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the 17 best board games for holiday family fun – TechCrunch

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Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

Ah, holiday board gaming. A roaring fire. A glass of nog. And a raging debate over whether the blue guy was next to the red square or vice versa.

Buying a gift for a board game fan? Just need something new to bring along to the get together? In this roundup we highlight some of what we’ve been playing lately — from the easy to the immensely complex — and give you and your family fodder for your next bout of holiday fun. Some new, some old, all great.

 

Machi Koro

This super-cute card game involves building a city using special buildings and attractions. Will your city have a power station, a noodle bar and a playground? Or will you focus on a TV station, a bakery and city hall? Think of it as a whimsical Sim City in physical form.

 

King of Tokyo

Who do you want to be today? A giant lizard? A mech? An alien invader? With King of Tokyo you can take over a Japanese metropolis with your giant monster and, with the right moves, take out other players with your spiky tail or teeth. A great game for middle-schoolers, it offers some of the fun of card gaming with board game play.

 

Codenames

Codenames is a wildly different experience with each new group of players. You lay out a grid of cards, each with a single word on it. You pair off two-versus-two, with one player being the clue giver, the other being the guesser. The clue giver is trying to get their guesser to pick as many of their team’s cards as they can each turn, but there’s a catch: the clue giver can only say one word per turn… and there are sudden-death cards on the board. You’re looking for single words that can connect multiple cards without misleading the guesser into tapping any of the other team’s cards or, worse yet, the sudden-death killer card. Lead the guesser astray, and your team’s done for. There are all sorts of variations of Codenames at this point — including a picture-heavy Disney remix for when the littles want to join in.

Anomia

You pull a card. It has a seemingly random symbol on it, along with a category — like “Shoe brand,” or “Occupation,” or “Pop Star.” Look at the top cards of the other players at the table; does your symbol match anyone else’s symbol? If so, the race is on. The first one who can name something, anything that fits the category wins that round. It sounds simple, but it’ll leave your brain exhausted and your body sore from laughter.

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Bohnanza

In this German card game, you’re dealt a hand of assorted types of beans (some more rare than others) that you must play in the order they’re dealt. You have a limited number of fields in which to plant your beans, which you can then harvest for money. The trick of the game is that as new cards/beans are introduced, they must be planted or harvested by someone at the table for play to resume, so a big part of the game is negotiating bean trades with other players to make the most of your own hand. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins. If you enjoy haggling and negotiating (and goofy cartoon beans) this game is for you.

Waldschattenspiel

I’ve talked about this game before on TC, but this version, in the original German, is one of the coolest versions. The gameplay is simple: you turn off the lights in the room and hide little elves behind tall trees. Then one player moves her candle through the forest, trying to catch the elves at play. Once all the elves are caught — or all the elves hide in one spot — you win. The best part? Fire!

Viticulture

Given that most games are played while drinking a bottle or two of wine, Viticulture is the drinking person’s board game. You and your family run a small winery in Tuscany and you have to grow your business by picking grapes, making wine and getting visitors. Another building game with a great premise.

 

Secret Hitler

Secret Hitler is a game about the rise of fascism. While it’s not a light-hearted game, it does teach us about the fragility of political systems and what it takes to go from a peaceable state to a fascist one overnight. Influenced by Werewolf/Mafia style games, one player is Secret Hitler and another player is a secret Nazi. Together, without telling the other players, they must work together to convert the government to fascism. It’s well worth a look if you like thinking games.

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Spaceteam

Spaceteam is a cooperative game — you win, or lose, together. But just because it’s cooperative doesn’t mean it’s a calm, friendly hang. Oh, there will be yelling.

Spaceteam has you working together to repair your failing spacecraft. Everyone at the table has a set of goals they need to accomplish… but everyone else at the table has their own goals, too. And everyone seemingly has the wrong tools. Gather all the tools you need from other players, and that goal is complete… but everyone else needs their tools too, and with the timer counting down, you’re going to have to all go simultaneously if you’re going to survive. It’s frantic and ridiculous and OH MY GOD SOMEONE PASS ME THE CENTRIFUGAL DISPOSAL, I’VE ASKED 15 TIMES! Oh, nevermind, I have it right here.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne is one of my absolute favorite games. This city-building game lets little ones take part in the fun and, because it is so visually arresting, it can engross you for hours. This massive box includes almost all the expansions. I cannot recommend this game more highly.

 

 

Twilight Struggle

This massive game lets you play the USSR vs. the USA in a struggle for world domination. Designed to simulate the Cold War — I know, exciting! — it’s actually a truly engrossing title and well worth a look.

Scythe

Scythe is a sprawling game that uses cards and miniatures to describe a world of alternate reality. As a farmer in this broken world you must rebuild your armies, reclaim lost lands and start up the great gears of progress. It’s a long game — about 115 minutes — but it has gotten rave reviews.

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Gnomes at Night

Gnomes at Night is a cooperative kids game with a twist. One player sees a maze while other player cannot. The players work together to move through the maze to the treasure, encouraging communications and interaction that online games lack.

 

 

Risk Legacy

Risk Legacy offers all the complexity of Risk with even more complexity! In each game the board and pieces themselves change, allowing you to create long stretches of gameplay that promise repeat bouts. While old-fashioned Risk is a still a classic, this amazing game is a great expansion to that military world.

Last Night On Earth

Last Night on Earth is a board game with multiple playthrough scenarios. Players get to choose if they play as humans or zombies. If you’re on the human team, you get to pick a hero card before the game starts. You then move around the board to solve the scenario — for instance, you can be defending a manor, escaping a location and more. Zombies will get in the way and you’ll have to find the best weapon to get rid of them.

 

Gloomhaven 

If your friends and family take board gaming serious, consider Gloomhaven. It’s a good bit more intense (and, at $140+, more expensive) than anything listed above, but it’s one of the most popular games of the year for a reason. A ready-to-play dungeon crawler in a box, it’s got thousands of cards, dozens of playable classes and nearly 100 playable scenarios. You’ll want to lock in a group of friends who can meet up regularly to play this one before diving in — but if you can do that, you’re in for something special.

Hero Realms

Hero Realms is like a trading card game (think Magic: The Gathering) but also quite different. If you hate buying card packs to build the best deck ever, Hero Realms is for you — everything is already in the box. Each player starts with just a handful of cards and slowly builds a deck by acquiring cards from the central pile. After that, it’s a matter of combining the effects of multiple cards to attack your opponent and destroy their heroes.

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New Star Wars 1313 footage reveals the (canceled) Boba Fett game we always wanted

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Enlarge / Nice splash of colors and reflection effects in this newly unearthed footage of Boba Fett as the star of canceled game Star Wars 1313.

A new YouTube video making the rounds reveals that a long-canceled Star Wars game would have been the first time that bounty hunter and fan favorite Boba Fett starred in his own game.

Long before Fett scaled the streaming mountain of Disney+, the game development teams at LucasArts began work on an action video game about bounty hunters and the planet Coruscant. As Jason Schreier reported in his games-industry book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, that project, dubbed Star Wars 1313, wildly morphed over a four-year span. 1313 was started in 2009 but was canceled after LucasArts shut down in 2013—a casualty of Disney’s acquisition of all things Lucasfilm and Star Wars.

While we’ve seen teases of Star Wars 1313 before—especially during its splashy debut at E3 2012—public footage thus far has been limited to the game’s brand-new bounty hunter heroes. This week’s video is the first to show what Boba Fett looked like as 1313‘s playable hero, a development shift mandated by George Lucas months before the E3 2012 reveal. Coincidentally, Lucas also demanded that Fett not appear in that public 2012 reveal.

Fett is finally seen taking Uncharted steps

The new video comes from The Vault, a YouTube channel that focuses almost exclusively on details and leaks surrounding the canceled Star Wars Battlefront III project. The channel’s first-ever video about Star Wars 1313 culls primarily from the portfolio of James Zachary, who directed 1313‘s animation team and led its motion-capture department.

Since Zachary’s Boba Fett videos are marked “private” and don’t have timestamps, we can’t be certain how long they’ve been hiding in plain sight on Zachary’s portfolio site. This footage shows 1313 at the point in which its development had shifted squarely into “Star Wars does Uncharted” territory, as opposed to an earlier state that reportedly borrowed from Gears of War.

Yes, every NPC looks identical—that's what pre-pre-alpha tends to look like. But as far as an atmospheric slice of an unfinished game, Boba Fett's stroll through a bar looks and sounds full of life. It cuts off before we see whether he faceplants into a Sarlaac pit, however.
Enlarge / Yes, every NPC looks identical—that’s what pre-pre-alpha tends to look like. But as far as an atmospheric slice of an unfinished game, Boba Fett’s stroll through a bar looks and sounds full of life. It cuts off before we see whether he faceplants into a Sarlaac pit, however.

Fett is framed in a three-quarters, third-person camera perspective, and The Vault video includes two discrete sequences: an atmospheric walk through a seedy bar, where he must contend with disagreeable patrons bumping into him, and an action-filled chase sequence complete with dramatic jumps, cliffside hangs, and downhill slides. While the video’s first half has a few clearly unfinished assets, the second half is all “gray boxes” and other rudimentary content.

Boba Fett, seen here scaling and climbing in an unfinished segment of canceled game <em>Star Wars 1313</em>.
Enlarge / Boba Fett, seen here scaling and climbing in an unfinished segment of canceled game Star Wars 1313.

Zachary describes the chase sequence as something “used to sell the ‘environmental interaction’ animation pillar” of Star Wars 1313. The Boba Fett we see may very well be a reskin of the game’s original brand-new bounty hunter protagonist, as the chase doesn’t include any of Fett’s signature jetpack moves—which, as Schreier reported, had evolved and become functional during development before the project was canceled. Instead, the chase looks like a Nathan Drake sequence with a Coruscant background, what with all the floating vehicles zipping across the horizon.

Boba Fett, seen casually sliding past a WALL or two (in clear pre-pre-alpha footage of <em>Star Wars 1313</em>).
Enlarge / Boba Fett, seen casually sliding past a WALL or two (in clear pre-pre-alpha footage of Star Wars 1313).

Coincidentally, Star Wars 1313 began life as a “connected universe” project. That means it would join the same gritty universe that George Lucas had been putting together for a planned, adult-focused Star Wars TV series dubbed Underworld. The game project continued moving forward even as its associated TV series descended into development hell before vanishing entirely.

With The Mandalorian, the Star Wars powers-that-be have carried on what Underworld began, at least on the TV front. And the success of The Mandalorian and the Book of Boba Fett TV series means we shouldn’t be surprised if one of the mysterious, recently announced Star Wars game projects from EA and Respawn follows a Fett-like bounty hunter.

Star Wars 1313 Boba Fett footage.

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Valve confirms Steam Deck shipment, review dates: By the end of February

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Enlarge / Starting on February 28, Steam Deck will finally leave Valve’s hands and (possibly) land in yours.

Aurich Lawson | DC

After delaying Steam Deck’s launch to a vague “February 2022” window, Valve has returned to keep its promise. Today, the company confirmed the date its portable, gaming-centric PC will begin shipping to some preorder customers.

Valve listed two key dates in its Wednesday announcement. The first date: Steam Deck will begin shipping February 28. This applies to customers who got their $5 preorder payments in at the earliest possible time, i.e., the first few minutes after the clock struck 1 pm EST on July 16.

Customers have a chance of being part of this shipment window if their order has an official Steam shipping estimate of “Q1 2022,” which they can check by loading the Deck store page while logged into Steam.

“Launching” on February 25 (but not really)

But there’s another crucial date for Steam Deck preorder customers to keep in mind: February 25. That’s when Valve will send emails to an unconfirmed number of preorder customers requesting that they pay the rest of the console’s asking price. That figure ranges from $399 for the 64GB storage model to $649 for the largest 512GB storage model.

Valve’s announcement clarifies that these email alerts—which essentially ask preorder customers to pay the rest of their tab—will land at 1 pm EST on that Friday afternoon. The alerts, says Valve, will be sent out in the order that successful preorders were made. Customers who receive the alerts have exactly 72 hours to pay, and if they miss the window, their reserved console will move down the list to the next slew of preorders.

The announcement also mentions that Valve will operate a “weekly cadence” of Deck preorder payment requests. This suggests that the full gamut of “Q1 2022” preorders will be broken up between February 25 and the end of March. In other words, if you didn’t lodge your Deck preorder within the first 45 seconds of the floodgates opening on July 16, you might have to wait a week or four.

Valve’s post doesn’t clarify whether quicker preorder payments will change the order in which these systems are shipped. But based on the language used in the announcement, it sounds like users won’t need to hover over their inboxes on that Friday to be part of the first shipping wave on February 28. Just, you know, maybe don’t pick that weekend to unplug from the Internet.

One way to check the Deck

What’s more, preorder customers will get a reason to wait a few hours before pulling the “rest of the Deck tab” trigger. Valve has confirmed that Deck systems are being mailed to members of the press “shortly,” and the systems have a review embargo of February 25.

This review date will follow Valve’s tease of “preview coverage and impressions before that” date. If Ars’ experience reviewing the Valve Index virtual reality system is any indication, fans might expect to see a specific system feature broken out into a preview article, much like how I posted about “living with Valve Index as a work monitor for a week” before the product’s formal June 2019 launch.

Related: the comments section of this article would be a great place to request specific tests, benchmarks, use cases, touchpad scrutiny, cloud-sync confirmation, emulation front-ends, OS installations, game compatibility, and other things that Ars Technica might apply to a Steam Deck review, should Ars indeed be among the members of the press invited to Deck’s upcoming review period. (As the first reporter to confirm Steam Deck’s existence, I’ve already been dreaming up coverage plans in the case of such a review opportunity.)

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a breath of fresh air for a stale franchise

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Enlarge / Pokémon Legends: Arceus is as close as we’ve ever gotten to an open-world Pokémon game.

Nintendo

Last year’s by-the-numbers Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remakes did even less than most Pokémon games to spruce up and modernize the series’ decades-old formula. That’s understandable for a remake of a 2006 Nintendo DS game, but the games were still disappointing follow-ups to the more adventurous Sword and Shield.

The good news is that if you’ve been waiting for Game Freak to really shake up Pokémon‘s gameplay without totally burning it to the ground and starting from scratch, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the game you’ve been waiting for. Part Pokémon and part Breath of the WildLegends takes the free-roaming “Wild Area” concept from Sword and Shield and updates the series’ catching and battling mechanics to match.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect fusion of those disparate elements. Its mission-based structure gets pretty fetch quest-y, it leans heavily on an over-familiar roster of existing Pokémon, and the aging Switch hardware sometimes struggles to make it look good, especially when docked. But despite those problems, the whole package works together surprisingly well, and it makes the Pokémon feel fresher than it has in quite a while.

Ancient history

<em>Legends</em> uses a pre-modern aesthetic for the Hisui region, loosely resembling Japan in the early 20th century.
Enlarge / Legends uses a pre-modern aesthetic for the Hisui region, loosely resembling Japan in the early 20th century.

Nintendo

Legends is set up as a distant prequel to Diamond and Pearl that takes place in the Hisui region, which will someday become the modern Sinnoh region. The decision to set Legends not just in the past but way in the past gives it a distinct flavor from main-series Pokémon games. You aren’t just putting together a Pokédex—you’re assembling the first Pokédex. Item shops exist, but you’ll need to craft the vast majority of Pokéballs and other items you use with found materials. And there are few cities, no gyms, and no Pokémon League, which lets the series experiment with new modes of character progression.

Hisui is split up into five different biomes—you can’t walk from one end of Hisui to the other as you can in BotW‘s Hyrule, but each of the five areas has distinct topography that keeps things from getting too samey as you progress. Each biome is inhabited by a rampaging Noble Pokémon who you must calm and befriend, which replaces gyms and badges as the main way the game marks your progress. There are also plenty of side quests to keep you distracted if you don’t want to rush right to the end.

Filling out your Pokédex helps you rank up, which gets you access to better items, additional side quests, and the later regions of the game.
Enlarge / Filling out your Pokédex helps you rank up, which gets you access to better items, additional side quests, and the later regions of the game.

Nintendo

Your character, a member of Galaxy Team, also has a rank within the organization. You rank up by filling out your Pokédex, and you won’t be allowed into the game’s later biomes if your rank isn’t high enough (your rank also affects the kinds of items you’ll be able to craft, among other things). In the main series, all you need to do to fill out a Pokédex is see and catch a single Pokémon of each species. But in Legends, filling out each entry is done by accomplishing a series of sub-tasks, involving everything from catching multiple Pokémon of a single species to seeing Pokémon use specific moves in battle.

Important items like Potions and Pokéballs can be bought pre-made, but you'll be making the vast majority of them yourself using found materials.
Enlarge / Important items like Potions and Pokéballs can be bought pre-made, but you’ll be making the vast majority of them yourself using found materials.

Nintendo

Catching and battling Pokémon in Legends is refreshingly fast and satisfying compared to the usual formula. There are no more random battles and no swirly time-consuming transitions between exploring and battling. All Pokémon are fully visible and walking around—if you want to catch one, the best way to do so is to sneak up on it and toss a Pokéball.

Some wild Pokémon will scamper away if they notice you getting near. Others will get mad and attack you directly. It’s possible to get totally knocked out by a wild Pokémon’s attacks, which will send you back to the nearest base camp with fewer items and a bruised ego. But you can defend yourself by tossing out one of your Pokémon, triggering an essentially traditional turn-based Pokémon battle.

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