5 Medium Weight Christmas Board Games (Saturday Review)

Continuing with my list of 5 board games for Christmas, this week I talk about medium weight games. These games are for those days over the holidays, when the weather is horrible outside and you want to be inside, all cozy and warm, maybe with a mug of hot chocolate and spend around an hour playing a board game with either your immediate family and/or with friends. The games on this list will take a little longer to teach and learn and playing time will be around the 1 hour mark, maybe a little longer. However, they’re not too difficult or complex to make your brain hurt. They’re at just the right level to keep you occupied before you all settle down in front of the TV to watch a film together.

5 Medium Weight Christmas Board Games (Saturday Review)

Splendor

Release Date: 2014Players: 2-4
Designer: Marc AndréLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Pascal QuidaultAge: 10+
Publisher: Space CowboysComplexity: 2.0 / 5

I want to start this list with Splendor by Marc André from Space Cowboys, because it’s probably the lightest of the games here. It’s a wonderful little card game that doesn’t actually take very long to explain, but it’ll take a little while to understand. Playing time is under an hour, which is great, because you can play it a couple of times, if you like or it could be the game that starts the games afternoon, if you have more time.

In the game, you collect gem tokens that are the currency in the game and allow you to buy cards, which basically offer you discounts for a certain type of gem on future purchases. So you might pay two rubies and a diamond to buy a card that gives you a one sapphire discount on your next purchase, meaning if a card requires two sapphires for example, you only need to have one sapphire gem token to pay for it. It sounds more complicated than it is and as soon as you have taken a few turns, it becomes clear what you’re trying to do.

More expensive cards not only give you the gem discount, but they also score you points. There is also a set collection element and when you have a specific combination of cards, you can claim a bonus token that also gives you points. The game end is triggered when a player reaches or goes above 15 points, at which point the round is finished, so that every player will have had the same number of turns in the game. That also means it is possible to overtake the player who reached the 15 points first, because you only win when you have the most points, not if you’re the first to reach 15 points.

Splendor is such a lovely little game and a bit of a brain puzzle that will keep you focussed for just under an hour or so, while also being so addictive that you will want to play it again and again and again.

Wingspan

Release Date: 2019Players: 1-5
Designer: Elizabeth HargraveLength:  45-90 minutes
Artist: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Beth SobelAge: 10+
Publisher: Stonemaier GamesComplexity: 2.5 / 5

If you haven’t realized it yet, I love Wingspan by Elizabeth Hargrave from Stonemaier Games. It is one of my all-time favourite games. It won the Tabletop Games Blog Top Table Award in 2019 and it has already had two wonderful expansions, so if you also end up loving this game, there is a lot of extra bits that you can add to keep this game fresh and exciting.

However, even without the expansions, Wingspan offers a lot of gameplay to keep you going for quite a while. It is a so-called engine-building game, because you buy cards and add them to one of three different rows in your tableau that make that row’s actions more powerful, while some of the cards themselves also provide extra actions. So the game starts quite sedately, but at the end, it really ramps up and you do feel like you’ve got an amazing engine running.

The game is all about birds, as you may have guessed from the title, and comes with a huge deck of cards, each one representing a different bird and each one illustrated beautifully by either Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo or Natalia Rojas. That in itself is amazing and provides a huge amount of variety and things to discover, meaning that every game will feel slightly different.

Additionally, all of the components in Wingspan are of great quality, from the thick player boards, to the thick card stock with linen finish, to the luxuries paper used for the rulebook, to the 3D cardboard dice tower and tray, to the wonderful plastic 3D eggs. The game just looks amazing on the table and is a joy to play.

There is a good balance of luck and strategy in Wingspan, which leads to every game being really quite close in points. You can also play it in two modes: very competitive or more friendly. Either way, it is a competitive game, but whether you win or lose, you tend to not really care. You’re more absorbed in getting the right birds into your tableau and building an efficient engine.

Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game

Release Date: 2021Players: 1-5
Designer: John Coveyou, Paul Salomon, Ian ZangLength: 45-90 minutes
Artist: Tomasz Bogusz, Amelia SalesAge: 12+
Publisher: Genius GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5

If you like Wingspan, then you’ll probably also like Genotype by John Coveyou, Paul Salomon and Ian Zang from Genius Games. The game is about growing sweetpea plants and checking them for their intrinsic characteristics, basically their genes. It goes back to Gregor Mendel‘s research into how plants seem to exhibit characteristics that we can see, but also have something internal that defines how these visible characteristics are passed onto the next generation. He was one of the first to research what we now know as chromosomes and genes.

Genotype is mostly an action-selection game, where you place your trowels, your workers, onto different action spaces, thereby blocking other players from going there, so that you can get money, spend time on researching your plants, getting more plants and other things. There is also a dice rolling element, which decides what traits you are able to identify, which means you’re not always guaranteed to find the chromosomes you were hoping to find. There is also a small tableau-building element, because you can hire people to help you with your work.

Ultimately though, Genotype is basically about fulfilling contracts, in the form of the different characteristics or traits that you want to identify in the plants that you grow. The more difficult contracts will have more traits for you to find, but they also give you more points.

In the game, you will never be able to do everything and you’re constantly wishing you had more trowels to do what you want to do. So you have to make tough decisions and really focus on what is actually a priority now and what can wait until later.

The components in Genotype Collector’s Edition are wonderful, as you will be able to see from my unboxing video. It’s a pleasure to play and even though it does feel tough and is not quite as satisfying as building your engine in Wingspan, it’s still very addictive, because you just want to play one more round or just one more game, so you can do it better next time.

Small Railroad Empires

Release Date: 2021Players: 1-4
Designer: Milan TasevskiLength: 30-60 minutes
Artist: Jose David Lanza Cebrian, Milan TasevskiAge: 12+
Publisher: Archona GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5

I would describe Small Railroad Empires by Milan Tasevski from Archona Games as Ticket to Ride meets pick-up-and-deliver. That description doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s definitely a train game and your task is to connect factories to cities and deliver goods to score points. To do so, you need to pay money to lay track and the more difficult the terrain, the more it costs, but the more rewards it can bring. You may have to take loans to pay for things, but if you’re the first to deliver to a city, you’ll be rewarded and score points at the same time.

(Photo courtesy of Archona Games)
(Photo courtesy of Archona Games)

The game comes with a modular board, so you can set it up in a number of different ways to give you a new challenge, if you happen to get bored with a particular map layout. There are also a couple of mini-expansions in the box that create even more variety and if you happen to be on your own, you can also play it solo.

 

I had the pleasure to play Small Railroad Empires with the designer online before its crowdfunding campaign and I loved it a lot even then. I’ve played it in physical form since with friends and it’s the sort of game that’s relatively easy to teach and learn, but the depth comes with the decisions you have to make and the competition you have with other players to reach certain cities before them or to be the first to fulfil awards, so that you get the most points.

It’s pretty quick to set up as well and will keep you thinking just enough, because even though turns are pretty simple, deciding where to lay track and which awards to go for isn’t always straightforward, making Small Railroad Empires the ideal game to play over the holidays with your family or friends.

Sleeping Gods

Release Date: 2021Players: 1-4 Players
Designer: Ryan LaukatLength: 60-1200 minutes
Artist: Ryan LaukatAge: 12+
Publisher: Red Raven GamesComplexity: 2.5 / 5

Don’t be put off by the length of this game. Sleeping Gods by Ryan Laukat from Red Raven Games can be played for as long as you like. It’s got a great save mechanism that allows you to stop after a player has finished their turn and set it all up again pretty quickly as well. So you can play for half an hour or six hours. In fact, once you get engrossed in the beautiful world that Sleeping Gods is set in, time will go by so quickly that you will hardly realize that the sun has set and it’s well past your bedtime.

It’s the only co-operative game in my list and it’s probably one of the few co-operative games I’ve played where you’re not constantly trying to put out fires – except, that you are in a way. Let me explain. In Sleeping Gods, you are a bunch of travellers who were together on the Manticore, a steamship, in the middle of the ocean when you, ship and all, were mysteriously transported into this other world, which you’re now trying to explore, in the hope that you will find your way back home.

Players take over the role of one or two different characters, depending on player count. There is also a shared character, the ship’s captain, who a player controls when it’s their turn. You’re travelling on a map that’s in a ringbound book, that you will recognize from Near and Far, if you have played that game. You start on a specific page and as you move around the world, you turn to a different page and put your ship there. Locations are marked on this map, which reference text sections in the storybook. Each location will have a brief introductory paragraph and then you have to make a choice and potentially pass a skill check. Depending on your choices and whether you pass the tests, you will then receive rewards or suffer penalties.

There are also keyword cards, which are basically the memory of the game. So when you visit certain locations, what you find there will change. For example, if there was a location where you could find food, if you decide to take the food, you will also get a keyword card, so when you go to the same location again, the storybook will check if you have the specific keyword and because you do, you will read a different section which tells you that there is no food left.

It’s really clever and as you inspect the map for clues or speak to people, you will be sent on adventures and eventually stumble on the so-called totems, which is what you’re trying to collect as many of as possible, so that eventually you will be able to get back home. You will also encounter monsters and fight battles, you can improve your characters’ skills and generally your team will develop throughout the game.

There is so much to discover that you will be able to play the game several times, if you’re not successful the first time. It’s unlikely that you will remember everything. However, a single game, played over several sessions, will take a good few dozen hours or so, but as I said at the beginning, you can save the game any time you like and continue play another time.

It’s a beautiful story-driven game that will be perfect to play over several days during the holidays.

So, this ends my list of 5 medium weight Christmas games. I wonder if any of these are of interest to you or if you’ve already decided on playing other games. Please share your plans for the holidays in the comments below. Maybe you’re planning on playing a game that might be of interest to me.

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Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for all the games in this review myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the games supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

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