Holiday Gift Guide: Beginning Gamer Edition

Most of us have those friends who are just starting to get into gaming, or at least attend game nights and have fun despite not really knowing what they’re doing. A good board game is the perfect gift for them, a gateway to more game nights. It’s a nice way to start their own collection of games.

For beginning gamers, you want a game that’s a bit more complicated than something you might play with your 10 year old, but not something that’s going to drag on forever, like Arkham Horror or Betrayal at House on the Hill.

We’ve already covered Catan under our Holiday Gift Guide: Family Games post, so you’re not going to also see it in this list, though it’s certainly a good game for newbies, too.


I have a special place in my heart for this Spaghetti Western card game because it was one of the first tabletop games I played with any regularity. Bang! is really easy to pick up: players are either the Sheriff, the deputy, the renegade, or outlaws. The goal depends on your character: outlaws must take out the sheriff (cue the “I shot the Sheriff” jokes), the sheriff and the deputy must take out the outlaws and the renegade, and renegade wants to be the last person standing. It’s made more complicated by the fact that only the Sheriff has to identify himself (or herself). You shoot at each other, drink beers to heal, ride a horse and pick up items that’ll help you survive (or take everyone else out).

Bang is also a nice gift because you can have up to 7 players, so if you open it at a Christmas party, you’ve got instant entertainment. Plus, there are expansions and even a dice-based version, so you’ve got a few options for follow-up gifts.

Players: 4-7

Play time: 30 minutes



Carcassonne is another really easy “gateway” game that I like. Players take turns laying down tiles to create the board: You can build cities, or cloisters, or roads, or fields, and lay your Meeple down to claim what you build to earn points. Everyone has a bit of a different strategy: some prefer to claim feels, while others prefer to build cities. The game ends when you run out of tiles, at which point you tally everything up.

One word of caution: Carcassonne isn’t inherently cutthroat like, say, Munchkin, but I’ve seen it get ugly. You can’t outright steal what someone else builds, but you can share it or overpower them. That’s how in one round, a city I built became tied to what a friend built, and both of us were later edged out by two other players.

Players: 2-5

Play time: 45 minutes

7 Wonders

7 Wonders is a pretty simple card game, inspired by ancient history. The game is set across three stages, or “ages.” In each stage, every player selects a card to play from their hand and then passes the hand to the next player, until 5 cards have been played. At that point, players 1 of the 2 remaining cards to play, and discard the other.

7 Wonders is simple to learn and it goes quickly. Players can use different strategies to collect victory points, based on military strength, science, trade, and other factors. It gets interesting because you need to pay attention to not just your own cards, but also what other players are doing. You don’t want to accidentally pass the player next to you the card they need to beat you in a military campaign when you’re focused on trade.

Players: 2-7

Play time: 30 minutes


Pandemic is a cooperative game where players face off not against each other, but against diseases that are ravaging the world. Players are scientists who must stop the spread of four diseases as they travel around the world, treat infected populations, and research the cures. Players draw cards that determine where they travel to and what actions they can take. They also draw cards that determine where the infections occur and how much they spread. Strategy is key to the game, as is the ability to work together. Having a cure for the disease doesn’t stop the spread of a disease until it has been eradicated from the city, and too much of an infection in one city can cause it to spread to others, making things more complicated.

Players: 2-4

Play time: 45 minutes

Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue

Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue are deck-building card games. Technically, Intrigue is an expansion, but it’s playable as a standalone or with other expansions (which aren’t playable on their own). The premise in both is identical: Use the cards in your hand to buy more cards, complete actions, and ultimately acquire victory points.

The trick to the game is developing a strategy: some focus on accumulating more wealth while others focus on a particular type of card. What’s interesting is that you only play with 10 types of cards at a time, but the game includes many more than that, so there’s always a new combination. While you’re mostly focused on your own deck, you can put other players at a disadvantage with certain cards by stealing cards from them or forcing them to discard cards.

Personally, I prefer Intrigue to the original game because I feel there are more ways to mess with other players and the cards have more interesting actions. As with games like Catan, there are a ton of Dominion expansions so you’ve got plenty of gift ideas for the future, too.

Players: 2-6 (when you combine Dominion and Intrigue expansion; otherwise, 2-4)

Play time: 30 minutes


What are your thoughts on the best games to give as gifts? Tell us about it!

Image Source: DvgiochiAsmodeeRio Grande Games

Melissa Johnson Writer
Melissa Johnson
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Melissa is an independent writer and editor, as well as a board game lover. When she's not creating or perfecting web content, she's usually playing games with her friends or experimenting in the kitchen.

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