Brian's Top Ten Winter Board Games

Hey guys!  Winter is upon us, and as the cold sets in, now’s a great time to bolster your board game collection for those chilly nights ahead, so put the jug on and let’s explore my top Top Ten Winter Board Games. 

 

#10 Gloom

Do you sometimes feel that life is a little too upbeat?  Do you take comfort in your own suffering, knowing that for every hardship you endure, you’ll be more richly rewarded in the sweet beyond?  No?  You probably shouldn’t play Gloom then.  This oddly, fun little card game challenges you to make your collection of Addams Family-like misfits as miserable as possible by stacking on further and further misfortune by way of transparent cards.

It's like playing with ghosts, only these exist.

 

Each card has either a negative effect that will aid your score by making the character more unhappy, or a positive effect that increases a character’s happiness and wellbeing, ideally used against rivals, so be on the lookout for unexpected happenings that may cause your family to crack a smile, we wouldn’t want that! The player who ends up with the most negative score for their family wins... I guess?

 

#9 Scrawl

Speaking of cracking a smile, what do you see here?

If you said a Jedi, then you’re absolutely right!

Nailed it! Unlike this movie.

 

If you said anything else, then you’re probably going to enjoy Scawl. This 4-8 player party game is rife with innuendo and poorly drawn phallic symbology.  Scrawl can be hilarious fun, and the resulting laughter will generate enough energy to heat your neighbourhood. Players begin with a dodgy phrase and an individual dry erase board, they then interpret their phrase by drawing it as best they can. Resulting drawings are passed to their neighbour who does the same based on the picture they’ve received and so on.  While there are a number of drawing telephone style games out there, Scrawl has a distinctly adult edge to it, so be warned before breaking it out around the table with granny, she may give you a run for your money; granny’s seen some things!  It makes for a great warm up game prior to a more involved game night or as one of several party games over the course of an evening. 

 

#8 ICECOOL 1 & 2

ICECOOL is a dexterity game set in an ice school attended by penguins, where I guess they learn valuable life skills, like not flying. One player assumes the role of the hall monitor called the catcher, while the remaining players are the runners. Runners attempt to flick their colour penguin through a series of interconnected icy rooms in an attempt to avoid the catcher who is trying to catch them in the act of dodging penguin class, meanwhile the runners try to maneuver through doors with fish above them in order to gather points to win the game. ICECOOL makes for great family fun for both kids and adults alike. 

No running in the halls!  Oh, wait, you can't.

 

The characters are cute and colourful, the gameplay is fast, easy and unique and everything packs away tidily in the (ice) box afterwards.  ICECOOL has a follow up game called, you guessed it, ICECOOL2, which functions as a standalone game or as an expansion you can add to the original game. ICECOOL2 brings to the table new power cards that add a fresh take on the game. If nothing else, your fingers will feel warm after all that flicking, even if a little numb and sore.

 

#7 One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Few things can bring a group together quite like a shared emotional experience.  To that end, why not warm yourself in the crucible of social deduction. One Night Ultimate Werewolf will test your loyalties and your relationships.  Your group plays the occupants of an isolated village which has been beset by the horrors of a werewolf, the trouble is, the werewolf could be one of you. Roles are assigned to the villagers as they try to determine the werewolf’s identity before morning dawns.  Tense, exhilarating and sure to get the blood pumping, this is just the thing for a warm evening in front of the fire. If you’re a werewolf, working to bluff your friends and convince them you’re not the subject of their suspicions can be a real blast and requires you to pay close attention to other players’ roles to ensure your story makes sense. On the flip side, trying to suss out who the werewolf is, if indeed it ends up being anyone, can be a riotous good time. 

To be honest, the werewolf appears to be the least of your problems.

Taking place over a single in-game night results in fast, intense accusations, then before you know it, you’re all laughing off the last round, remunerating on your pitfalls and successes while absently shuffling the cards for the next game. One Night Ultimate Werewolf will have you saying “just one more round” more often than you care to admit.  Not only is it simple to learn, you have the added benefit of a fully voice acted app to guide you through the experience.  As with most social deduction games, the majority of the fun comes from trying to read everyone.  How well do you know your friends? And can you spot when they’re being dishonest? In short, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a great group activity for when you’re stuck indoors, and, despite the premise of the game, results in some memorable times.

 

#6 Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons is the most beloved and widely played role playing game in the world. This granddaddy of all RPGs has helped my group pass many a night.  So, as the cold encroaches ever closer, why not take that opportunity to embark on an epic quest with your friends? Explore dangers untold and hardships unnumbered all from the warm embrace of your dining table. Perhaps you’ll run a winter campaign, or a few one shot adventures to wile away the time?

Look at these little tykes, not a care in the world.

 

If your group is widespread, then fire up your favourite group chat and play the game over the internet, via group chats such as Discord or Zoom. The D&D Beyond website offers a raft of freely available apps to accommodate your needs, from character sheets and dice rollers to encounter builders and, if you’re a newcomer, you can even download the basic rules for free to get you started. D&D lends itself perfectly to socialising even when in solitude and best of all, stories can be crafted to suit the mood, from high adventure to low brow comedy.  The ability to create virtually anything opens entirely new worlds to explore and play in. Roll for initiative!

 

#5 The Arkham Horror Files (Game Series)

Winter is my favourite time of year to partake in horror-based gaming.  It’s dark and gloomy and that guy across the road just won’t stop staring out his window at you…. So what better way to utilise that impending sense of dread than Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files series? There are hundreds of games out there that provide their own take on the Cthulhu mythos, but the Arkham Horror Files encapsulate some of the most evocative on the market today, with titles including, Arkham Horror The Card Game, Eldritch Horror and Mansions of Madness, the games all share a common theme and cast of investigators, providing a sense of familiarity that can provide a strange comfort in this unsettling universe of Lovecraftian horror.

 This is fine.

 

The Arkham Horror Files games are frequently supported with a massive range of expansions, so you’ll seldom be at a loss for further adventures. The artwork, the characters, the sense that something darker and more powerful than you could ever comprehend looms just out of sight, lurking in the recesses of an unlit room, or perhaps in your fridge, waiting to slake its own thirst when hunger finally takes you, these are the things nightmares are made of.

Sweet dreams are made of these, who am I to disagree?

 

#4 Patchwork

You know what I associate with cold winter evenings?  That's right, Die Hard! But also, quilts!  Patchwork is a two player game centred around the cosy, comfortable theme of creating your own patchwork quilt. 

Why not both?

 

Perfect for winter date nights with a hot cup of cocoa, players take turns moving around a track buying patches to add to their quilt, choosing from a selection of Tetris style polyomino pieces. Buttons are used for both currency and score keeping and points depend upon a number of factors, such as the pattern, colours and completeness of your quilt. 

Yippee ki yay!

 

Patchwork is a quiet, comfortable, even paced game that takes between 15-30 minutes to play, so it can make a great warm up or filler game for a cosy game night, and afterwards you can watch Die Hard.

 

#3 Scythe

Scythe is a personal favourite of mine and as such I never miss the opportunity to recommend it. In this case though I feel it’s particularly fitting, given the harsh environment that is the world of Scythe.  Set in an alternative early 1900’s war torn Eastern Europe, giant mechs crunch their way through misty forests as air ships bristling with artillery cannons glide silently overhead, below, simple farmers work the frostbitten fields, and in the distance, standing upon a tussock dappled rise, a faction leader overlooks the frozen tundra stretching to the horizon, reflecting on the struggles to come.

The struggle is real.

 

The cool greys and muddy browns of the game board lend themselves perfectly to a cold winter night of gaming.  While the harsh wind blows and heavy rain pelts against the windows, your gaming group can set yourselves to the task of conquering your opponents, expanding your holdings, warming yourselves over the smouldering hulk of a downed mech, or taking comfort in the warm fur of your leader’s animal companion… that sounded a lot less creepy in my head, but you get the idea. On its own, Scythe plays with 1 to 5 players or up to 7 if you’re using the Invaders from Afar expansion, so it’s a great option for mid to large gaming groups. The game employs multiple mechanisms for randomness from set up to end game objectives, so there’s enough replay-ability here to see you through the winter months.

 

#2 Dead of Winter/The Long Night

Speaking of dying hard, even the thickest of patchwork quilts won’t be enough to protect you from the Dead of Winter.  This zombie themed survival game and it’s follow up The Long Night are described as meta-cooperative, meaning in order for a player to achieve victory, they must contribute not only to the success of the group’s objective but also a secret personal objective which may not alway be in the best interests of the colony.  Dead of Winter features a wide range of colourful characters, many of whom fulfil popular tropes found in the zombie genre. Such as, ‘heroic military guy’, and ‘dog’! 

What's that boy?  A zombie fell down the well?  Good.

 

Where this game really shines is in the social deduction that can result in one of the players being exiled from the colony if they are suspected of betrayal and voted out by the other players. Fulfilling your secret objective can often cast suspicion upon you even if you’re still working in the best interests of the colony. So put on your zombie slaying mittens, pack your flask of hot chocolate and head out into the snow blown darkness in search of supplies. Or, you know, just stay home and play Dead of Winter instead.

 

#1 Calico

“But enough with all these, cold, harsh, depressing winter-themed games”, I hear you say, “I want to play something warm, soft and cosy, maybe with a sleeping cat snuggling on a warm blanket pictured on the cover”. I got you!

Again... nailed it.

 

Calico is a deceptively complex tile laying game with elements of set collection while at the same time, trying to please a family of very particular cats.  In addition to the colour and pattern goals, you have the added pressure of ensuring these entitled kitties have the perfect place to lay their furry little heads. 

I mean, its no Die Hard quilt, but whatever...

Each cat is drawn to specific patterns which are randomly assigned each at the start of each game, combined with the aforementioned set matching you have yourself a deeply thoughtful play experience. Introspective, puzzly and cute, what more could you want this winter?

So, those are my picks for this winter.  I’m sure there are a ton of favourites I’ve left off the list.  But I hope you’ll find at least one or two choices here to scratch that winter itch. Until next time, play lots of games, and stay toasty!

 

My Game of the Week: Mansions of Madness

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