I am currently packing for a holiday. We haven’t been on a holiday as a family like this since the birth of our little one. As I pack for our trip I realised I was packing more than a few card games. This is for a couple of good reasons. The people I will be with understand card games because that’s what gaming is to them. They are a bit older and do not understand the whole “board game thing”, but a card game is something they understand. Secondly, it has saved me a heap of room in my luggage. That said I do enjoy a good card game. Perhaps it is my background playing CCG’s. Actually, it might have a lot to do with that. Regardless, it seems like a good idea that I should recommend some favourites in case you find yourself looking for suitable options for card games to introduce to friends. The best part is that most of these games are rather cheap and offer a lot of replay value for their low cost.

12 Days

James Ernest, Mike Selinker

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Two amazing designers that brought you such games as Kill Doctor Lucky, Tak, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game now bring you a trick-taking card game based on a Christmas Carol. Yes, it’s true, not every game these two designers produce are epic adventure board games. It is a good display of their versatility and commitment to gaming fun. Yet this simple game is easy to learn and plays in about 15-20 minutes. It has one of the simplest trick taking mechanic where everybody simply reveals a card from their hand and the lowest number wins. But it adds in a few additional mechanics such as mandatory gifting cards to others, Santa Claus and Mrs Claus cards that trump but give the points to others, and twists to the scoring that adds a bit more thought to the game without making it overly complex. A lot of fun that integrates the Christmas theme well.

Loot

Reiner Knizia

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One of the worlds best game designers brings you a fun little pirate adventure that utilises one of my favourite mechanics, area control. It also plays easily up to eight people which is always a good thing. You can only do one action on your turn which means it won't be long before you get another turn. Yet there is not a lot of downtime as you are always watching the table to see what people put out. If they place a merchant ship on the table you might want to place a pirate to attack and try to steal the treasure, or you might have to fend off pirates from attacking your ships. There is a lot of player interaction and each decision you make holds a lot of value. It’s so clever it just reminds me why Knizia is such a great designer.

Babel

Hagen Dogathen, Use Rosenberg

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Before being known for his epic-sized games of Le Havre and Agricola, or medium sized games like Cottage Garden and Patchwork, Rosenberg was known for his card games. Bohnanza won him international appeal, but you may not be aware of his co-creation of Babel. Babel is a two-player competitive game and is the heaviest game on this brief list. It easily blows out the play time of the others games on this list by taking between 45-60 minutes. But if you are looking for a meatier game this could be for you. You and your opponent will be competing to build temples. You will use various nations from the ancient Near East to accomplish your goals. Each nation has a different power that will contribute to building your pyramid or hinder your opponent from building their pyramid. There is a lot of interaction with loads of opportunities for clever play.

Fairy Tale

Satoshi Nakamura

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This game experienced a deal of popularity among some gaming groups when it was released in 2004, but I see very little of it today. This is a shame because I still think it is one of the more interesting implementations of the drafting mechanic. While it is a simple “take a card” as you pass cards around the circle, your tableau of collected sets is constantly interacting with other people. When you draft a card and play it it will usually have some type of effect that will impact either your tableau or other people’s. I might flip cards of a certain colour, or negate the effect of a played card, or unflip cards. This all means that I am not only worried about building the best set collection to score well, but wondering how best to outplay my opponent and either get around their cards or trying to hinder them from getting the set they want. Because of this interaction, I'm constantly engaged in looking at the whole picture in front of me and am just as interested in what my opponents drafts as much as what I draft. No parallel play here, this is completely interactive.

Romans Go Home!

Eric B. Vogel

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With a name like this it would be hard to believe Vogel isn’t a Monty Python fan. Even if he isn’t Romans Go Home is a fun game that has a lot of character. You play as Caledonian clans trying to capture the most prized Roman forts. This is a programming game where everyone has symmetrical decks that they will use to try to capture each fort. There is a trick-taking element where essentially the highest value on a card wins, but there is so much more to it. Each card has a power that will interact with the other player's cards or even the row of cards you have programmed. Not every fort is one you will want either. Some forts offer negative points and winning them can set you back. Yet there is even the alternate win condition of capturing a set of specific forts with negative scores. Capture the set and win the game, miss out on one and each fort subtracts points from your score. There is a bit of thinking that can go into setting up your program of cards, but like any good programming game chaos will ensue. If you enjoy a challenge with a lot of crazy programming chaos you might have fun with this.

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive or meant to be anything more than offering a few fun cheap and easy games you may not have thought about. These would make great cheap gift ideas, or even small treats for yourself this holiday season. I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas.