Christmas Board Games, 2010-2014. This year’s purchase: Camel Up.

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Does anyone else buy Christmas gifts for themselves?

No? Nobody?

Well, I do. That way even if everyone else really bombs the gift giving, I still have the gifts I got myself to fall back on. It’s foolproof. It’s never resorted to that though, so instead I just get some bonus gifts for myself.

Typically these gifts come in two forms: baseball cards in my own stocking and board games.

I’m just now realizing this, but 2014 will mark the 5th consecutive year of buying myself a board game for Christmas. I always write our cats names on the To/From tags as if they’re not actually gifts “To: Adam, From: Adam” – but the jig is up, and even the cats probably know the truth by now.

I thought I’d share the past 5 years worth of board games with you all. They’ve actually all been a hit up to this point. Maybe this tradition will continue and I’ll post a new game every December. Who knows. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Here are the 5 board games I’ve picked up over the past 5 years dating back to 2010.

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2010: Ticket to Ride – Europe

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Ticket to Ride is an game of railroad expansion. It’s probably the most well known game on this list – I had already played the United States version prior to this purchase. If you’ve only played the US version – you gotta grab the Europe version. It’s way more difficult and has a few extra quirks thrown in that make the game more interesting.

Each player gets cards with a few destination routes on them and the goal is to complete as many routes/railroads as possible. You get more points for the degree of difficulty in the route. For example, if your two route goals are London to Paris and Constantinople to Edinburgh, you’re goal is to create a rail path that connects those cities. Obviously, London to Paris is not a long trek, so it’s easily accomplished, but you don’t get many points for it. Constantinople to Edinburgh is corner to corner across Europe, so it would be one of the most rewarding routs to complete.

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The catch is that opponents are utilizing the same routes and once someone plays in a location, you can’t go there anymore, so being strategic, secretive and methodical is important if you want to keep your opponent from blocking your routes.

The wrinkles in this game that make it different from the U.S. version: there are tunnels and depots to make the game a bit more difficult. Tunnels are harder to build than normal rails and require more of a risk/reward if you can pull one off. They’ll get you there faster, but if the cards don’t fall your way it could set you back a turn. Depots are necessary in the European version – since the continent and cities are way more compact, the game allows you to build up to three depots so you can utilize opponents rails to reach your destinations.

Overall, it’s a more cutthroat version of the United States game as it’s much more difficult to maneuver around the tighter terrain. It’s a fun strategic game that is relatively simple for anyone to figure out. A game lasts about 45 minutes too, so it’s the perfect length to get involved without people getting bored. Great family game. I’d recommend it for anyone.

2011: Wits and Wagers

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We play this game nearly every time we go to my parents house for an evening. It’s a party trivia game – super simple, somewhat educational and a game where winning or losing doesn’t feel super important.

Each full game lasts 7 rounds. Each round centers around a different trivia question, and every question has a numerical answer. Examples: How many Grammys did Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout” win? Or, How many total hours did the Apollo 11 mission spend on the moon? Or, How many rat tails are in minkerfoils? Or, What year did Babe Ruth allegedly “call his shot” before hitting a home run at Wrigley Field?

I’m just spitballing here though. These may or may not be real questions.

Players have tiny dry erase boards to write their guesses to each question. These answers don’t have to be remotely correct, they simply become the boundaries for the betting round that follows. Answers are spread across the game mat from smallest to largest number as seen here.

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Then players have an opportunity to bet on which of the players answers is closest to the correct answer without going over (a.k.a. The Price Is Right wagering). Players each begin with two betting tokens and can increase their bets by 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, etc. – each round they can bet on either 1 or 2 different answers and can risk as many of their chips as they want.

This game is all about smart betting based off educated guesses. Older players likely have an advantage in this game as they have a greater bank of facts and years in their brains, but that can also work to their detriment when they think they know the right answer rather than betting the right answer.

For example, the answer to the Babe Ruth question above is the year 1932. People generally know that I know a lot about baseball, so they might intentionally bet on my answer or around it even though they have no idea who Babe Ruth was. In fact, they might even guess “1999” and be no where close, but simply follow my guessing or betting.

I might intentionally write “1970” on the card as a way of duping my opponent into betting the wrong place, even though I know that’s not even close to being correct. Individuals who know more than others at the table about a question sometimes get so caught up in knowing the answer that they forget that isn’t how the game is won. You don’t get any points for guessing the number correctly, your only reward comes from successful betting.

It’s a super fun multigenerational game to play together as a family. The questions are diverse and level the playing field for the group. Extremely fun game. Lasts about 15-20 minutes total and playing multiple games in a sitting is totally an option.

2012: Alhambra

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I first learned what the Alhambra was when my wife got to visit the real one when she studied abroad in Granada, Spain, in the summer of 2007. Well, she wasn’t my wife yet, but I was really hoping she’d want to be someday. I’ve since gotten to go back with her on two separate occasions. Just writing that paragraph gives me the itch to go back and visit again.

The Alhambra was in the voting for one of the modern wonders of the world. It’s a Moorish defense castle located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in southeastern Spain. It’s a gorgeous structure with detailed intricate architecture, fountains and (my personal favorite) enormous hedges.

This game is a bit of an anomaly on the list because I actually bought this as a gift for my wife as much as myself. We are both super nostalgic when it comes southern Spain and when I discovered this game and read it’s overwhelming positive reviews, I was really excited to get it.

In the game, each player builds their own “Alhambra” by drawing money cards of four different currencies and paying for tiles corresponding to that currency. Tiles are then constructed in front of each individuals by placing the tiles adjacent to one another. Some tiles have gardens on them, others have turrets or fountains or ornate hallways. Points are awarded for the most tiles of each color-coded category and to the player with the longest exterior wall.

Alhambra - finished game

It’s not a super complicated game. Individuals with heightened spacial recognition excel at this game. It has less strategy than some similar games – Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are likely more strategic than this one. It’s a strategy game for those people who don’t love strategy games – takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Plus, when you’ve actually been to the real thing, it’s fun to get to imagine yourself strolling the halls of the Alhambra you’ve created.

2013: Puerto Rico

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This is the most strategic and complicated game on this list. The premise of Puerto Rico is that each player is a governor of San Juan, settling and developing the city by growing commodities – corn, wheat, coffee, etc. – and shipping the goods off to Europe for building supplies to further your development.

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I imagine this game as a zoomed in version of Settlers of Catan, actually. Rather than simply picking up cards on the corresponding spaces, each commodity must be purchased, grown, loaded and shipped in order to receive any further development. If products aren’t shipped out in time, they go bad and you lose them.

I’ve probably played this game a half dozen times in the year that I’ve owned it. It’s rare that it gets pulled out though because it’s a bit too meticulous for me. It’s about an 60-75 minute game. It’s still super fun, but I think I’d rather play something a bit more simplified – board games are fun, but at a certain point they start getting too technical and lose their excitement. This game flirts with that edge. Still, if you’re a Ben “Cones of Dunshire” Wyatt type, then this is your game.

2014: Camel Up

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Presenting the 2014 Christmas Board Game: Camel Up (which, my wife tells me looks like “Camel Cup” on the front of the box).

Camel Up is basically a trip to the racetrack. Five camels begin in the starting block together and move (slowly) around the perimeter of the board space by space. Players then win or lose the game by betting on these camels throughout the game.

Each camel has a color-corresponding die. The dice are placed inside the pyramid which then serves as a pseudo-Yahtzee cup, only this pyramid is rigged up to only let out one die at a time. Whatever die is rolled, that corresponding camel moves forward that many spaces. When all 5 dice are rolled, the betting round ends, money is won or lost, and the dice return to the pyramid for the next round.

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Players can bet on which camel is in first place after each betting round, but they can also place bets on the overall winning and overall losing camel at any point in the race. Whoever gets their bet in fastest (and is correct) gets the most money paid out. Whoever has the most cheese at the end wins.

The best part about this game: if the camels end up on the same tile, they are placed on the back of the camel that is already there. So it’s possible for all 5 camels to be stacked on top of one another on the same tile. If, for example, the yellow camel is the second from the bottom of the stack and the yellow die is rolled form the pyramid, the player would then pick up the yellow camel and all the camels on top of it. This means a camel is never out of the race. A last place camel could end up on the back of another camel and just ride it out to victory.

For example, in the game board image above, if the white die rolls a 3 or a 2 and then any of the orange/yellow/green dice rolls combine for at least 2, suddenly the white camel has plunged from last to first. In fact, if the right sequence happens (white 2, orange 2, blue 3, yellow 3, green 3) the white camel can move a combined THIRTEEN spaces and cross the finish line on that turn.*

* – Just noticed that the white die has already been rolled and that camel is done moving for this leg, so scratch that, but you get what I mean. Anything is possible.

I will say – and this is unabashedly juvenile of me – it’s a little awkward when one camel is “riding” the other camel. I’ll just let that comment stay right there.

As this game is brand new, I’m excited to work it into the board game repertoire. From everything I’ve read and the one time I’ve played it, I think it’s going to be a real hit.

It’s somewhat strategic, but with a lot of luck involved. However, unlike the bad luck you can experience in Settlers or Monopoly or Risk, this game doesn’t force you to hate your life while you sit there and fail at the expense of the dice. No, regardless of your status in the game, there is always a decent chance the camel you bet on will win it all, and the action doesn’t end until a camel has officially crossed the finish line. Plus, games only last about 30 min, so losing goes much faster (not that i would know…zing).

Rooting for the camels is hilarious. The drama builds with each leg as the camels get closer to the finish. Highly, highly recommend this game.

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So there you have it. The Christmas Board Games I’ve picked up for myself from 2010-2014. I’m open to suggestions for 2015 and beyond. I have mostly made these decisions based on internet research and awards won, and I’ve done a pretty good job of picking them so far. None of them are busts, and a somewhat wide spectrum of gameplay involved.

Let me know if you want more information or want to get together and play. I love a good old fashioned board game night – although, Monopoly and Settlers of Catan are hard to trump for me.

-apc.

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