Good Gift Games for 2009

Matthew Baldwin‘s annual list of recommended board games is up at The Morning News. It’s always worth a look: after I linked to last year’s a friend picked up two games, both of which have caused much merriment over the past twelve months.

Last Night on EarthLast Night on Earth has players taking on opposing roles of innocent victims / marauding zombies. The good guys run around the board, trying to hide/find weapons/kill zombies and generally survive the night, while the zombies relentlessly seek brains in never-ending-waves of oh for god’s sake why won’t you stay dead. That’s the basic game – the advanced options allow zombies to munch on players, who then zombify and turn on their teammates, as well as providing other scenarios: save four of the Townsfolk and keep them alive till morning; find explosives and blow up the zombie spawning pits; find the gas, find the keys and escape in the truck before sundown; defend the Manor House until morning. It’s surprisingly exciting, especially if you, say, get a little too involved with your zombie-killing exploits and act out each turn Shaun of the Dead style. Thankfully I don’t know anyone who does that. It’s particularly excellent when all seems hopeless and everything comes down to your friend Jim rolling two double-sixes in a row, and he does. Suck it, zombies.

PandemicSaid Jim also picked up Pandemic, in which players work together to fight the worldwide spread of various diseases. Sounds odd; is actually thrilling. Bloody hard, though. A particularly inspired game mechanic sees infected city cards shuffled and placed back on top of the pack, meaning every turn is laced with potential catastrophe as an already teetering-on-the-edge continent threatens to go nuclear. It’s a game of fierce planning, rushed damage limitation and long-term strategies that often have to be reworked in moments of panic. One day we sacrificed Europe to save the Middle East. No gratitude. We now have the expansion pack, which apparently adds a ‘virulent strain’ and the option for someone to play a bio-terrorist. Fun fun fun.

All of which is a long way of saying that Mr Baldwin’s list is a proven success. This year I really like the sound of Dixit.