Time keeps on flying by and believe it or not it’s that time of year again. A time for gathering with those we love to celebrate and, of course, play games. It’s GAMESMAS 2023, my nerds! Here is this year’s list of self-indulgent game offerings I am hoping to play before the ball drops. Here’s hoping you find something interesting that you can get to your holiday table in the near future. Cheers! 

1) Christmas Tree (Clevergreen Games, 2-4 Players) 

Let’s start right off with a solid Christmas-themed game. Here players will be drafting ornaments to add to their trees. Each round, scoring criteria will change and players will be trying to meet as many requirements as possible to score points. After three rounds your tree will be full of ornaments and it will look great on the table. It’s one of those games where you feel like you accomplished something even when you don’t win, and there are different rules variants to allow for more or less complexity as desired. This makes it a perfect family game.

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2) Holly Jolly (25th Century Games, 2-5 Players) 

In Holly Jolly, players will be taking cards from the middle of the table trying to score points based on their collection at the end of the game. The cards are arranged in the shape of a big Christmas Tree and as cards are removed more are added. Players must choose between tinsel and ornament cards at each turn, and there is a little math puzzle to determine which cards can be taken. The mechanics are clever and the art is vibrant and holiday themed. Its tiny box and simple rules make it a perfect game to take with you to holiday gatherings. A perfect Gamesmas selection.

3) The Rich and the Good (Ares Games, 2-5 Players) 

Nothing stokes the holiday fire better than giving to charity. Also, I assume being rich doesn’t hurt the mood either. In this simple but fun stock market game, players can be both! The twist in this game is twofold. First, players will share insider info with the players to their left and right only. This adds a little less randomness and a bit of a cat and mouse game to the “buy low, sell high” mantra of stock games. The second twist is the player who gave the least to charity over the course of the game is immediately eliminated even if they have done the best in the stock market. And since players only disclose their giving once during the game, there is even more cat and mouse involved. Easy rules and solid fun. Good times!

4) Botswana (Eagle Gryphon Games, 2-5 Players) 

I am a huge fan of designer Reiner Knizia and this is an older game that I just discovered. Play is simple. There are 5 types of animals and each suit has six cards ranging from 0-5. On their turn players will play a card and take any animal figure. As soon as one animal has all its cards played the round ends. Scores are calculated by multiplying how many of each animal you have times the number on the last card played to that animal’s stack. So if the top card on the zebra pile is the “3” and you have two zebras, you score six pints. Very easy but it also seems like a chance for bluffing and shenanigans. Who doesn’t love holiday shenanigans?

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5) Tiger & Dragon (Arclight/Oink Games, 2-5 Players)

My earliest memories are games like Rummikube and Scrabble. These hit the table at many family gatherings back in the day. Tiger & Dragon has the same look and feel through a modern gaming lens. Players will be leading and responding with numbered tiles, deciding when to hold back and when to engage. The goal is to be the first player to play all their tiles. Simple but engaging mechanics. Varying game scenarios make for added complexity and twists. This is one you might convince grandparents to play. Check it out. 

6) Risk Strike (Hasbro/Avalon Hill, 2-5 Players) 

I have had a few holiday gatherings devolve into bickering over a “friendly” game of Risk among family. Awkward for sure. Risk Strike boasts that you can have all that fun in 30 minutes or less. Do they deliver on this promise? Absolutely. If you are a fan of Risk, even nostalgically, you should definitely check this one out. It has all the best parts of the original classic without any of the bloat and boredom. It’s just more fun than the original. It’s also a perfect way to crush your racist uncle before hitting the desserts. You want Risk Strike on your Gamesmas wall. You need Risk Strike on your Gamesmas wall.

7) Hollywood 1947 (Facade Games, 1-9 Players)

My gaming groups have always enjoyed the city series from Facade Games. Each has some social deduction and probable backstabbing. The mechanics in these games feel more like strategy gaming as opposed to pure party games. We’ve accused witches in Salem, fought the Plague in Bristol, been pirates on Tortuga, and exchanged bullets in the wild, wild, west. Now, we get to go to Hollywood in 1947. You’re probably going to secretly be either a Communist or Patriot, trying to use your unique job (writer, actor, gaffer, etc) to get the movies made that advance your ideology. Aren’t you hooked already? I am, definitely.

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8) Defenders of The Realm: Battlefields (Eagle Gryphon Games, 2 Players)

I’ve seen this game on sale for years at the EGG store and haven’t pulled the trigger until now. This is strictly a two player competitive card game set in the fantasy universe of its parent game, Defenders of The Realm, which is a cooperative game that has been around for years and is well thought of by critics. So, even though there is not much press out there on this one, I had to take the low economic plunge. Gamesmas is a time of geeky hope, and I choose to believe this game will bring me tabletop joy (or at least satisfactory amusement). Believe…

9) Ready, Set, Bet (Alderac Entertainment, 2-9 Players)

This is a horse racing game where bets are placed in real time during each race. Bets are placed on a large game board where each space provides unique returns on players’ bets. Only one bet can be placed on each space so players will be trying to beat each other to the ideal bets as the likely race winners start to emerge. It is mayhem and fun and there is even an app that will run the races, so everyone can get involved in the betting. This is a unique betting game that is perfect for holiday gatherings hosting gamers and non-gamers alike. And they’re off! (and on the Gamesmas list).

10) Catan Dice Game (Catan Studio, 1-4 players)

My wife claims to dislike the classic game, Catan. I have tricked her into liking it without knowing, by choosing Catan games that have different mechanics and themes, for instance, Catan: Starfarers, which she enjoyed and then exhibited shock when she found out it was actually Catan. Enter Catan Dice, released in 2007. Nowadays roll and write games are commonplace in the tabletop world. But this one has to be one of the first ones in the modern era of gaming. I tried it out on a recommendation and I was surprised how well it flowed, somehow melding the worlds of board game classics Yahtzee and Catan into a compact game that is perfect for Catan lovers (or even those who like Catan but just won’t admit it).

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Alrighty… there you have it, the Gamesmas List (2023). Check out my channel to catch some of these and many other games in action. I hope that wherever you and yours gather this holiday season, games abound. Stay safe, stay nerdy, and have an awesome 2024.

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