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The best board games for the holidays that aren’t Monopoly

Board game close up featured image

There’s a board game addict out there that’s already practicing their “thank you” for Marvel-themed Monopoly and Star Wars Guess Who. While these gifts might suit some, to the modern board gamer there are just too many games with deeper mechanics and interesting twists. Games like Monopoly and Battleship, while they certainly are some of the first games we think of, usually aren’t what a board gamer is after. In other words, generally speaking, they’re not the best board games (according to the average of today’s board gamers).

Instead, consider buying the following games that were released relatively recently, cover multiple complexity levels, and are worth seeing if your board gamer friend will like.

Spots — A fun, casual romp

A player placing a dog in the game "Spots".

If you want to breathe new life into push-your-luck and dice games, you’ll want to try Spots. In it, players compete to fill in the missing spots of dogs they collect throughout the game. And, of course, there is nothing better than dice to fill in a dalmatian’s spots with. Each turn, players select a move (called a “trick” here) and places matching dice on their dogs. By being too greedy, however, a player can end up with more dice than they can use — or unlucky wrong numbers — and bust, losing all of their progress. More patient players can secure completed dogs on a turn and prudent players can spend accumulated treats to reroll awkward dice.

To think of this game as a Yahtzee 2.0 is not completely wrong, but it does have considerably more depth than traditional dice games. When you use a trick, it isn’t available to your opponents for awhile, so constant reevaluation of the board and risk-reward analysis is rewarded. At the same time, tricks are modular (the game includes quite a few of them) and some are considerably more simple than others, making this a game that is open to players of multiple skill levels, ages, and preferences.

Earth — Wingspan players will love it

The Earth board game and its components in use.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Earth is a complex game set in a complex setting, the planet. Each player takes on the role of an island, slowly but surely building up its abiotic and biotic factors alike. From named island to surprisingly beautiful fungi, with Latin names included, you’ll end up learning facts about the real Earth as you play. Despite this educational look, however, the game is difficult and those under the age of 10 are much more likely to stare at the beautiful cards, searching for their favorite mammal, rather than play. This is the heavy-hitter you’ve been looking for.

The comparisons to Wingspan are going to come out at this point, they are inevitable. While the games are similar in theme and style, they belong side-by-side on your friend or family member’s gaming shelf. Where Wingspan players collect eggs and food to build things and score, Earth players collect plant matter, soil, and decayed (discarded) cards. While Wingspan has three highly-controlled biomes to control each turn’s moves, with set spaces, Earth players’ turns are divided up into actions that can be added onto way more than five turns. From someone that has played both, Wingspan definitely has a tighter feel. However, Earth gives more creative expression in strategy, has more opportunities for engine-building, and presents more opportunities for interaction at the expense of some extra RNG. There is ample room for both games at your table.

Plus, right now, the game is on sale for just $40. That’s $10 down from its usual price of $50, making it one of the hottest board game deals of the winter.

Sea Salt & Paper — Hidden levels of clever

A typical hand in Sea Salt & Paper.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Technically a card game, Sea Salt & Paper is a sleeper hit of a card game that has elements of set collection with a little bit of Rummy thrown in. The game revolves around collecting penguins, sailors, shell, and other sea-themed goodies to collect points and accumulate actions. The legendary shark and swimmer combo will let you take an unplayed card from an opponent’s hand, for example. Once you’ve assembled seven points worth of stuff, you can keep going, stop the round, or risk it for big extra points by giving your opponent(s) an extra turn to outscore you. Depth hidden beneath the waves comes in various factors in the game, such as where to discard your cards, different numbers of cards in the game’s asymmetrical suits.

While Sea Salt & Paper plays up to four players, it really shines as a two player game. While it is hard to compare it to anything else, there is an undeniable gin rummy feel to the back and forth of a two player game. This one is really a sleeper hit, surprisingly under-shopped on Amazon. Currently sitting at just under $15, this makes the perfect stocking stuffer.

More board game gifts worth buying

While the above represent some of the best games of 2023, that doesn’t mean they are the only board game gifts worth giving.

If you want some more casual fun, try these games:

  • — It’s like an autobattler in board game format.
  • — This game is surprisingly deep, unsurprisingly cute.
  • — A delightfully social deduction, wordplay, and guessing game.
  • — Yes, it’s a turn-based racing game.

For more complex fun, these are your go-to games:

  • — Nature-themed set collection.
  • — One of the more complex of the hyper-popular nature sim games.
  • — Finally, a card drafting game that is 100% about the drafting.

And, hey, what’s really wrong with some Monopoly (and other classics) if that’s what you like?

  • — Like checkers, but vertical!
  • — We want Fortnite!
  • — Podracing down to zero cards in your hand.

This article is managed and created separately from the Digital Trends Editorial team.

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John Alexander
John Alexander is a former ESL teacher, current writer and internet addict, and lacks the wisdom to know what the future…
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