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Board Game Buyer’s Guide: Great $20 (Or Less) Games For Gifting
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Board Game Buyer’s Guide: Great $20 (Or Less) Games For Gifting

This year, the Geek & Sundry editorial contributors have come together and collaborated to put together several curated lists of games. Whether you’re looking to pick one up for yourself or as a gift, these titles are some of the best the tabletop industry has to offer and we heartily recommend them.

These days there’s no shortage of great board games out there. Huge boxes filled with colorful pieces, beautiful miniatures, table-spanning boards…and they all seem to cost a fortune! So what about those of us who are gaming on a budget? Well even though big, expensive titles are all the rage these days, there are still some excellent games that fit into small boxes and won’t empty your bank account. If you’re looking for some great gifts this holiday season, but need to keep it under $20 each, these five games have got you covered.

Zany Penguins

Zany Penguins

Zany Penguins marries a fairly simple drafting and set collecting game with a unique scoring system. Each round you’ll draw two cards depicting colorful numbered penguins in one of five different locations. You’ll pass one to each player on your right and left, they’ll do the same, and then each player plays one card. There are a few card abilities for the low scoring cards, but so far, it seems like every other set collection game, right?

Well, the twist comes at the end where none of the cards you’ve played earn you any points. Instead, if you’ve played the most of one of the five locations, you can score each matching card that is still in your hand, meaning you have to balance which high point cards you play versus which ones you hold onto. This little wrinkle takes a modest game and rises it up to something truly special.

MSRP: $14.99 – Asmodee/Bombyx

Star Realms

star realms
It’s easy to misjudge Star Realms when you first look at it. A small box of cards with an odd picture of a spaceship and the humble words “Deckbuilding Game” written on the front. But White Wizard Games made two excellent decisions when designing Star Realms. First, whereas most deckbuilders maintain a healthy distance between the decisions of each player, Star Realms puts its two players in a head-to-head battle where almost every card played will directly affect your opponent.

Second, they took every component that might have been a piece of plastic, wood, or cardboard and made it a card. Your ships? Cards. Your hit points? Cards. The damage, healing, and money you earn? It’s all on the cards, baby! Everything is cards, which keeps the box small and the price low. On top of all that, the game provides layers of strategy to sink your teeth into and enough expansions, which are only a few bucks each, to keep you coming back to it for a long time.

MSRP: $14.99 – White Wizard Games

Sushi Go

sushi go

Sushi Go might be the best introduction to drafting games there is. The premise is simple: draw a hand of cards, hold on to one and give the rest to the next player. When everyone has done this, reveal the card you kept and repeat until you are out of cards. Each card depicts a different kind of sushi which can earn you points in several different ways. Do this for three rounds and tally up the score.

What makes Sushi Go great is how perfectly balanced it is. The cards that earn you the most points are also the riskiest to go for. The safest choices are the least valuable, but will always get you something. There’s no guaranteed winning strategy as the cards you draw will be different each round. And even if you make a big mistake and lose it all, the game is quick enough that as soon as you’re done, you’ll want to give it another shot. Plus, just look at how cute that artwork is!

MSRP: $12.99 – Gamewright

Happy Salmon

happy salmon

Happy Salmon is definitely the most frantic game on this list, and probably one of the most high-energy games you’ll find. Like most of these titles, the gameplay is simple but the execution is what brings it to life. Each player will have a deck of twelve cards, with three copies of four types. You will simultaneously draw a card and announce what you have, hoping another player has drawn the same card. If you have a match, you’ll perform an action determined by the card: a high five, a fist bump, a happy salmon (a kind of hand/arm slap that resembles fish tails), or you’ll switch places. After performing the action, you throw the card down and draw the next one. The first player to discard all of their cards wins the round, and keep in mind this is all happening at the same time, so you’ll be furiously searching for a partner to fish-tail slap while the people around you yell “high-five!” and “switcheroo!” If you’re looking for a game that will liven up the evening, Happy Salmon will help you do just that.

MSRP: $14.99 – North Star Games

OK Play

ok play

Unlike the other games on this list, OK Play doesn’t have a single card. It also might be one of the simplest games in the world to teach. Each turn you’ll take a tile and place it next to another player’s tile, trying to get five tiles in a row, either orthogonally or diagonally. You’ll most likely run out of tiles before this happens, so at that point you start re-positioning your tiles one at a time. At this point, the mental geometry of what you need to do starts to take shape. You need to block other players, sometimes working together with your opponents to do so, while simultaneously setting up your own victories down the line. Like I said, very easy to learn, but it leaves plenty of room for clever strategy and sneaky, out-of-nowhere victories.

MSRP: $14.99 – Big Potato

If you know of any great games under $20, why not save a fellow Geek some money and let us know about it in the comments!

Stay tuned in for more curated lists, including the best games of 2017 and the most hotly anticipated games of 2018. If you want to stay on top of the best and newest of tabletop gaming, be sure to also tune in our weekly show Game the Game hosted by Becca Scott on Twitch and Alpha.


Image Credits: Shea Parker, Ruel Gaviola, Teri Litorco

As well as writing for Geek and Sundry, Shea teaches board games on his YouTube channel RTFM. You can also talk to/follow/stalk him on Twitter @Sheasayswords


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