Phoenix Holiday Gift Guide 2021 - Board Games

Phoenix Holiday Gift Guide 2021 - Board Games

Welcome to our 2021 holiday gift guide! Last year, we rolled this out as a way to help busy shoppers who couldn't come in find the perfect gift for their game-loving friends & family. Folks liked it so much that we're doing it again this year!

Unlike a lot of holiday gift guides, we’re gonna focus on what questions to ask those loved ones and give you the resources to figure out what they mean. We’ll include a few broad interest and popular suggestions, but when picking out the right gift this year thoughtfulness goes a long way. So if you need a hand with some recommendations, read on and let’s get started!

Phoenix Holiday Gift Guide: Board Games

When you hear someone say they like board games, know that this statement covers a pretty wide range of topics. The good news for those of you with avid board gamers in your life is that generally speaking, board game devotees know what they’re looking for. This means they’ll either hand you a list of games to look for OR some set of styles of games that they enjoy. The important thing to do (if you can) is to look around at what games they’ve already gotten. Often they’ll be happy to share that information with you.

Questions to Ask:

What styles of games do you enjoy playing? I always like to start off any recommendation request with this question. This is an opportunity to get some broad spectrum information about what they like to play. Pay attention for keywords like Eurogame, strategy, deckbuilders, or cooperative. This can really help you focus down when you start looking for games that suit the person.

What games have you really enjoyed? This question can tell us a fair bit about what they’re probably already playing, and also the styles of games that they like to play. For example, if I hear that someone really likes Catan, they will probably get a kick out of Carcassonne as the two have similar time requirements and pretty low bars for learning.

How many folks in your household play board games with you? During the winter it's sometimes difficult to get out and be social. So why not aim for a game that can be played within your friend's own household? 

What’s your ideal run time for a game? Board games can range from 10-15 minutes all the way up into several hours to run a game. Each player has their own tolerance for how long a game can be played before it gets old, and it’s different for everyone.

Okay, so now you’ve asked those questions and gotten some answers. Is there a magic hopper to toss that into and come up with a list?  Well…sort-of. The single biggest resource for finding new board games is They compile lists of games sorted by genre and community ratings (and they’ve even got a few holiday lists for games themselves). 

Phoenix Recommendations

When it came time to put together some holiday picks, we decided to pick 10 games that range from recent hits to classic games, with a few things in common. All of the games below play easily at 2-4 players, have somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-60 minutes of play time, and are easy to play (read: Nick could teach this to his non-board-gaming parents over dinner). Sound good? Let’s take a look at what made our holiday recommendations list: 


Type of Game: Tableau Builder + Worker Placement Game

Number of Players: 2-4

Game Time: 30-45 minutes

Everdell is a game that challenges players to build the best city they can over the course of a year. Players take turns using their workers to generate cards and resources, then spend those resources on buildings and critters. And as the year progresses more critters join the player in preparing for winter. With four types of buildings, linked critter combinations, and achievements, there's always something to do and a new strategy to try. If you're a fan of Wingspan, give this a try. 


Type of Game: Abstract, Strategy

Number of Players: 2-4

Game Time: About 30 minutes

Azul is a fun, easy to learn tile drafting game. During each game players take turns taking groups of tiles from the various factories on the board, which are then used to score points on that player's mosaic. Azul rewards efficiency and thoughtful actions while not forcing players to think so far ahead as to bog things down. 

Cat and Mouth

Type of Game: Dexterity-Based Game

Number of Players: 2

Game Time: About 15 minutes

Cat and Mouth is a goofy game from the makers of Exploding Kittens. The game box itself folds out into an arena where players use magnetic cat paws to bat little foam balls into their opponents board. The goal is knock the three white teeth balls in the cat's mouth into your opponent's side of the board, empty your board of all balls by sending them over to your opponent, or knock the little black nose ball onto your opponent's side of the board. I've watched this game played a few times now and it's just silly and fun-looking. 


Type of Game: Euro-Strategy, Family 

Number of Players: 2-5 (can go up to 6 with an expansion)

Game Time: About 30 minutes

Carcassonne is a great game for folks who like simple rulesets, but with a lot of room for complex strategies. Players take turns placing tiles down and building out a map of a French countryside. After a player places a tile, they can put down one of their meeples (that's 'little wooden board game person' for the lay-person) and claim part of the tile, such as a road, city, abbey, or field. Once the claimed project is complete, that meeple comes off of the tile and the player scores points based on the finished size of the project. 

The Captain Is Dead

Type of Game: Sci-Fi Cooperative

Number of Players: 2-7

Game Time: 30-45 minutes

The Captain is Dead ticks a few difficult to fulfill boxes: It's co-op and it works well with up to 7 players. Players race against the clock as their ship is bombarded by alien warships, invaders beaming onto their vessel to fight them, and strange anomalies all of which damage or disable their ship. Players can work together to repair systems to help them better fight off the waves or attackers, but must be careful to save time to repair the warp drive so that they can escape to safety! 

And for folks who are already a fan of this game but want more in the same style - there are 2 follow-up 'episodes' that are completely independent games: Lockdown and Dangerous Planet.



Type of Game: Abstract Card Game

Number of Players: 2-4

Game Time: About 30 minutes

Splendor is a fantastic game for those who love strategy. Players take turns gathering gems, then using them to purchase gem 'development' cards that provide a constant gem of a specific color, and enabling them to buy further cards more efficiently (or to afford more expensive and valuable cards). Players can also attract the attention of noble patrons, who aid them with bonus points! 

Expansion Note: Got a fan of Splendor already in the house? Cities of Splendor offers four excellent mini-expansions in one box!


Type of Game: Dice Placement Game

Number of Players: 1-4 

Game Time: 30 minutes

Sagrada challenges players to build the best and most beautiful stained glass window they can! Each player begins the game with a different pattern to their stained glass. Harder patterns make more favor available to you, which players can cash in to use special tools to manipulate the dice available to them. All in a bid to fill out their board as much as possible in the 10 rounds of play. 


Type of Game: Fast-Paced Bluffing Game

Number of Players: 2-6

Game Time: 15-30 minutes

Coup is a quick and fun game of bluffing and intrigue. Players vie for influence and seek to eliminate their rivals. Players are assigned two characters at the beginning of the game, but they can bluff and use powers from any of the character cards in the game (providing no one calls their bluff). The end-goal of Coup is pretty simple, but how you get there is a challenge no matter how many people are playing. For those of you who like Mafia or the Resistance, Coup's a great way to have that sort of fun while still keeping things limited to just one household.

Expansion Note: Coup's got a fun little bonus expansion that adds a bit of further complexity in the form of factions. If this is a favored game, you can spice it up a little with Coup: Reformation.


Type of Game: Tile Placement / Drafting Puzzle Game

Number of Players: 1-4

Game Time: 30-45 minutes

If you're looking for a fun and new game, you can't do much better than Cascade. This game combines elements of Carcassonne with pattern matching of Sagrada. Plus it's basically set in our collective PNW backyard. Players take turns building up a habitat of critters by taking pairs of tiles / critters and adding them to their own existing habitat. Points are totaled up at the end of the game based on scoring cards that change from game to game. Cascadia is a fun one for people who like to sit and analyze their moves, but it's simple enough that you could play this casually with family too!

And that's it for this round of our holiday gift guide! We'll have another part out later on this week where we offer some helpful hints and suggestions for what to get the D&D player in your life!