Just in time for the Holidays, we answer the question: Is bigger better?
The Holidays are right around the corner, and you know what that means… Getting tons of stuff. And Peace on Earth or something. But enough of that, let’s get back to all the presents. Today we’ll take a look at our favorite board game gift boxes.
These days, every game seems to come with some sort of expansion pack or add-on. So much so, that a cynical person could conclude that these companies are just trying to wring every last dollar out of our wallets. I say quit complaining and give these fine people all your money.
Usually these expansions add new elements to the game or increase the number of players in the game. One game on the list increases the max number of players to an ungodly 75! I first thought that there would be a plethora of games that would include all their expansions into one encompassing set. But surprisingly, many companies seem content to keep the base game and the extras separate. For more profit, I assume. I’m looking at you Catan, Dixit, and Ticket to Ride.
So, without further ado, let’s count down the games that aren’t afraid to put all their stuff into one giant box, because yes, bigger is always better. But first…
Cards Against Humanity
Okay, to be honest, this is really more of a Caveat Emptor than a dishonorable mention, but this is CAH, so screw ‘em. Now, we love CAH when the kids and the in-laws aren’t around, but like all games of this type, it can suffer from Card Repetition Syndrome. “Aw c’mon! I always get the “chunks of dead hitchhikers” and “Holocaust” cards.” The solution: Buy more cards! But which ones to get? Here is the “Buyer Beware” moment.
First, there are Expansion Packs # 1-6 for $26 each, then there are the Red, Blue, and Green Boxes for $20 each, and finally there’s the huge, Bigger, Blacker Box for only $15. What gives? Okay, the Bigger, Blacker Box is just a giant EMPTY box to store all your cards in one place and not a box set. Packs 1-6 are way overpriced. Plus, the Red Box is a collection of Packs 1-3 while the Blue Box is Packs 4-6, all for ¼ the cost. The Green box would be Packs 7-9 if those existed, which they don’t. So, to prove just how horrible (and cheap) you are, buy the Red, Blue or Green Box.
10. The All-in-1 Game Center
It is inevitable that this be on the list. At some point in time, everyone on the planet will have bought, sold, stolen, given, or received one of these “gifts”. And just as inevitably, it will never be used. Ever. I have been given at least 5 of these things and, I swear, I have never played Backgammon. Or Chinese Checkers. Parcheesi? Nobody plays Parcheesi.
But since nobody listens to me and you’re going to buy one of these anyway, you have a decision to make. Do you go with the nice-looking, solid-particleboard, wood-like 15-in-1 cabinet for $40? Or the cardboard box labeled 100 Games for $14? 14 bucks? Are you insane! That’s only 14 cents a game! How do that make any money? “Hey boss, we’re losing money every time we sell one of these things. How can we make any money with this?” “Volume, my boy, volume.”
9. Dominion Big Box
The granddaddy of all deck-building games got even grander with the creation of The Big Box which includes the base game and its first expansion, Intrigue. “Oh great, more cards for my vampiric son to obsess over. Thanks a lot!”, said no parent ever. But if you are into this sort of game, this is a great way to start your collection. Over 1000 cards for just $50. Plus, the game is expanded to include up to 6 players. As if your sunlight deprived child even has five other friends.
8. Alhambra Big Box
We loved playing Alhambra but we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy it until I saw this bad boy. It includes the base game plus all 5 expansions. The base game is great. Apparently, we love Medieval Construction games, as evidenced by three of the entries on this list. And Alhambra is one of the best.
You are tasked with building an entire city, complete with markets, houses, palaces and gardens. The market phase of the game is unique in that all of the various craftsmen come from all over Europe, speak different languages and, more importantly, demand different forms of currency. Then during the construction phase, as you build your labyrinthine city, it is easy to become trapped in your own maze. The game and its expansions are great and the only reason it did not place higher is because it is the most expensive box set on the list, at around $80.
7. Love Letter Premium Edition
Everybody in our gaming group loves Love Letter. There is one dissenting voice and we considered exiling her, but since that one is my wife, and if she left, we’d all starve, so for the greater good, we’ve allowed her to stay. But I digress, we love Love Letter, except that it can only be played with four players. The Premium edition adds 10 new courtly character, such as bishops, counts, constables, jesters, and even an assassin, all with new player actions and now the game can a have up to 8 suitors to vie for the affections of dear Princess Annette.
But for the Love Letter fans who don’t want all the extra rules and pampering, there is the:
AEG Big Game Night 2016
It includes the original Love Letter plus 3 other games: Say Adios to the Villains, Epic Eights, & Regality and Religions. Plus, there’s two great storage boxes for all your small form and card games. Either is a great deal at about $20.
6. Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe
My oldest son absolutely loves One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It is easily our favorite deception game. Especially since we can’t stand most of the others, Nottingham. One of the best elements of Werewolf is the ability to combine other expansion sets, like Daybreak, to add even more players and cause more chaos. The largest group we’ve managed is 12.
Well, Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe has turned this chaos into an art form. For just $20, you can have up to 75 friends and their pitchforks turn your game night into an unruly terrified mob; just what your neighbors always wanted. Over 40 unique roles and lots of variants will turn your next game night into a party that never ends into someone dies! (figuratively.)
5. Kingdom Builder Big Box
Kingdom Builder is my personal favorite territory claiming game. I love the theme, the art, the maps, the meeples. But what I love most is the variety. From game to game there is changing terrain, changing victory condition, changing experiences. The game is never the same twice. What’s the only thing that a game that has everything need? The answer: More. More of everything!
The Kingdom Builder Big Box delivers just that. Four full expansions; Nomads, Crossroads, Capitol, and Caves, to make Kingdom Builder the best game in the world. (I have no idea if this claim is accurate.) But I do know that with a price around $60, then the Kingdom Builder Big Box is the least expensive, most expansive, expansion exposition experience I’ve ever explored.
4. Exploding Kittens Party Pack
Both my boys and all their friends love to play this strangely sweet and sadistic last-feline-standing elimination card game. The only problem is that there aren’t enough cards to let all of them send those conniving crafty cats back to hell at the same time. Thank God for the Party Pack that allows up to 8 players to become demolition experts and demon-cat exterminators for only $20. Dog lovers of the world rejoice! As an added bonus, when you open the box, lively mariachi music plays, because any game that promotes the death of those terrible tabbies should be a festive celebration.
3. Sushi Go Party
Sushi Go is a cute, fun, light strategy game with a cute theme. Sushi Go Party manages to keep everything that is awesome about the game and makes it even better. With all the new menu items and the mix and match style of play, you get at least 8 new variants of play that can change the strategy, complexity, and the playthrough of the game. All of which makes the game more fun. In addition, the new menu board and the component organizer make the game easier and faster to play, which also improves the fun. Way too much fun for only $20. When you consider that $20 won’t even get you two dragon rolls in real life, then Sushi Go Party is also the best value in sushi. Just don’t eat it.
2. Apples to Apples Party in a Box
Easily the most well-known game on the list and an undisputed classic. This game should be in everyone’s game night rotation. If for some reason you don’t already own this incredible party game of crazy combinations, then go buy it right now. Go. Now. We’ll wait.
Hold on. Before you go, make sure you buy the Apples to Apples Party in a Box, it’s the best version of the game. Like Cards Against Humanity (which owes its very existence to Apples to Apples, and yet isn’t worthy to lick Apples’ shoes) Apples to Apples can suffer from CRS (see above) and is improved by having as many cards as possible. Don’t be fooled by all the small, peckish version. Find the biggest box you can, like the one above or even the one in a wooden crate, for about $20 and be ready for bushels of fun.
1. Carcassone Big Box 2017
Like Kingdom Builder, we love this domino-style, tile-laying, territory-claiming game. But this game is just more popular with more people which put its ranking up a little higher. Plus, this is the game that gave birth to Verne the Meeple, who travels with us on our vacations (check out our Instagram account @gamenightblogger for more). Each time we play, we love creating a new map for the Land of Carcassone. And claiming each new little area as our own with our meeples is so satisfying.
But what put this game over the top is the amount of stuff that comes with this box set. There are 11 expansions included in the set. That gives you over 150 terrain tiles and 7 different styles of minis. The scope and the variety of this game is simply huge. You will never run out of variants and game modes playing this set. Separately, each expansion cost between 10 to 20 dollars each which adds up to about $200 retail. Since the Big Box only costs $65, this is easily the best saving in the entire list. My only concern is: what if they come out with a Carcassone Big Box 2020?
We hope that this list helps your find something special for that hardcore gamer in your life, which if you’re reading this list is probably you, so feel free to send this list to Santa with your name attached.
As always, Happy Holidays and Game On!
And here’s hoping that 2020 is even better for you and yours.