? Let us know in the comments.
Ekphrastic Beasts, $40
You may have never heard the term ekphrasis before (I hadn't). Ekphrastic writing is vivid, dramatic descriptions of visual art or highly visual poetry. The goal of ekphrastic writing is to make the reader envision the work as if they were physically present. Ritual poet and lifelong roleplaying gamer, Janaka Stucky, decided to approach the art of D&D monstrosities through an ekphrastic process. Ekphrastic Beasts is the result. Janaka ran a Kickstarter and raised $57,000 to bring the project to life. He teamed up with such great artists as Jeremy Hush, Joe Keinberger, Ellie Livingston, Nathan Reidt, Arik Roper, and Skinner. They sent him monsters dredged up from the depths of their id. He interpreted these creatures in writing, coming up with backstories and stat blocks for use in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. The result is a gorgeous 148-page bestiary of 47 unique and strange beasties for you to incorporate into your games.
Fuck Yeah Dice, S12.99
Who doesn't want these bones? On the d20s, the 1s say Fuck and the 20s say Yeah. Eight black polyhedral dice (1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d%, 1d12, 2d20).
Field Notes Gaming Journals ($17/2)
I love the idea of keeping a journal for all of your character's stats, background, gear, spells, campaign notes, maps, and random dungeon doodlings. The pages have blank empty tables, charts, grids, and journal paper. For $17, you get a 2-pack of notebooks optimized for characters, game masters, or monster encounters.
"The notebooks are 192 pages, divided into five distinct sections. They are hardbacked and cloth covered with foil stamping and a ribbon bookmark. Their bindings are sewn for maximum durability, and the page size is 5.5" x 7.5" to make it easy to carry with you on the go.
"The notebook comes in four different colors, and each color features an illustration by an amazing fantasy artist. Royal blue features a piece by Daniel Horne. Red features Martin Sobr. Grey features Tim Hastings, and Black features "Sea Witch" by the legendary Frank Frazetta."
The Fall of Magic ($105)
"Fall of Magic is an award winning collaborative fantasy storytelling game about travel, loss, and friendship. Magic is dying and the Magus is dying with it. You play as a group of travelers accompanying the Magus to the land of Umbra where magic was born.
"Fall of Magic is played across a beautifully illustrated double-sided 5.5 foot canvas scroll that slowly unrolls to reveal a landscape of fantastic locations, perilous roads, and strange hosts. The map incorporates evocative and open-ended prompts that guide players in creating a story and developing a unique fantasy world. The scroll itself is a remarkable handmade object that immerses players and evokes the game's themes. For 2-4 players, no preparation or gamemaster required. Fall of Magic has intuitive rules and can be quickly picked up and played."
Dragons. It's in the name of the game. But the average D&D player knows worlds more about dungeons than they do about dragons. Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, a new D&D supplement from Wizards of the Coast, aims to remedy that. The new tome presents two new subclasses for players (Monk: Way of the Ascendant Dragon and Ranger: Drakewarden) as well as new dragonborn variants you can play. The book greatly expands on the lore of dragons, with new monsters for DMs to use in campaigns, maps of dragon lairs and hoards, and new dragon magic spells and magic items.
Morg Borg ($32.50 )
In 2020, the self-described "artpunk" RPG, MÖRK BORG, won four ENNIE Awards — Product of the Year (Gold), Best Layout and Design (Gold), Best Writing (Gold), and Best Game (Silver).
"MÖRK BORG is a pitch-black apocalyptic fantasy RPG about lost souls and fools seeking redemption, forgiveness or the last remaining riches in a bleak and decaying world. Who are you? The tomb-robber with silver glittering between cracked fingernails? The mystic who would bend the world's heart away from it's inevitable end? The world is dying. And you with it.
"Confront power-draining necromancers, skulking skeletal warriors and backstabbing wickheads. Wander the Valley of the Unfortunate Undead, the catacombs beneath the Bergen Chrypt or the bedevilled Sarkash forest. But leave hope behind – the world's cruel fate is sealed, and all your vain heroic efforts are destined to end in death and dismay. Or are they?"
A Mending ($50)
A creation of artist and designer, Shing Yin Khor, "A Mending is a solo story-building and keepsake game about two friends who have been parted for some time, using sewing, embroidery, and map-marking mechanics. In this game, you sew a path on a cloth map, and build a story using prompt cards as you progress on your journey."
Inhuman Conditions ($40 or Free Print n' Play)
Everyone remembers the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner (an interrogation test to determine whether someone is a human or a replicant). Inhuman Conditions is a five-minute, two-player game that creates a similar encounter of "surreal interrogation and conversational judo, set in the heart of a chilling bureaucracy." The game comes in a gorgeous box that acts as the Voight-Kampff-like machine with all of the game components inside perfectly in tune with the game's theme.
Joseph McCullough, creator of the spectacular and critically-acclaimed miniature skirmish game Frostgrave sends the magic and mayhem into outer space in Stargrave. Both games use similar mechanics, so if you know and love Frostgrave, you'll be deep into the infinite void of Stargrave in no time. Like its predecessor, you control a small band of adventurers, here making their way through a war-torn galaxy, looking for trouble, high-tech plunder, magic and power. Also like FGV, this miniatures-agnostic game has a very minimal but evocative backstory that gives players lots of space to "game in the gaps." It's fun to look around the web and YouTube to see what sorts of crews people are putting together (and with what existing miniature ranges) and what sorts of campaigns they're dreaming up. And as with Frostgrave, some of the terrain gamers come up with is mind-bogglingly good. Hot on the heels of the release of Stargrave came Quarantine 37, a coop and solo adventure supplement for the game that takes you aboard a research space station infested with zombies and space bugs.
Horrified: American Monsters ($35)
Two years ago, I reviewed the cooperative board game Horrified: Universal Studios Monsters here on Boing Boing. I loved it. Still do. So, I was excited when Ravensburger contacted me about their follow-up game, Horrified: American Monsters.
On Halloween night, we got a chance to play. Horrified: American Monsters is a faithful re-skin of the first game. Where the original featured monsters from Universal Studios films (Dracula, Frankenstein monster and bride, Wolfman, Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Invisible Man), American Monsters pits players against all your favorite American cryptids: Mothman, Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil, the Banshee of the Badlands, the Ozark Howler, and Bigfoot.
[Read the rest of my Boing Boing review here.]
Horrified: American Monsters is currently only sold at stores like Target. You can pick up Horrified: Universal Studio Monsters on Amazon.
Five Parsecs from Home ($30)
"Five Parsecs From Home is a solo adventure game where your own crew of humans, robots and aliens take to the stars, find jobs, get into fights and encounter the strange things the galaxy has to offer. Battles are procedurally generated with a huge array of combinations of enemies, weapons, battlefield circumstances and objectives whether fighting rivals or carrying out jobs. With each encounter you earn experience and loot, progressing your crew and story as you send your crew to look for contacts, trade, explore the colony, recruit replacements or train up their skills. The game is playable with any miniatures you have on hand and requires only a small number to get started, making it ideal for both experienced and new science fiction gamers. Create a wide range of characters whether human, alien or robot. Generate a huge array of possible missions, with more than 50 enemy types. After each battle, check for injuries, level up, find new gear or upgrade your starship. Random tables for towns, trade, jobs, character events and starship travel. Five difficulty settings plus super-hard Black and Red Zone jobs. Extensive options for Game Mastered RPG-like campaigns with connected plots, environmental hazards and factional conflict."
Yogi is basically sit-down Twister minus the awkward touching and falling on top of each other. You draw cards that say things like "Hold this card on your forehead" or "Keep your left palm facing the table." You go around picking cards and adding what they say to build your "yoga pose" until you forget a previous command or drop a card. Last yogi standing wins. The production of the game is first-rate. It comes in a stamped metal box with two card trays, and PVC cards with bright, colorful, and wonderfully goofy artwork. We were able to play this game with both girls. We read the cards to the four year old. Everyone has gotten a kick out of Yogi. It's quick to play, so kids love playing it numerous times in a session.
[See more games for kids and families]
[H/t to the folks in my Facebook gaming group for their suggestions for this guide.]
Image: Inset of Ellie Livingston art from Ekphrastic Beasts, used with permission.