24 Days of Gaming Stocking Stuffers – Part 3
Over the last two weeks in 24 Days of Gaming Stocking Stuffers – Part 1 & Part 2, I provided 16 short reviews of games and gaming accessories that would make great gaming stocking stuffers – or make a great play list for the holiday season. This week, I conclude the coverage with the final 8. Whether you use this as a play list or shopping list, I hope it will lead to lots of fun and laughter with your loved ones.
All of the items reviewed here are inexpensive and small enough to fit in a regular-sized Christmas stocking. On to the games…
Day 17: Pairs
Pairs is a simple press-your-luck card game that has no winner, just one loser. The cards are numbered 1 to 10, with one 1, two 2s, three 3s, etc. thru ten 10s. To play the game – which is small enough to take anywhere – you and your fellow players take turns drawing cards until one player Folds or gets a Pair. Your goal: DON’T get a pair! If you Fold (instead of saying “Hit Me,” say “Fold”) or get a Pair, you score points. If you Fold, you score the lowest card in play – it doesn’t have to be yours – take it and place it face up near you; if you get a Pair, you score the value of the Pair (a pair of 7s would score 7 points), place one of the cards in the pair next to you. You don’t want to score points. In Pairs, points are BAD! When a player scores too many points – 60 divided by the number of players plus 1 – that player loses. For added fun, you can choose a penalty for the loser: tell a joke, buy a round of drinks, make a funny face or noise… whatever works for your group.
There are 11 different versions of Pairs, each with unique artwork and rules for another game you can play with a Pairs deck. Choose a style that suits your recipient – or collect them all!
Pairs is fresh, fast, and fun! Plus, it’s small enough to fit in a shirt pocket and take anywhere or slip into a stocking! Each deck supports 2 to 8 players ages 10 and up with a short 10-minute playtime. MSRP: $10.
Day 18: Sushi Go! & Sushi Draft
Sushi Go! is a delightful, light card drafting game that plays in about 15 minutes and slips easily into a Christmas stocking. I wrote a full review of it last December.
The lesser known, but similar card drafting game, Sushi Draft, also deserves mention. In Sushi Draft, your goal is quite similar to that of Sushi Go!: Eat Sushi! Just kidding, that’s not it. Your goal is to keep the best combination of sushi cards so you can score the most points and beat your fellow players.
To set up the game, sort the Scoring Chips by type into 6 face down piles. Players each begin with a hand of 6 round cards. Why are they round? I have no idea. To be different? To make you think of a plate? To match the sushi tokens? Doesn’t really matter, you start each round with 6 round cards. You’re looking to acquire sets of the same type of sushi – the players with the most of each type at the end of the round score. You also want to acquire a variety of sushi – the player with the most different types of sushi scores, too.
To start the round, you and your fellow players simultaneously pick a card to Eat. No, don’t eat the card, that’s just how the designer refers to Picking a Card in Sushi Draft’s rules. Place it face down in front of you and when everyone’s ready, reveal it.
Now, and this is where Sushi Draft differs from Sushi Go!: choose a card to Keep In Your Hand, then pass the rest of your cards to your neighbor. This is a neat change. If you’ve ever played Sushi Go!, then you’ve probably found yourself wanting to keep more than one card in your hand when you Pick, Pass and Play (agonizing decision). In Sushi Draft, you can! Now from your new hand of cards, which includes the one you just kept, choose one to Eat. When everyone’s ready, Reveal. Then Keep one and Pass the rest. Rinse and repeat until everyone’s left with one card. That card gets discarded. Now it’s time to score the round – you’ll play a total of 3 rounds. Doesn’t take long.
To score, award the top Scoring Chip for each type of sushi to the player who ate (collected) the most of that type of sushi. Give the top Dessert Scoring Chip (pink border) to the player who ate the most different types of sushi. In case of a tie, the chip goes to the player with the 2nd most of that type of sushi. If that’s another tie, then to the 3rd highest and so on. You don’t want to tie. The Scoring Chip denominations vary by sushi type with values of 1 to 5 points.
Deal 6 cards to each player and play and score two more rounds (total of 3 rounds). The player with the highest score wins. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: there are 2 Wild Cards in the deck. You can play a Wild Card as a copy of any type of sushi you’ve already eaten that round. You have to choose the type when you play the card by placing it on top of sushi card it is copying.
Sushi Draft and Sushi Go! are sweet, light snacky games you can play with just about anyone. Even non-gamers. They’re easy and quick to both learn and teach. I can’t promise you won’t get hungry for sushi after playing, though. Both games support players ages 8 and up. Sushi Go!’s box says two people can play – I wouldn’t recommend that. Both are best with 3 to 5 players. Playtime is about 15 minutes. MSRP: $12 to $13.
Day 19: Hanabi
Hanabi, named for the Japanese word for “fireworks”, is a cooperative game in which players try to create the perfect fireworks show by playing cards of each color (white, red, blue, yellow and green) in ascending order. The deck consists of five different colored suits of cards, numbered 1-5 in each color. For each color, there are three 1s; two 2s, 3s and 4s; and one 5.
The catch is that players can’t see their own cards: you have to hold your cards so that they’re visible only to other players. To assist other players in playing a card, you can give them hints regarding either the numbers they hold or the colors of their cards. For example, you could point to a card and tell a player, “This is a one.” However, when you give a clue, you have to tell them all of the cards that match that property. So if the player has three 1’s, you have to point out all three of them, even if you really only want to tell them about one of them. Alternately, you can point out all of the cards of the same color: “These are blue.”
You only have eight clues at your disposal. To recover used clue tokens, you’ll have to discard a card from your hand instead of giving a clue or playing a card – your other two options on your turn. When you complete a stack by playing the 5, you also recover a clue.
To win Hanabi – and it’s certainly not as easy as it sounds – you must work as a team to avoid errors (you can only make two mistakes, the third loses you the game) and to complete the fireworks display with the numbers 1 to 5 – in order for each color – before the deck runs out.
Hanabi is an awesome cooperative card game for 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up. Play time is about 30 minutes, but don’t be surprised if you’ll want to immediately play again. MSRP: $12 to $15.
Day 20: Star Realms & Cthulhu Realms
Star Realms is a fast paced deck-building card game of outer space combat. It combines the fun of a deck-building game with the interactivity of trading card game style combat. As you play, you make use of Trade to acquire new Ships and Bases from the cards being turned face up in the Trade Row from the Trade Deck. You use the Ships and Bases you acquire to either generate more Trade or to generate Combat to attack your opponent and their bases. When you reduce your opponent’s score (called Authority) to zero, you win!
The base game of Star Realms supports 2 players ages 12 and up. With two sets, 4 can play. Non-collectible expansion packs – they look like booster packs, but each pack contains exactly the same cards – are also available to spice up the game. Play time is about 20 minutes.
The spin-off of Star Realms that supports up to 4 players, Cthulhu Realms, has you trying to drive your opponents insane. That is, your goal is to reduce your opponents’ sanity to insanity or have the most remaining sanity yourself when the deck runs out. Typical Cthulhu mythos madness. Cthulhu Realms supports 2 to 4 players ages 14 and up with a playtime of 25 to 45 minutes.
Both Star Realms and Cthulhu Realms fit neatly in a stocking and provide hours of entertainment – not all at once mind you. MSRP: $10 to $20. Star Realms expansion MSRP: $5.
Day 21: Niya
Niya is a Connect 4 type of game – with a twist – and lovely Japanese artwork. You begin by shuffling the 16 beautiful tiles and arrange them in a 4×4 square; each tile shows one of four types of vegetation (maple, cherry, pine or iris) and one of four types of poetic symbols (rising sun, bird, rain or tanzaku – the small pieces of paper on which people sometimes write wishes). To begin the game, the start player removes one of the tiles along the edge and places one of her tokens there. The other player does likewise, but may only choose a tile that depicts either the same type of vegetation or poetic symbol as on the tile the start player set aside. Play continues, with each player removing a tile (that matches one of the symbols on the previously removed tile) and placing one of her tokens until one of the following conditions is met:
- A player forms a line with four of her tokens in any direction.
- A player forms a 2×2 square with four of her tokens.
- A player chooses a tile which doesn’t allow her opponent to place a token.
That player wins.
There’s more strategy in this little game than at first appears because where you play directly affects and limits the choices of where your opponent can play. That and the beautiful artwork and lovely components make for a fun and interesting game.
You can play Niya as just a single game, as a best of three series, or as a point-based match, with the winner of a game earning as many points as the number of tiles remaining in the grid when she wins. In the last case, the player who first collects ten points wins the match.
Niya supports 2 players ages 8 and up and can be played in as little as 10 minutes. Matches with multiple rounds will take a little longer. Packaged in a nice tin with lovely bits, Niya makes a very pretty stocking stuffer. MSRP: $13.
Day 22: Unexploded Cow
In Unexploded Cow, you’ve learned of two problems: unexploded ordinance in France left over from wars gone by, and cows with Mad Cow disease in England. Being a savvy entrepreneur, you’ve come up with a solution to both problems: buy cows in England for cheap, ship them to France and let them run around the pastures and explode the unexploded bombs. The thankful populace will reward you with money! You’ll be rich. At least that’s what you’re striving for in Unexploded Cow.
Unexploded Cow is a humorous, fast-paced card game about blowing up mad cows. The goal is to finish with more money than you started with. If you finish with the most, you win!
On your turn, you can play as many cards as you like. Most cards are cows that your purchase and put in your fields, some of the not so great cows – that cost money when they blow up – you’ll want to place in your opponents fields and make them pay for them. Some cards provide actions like drawing cards, making the cows move around, trading cows with fellow players, etc. Some cows have special abilities like being able to hand off a bomb to another cow or act as a spy for you (your opponent pays when you place your spy in his field and you get paid when your spy blows up).
Which brings us to the second part of your turn: when you’re all done playing cards, roll the bomb die, then count cows clockwise starting at your rightmost cow. When you get to the number you rolled, that cow blows up and its owner gets paid the cow’s value (higher than what it cost). If you blow up one or more of your own cows on your bomb roll, you earn the friendship of the current French City (City deck), take the City card and do whatever it says.
When the last City card is won, the game goes into Sudden Death with players rolling and blowing up cows until they’re all gone – sort of a weird fireworks show. Then ya’ll count your money and the player with the most wins!
Unexploded Cow supports 2-6 players ages 12 and up and plays in about 25 minutes. Every game I’ve ever played of Unexploded Cow was filled with laughter. MSRP: $25.
Day 23: Dice
You can never have enough dice! I don’t know what it is about them exactly… they draw your attention like sparkling gems. You find yourself hording them like a dragon hordes gold. No matter how many you have – or don’t have – you always want more. Luckily they take up almost no room at all and can fill out the toe of a Christmas Stocking perfectly! So give someone you love the gift of dice for Christmas. They’ll thank you for it. MSRP: 50¢ to $2 each; Sets $4 to $11.
Day 24: Zombie Dice
Whew! And finally, we have Zombie Dice, a simple push-your-luck style dice game, that’s small enough to take and play anywhere. Your goal: roll as many brains as you can without getting shotgunned thrice. On your turn, roll 3 dice: Brains are good – that’s what you’re after; footprints mean your brains are getting away; and shotgun blasts are just plain bad news – poor zombie. Set aside any brains and shotgun blasts you rolled, draw back up to 3 dice – no peeking when you draw them now! – and roll again – if you dare. Three shotgun blasts and you’re dead and lose all the brains you accumulated that turn. However, you can always bank your brains, instead of rolling again. The first player to accumulate 13 brains wins.
Zombie Dice is small and portable, so it makes a great stocking stuffer. Its two expansions, Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature and Zombie Dice 3: School Bus, a Zombie Dice Score Pad and the Zombie Dice Brain Case – a more durable, plastic dice cup with a twist-off lid – can also be easily stuffed into a stocking.
Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature is the perfect fit for Christmas. It introduces three character dice: the Hunk, the Hottie, and – most apropos for the season – Santa Claus! It also adds three new ways to play. The Hunk has a double-shotgun icon, but if you eat his brain, you score double. The Hottie has two shotguns and three feet icons, making her fast AND dangerous. Santa Claus has three special gift icons on his die – a helmet, an energy drink, and a double brain – which makes for a very merry undead Christmas!
Zombie Dice 3: School Bus adds a 12-sided die to the game that’s rich with tasty teenage brains, jam-packed with nutritiousness from all their time at school — but those kids are packing shotguns, too, so you might find yourself chowing down on a brain bullet, chasing runners off the bus, getting run over by the bus, or finding yourself on the receiving end of multiple shotguns.
Zombie Dice will fill the barrel of a Christmas Stocking perfectly. Supports two or more players, takes 10 to 20 minutes to play and can be taught in a single round. What’s not to love? MSRP: $13. Accessories and expansions MSRP: $4 to $10.