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My Christmas 2020 Board Game Haul


Hi everyone, welcome back to Instant Game Night. With the holiday season behind us, I wanted to take a moment to share with you my board game haul from Christmas 2020. Although the year 2020 has been a rough one, I had one of the most enjoyable Christmases yet with my family. And not only that, but I managed to score quite a haul of board games this year as gifts. In fact, I didn't put a single thing on my wish list this year that wasn't a board game. And with 3 different family Christmases to attend, let's just say I was not disappointed.


Below I am going to provide a brief description about each game I received but I hope to post a much more in-depth review of each as we move further into the year and I get the chance to play each of these games more.


So without further ado, here is my Christmas 2020 board game haul:



Arboretum


Designer Dan Cassar

Publisher Renegade Game Studios

Players 2-4

Age Range 8+

Playing Time 30 Minutes

Read more on BoardGameGeek

This is the only game on my list I haven't managed to play yet, but I have broken it open and read through the rules. It actually seems like quite a puzzly card game, one that will certainly take time to master the strategy for.


In this game players are trying to build paths in ascending order with certain types of tress at the beginning and end of each path. What is unique about this game is the scoring. For each type of tree, you only get the opportunity to score for that type of tree if you have the highest combined value of cards in your hand (not played) for that tree type. And there is yet another wrinkle – if you have the 8 of that tree type (the highest value in the game) and your opponent has the 1, your 8 essentially becomes useless and is worth zero. So, not only are you concerned with the path of trees you are laying down, but you are also worrying about what cards you keep in your hand to ensure you get the opportunity to score for the tree types you want.


I am looking forward to getting a few plays of this game in soon and will report back my thoughts soon!


Bites


Designer Brigitte Ditt, Wolfgang Ditt

Publisher BoardGameTables.com

Players 2-5

Age Range 12+

Playing Time 20 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek





I bought this game with the sole purpose of playing it with my 4 year old son. This was a game I saw reviewed by Tom Vasel and it really caught my eye as a kids game that could also be fun for adults to play. And boy was Tom right. This game is great for kids and adults alike!


Basically in this game you have 5 different colored ants who are crashing your picnic. You have a path of various foods laid out randomly, leading back to the ant's home, the ant hill. Each ant can only travel one space at a time and they can only land upon the type of food they eat. So, the brown ant can only stop on bread, the green ant on peppers, and so on. On your turn you decide which ant you would like to move, and push them forward to their next food piece. You then take the piece of food either in front of or behind the ant. Then play continues until all ants reach the ant hill. And this is where the game gets really interesting. When an ant reaches the ant hill, the player who caused the ant to arrive receives a bonus food. Not only this, but as the ants reach the ant hill, they will land on a different level of the hill, with the highest being the 4 victory point space and the lowest being the zero victory point space. So, if you spent the whole game collecting bread and the brown ant lands on the bottom, your bread is worthless and you have probably lost.


In addition, the game comes with various rules cards that completely change the rules of the game, adding so much replayability that I don't think I could ever get tired of playing this game. The one thing I will say is that the rules tend to be a bit too much for younger children. When I play with my four year old, we have to play without the rules cards and several other more nuanced rules. But even so, we all have a blast and my son really loves the ant meeples and the double layer food tokens.


This is a game with great production quality that we will be playing for years to come!



Downforce


Designer Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, Wolfgang Kramer

Publisher Restoration Games

Players 2-6

Age Range 10+

Playing Time 20-40 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek


Wow is all I can say about Downforce. So addicting! When I was deciding which racing game to put on my wish list, I had a hard time deciding between Downforce, Formula D, or Rallyman GT. I almost went with Rallyman because it seemed to have more meat to it, but I wanted a game that I could play with my children, so I decided on Downforce. And I am very glad that I did.


The concept of Downforce is so simple yet so entertaining. You have 1-2 cars that you own and you will win prize money based on how well your cars finish. But, you also get to bet at various times throughout the race on who you think will win. If you bet correctly, you will win additional money at the end of the game. So, it is entirely possible (and does happen often) that you could win the game without winning the race. You can even win with one of your cars not even finishing the race. I love the simplicity of the system and the cards. I love the fact that most of your cards will help you but they will also help you opponent, so you have to consider how and when to play them. This game is deceiving, as you can actually put quite a lot of strategic thought into it. But equally, you can also just sit down with you children and flip through cards and enjoy watching the cars race down the track.


All of these things combined add up to Downforce being a game I can't ever imagine not having in my collection again.



The Fox in the Forest


Designer Joshua Buergel

Publisher Foxtrot Games, Renegade Game Studios

Players 2

Age Range 10+

Playing Time 30 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek




As I've mentioned before, typically my gaming group consists of my wife. So I was really keen to find some good two player card games this year. Fox in the Forest comes highly rated and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to own this two player trick taking game. What is most unique about this game is that in order to score points each round, you cannot win too many tricks (lest you get too greedy). If you win all of the tricks, you score no points and your opponent scores instead. So there is a really fun back and forth feel to this game and it causes you think think ahead even more than a typical trick taking game. I think this one will get a lot of use!



Hey That's My Fish!


Designer Günter Cornett, Alvydas Jakeliunas

Publisher Fantasy Flight Games

Players 2-4

Age Range 8+

Playing Time 20 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



My son received this little game for Christmas and I have to say, it was a pleasant surprise. The first thing I noticed unboxing the game was the penguin minis – they are so great! The gameplay and strategy are really interesting in this one, as you can move as far as you want in one direction and you remove the fish tile that you moved away from. It has the ability to become a pretty cut throat “take that” game, as you can very easily cut off other players and cause them to have to end their game early.


I would say this was my son's least favorite game he received for Christmas but he did still enjoy it. My biggest negative with the game is the fiddliness of the tiles – it takes forever to set up initially, and an small bump to the table or brush of the hand will send the tiles flying. It was actually quite frustrating, almost to the point when it seems like a chore to set up and play.


I don't think this one will make it to the table too often but when it does, we will enjoy playing it!



Hues and Cues


Designer Scott Brady

Publisher The Op

Players 3-10

Age Range 8+

Playing Time 30 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek




This game was one I saw played on the Dice Tower many times in 2020. So much so, that I barely had to look at the rule book to remember how to play when we unboxed it for the first time. I am not the biggest fan of party games, but this one works pretty well for me. It is quick and simple, and I really enjoy the scoring. Each turn one player is going to draw a card with various colors on it. That player will give everyone a one word hint and the other players will place their token on three color square they think best describes the hint given. Then a second hint can be given to help players refine their guesses. If you guess close but not quite perfectly, you are still rewarded with a point or two. And as the clue giver, you can score a ton of points if you get everyone on the same page.


This is one that will almost certainly get a lot of playing time as a fun filler when everyone just wants to turn off their brains. And that board – I don't think I'll ever see a more colorful board in my life!



Innovation


Designer Carl Chudyk

Publisher Asmadi Games

Players 2-4

Age Range 12+

Playing Time 45-60 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



Innovation is another classic game that I finally got my hands on. Tom Vasel always talks highly of this game and I am a sucker for civilization building games. I have only played this one once so far but that was enough for me to see why this has been such a popular game for so long. The theme is interwoven as well as can be expected for a card game, but essentially you are laying down cards with different special abilities and symbols on them which will dictate what you can do each turn.


There are a lot of unique aspects of this game. For instance, if a player has more of a given symbol than you, they get to take your action before you do, possibly allowing them to make the move you wanted to take. There is also the card splaying mechanic, where you are able to overlap your cards in a way that symbols from the previous cards will now be visible and in play. And finally the achievements are also quite interesting, as you can win the game just by focusing on gaining those achievements from each age.


There is a lot to keep track of in this game and it is certainly a thinky game with a good amount of randomness, luck, chaos, and “take that” style play. It is not for everyone but I have a feeling it is one I will enjoy as I continue playing.



Ohanami


Designer Steffen Benndorf

Publisher Pandasaurus Games

Players 2-4

Age Range 8+

Playing Time 20 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek




I think it is safe to say that this is the best card game I have ever owned. Yes, this is high praise, but Ohanami deserves it. This game is so simple at its core but so difficult to master at the same time. Not to mention, it is definitely addictive – my wife and I can't seem to get enough of it.


What I like the most is this game is so accessible. Within a matter of minutes, I can have the cards out of the box, shuffled, and ready to play. And with two players, games rarely last longer than 15 minutes. This is just a great filler game with a lot of strategic depth and player interaction. Essentially it is a card drafting, set collection game where players are trying to build various rows of tree cards in front of them in descending order (cards are numbers from 1 to 119). The catch is you can only ever play a card in a row where it is higher than the highest card or lower than the lowest card. This leads to some painstaking decisions, because you want to leave as small a gap between your cards as possible but at the same time the various colors of trees score points in different ways. So you are trying to balance having the right color cards with the right numbers to avoid not being able to play certain cards late in the game.


Ohanami is a winner in our house, I will be surprised if it isn't played at least one a week for this entire year!




One Key


Designer L'Atelier

Publisher Libellud

Players 2-6

Age Range 8+

Playing Time 20 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek




This is a very interesting party game that I heard about from a review Zee Garcia did on the Dice Tower. It was opportune timing, as I was researching party games to add to my Christmas wish list at the time. Zee seemed quite favorable to it, and Miniature Market had it on a very good sale at the time (I think it was barely $10), so I made a snap decision and purchased it. And I am glad I did.


This is by no means my favorite party game but it stands up well in its own right. In this game one player is the clue giver and the other players are trying to guess which card on the table is the “key”. It is fully cooperative, so players win or lose together. It also comes with an app, which is minimalistic but good for keeping track of timing as well as the phases of the game. During the game, the clue giver is going to use various cards to provide hints to the players about which card is the key. There will be about a dozen cards laid down on the table and one of them is the key. The only hints the clue giver can give are in the form of additional cards and how those cards relate to the key. They can lay down an additional card in the green clue area to indicate that this card has a strong connection to the key. Or they might lay a card in the red clue area to say this card has an opposite relation to the key. A third clue area is yellow, which means there is little or no relation to the key. For instance, if the key was a mouse eating cheese with an ominous looking cat in the background, the clue giver might place a card that shows a bear eating pancakes into the green area to indicate the relation between the two cards having animals eating food. But again, the clue giver cannot say anything, so the other players have to try and guess what the clue giver is trying to relay to them. Each round is timed and as the rounds progress players have to eliminate more and more cards until there is only one card remaining. If that card is the key, the players win!


There is a surprising amount of tension in the game and it is such a unique game that I can't see it leaving my collection any time soon.



Pan Am


Designer Prospero Hall

Publisher Funko Games

Players 2-4

Age Range 12+

Playing Time 60 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



Pan Am is by far the best game I received for Christmas. It's really not even close. I was so surprised by this one, as many of the reviews were favorable but not overwhelmingly so. This game is a perfect marriage of so many mechanisms I enjoy. Plus, I love the theme of early day airline companies fighting not to create a massive empire, but to be bought out by the giant – Pan Am. That concept alone had me loving this game from the beginning, but then add to that the fact that within the worker placement mechanism of this game there is bidding built in as well. Plus route building and buying stocks in Pan Am. Wow. I was blown away.


There is a lot of depth and strategy to this game and the theme is tied into all aspects of the game so well. I think the one thing I like the most is that there is no one path to victory. You can decide to focus on building routes that you know Pan Am will buy from you, giving you more cash to buy stocks. You can focus on the big, grandiose transcontinental routes. You can focus on building airports in strategic areas and branching our your routes from those. There is just so many ways to play and paths you can take. It would take a long time for me to explain all the facets of the game, so if what I've mentioned above sounds interesting, I encourage you to check out some online reviews of this game and consider purchasing it.


I own nearly 150 games and Pan Am, after just a few plays, is already in my Top 20 without question. I won't be surprised to find it in my Top 10 games by the end of the year. I like it that much!



PARKS


Designer Henry Audubon

Publisher Keymaster Games

Players 1-5

Age Range 10+

Playing Time 40-70 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



PARKS is one of those games that I have had on my buy list since I formally got into the hobby back at the beginning of 2020. The time had just never been right to buy it. So it was a no brainer to include it on my Christmas wish list and I am very glad to now own it.


Despite all the hype that I had built up about this game over the past 12 months, the first play lived up to my expectations and I think PARKS is going to be a game I really get a lot of enjoyment out of. What I like the most about PARKS is how relaxing the game is. I can't say this about many games I own. The art, theme, and aesthetics in PARKS really is so relaxing and enjoyable to play. I love the concept of hiking down a trail and being able to go as far as you want but not being able to turn back. I love the canteen cards, which give you unique abilities but must be filled with water each round. I love the campfire token that allows you to move onto a space with another player. Even down to the first player marker, which looks a lot like a merit badge I earned in Boy Scouts.


This game is such a wonderful production with amazing artwork. Every time a new park card flipped over, my family had to stop playing and spend several minutes just admiring the beauty of each card. This game is one of a kind and I am very happy to finally own it. I am looking forward to giving the solo mode a try very soon!



Pop-Tarts Game


Designer Prospero Hall

Publisher Funko Games

Players 2-6

Age Range 13+

Playing Time 15 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek




This game is very likely to become one of my favorite guilt pleasure games. This little card game form Funko has a theme that everyone should love: Pop-Tarts. In the game you are trying to either toast or freeze (I never know this was a thing) the right Pop-Tarts and collect them to score points. This is done by moving Pop-Tarts down a line of seven cards in one direction or another using action cards. You can simply collect the highest value cards or you can aim for various goal cards by collecting the right sets of Pop-Tarts to score even more points.


There is actually a surprising amount to keep track of in this game and our first few plays took quite some time to master the game. But now that we have, this game has become a favorite. It is very addicting and rewarding, and I would highly recommend it as a filler game with a unique theme (although it is certainly too involved for small children).






QE


Designer Gavin Birnbaum

Publisher BoardGameTables.com

Players 3-5

Age Range 8+

Playing Time 45 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



I am very sad to say that QE was the most disappointing game I acquired this Christmas. Not because I didn't like it – quite the opposite in fact. I loved the concept of being governments bailing out various companies and printing crazy amounts of money to do it. In QE you are able to bid as much money as you want on a company – 20 billion? No problem. 120 trillion? Sure. The only caveat in this game is that if you are the person who spent the most money in the game, you lose. At the end of the game you score points based on how many companies you bailed out from your home country, how many of the same types of industries, and you can also go for a diverse range of industries to score bonus points.


The reason this game was so disappointing is because it fell very flat with my family. At first, everyone seemed to be enjoying it but as the bids went higher and higher, so did their frustration with the game. They just couldn't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that they could bid as high as they wanted to. Actually, I don't think that they couldn't understand it, it was that they didn't like the concept. They wanted some sort of limitation on how much could be bid. Either way, I am very sad to say that I don't know if this great game will ever make it to my family table again. I don't fault the game though – I think it takes a certain group of people to fully appreciate this game. The types of people that get a kick out of pushing the limits and playfully bragging and ribbing each other about how much they are bidding.


So, if you have the right group of people I would recommend you try QE but do be aware that it is very possible this game could fall very flat.





Smartphone, Inc.


Designer Ivan Lashin

Publisher Cosmodrome Games

Players 1-5

Age Range 12+

Playing Time 60-90 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



Smartphone, Inc is a game I have been anticipating for as long as I have been in the hobby. It was the one I was the most excited to unwrap and get to the table. That is, until I opened the rule book. This game for some reason took a lot of time for me to grasp the concept and be comfortable enough with the game to explain the rules to other. At the end of the day it is not an overly complex game, but there is something about the rules that make it a tough learn and a tough teach. But once you are over that hurdle, if you enjoy strategy games and/or economic games, I think you will love Smartphone.


I (unlike the rest of my family) found the theme of being Smartphone companies very interesting and exciting. My family wasn't quite as intrigued initially (they thought it sounded boring) but even they admitted after playing that they enjoyed it. You should have no doubt though that this is an economic game. You will find yourself doing a lot of math and logical thinking to plan out your turn ahead of time. But I really enjoy the mechanics and the player interaction that this game creates. Every stage of each round is like it's own little mini game within the larger game. And I found the way that you plan out your moves using your cardboard pads to be quite interesting if not analysis paralysis-inducing!


I highly recommend Smartphone, Inc. and look forward to many more plays in the future!


Truffle Shuffle


Designer Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich

Publisher Alderac Entertainment Group

Players 2-4

Age Range 14+

Playing Time 15-30 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek




Truffle Shuffle is another small box card game that I heard about through the Dice Tower and Tom Vasel's reviews. As I've said, this Christmas I was in the market for some light, smaller box card games that play well at two players. This one certainly fits the bill.


In Truffle Shuffle you are trying to collect various colors of truffles with differen numerical values from the pool of cards in the middle of the table. The twist in this game is that the cards are stacked overlapping in a pryamid-like shape. On top of that, each row of cards alternates from face up to face down, so you have an element of hidden information as well. As play begins, players can only take a card from the table into their hand if it has been completely uncovered. This leads to a lot of strategic thinking, as you don't want to let another player have the card you have been waiting to become uncovered. As you are collecting these Truffles, you are also able to lay down a set of truffles each turn to score. The scoring in this game is basically the same a Yahtzee, with 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind, small straights, large straights, and straight flushes. There are several other wrinkles to this game I haven't mentioned, like the special ability cards that allow you to change the color or number of another card. But I'll leave the rest for you to discover on your own.


I really enjoyed Truffle Shuffle and it is one that will hit the table in our house quite often this year!


Wavelength


Designer Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, Wolfgang Warsch

Publisher Palm Court

Players 2-12

Age Range 14+

Playing Time 30-45 Minutes


Read more on BoardGameGeek



This party game has been talked about extensively online and has received a large amount of praise. I was very excited to play it with my family on Christmas night. And I am sad to say that it did not quite live up to my expectations. Beyond the unique dial component, this game really seems just like any other party game to me.


Players separate into teams and each person takes turns being the clue giver for their team. They flip over a card that has two extremes on it – for example one card might say “Very Easy → Very Hard”. This corresponds with the dial component I mentioned before. Prior to looking at the card, the clue giver will sping the dial so that it is in a completely random position on the spectrum. Then the clue giver will have to come up with a word or phrase to describe where on the spectrum the dial lies. So in our example, let's imagine the dial wound up being very far to the right on the spectrum. This would represent “very hard” using the card we drew. As a hint, then, we might say “trigonometry” in hopes that our team would realize that this is a very hard concept to learn. My team then guess where they think the dial is on the spectrum and they score points for how close they came to guessing correctly. The other team also has a chance to score points by guessing if the correct answer is higher or lower than the guess made.


Wavelength reminds me a lot of the Jackbox party game called “Guesspionage”. It is certainly a fun game and one that I am happy to own. But as I said it just didn't quite impress me as much as I thought it would. The dial component is very cool and the game itself is fun. It just did not blow me away quite as much as I thought it would. It is still a party game I would recommend you check out if this concept sounds fun to you and your gaming group.

Final Thoughts


And that's it, my Christmas 2020 board game haul. I hope you have enjoyed reading a bit more about these games and my experiences with them so far. I will keep you updated throughout the year on how often these games are making it to the table and how my opinions of them change. I have a feeling several of these games will be making an appearance on my Top games lists at the end of this year, but I guess we will just have to wait and see! Thanks again for checking out Instant Game Night. Have a great New Year!

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