Welcome to the official Bitewing Games 2023 Holiday Board Game Gift Guide! Few moments are better than gathering friends and family around the table for wholesome gaming — that’s why we started Bitewing Games as a way to create and share classy board games that bite. And there’s no better time for tabletop gaming than the holidays. As is tradition, we like to create and share a Board Game Gift Guide to kick off the holidays.
As always, our selection criteria for this guide include the following:
- The games have been tried, tested, and approved by us and/or trusted critics
- The games are generally available to purchase (links will be provided below to sites where you can purchase them—click the $)
- We won’t recommend anything from our past Holiday Gift Guides, but we still fully endorse those previous guides, so if you need even more recommendations then check out our 2020, 2021, and 2022 Guides.
For your information, we receive no financial compensation, sponsorship, or advertisement money for this guide or these recommendations except for 4 of the 20 games which Bitewing Games directly publishes — noted below. At the end of the day, these are simply 20 games we genuinely believe are great Holiday gifts. If you find value in our content, then we’d love to have you join our Bitewing Games newsletter! We use our newsletter to send regular updates regarding our latest content (like this gift guide) and publications (such as our 2023 releases featured below).
This guide is divided into six sections for your convenience (scroll at your leisure or click to jump straight to the section that interests you most):
- Gifts for the Casual Board Gamer
- Gifts for your Significant Other
- Stocking Stuffer Games (small & cheap!)
- Perfect Games for your Holiday Party
- Gifts for the Hobbyist Board Gamer
- Black Friday Deals
Gifts for the Casual Board Gamer
Wandering Towers | 1-6 Players | $45
Wandering Towers was an easy addition to this list. Honestly, this entire list was probably the easiest gift guide I’ve ever made. 2023 has seen a ton of great releases that are easy recommendations across various categories. Wandering Towers is great for casual game nights because it is both simple and hilarious.
Players are racing to fill their potions and land their wizards in the Raven’s Keep first. You fill a potion when you cover a wizard with a tower, and potions can be spent on special abilities that give you an edge in this wacky race. Each turn you’ll have a hand of three cards, and all you do is play two of them to move a wizard or move a tower clockwise around the circular path. But things get particularly hilarious as towers begin to stack up high and move around, and players forget exactly where their wizards have been trapped in these towers.
Thunder Road: Vendetta | 2-4 Players | $60
Speaking of wacky, funny racing games, Thunder Road: Vendetta is another great option, especially if you want an even meaner and more chaotic game than Wandering Towers. Thunder Road is basically Mad Max: The Board Game. Players are both racing along a deadly conveyer belt track and aiming to wipe each other’s vehicles off the face of the earth. It’s rare to see a turn go by without one player ramming their car into an opponent’s vehicle, or at least firing off a pot shot from behind. Where each player starts the game with 3 vehicles, it doesn’t feel so bad when one of them quickly goes up in flames or careens off a cliff. In fact, it’s mostly just funny. And once one player is completely eliminated from the race, the finish line finally appears and the game quickly concludes as one of the remaining players crosses.
It’s worth noting that a Maximum Chrome edition of this game has been the hottest item, as that version comes with all the expansion content plus even more upgrades. Sadly, this edition is out of print at the moment, but Restoration Games has another crowdfunding campaign planned for Q1 2024. Hardcore gamers might be better off waiting to back that reprint next year. Regardless, the expansions can be bought separately if needed, so the basic edition is a great start for any casual gamer.
Sunrise Lane | 2-4 Players | $35
Few designers cater to both casual gamers and hobbyist gamers as well as Reiner Knizia. That’s because he has a habit of making games with simple rules, surprising depth, and engaging interaction. And that’s why these next two recommendations are Knizia games!
Sunrise Lane won’t feel too unfamiliar to anyone who has played Ticket to Ride. At its core, you are taking quick/zippy turns drawing cards and playing cards to claim spots along various routes. Only here, you are building towers of your own buildings and earning points along the way for the plots that you cover. There’s a really nice stream of decisions to be had as you decide whether to wait and store up more cards or splurge your hand on a row of juicy lots. This is a game that I could easily introduce to my parents or my oldest niece and nephew and would go over well because it is such a smooth experience.
Zoo Vadis | 3-7 Players | $55
Zoo Vadis is the first game on this list published by yours truly. I was on the fence about whether this one should go into casual board gamer category or the hobbyist category, it’s honestly a great fit for either. But I opted for this category to highlight just how easy it is to play this game with anyone.
The animals of the zoo have gained human-like intelligence and sentience, and everyone plays as a unique species. The objective is become the zoo mascot by campaigning your animals up the zoo hierarchy into the star exhibit. In short, it’s a political negotiation game ripe with dealmaking, bribing, and voting. Yet turns are as simple as selecting one of four simple actions.
Zoo Vadis recently received strong acclaim from two of the biggest board game reviewers on the planet: Shut Up & Sit Down and The Dice Tower. So it has become harder to track down a copy as we race to restock with a second printing (coming in Q2 2024). But there are still a few options for tracking down a copy for the holidays:
- Miniature Market
- PAX Unplugged (we’ll have a few cases of both Deluxe and Standard editions available for sale — come visit our booth!)
Or if you’re patient, you can preorder a copy directly from us to be delivered in Q2 2024.
Gifts for your Significant Other
Sky Team | 2 Players | $30
The hottest new 2-player game is no doubt Sky Team. In this cooperative game, you and your partner find yourselves in the cockpit of a passenger airplane with the objective to safely land it. You’ll accomplish this by taking turns positioning your dice on the control panel to do actions like steer the plane, activate the landing gears, radio to air traffic control, and more. The challenge is that you aren’t allowed to communicate with your partner and you have no idea what dice options they’ve rolled behind their screen. I imagine it would be the same situation for a real pilot and copilot for the rest of the flight after one steals the other’s donut.
Sky Team is packed with various modules and increasingly harder levels which have kept my wife and I coming back for repeat plays. It’s not only a great 2-player game, but it could very well be one of the best releases of 2023.
Lacuna | 2 Players | $40
2-player abstract games are a dime a dozen, so it takes a really special one to stand out from the crowd. Lacuna is one such title thanks to the slick production and elegant rules that come in this tube box. Give each player a set of weighty metal pawns, sprinkle the flower tokens across the large circular mat (much like Parmesan on a pizza), and get to claiming those flowers!
All you do on your turn is position one of your pawns between two matching flowers and claim those flowers. But there is a clever subtlety to where you position your pawns because you can block your opponent out of similar lines. More importantly, you get to claim the remaining flower tokens that are closer to your pawns at the end of the game. I’ve never played a game that uses relative distances like Lacuna does, and so it turns out to be quite the refreshing and chill experience.
Sail | 2 Players | $19
There appears to be a sub tradition within this Holiday Board Game Gift Guide tradition where we always recommend at least one trick taking game. So here it is: Sail, baby!
Sail is a gorgeous little box full of juicy card play decisions. One of you leads with a card that displays one of three possible suits, and the other must follow suit. The combination of symbols on your two cards will trigger an effect such as sail forward, fire at the Kraken, and more. The goal is to reach the watery finish line before the Kraken sinks your ship, but that’ll take some smart cooperation and hand management. Yes indeed, this one is another limited communication cooperative game like Sky Team that provides a satisfying challenge.
My Island | 2-4 Players | $40
Reiner Knizia’s My City was one of our family favorites that my wife and I blitzed through back in 2020. My Island is the sequel to this spatial puzzle legacy game that has likewise been a joy so far through our first 13 of 24 total episodes. There are plenty of changes here from the first game. The hexagonal polyominoes (instead of square) and the many unique objectives and surprises that result from this fundamental shift are what keep this title distinct from its older sibling.
Players act simultaneous as a new card is revealed from the deck each turn — this card displays a specific tile that you must fit into your growing group of tiles the sprawl across your island. Across multiple episodes and chapters, you will face new surprises and challenges as you add stickers to your boards and compete for the most wins. If you and your significant other enjoy spatial puzzle challenges, then this one is absolutely worth seeking out and trying.
Stocking Stuffer Games (small & cheap!)
Trailblazers Travel Edition / Pocket Edition | 1-4 Players | $25 / $15
We here at Bitewing Games published Trailblazers to be compact in multiple ways: both in rules complexity and in portability. The Pocket and Travel Editions especially emphasize these features. Whether you get the cheap pocket edition or the handy travel edition, you’ll find plenty of game to explore.
The game is designed by Ryan Courtney, a creator who is famous for making thinky/brain-burny/crunchy games, but Trailblazers is intentionally his most approachable game by a long shot. Simply draft 2 trail cards from your hand and add them to your growing network of trails. The simultaneous play makes this a reliably fast game (30 minutes or less) at any player count. And as somebody who has nearly 100 plays under his belt, I can attest that this one has a shockingly high skill ceiling. Don’t believe me? Then try and take a crack at the dozens of addicting solo challenges. After enough plays, you’ll likely agree that this is one of the most robust yet simple spatial puzzles in existence.
Fiction | 2-8+ Players | $19
Remember the Wordle craze that took the COVID infected world by storm? Meet Wordle with a sprinkling of deception. One player acts as the Lie-brarian who chooses a secret word, and everyone else must try to guess that word as quickly as possible. Each guess reveals new information, doled out by the Lie-brarian, but each clue is laced with a small lie.
If this word guessing game featuring deduction and deception sounds like your jam, then it probably is!
Sea Salt & Paper | 2-4 Players | $15
What, you need more reason than that to go pick up the game? Fine. This set collection game has a bit of push your luck to it in that you are allowed to end the round after reaching a certain point threshold, or you can risk letting your opponents take one more turn and hope to keep your lead for an even bigger payout. Neat.
My City: Roll & Build | 1-6 Players | $20
Here resides one of the more interesting and addicting roll & writes that I’ve ever played. Admittedly, it does start out a little slow. But once you get past those first few episodes (and they aren’t long at all), things start to get rather juicy. Roll three dice, link two of them together to make a polyomino shape (the third die shows the building type), and draw that building onto your map. Rinse and repeat! This push-your-luck spatial puzzle with 12 evolving episodes proved to be an addicting experience that our household blitzed through in only a few weeks. And there are plenty of sheets in the box in case we decide to revisit the campaign.
Perfect Games for your Holiday Party
Hollywood 1947 | 1-9 Players | $25
Our friends over at Facade Games recently released their latest social deduction / light strategy hybrid game in their Dark Cities line: Hollywood 1947. This one features a very entertaining theme of working together as a studio to make Hollywood movies and seed them with patriotic or communist propaganda. With hidden loyalties, the patriots and communists are competing to come out on top. Players also have asymmetric abilities based on their roles (director, actor, writer, editor, etc.). This one is likely to be a hit at any game night party.
That’s Not a Hat | 3-8 Players | $11
Some games surprise you with how fun they are to play when on the surface they don’t appear to be much of a game at all.
That’s Not a Hat is a challenging and hilarious memory carousel with a theme that is perfect for the holidays: gift giving. Players each start out with a gift face up in front of them, but then they begin to take turns flipping their card face down and gifting it to their neighbor. “Here, have this cookie.” “Thank you! Here, have this beach ball.” “Thank you! Here have this teddy bear.” On and on it goes until you suddenly realized that you’ve lost track of the cookie and you don’t remember what object is hiding beneath the card that is currently in front of you. This memory challenge is mixed with some spicy bluffing where even if you lose track of the gifts, you simply have to convince your gift receiver that you are telling the truth (because they probably forgot too). As soon as somebody is doubtful, they can reject the gift and say “That’s not a ___.” And then the card is flipped face up and everyone laughs at whoever was wrong.
For us, this one has been a surprising hit at the table.
Gussy Gorillas | 3-10 Players | $19
Heyooo, it’s a game designed by yours truly! I set out to design a chaotic simultaneous trading game that works for a wide range of player counts. The twist here is that you don’t see what you are offering in your own hand, but you do see everyone else’s hands. So the fun arises from how people react to your offer, whether you decide to keep it or trade it, and how you convince others to trade with you. Every card can either be very good or very bad for your score, depending on context. As each round nears its end, you’ll desperately barter for a split card to rescue your doomed pairs, or you might swindle a fellow player out of their big 10 card by making them think it is undesirable and “reluctantly” trading with them. You can check out the Watch It Played video to see how it plays.
Challengers! 1-8 Players | $40
Did you ever play the game War growing up? You know, the one where you both flip over a card from your decks at the same time and see who won? Well Challengers is basically War, but much more fun (you carefully craft your deck between rounds), and you can play it in a round-robin style tournament with your friends or family. I’ll warn you that there are some folks out there who do not click with this game, but for most people it usually turns out to be a hoot. I would certainly be happy to play it any time.
Gifts for the Hobbyist Board Gamer
Ra | 2-5 Players | $50
Has your hobbyist gamer played the legendary push-your-luck auctioning game, Ra?
No? Well then this will be the easiest slam-dunk gift you ever give.
Yes? …Well do they own it yet? Haha.
Ra is one of the greatest board games ever designed, and this year saw the release of a definitive version of the game. Hundreds, even thousands, of auctioning games have come and gone since Ra was first born in 1999, yet none have surpassed it. Need I say more?
Ticket to Ride: Legacy | 2-5 Players | $120
Speaking of classic board games, Ticket to Ride has already taken the world by storm, and now it is poised to do it once more with an epic legacy version of the game. If you’re not familiar with the term, legacy games feature an evolving campaign of plays (in this case 12 episodes) where the outcome of one game impacts the setup of the next game. New envelopes or boxes are opened between plays, stickers are applied to components — forever changing them — and players are taken on a roller coaster of challenges and surprises. This one is already getting rave reviews, and it appears to be perfect for a regular group of players.
Trailblazers: Standard Edition | 1-8 Players | $49
The smaller editions of Trailblazers were already featured in the stocking stuffer section, but if your gift receiver is drawn to all of the goodies and all of the content then the Standard Edition of Trailblazers is a safer bet. It features enough components to play up to 8 players (still clocking in at 30 minutes thanks to the simultaneous play), yet it also comes loaded with tons of wooden tokens that are used in the 2 included expansions and 2 extra solo modes. This puzzly game packs a huge punch, which is why Shut Up & Sit Down declared Trailblazers to be one of the best new small box board games.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal | 1-6 Players | $75
One of the hottest racing games to hit the market in years is 2022’s Heat: Pedal to the Metal. This one is still hard to track down, as it seems to sell out every time it comes back in stock. That’s because this big beautiful box is loaded with race tracks, modules, and special cards that combine into a tense deck management thriller. It ranked very high among our Top 15 Games of 2022 list.
Black Friday Deals
With Black Friday right around the corner, you might be holding off your holiday board game spending until the biggest deals of the year crop up. Nothing like the thrill of the hunt. Well allow me to make your hunt a little bit easier and give you a heads up about one particular deal:
Our partner, Allplay, prides themselves on providing a comprehensive array of board games and accessories (tables, mats, bags, and more). They are the publisher of Fiction and Sail (listed above), and they manage our own Bitewing Games webstore. And for most regions, shipping is dirt cheap!
Starting Black Friday and continuing through Cyber Monday, you can look forward to a massive “Stocking Stuffer Sale” that will feature many of their small box games and ours (including Sail, Fiction, Trailblazers Pocket Edition, Gussy Gorillas, and more). You can subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when the sale goes live.