SALT LAKE CITY — One of the greatest gifts we can give someone is our time.
If we need a little more of that with friends and loved ones, playing a board game is a sure way to get the group together. So, if you're planning to give the gift of time — and a new game — to someone this holiday season, here are 16 games to consider when you're out shopping.
For the train enthusiast: 'Ticket to Ride'
Whether you're looking for a game for a family or a teenager heading off to college, "Ticket to Ride" is a great choice — it's a quintessential classic of modern board gaming.
Players construct train routes to connect cities on a map, fulfilling destination tickets and earning points for placing trains. They do so by collecting colored train cards, but they have to time it just right, otherwise, your opponent might end up taking the one route, say from Salt Lake City to Denver, that you need to finish a ticket.
If you're trying to figure out which version of "Ticket to Ride" to pick up, you're in luck: None of them are bad. For a little extra complexity, try "Ticket to Ride: Europe" or "Ticket to Ride: Germany." You might also look at some of the map expansions that provide more playing variety.
If you want a train-based game that's more focused on the historic or is more in-depth, try "Russian Railroads" or "Railways of the World."
For one who enjoys a more pastoral existence: 'Carcassonne'
One Europe's most beloved board games, "Carcassonne" transports players into rural France where they build out the French countryside with castles, roads and monasteries.
At the same time, players also have to compete for ownership of the new landmarks, with each player earning points for completing parts of the picturesque landscape.
Do you already have and love "Carcassonne?" Then try two of the game's best expansions, "Traders and Builders" and "Inns and Cathedrals." Both expand the game's reach and depth without overwhelming players with new mechanics. Are you looking for a new take on the game without adding complexity? Try "Carcassonne: Safari" that drops players in the savannah, or "Carcassonne: The Castle," an excellent two-player rendition of the game.
If you're looking for something simpler, try "Kingdomino" or "Queendomino" that takes the tile-laying landscape and merges it with a bit of dominos. You could also give "Isle of Skye," a similar tile-laying game with an interesting auction element.
For the empire-builder in your life: '7 Wonders'
Most strategy board games don't support large groups. When they do, even fewer do it well, and "7 Wonders" fits both criteria with players building out an empire in near-simultaneous fashion, concerning themselves only with the players on either side of them.
You'll build your empire by drafting cards, picking one from a hand and passing them to another player. While you do that, you'll want to think about what your neighbors might be doing. Are they focusing on science, leaving you with few options in that vein? Or are they a war-mongerer, ready to battle you to the death?
Your future options will also have to weigh heavily in your consideration, with the game being played over three distinct ages.
'Sounds fun,' you say, but you have only two players? Then give "7 Wonders Duel," a try, a two-player take on the game that's considered by some to be a superior game itself. Or maybe you're looking for something more complex? Try "Civilization," based on the popular computer game, or "Through the Ages: A Story of a Civilization," a civilization building game.
For the person with designs on saving the world: 'Pandemic'
One of the most successful games of the modern era isn't a competitive game at all. It's a cooperative game, and it's become one of the most influential board games of the last 20 years.
In "Pandemic," each player takes on a role as a medical professional fighting against multiple diseases. Cure four diseases, and you'll save the world. Fail, and you'll have doomed Earth to catastrophe. It can be tense.
"Pandemic" is more than just a single game to consider at this point: It's also a series. If you've played "Pandemic" and loved it, consider "Pandemic Legacy," a campaign game where you literally destroy parts of the game over the course of a 12-month campaign. The series even extends beyond the disease motif: You might try a recent release, "Pandemic: Fall of Rome" that takes players back to ancient times as Romans fighting off barbarian hordes.
If you've already played "Pandemic" and are looking for something similar, there are a slew of cooperative games you should consider.
For a cooperative family: 'Forbidden Island,' 'Forbidden Desert' or 'Forbidden Sky'
From the designer of "Pandemic," Matt Leacock, comes a trilogy of family-friendly cooperative games. Each of these would work well for a group with various levels of skill, which makes it perfect for a family with ages ranging from younger children to teenagers. All three games play really well into each other.
"Forbidden Island" drops players on a sinking island, and they have to collect four pieces of treasure before escaping. It's probably the easiest of the three, and you could easily let younger kids help make some decisions without making the game overly difficult.
"Forbidden Desert" takes players through a desert adventure as they collect parts to a long-lost airship, but to escape, they'll have to make their way past shifting sands and deadly dehydration. It's a little more difficult, but it's probably more replayable than "Forbidden Island" and would present older kids with a more interesting game.
"Forbidden Sky" amps it up even further, with players building a real electrical circuit to power a rocketship. But if they're going to do it, they have to make it without being blown off the platform to certain doom. It's the most complex of the three, but winning feels really rewarding.
For those craving a more complex cooperative experience: 'Burgle Bros'
If you've never played a game from one of our local top-tier game designers, "Burgle Bros" from Fowers Games is your chance experience Utah's finest. You and a group of players are attempting to pull off a cooperative "Ocean's Eleven"-style heist.
Each player has a special ability that will help them through the game, but as you progress through a three-story building, you'll pick up loot that will make it easier for security guards to track you down. If you're caught and you can't escape, everyone loses.
Want something a bit faster-paced? Try Tim Fowers' game "Now Boarding," a semi-real-time cooperative game where you and your fellow players are airlines trying to shuttle people across the country. If you like the heist idea, but you're only playing with two, try out "Fowers' Fugitive."
For the experimental gamer: 'The Mind'
One of the major appeals of board games is sitting around a table, enjoying time with family and friends, usually with plenty of chatter. In "The Mind," players can't talk at all, and the game provides one of the most exciting ways to count to 100.
Each player has a hand of cards with numbers ranging from one to 100. Without speaking to each other, players have to find a way to play cards from their hand in ascending order. If you play a card out of order, you'll lose one of your lives. Play too many out of order, and you lose the game.
"The Mind" starts easy, with each player having just one card, and it gets progressively harder, with a four-player game ending with each player having eight cards to start the last round.
Want something similarly mind-bending? Try "When I Dream," a game where one player has to wear a sleeping mask, or "Hanabi," a cooperative game where you can see everyone's hand but yours as you try to put on a great fireworks display.
For the word-loving gamer: 'Wordsy'
If your family loves "Scrabble" or other word games, "Wordsy" might be the perfect option. It's a simple word game where you make words from an eight-letter tableau, with your only restriction being that those eight letters are the only ones that score points. You can use more letters, but they won't net you a higher score — you need to be the fastest and the best to score extra points.
If you're looking for something with less of a time limit, try "Paperback" or "Hardback," both from Fowers Games, where you build words from your deck of cards, and you build your deck through the game. If you're looking for something even faster, try "Bananagrams," a fast-paced word-building game that will test your nerves.
For the mystery-loving family: 'Mysterium'
Take a group of players, force one of them to give up speaking for an hour or so, and task them with solving a mystery: That's the idea at the core of "Mysterium," a cooperative game with beautiful, dreamlike art.
One silent player, acting as a ghost, communicates with psychics through that dreamlike art, trying to point players in the direction of a suspect in the case of their murder. If those players can suss out the truth, everyone wins. If they don't, everyone loses.
It sounds spooky, but it's the furthest thing from it. Instead, "Mysterium" is a charming game with a flair for the fantastical and an engaging premise. Even the most talkative player won't want to wait for his or her turn to be the ghost.
Love the surreal art but want to try something simpler? Give the family favorite "Dixit" a spin. It features some of the same artists. Or maybe you want something with a bit more concrete mystery-solving. If so, try "Deception: Murder in Hong Kong."
For the puzzle-loving gamer: 'Azul'
The 2018 winner of the Spiel des Jahres — the top prize for a board game published in Germany — is "Azul," a two-to-four-player game where players build a beautiful Portuguese-style tile wall.
It has a simple concept: Take tiles from various "factories" to build your wall, but be careful not to take too many of one color, or you'll risk losing points. That makes it easy to learn, but it's hard to master.
Tried "Azul" and you want something with a bit more of a puzzle? Try "Sagrada," in which players are building a stained glass window in a cathedral. Or, if you want more like "Azul," try "Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra."
For the gamer that wants to duel with their friends: 'Keyforge'
One of the hot new games in 2018 is "Keyforge," a two-player competitive card game from Richard Garfield, the creator of "Magic: The Gathering." It's part of a new push for what publisher Fantasy Flight Games is calling "unique games," and in this game, every deck you buy has randomized cards, is given an algorithmically-generated name and features a unique card back. If you buy a deck, you can't swap out some cards for others — instead, what you have is what you have in perpetuity.
In "Keyforge," both players are trying to collect "æmber" to forge three keys, while also trying to stop their opponents from doing the same thing. It's a surprisingly effective game given the random premise.
Remarkably, the approach discourages the mass-buying of cards in the same way "Magic" has historically operated, giving the game a potentially broader appeal.
More in-depth experiences for the gamer who wants to spend several hours on one game: 'Scythe'
One of the biggest successes of the last five years is "Scythe," a game of giant mechs, airships and workers. It sounds like a game where you might expect to be focused on war and battle, but it doesn't have to be violent.
In "Scythe," players are trying to grow their influence and empire, but battle always comes at a significant cost to that effort. To win, players will need to have great influence and power while also completing six of 10 possible objectives. It's a game that rewards long-term thinking, but success depends on adjusting to what your opponents are doing around you.
Ready for something bigger? Try "Scythe: Rise of Fenris," an expansion campaign, or "Viticulture," another thought-provoking game from designer Jamey Stegmaier.
On the other hand, if "Scythe" sounds perhaps a little too heavy and complex for your family, try "My Little Scythe," a family-focused take on the game.
For the gamer who relishes a challenge: 'Terraforming Mars'
The most complex game on this list, "Terraforming Mars" is a game where you're doing exactly the name makes it sound like. You're playing as a corporation making Mars into a habitable place for civilization to thrive, and to do so, you'll have to complete projects and create a strong infrastructure.
With games regularly exceeding two hours, "Terraforming Mars" isn't for the faint of heart. It is, however, an intensely rewarding gaming experience. As you build the engine that powers your corporation, you'll vie against opponents just as determined to make Mars an ideal place for humans.
Want something based on Mars, but worried that "Terraforming" is too complicated? Consider instead "Mission: Red Planet," which is less about building a brilliant economy and more about mining for resources.
For the gamer who wants games that tell a story: 'Near and Far'
For futher evidence that Utah boasts some truly great board game designers, take a look at "Near and Far" from Utah-based Ryan Laukat, which combines storytelling with adventure for a surprising, engaging game.1 comment on this story
The game features a book of stories from which players read while traveling around a map. "Near and Far" is split into chapters, providing players with a campaign to continue over 10 plays, but it isn't just good exclusively in that setting.
It's one of the unique gaming experiences that really shows how board games have grown and changed over the last 20 years. The best new games aren't just complex, they also take players on adventures they hadn't imagined.
Excited for more games that tell stories? Try out "Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective," a series of cooperative games where players try to figure out a mystery by reading newspapers and conducting interviews.