Cardboard Children: Christmas Shopping Part One

Hello youse.

Yes, I KNOW it’s still November, but I want you to get your Christmas shopping done early this year. I’m tired of hearing you complaining about leaving it to the last minute. “Oh, I have everything to do! Oh, I haven’t even bought my mother those ten jars of goose fat she loves to eat!” I am here to get you started early, with some board game Christmas suggestions. I will only be suggesting stuff that you can actually buy. No out-of-print heartbreakers. And I’ll also only be suggesting stuff that you can PLAY WITH YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY. Read on to see what I mean.


Yeah, I mean, there’s no point in me recommending Phil Eklund’s High Frontier, as great as it is, because it’ll just make your wee mammy’s head pop off her shoulders. And nobody wants to hear their wee mammy talking about how many thrusts she needs. I want to recommend a few games that you could give as gifts, or play with family visitors when they turn up UNWANTED at Christmas. Safe bets. Crowd-pleasers. Stuff idiots could play. YES, YOUR FAMILY ARE IDIOTS IS WHAT I AM SAYING.

So let’s go.


Now, I know this game as “Augustus”, because I’m a cool dude. But I think it’s called “Rise of Augustus” now, because we live in the age of BLANK of SOMETHING or RISE of the BLANK of SOMETHING or THE SOMETHING of SOMETHING: BLANK of SOMETHING. Let me say this to you, though. This game is bingo. That’s all it really is. It’s bingo with a few extra decisions. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “FUCK BINGO”. But I put it to you that there are few games as accessible as bingo. I don’t know of anyone who can’t play a game of bingo. So with Augustus everyone has some cards (bingo cards) and then tokens are drawn from a bag, and you mark off those symbols on your cards. You have a limited amount of roman soldiers to place on the symbols, though. You can gain more as rewards for shouting BINGO! Or AVE CAESAR! Or HOLLLLLLAAAAA BABY! Oh, it’s some basic stuff. But it’s a lot of fun. It plays quick. It takes about three seconds to learn, and there IS actually some thought involved. You can choose how to structure your luck. Yeah. Check it out. AUGUSTUS: THE BLANK OF THE RISE OF BLANK.


I’m tired of recommending Love Letter. It’s a slim deck of cards. You start with a card in hand. You draw a card and discard a card. That’s all you do. Every card has a power, and you’re pretty much trying to leave yourself with the highest value card at the end of the round. But the round can end early too. You can eliminate opponents and stuff. There’s a theme to the game too. You’re all trying to send love letters to a beautiful princess. Or a prince, if you get the Japanese edition of the game. Here are the rules of the game:


If your family members can handle that, they can play and enjoy Love Letter. If they can’t handle that, I don’t know what to say to you. Just buy this. It’s less than a tenner.


Oh, Dixit. It never fails. It’s a beautiful thing. Get Dixit onto the table and your aunties and uncles will be saying “Oh, that’s a nice drawing isn’t it? That’s lovely!” They’ll smile, and you’ll see their yellowed teeth, and you’ll think about how we’re all crawling towards oblivion.

In Dixit you have a whole bunch of big cards with a different beautiful illustration on each. Your job is to choose one of your cards and say something about it. You can give it a title, say something descriptive, sing a song about it, WHATEVER. And then the other players play one of their cards that they feel fits the emotional emotions that you just evoked. Then you shuffle all those chosen cards together and lay them all out. And everyone votes for which one was the original. BUT HERE’S WHAT IS COOL.

WHAT IS COOL: The person who played the original card only scores points if only SOME of the other players pick out their card. Know what I mean? If everyone gets it (it was too obvious) or no-one gets it (your description was almost Lynchian in its fucking obtuse weirdness) then you score NUTHIN. Hey, if only one other player guesses your card then you get your reward and you have made a nice emotional connection with someone. Your brainwaves have melded with theirs and sex is inevitable. EVEN IF YOU ARE PLAYING WITH YOUR FAMILY.

This game is all about imagination and creativity and will let you learn some stuff you never knew about your dad. That’s nice, right?


Let’s do one more. Because I’m a heavy hardcore geek. I’m more interested in NEXT WEEK’s column, where I’ll be suggesting the best board game Christmas gifts for TOTAL HARDCORE SHUT-IN WEIRDO LOSER LEVEL GOD-TIER GEEKAZOIDS. But we’ll do one more can’t-miss easy-to-find and inexpensive family game sugg-


“Hi, James Purefoy here. I just want to talk about Robert Florence for a moment or two. I have ZERO interest in board games, because my evenings are spent fiddling with the kind of components you’re more likely to find in a lady’s underwear. Do you follow my meaning? I’m calling you a virgin. But I just wanted to discuss something that even I have noticed. My friend Robert is recommending some family games, and yet he hasn’t mentioned anything like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. He is being what I would call “annoying”. You can’t go wrong with a game of Settlers of Catan, or even the Star Trek edition of the game, which I’ve heard is a lot of fun. I haven’t played it myself because I’m a Hollywood actor. Robert’s a good lad, but he’s what I would call a “hipster”.

I just want to say that it’s your family that matters on Christmas Day. After you’ve had your dinner, and before you settle down to watch Solomon Kane on Bluray, any kind of board game on the table will hit the spot. I bet you could even make Trivial Pursuit fun. Well, let’s not go that far. Just make sure to play a game. Play an old classic, even. Play Monopoly. It’s actually good, you idiots. Play Thunder Road. Or play Loopin’ Louie. But just play something. Except Carcassonne. It’s SHIT.

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have an actual grown-up proper career to enjoy.”


The proper Christmas stuff. Do you have a hardcore geek in your life? Or are you just buying gifts for yourself? Let’s burrow down into some of the most incomprehensible and brilliant epic board games of our time!

Stay dicey!


  1. Hunchback says:

    I approve of this post

    • BadBannana says:

      I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite comment on The Citadel

  2. Rikard Peterson says:

    I bought Carcassonne last Christmas, and it was a hit with my family. Good thing I wasn’t aware that it’s shit (a statement with which I disagree), as it made a good change from the Boggle and the quiz games that are the staple of the game playing at our Christmases. Even my father plays along, and that’s a rare thing. He usually goes away to do something else, or sit and watch, when the game playing begins.

    Suggestions for other games that’d work for us are welcome.

    (I also bought Robo Rally, but it’s a bit too complicated – and more so since my parents don’t speak English. Would probably be fun with a different crowd.)

    • Synesthesia says:

      Bang! and K2 have worked with my family. Bang! can also be got in a bunch of different languages. Mine is in spanish.

      • Rikard Peterson says:

        Thanks for the suggestions! Unfortunately, according to a local board game shop, the Swedish edition of Bang! is out of print and unlikely to return, and K2 also seems to be sold no more.

        • jrodman says:

          This reminds me how I miss my original print of English bang that had Italian and English printed on the same cards.
          This elicited a bizarre mix of spaghetti western concepts and badly pronounced Italian exclamations of “Mancato!” at the gaming table. It was lovely.

    • Phendron says:

      Carcassonne is shit without all the expansions, it’s just too bland.

      • Rikard Peterson says:

        A bit bland doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The point Robert made in the “Parpellimonies” post that “You do NOT love Carcassonne! You love sitting with your loved ones and doing something at a table, sir! That is what you love!” has some truth to it. The sitting down with loved ones is more important than the game itself. But there can’t be too strong flavours to the game if I’m to get these people to sit down at the table with me. The three introductory games he suggested in that post do sound great to me, but I doubt that my parents would appreciate them. Tempers flaring? Breaking rules? That kind of thing won’t get them excited.

        I think I’m going to try “Ticket to Ride” next. I haven’t played that, but it seems promising…

  3. lautalocos says:

    cards against humanity is a family firiendly game, right? i want to get it for my children for christmas

    • BadBannana says:

      Yeah yeah. I gave mine to my “kids” and now they bring my Venerial Disease Dictionary everywhere they go.

  4. Metalfish says:


    I’ll cut you.

    • SquirrelKnight says:

      It has become a fad to harp on Carcassonne. It’s still a great game to play with family, especially the younger ones who are just learning how to play board games!

      • Alabaster Crippens says:

        While I also believe that Carcasonne is actually a pretty fun game, I’d just like to note that Rab and James’ hatred of it spawned one of my favourite pieces of writing on RPS: link to
        It makes me want to hate something actually quite enjoy.

        • Easy says:

          That. I don’t remember reading that. But I laughed… hard. Thank you.

        • ClockworkTiger says:

          Actually that article is one of my least favorite pieces on this site. It kind of inspires irrational levels of dislike in me. Mostly I think because suddenly taking off and flying through the air is an image that to me conjures absolutely nothing of what it is like to be bored. Then it launches off into this shaggy dog story that is so nonsensical and random that I found it unbearably irritating despite having a love for nonsensical random silliness. I was pretty well convinced that Rab was either drunk, suffering from a life-threatening fever, or both when he wrote it.

          Mostly, I really like Rab’s articles (Aside from all the James Purfoy jokes, but that’s because I know nothing of James Purfoy other than he’s an actor who’s been in a lot of movies I haven’t seen, and who I don’t remember from the ones I have. So that one’s on me for being on the outside of a not-really-inside joke.), but that one article grates on my nerves like grinding glass, or fingernails on a chalkboard, or the laughter of small children.

          Just kidding. Actually, I don’t really mind grinding glass or fingernails on a chalkboard all that much.

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          It does contain important life advice though:

          Now, I am not going to tell you that the perfect introductory board game for your cute new boyfriend or girlfriend is Space Hulk. Don’t go explaining Overwatch on a first date, for fuck’s sake.


      • Scurra says:

        Although I don’t recommend playing a “social” game of Carcassonne with a hard-core gamer (cough, not me, guv’nor.) Someone who knows the entire tile distribution and how to place a tile to cause maximum disruption is enough to put anyone off. It’s kind of like playing Scrabble with someone who doesn’t actually know the meaning of any of the words they play but knows all the “legal” two-letter words in the dictionary.

  5. Warduke says:

    Rock on James. Loved Solomon Kane.

  6. Iceman346 says:

    I really don’t get the appeal of Dixit. I played it a couple of times but it’s just to freeform for me. The line between going to far out with your description and being too obvious is a thin one and the “you will know more about the other players!” stuff is just marketing in my opinion.

    I feel that the quite old but kinda similar Activity is the far superior game.

    • Guvornator says:

      Obviously it’s a bit horses for courses, but I’ve never had a bad game of Dixit. Plus I sort of feel like you can play it with anyone, which isn’t the case with, say, Blood Bowl…

    • Jake says:

      Dixit didn’t go down very well at my house last Christmas. Not a complete failure but it tended to be a lot of umm-ing and ah-ing before someone said a clue that was usually a bit too easy and then the game was wondering whether the really obvious choice was some sort of bluff. Or something clever but way too obscure. I’d actually like to hear what other people are saying for various cards as I have no real idea what a fun, difficult to guess, interesting clue would be. I expect I was overthinking things and that it would be more fun drunk or with children throwing in some randomness. Or with drunk children probably. This country.

      • Iceman346 says:

        Yeah, that basically covers my Dixit experiences. The pictures are nice and creative but more often than not my group found it hard to get a decent description without being too obvious. And most of the time where someone tried something more elaborate no one got it because it was a very obscure reference.

        And one of the times I played most of the players were drunk, while it made the game a bit more fun I still feel that it wasn’t really time well spend. The game feels as if someone had a bunch of decent looking but unrelated pictures and desperately tried to build some kind of system around it. All Style, not much substance.

    • yogibbear says:


    • Grargh says:

      Sounds like your playgroups all lack a bit of creativity if they only come up with obvious clues, no offence. I have had that problem too with certain people, but most of the time it works really well.

  7. GameCat says:

    I’ve played Love Letter few days ago, it’s nice and fast to play.

    Also played Monsters in Tokio (not sure if it’s proper English name of this game) it was great to buy some cards that was enchancing your defence and then win by knocking all opponets HP down to zero.

    • cmsd2 says:

      King of Tokyo!
      And yeah, that game is absolutely awesome.

    • iucounu says:

      I can’t get KoT to work. I mean, I’ve played it with friends a few Xmases in a row, but the VP system seems broken somehow, or maybe we’re playing it wrong. Are you supposed to get VP for being in Tokyo on every other player’s turn, or just every round? If it’s the first way, being in Tokyo is a massive advantage, and you win very quickly; and if it’s the second way, you try to leave instantly before you get blasted to death.

      • BobMoron says:

        Woah, you only get VPs for entering Tokyo OR when you’re already in the city when you start your own turn.

        After demoing KoT and its two expansions for four days straight at Essen last month, I don’t even know why I’m still explaining the rules on RPS. I don’t even like this game.

        • Temple says:

          What BM said. You get a point for going in, and you get a point for lasting the entire round in there. Dangerous, but you get the opportunity to attack everyone else with your attacks and with monsters that give VP for hits, or can heal a lot then it is worth it.
          Not a very good game anyway.

          • Runty McTall says:

            Actually you get 2 points for being in at the start of your go (in addition to the 1 you get for going in initially).

            King of Tokyo plays well with my group. It is only very rarely won through VPs but you need them there to stop everyone being too cagey. Someone being close to winning on VPs is more often than not the spur for someone to take a chance and go all-out attack.

          • iucounu says:

            So that’s what we thought – it’s ridiculous if it’s VPs every player turn – but then being in Tokyo seems rather crap. Also, as an Xmas party game, it’s too easy for someone to be knocked out in the first round and then have to just spectate. Something feels off with it (though I love the theme and a lot of the design.)

  8. Morph says:

    Love Letter is a definite recommendation. So simple, so replayable, so fun.

  9. The First Door says:

    To paraphrase Spaced: Settlers of Catan’s a big pile of shit. Carcassonne is much better, especially with Inns and Cathedrals (which probably should have been in the base game).

    Right, with that out of the way, I’d agree that you should buy Love Letter. It’s ace! Although, it is one of those games that might make you glare at members of your family if they keep repeatedly knocking you out before you’ve had a turn.

  10. Commander Gun says:

    Love Letter, super game and the price/fun balance can;t be surpassed easily.

  11. Dominus_Anulorum says:

    The problem with monopoly is not that it is not engaging. The problem is that it is too engaging. That one idiot manages to get spaces on boardwalk and, just when you think you have the game in the palm of your hand because he wasted all his money on one space, you land on it. He proceeds to take all your cash and all your spots and turn you into a poor sniveling wretch living in the ruins of a once great business empire.
    Monopoly destroys friendships. It destroys lives. The only game worse than monopoly is Mario Party, which, as we all know, is the real reason the cold war happened.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Also that 90% of the time you have no control of the things that are happening in the game and playing without auction house rules.

  12. jiminitaur says:

    I spent a good $500 on board/card games over the past two years, and the only ones I’d recommend to anyone are: Blokus Duo, Set, and Carcossonne. Monopoly needs no introduction, so it’s not worth suggesting or berating. Everything else is a novelty for the board.

  13. aunshi says:

    OR…. Save your money for kingdom death and in the mean time PLEDGE TO THE ASTROBASE COMMAND KICKSTARTER!!!!!! Seriously how is that not getting any funding? ok its graphics suck but they’ll bring an artist in to fix that.

  14. JB says:

    Do not invoke the name of Thunder Road, Purefoy, or so help me I will go up into that loft and bring it down and make my kids play it with me.

    Also, I’d like to echo the general sentiments above, Love Letter is a great game, even my Mum plays it and thinks it’s brilliant. That said, she also likes a good game of The Resistance: Avalon.

  15. PuffTheMagicDragQueen says:

    Dixit and King of Tokyo have been great games for a quick, social game. I’ve also found Pirate’s Cove to be a good introduction to boardgaming. The surprise one turned out to be Munchkin, I bought it for my brother for Christmas last year and ended up playing several games with my Dad who thoroughly enjoyed it.

  16. Shadowcat says:

    Dixit is awesome. It was Rab’s video review of it that made me buy it, and I’m glad that I did.

    Love Letter I’ve played several times, and it’s just too light for me. I guess it’s elegant in its simplicity, and there is some strategy to it, but I just find it dull to play. I always want the game to be over in half the time it actually is.

    Carcassonne I won’t hear a word against. Some of the expansions are rubbish, but the base game is excellent. It was something of a gateway for me, and I’ve played many more diverse and complex games since, but I still love it. Seriously, there are families out there playing the freaking “Game of Life”*. Carcassonne is not the enemy!

    (*) Admittedly, that game does end with you selling your own offspring for hard cash, which is an unexpected turn of events to put it mildly; but a bit of ‘edge’ really doesn’t compensate for the rest of the game.

  17. plugmonkey says:

    If your family on xmas day is anything like mine, and “Draw a card, discard a card” is a little on the complicated side, try this:

    link to

    Bought for my Dad last year, and it went down very well. Sporting drama and intense rivalries the like of which the world had never seen.

  18. DrollRemark says:

    I really want to get my friend a copy of Risk Legacy, but I fear it may be beyond our yearly remit for presents to each other (usual budget: £0).

    I might just buy it for myself. That’s totally the Christmas spirit, right?

    • Temple says:

      Your friend gets to write on it, so really it *is* their present.

  19. BubbaNZ says:

    What’s the next level down from “TOTAL HARDCORE SHUT-IN WEIRDO LOSER LEVEL GOD-TIER GEEKAZOIDS” because that’s me (haven’t quite levelled up yet), and, more importantly, will you be doing a column for it?

    • Scurra says:

      My picks for that category this year would probably be Amerigo, Nations or Caverna (for those who don’t already own Agricola.) If you are one level down from that, then I can recommend Prosperity* (Ystari Games) which will feel like the ultimate generic Eurogame to anyone who has been round the block more than once, but which is an elegant piece of design for everyone else, or Relic Runners (Days of Wonder) which is as overproduced as their stuff always is, but flows well.

      *I have a playtest credit on that one, so perhaps I am not unbiased.

  20. McGuit says:

    OK it has been said but let’s berate the poor slob that says “Monopoly”.
    Simply said….. it “sucks” ( and not in a good way)

    Here are the ones to avoid at all costs:
    Killer Bunny (and all of it’s cousins and add ons)
    OK..that is out of the way…

    The ones to really play with the folks that hate games (or do because they have not played any good ones)
    Ticket to Ride
    Rise of Augustus (Ave Bingo…but good)
    Love Letter
    Can’t Stop

    And for the folks that really like the harder games:
    Through the Ages
    Mage Wars

    Have at it and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  21. SgtStens says:

    OK, along these lines, what are some good recommendations for a family with three boys ages 10,7, and 6? I want to start a weekly family game night tradition (to try and pull them away from the worship-screens for a few hours) but it’s hard to find a game that is compelling enough for the older two but not intimidating for the wee one. I was looking at the Catan junior edition or something along those lines.

    A full game of Uno takes too long, and if I have to play another game of Pokemon Monopoly that goes from four to two players in the first five minutes I may set my kitchen table on fire. (Actually in might be worth it to get rid of that horrible abomination of a game)