Great games for holiday giving

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Running out of gift ideas?

With so much media attention focused on the flash of video games, I like to take the pre-holiday opportunity to remind you that there are great new games out there that don't require a remote control or a screen. Each takes less than an hour to play.

Some have crossed into the mainstream through Barnes & Noble and other chain stores, but your best bet is to call your local specialty game store such as Game Preserve or Gamerz.

Warning: These games tend to have side effects. Specifically, you may find yourself actually spending more face-to-face time with your friends and family.

Ranking (Rio Grande Games). Ignore the juvenile packaging and the 13+ age recommendation. Ranking  is a terrific, easy-to-learn game for the whole family similar to Apples to Apples but with an added twist. Each player secretly picks from his or her tiles the one that best fits that rounds category. Two random tiles are mixed into the bunch, which are shuffled, revealed, and lined up. Players take turns picking two tiles and deciding which fits better into the category and which doesn't. The first is moved up a rank, the second moved down. The higher your tile goes, the more points you score. Easy enough? Well, it gets tricky because players also try to guess whose tile belongs to who. And correct guesses mean less points. Thus, you try to get your tile high in the ranking without having anyone know that it's yours. Each game takes about a half an hour. Details here.

Ticket to Ride andTicket to Ride Asia(Days of Wonder). One of the smartest things game designers are doing these days is finding ways to expand their hits. I'm not talking about endless variations on Monopoly, where the rules are pretty much the same except for name changes. I'm talking about expansions that allows for new and different play. This can be challenging for those new to these games, since these expansions aren't playable without the basic game. For example, Ticket to Ride is an outstanding game in which players try to complete train routes around the U.S. while blocking the routes of others. The success of the game has spawned a wide range of sequels, spin-offs, and expansions, the latest of which, Ticket to Ride Asia features a double-sided board, making it two expansions in one. One of these has special rules for team play, which can get particularly fun or vicious depending on the temperaments of your game pals. Details on Ticket to Ride here and Ticket to Ride Asia here .

 Dominion and Dominion: Hinterlands (Rio Grande Games). At first, Dominion may look like a collector card game a la Magic; The Gathering. But it’s actually a quick-to-pick-up, self-contained game in which players try to acquire as much land as possible. There are decisions to be made at every turn and every decision you make impacts future moves. Too much land too early gets in the way. Wait too long and you may be too late to acquire enough to win. One of the many factors that add a “let’s play one more,” addictive element to Dominion is that the basic set and its numerous expansions each include more types of cards than are used in a single game. The ten options you have in your first game could be very different than the ten you use in the next. Each game takes about a half hour and each expansion set, including the recent Dominion: Hinterlands, adds its own flavor to the game. Expansion cards card be mixed in to the basic set for even more variations. Details here.

And then there’s the word game Dabble, the strategy game Got ‘Em!, and more that I wrote about in my August Best of GenCon column. Find it here.

And tune in to Fox 59’s morning news on Thursday, Dec. 22, when I’ll be talking games during my regular A&E segment.

So do you have a favorite recent game or old favorite to recommend? Chime in below.


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