The 2021 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide

holidayguideanner2021Seasons Greetings, Dear Readers! It’s time once again for that favorite seasonal tradition – the 11th annual Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide. 11 years, wow. I wasn’t sure I was going to get a guide out this year, but I just can’t break tradition. It’s a tad late, but there’s still two weeks and two weekends before Christmas. Plus, there’s always Twelfth Night!

It was nice to sit down, curate, and write about the games I’m recommending to you all this season. It’s good to have you here with me, Dear Readers. Pour yourself some cocoa, put your feet up, and enjoy the guide. Happy Holidays and Happy Gaming!

Best Game to Give Your Favorite Little Mutant


Marvel United: X-Men

In early 2020, just before lockdown, CMON launched a Kickstarter for Marvel United, a game that was touted as light but flexible, and featuring minis that were a mix of cute and cool. I was tempted, but figured I should save my money. After all, how good could it really be? Then, Marvel United started dropping onto tables and most seemed to be genuinely delighted. And, so, this past spring they launched another campaign for Marvel United: X-Men, and, of course, it blew up. There were enough mutant mini stretch goals to sink a container ship. You see, CMON employs another acronym other than their company name – that’s FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. Eventually, I caved. I couldn’t miss out. (It was The Fantastic Four expansion that did it)

The base game arrived this fall (the boxcar full of extras will get to me sometime in the spring). I got it to the table several times and, like many I’d seen before, I was genuinely delighted. In the game, you and up to four others choose your team of X-Men and do co-op battle against one of four classic villains – Magneto, Mystique, Juggernaut, and Sabertooth. On your turn, pick a card from your hand to play onto the timeline. You get to do what it says on your card (some hero cards have special abilities) and then you carry out the actions on your card, along with the actions that are on the previous hero card on the timeline. Every three cards the villain plays a card and gets to do something nefarious.  That’s it. It’s a crazy simple system, but the thing that makes the game shine is in the variable play. Every villain behaves differently, and each hero has a certain strength they bring to the team. X-Men also introduces a method of solo play that can present quite a challenge to experienced solo gamers. Plus, it’s fully compatible with the original Marvel United – along with everything else CMON produced for the game (I’m not sure you want to go down the eBay rabbit hole for all of that, though). I think you’ll find this game has that certain X-factor for your family gatherings this holiday season.

Marvel United: X-Men is a game for 1-5 mutants by Andrea Chiarvesio, Eric M. Lang, and Rugerfred Sedda from CMON. It retails for about $35 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Game to Play After Dark (and I don’t mean Cards Against Humanity style)
shadowsShadows in the Forest

Shadows in the Forest, or as it is known originally as Waldschattenspiel, is a charming and unique game of cat and mouse that’s been around since 1985. The uniqueness of the game comes from the use of darkness and light during play. One player acts as the seeker, lost in a forest filled with mythical creatures known as Shadowlings. After dimming the lights, the seeker moves an LED lantern (the original had a candle!) around the board trying to illuminate the Shadowlings who are hiding among the trees. The Shadowlings are all trying to avoid the light and eventually move through the forest to hide behind the same tree. What makes their mission so tough is that if a Shadowling is ever illuminated they are frozen in place, and can only be rescued if another Shadowling joins them behind the same tree. The game is a treat to look at on the table, and the tension of the chase is only heightened by the darkness in the room. This game will have many a kid wondering if there’s a Shadowling hiding behind the Christmas tree once the lights are out.

Shadows in the Forest is a game for 2-8 Shadowlings by Walter Kraul for ThinkFun. It retails for about $25 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Game for That Special Little Euro-loving Cowpoke
greatwesternGreat Western Trail

The first edition of Great Western Trail was released by Stronghold Games in 2016 alongside Terraforming Mars, which, at the time, overshadowed Trail. Over time, and many, many plays later, Great Western Trail has become one of my favorite Euro games of all time – and I’m not alone. Now it’s back and shinier than ever in a beautiful second edition. In the game you’re a rancher, herding your cattle and driving them toward Kansas City to be sold and loaded up on the train. Along your journey you’ll have to choose whether to mosey and visit as many buildings with special actions as you can, or hightail it past the other players to sell your cattle as fast as possible. Your cattle are represented by a deck of cards. You’ll be able to manage and custom build that deck as you progress. You’ll also be able to build new buildings along the trail, creating powerful free spaces for yourself and generating victory points, as well as invest in the railway for points and power. But you can’t do everything! And therein lies the beautiful power of choice that makes this game a joy to play again and again. Plus, in the second edition, you get to put little cowboy hats on your rancher meeples – and who can resist that?

Great Western Trail is a game for 1-4 rustlers by Alexander Pfister and Andreas Resch from eggertspiele. It retails for about $60 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Party Game That’s Not Really a Party Game for Those Who Hate Party Games
modernartModern Art

This auction game by the good Dr. Knizia has been around since 1992, and it has since become a classic among many gamers. Among my gaming group, however, it has also gained a touch of special notoriety. You see, we don’t play the game like you’re supposed to. I’ll explain in a bit. In the game, there are five different artists that have created a series of paintings. Each round, players are dealt random paintings. On a player’s turn they will put one of the paintings up for auction, and there are five different auction types in the game. If someone buys the painting the auctioneer takes that player’s payout in cash. If the auctioneer actually wins the auction, they must pony up the money to the bank. At the end of the round the most popular artists are ranked and players get payouts depending on the paintings they own of those artists. After four rounds the game ends, and the curator with the most cash wins. It’s all fairly straightforward, but here’s where Modern Art becomes a party game with our group. You don’t just put a piece of art out there and then start the bid. No, you’ve got to sell it. Sell it like it was a used car. A really ugly one (most of the art in any edition of this game is purposefully obtuse). Make the other players feel the art, tell them the artist’s intent. Ultimately, Modern Art becomes more than a classic auction game – it becomes a storytelling game. Over the years, I’ve heard many an amazing story and laughed more than with almost any official party game. Give this one to your friends that love to spin a yarn and create some memories that are, ultimately, pure art.

Modern Art is a game for 3-5 cunning curators by Reiner Knizia from CMON. It retails for about $25 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Party Game That Really is a Party Game for Those Who Hate Party Games
huesHues and Cues

Let’s play a little game. If I gave you the word clues “apple” and “maple leaf”, what color comes to mind? You might immediately say red. But what if you second guess yourself and think maybe it’s green? And even if you finally committed to red, what specific hue corresponds to that red in your head? This simple concept is the root of Hues and Cues, and it is brilliant in its execution. In the game, the cue giver will draw a card that has four colors on it. These colors correspond to a specific hue of the 480 colors on the board. The cue giver’s goal is to get the other players to guess the hue, but, naturally, without saying any color. The other players’ goal is to try and guess that color as closely as possible. There’s a nifty little scoring frame that you set down on the board once the round has ended and players score depending on how close to the actual color they came and whether they were inside or outside the scoring frame. It’s easy to tabulate scores because the frame does all the work for you! You may initially be skeptical that a game solely about color could be captivating, but you’ll be delightfully surprised once you give it a try. Give Hues and Cues to those you love and make everyone’s holidays a little more… colorful.

Hues and Cues is a game for 3-10 colorful characters by Scott Brady from The Op. It retails for about $25 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Game to Move ‘Em On Up from Ticket to Ride
panamPan Am

In 1927, two former U.S. Army Air Corps majors created Pan American Airways. By the 1960s, under the guidance of founder Juan Trippe, Pan Am was the pinnacle of modern commercial air travel. Its branding, amenities, and service were renowned worldwide. Pan Am dominated the skies until its decline in the 80s and eventual fold in 1991. This game is a tribute not only to Pan Am, but also the entrepreneurial spirit of the early airlines. In the game you’ll take on the role of one of those entrepreneurs, hoping to build your fledgling air company into an empire. You’ll bid against other companies for landing rights, new planes, and airports, then use those to establish routes that will expand your capital. At the end of each round Pan Am will expand and take over routes, starting from Miami, by rolling expansion dice. If the expansion would claim  one of the players’ routes, that player must sell the route to Pan Am and earn money depending on the length of the route. Finally, players may buy stock in Pan Am with their hard-earned cash. At the end of the game, the player with the most Pan Am stock wins the game. The game is further enhanced by random Event cards that occur each round, which creates a special game state, raises or lowers the stock price, and sets the amount of expansion dice. Players may also gain Directive cards which can give them certain bonuses. This is an absolutely stunning game, not only for its gameplay but also for its mid-century art and graphics aesthetic. This is Americana at its finest. If you’re not traveling for the holidays, you can still take a trip around the world and through time on your kitchen table with Pan Am.

Pan Am is a game for 2-4 aerial entrepreneurs by Prospero Hall from Funko Games. It retails for about $25 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Game for, well … Family
fastandfuriousFast & Furious: Highway Heist

“I play my games a quarter hour at a time, and for that quarter hour or more, I’m free.” So says Dominic Torreto in The Fast & The Furious – or at least something like it. In Highway Heist, you and up to three members of your Family will take on the roles of one of team Toretto – Dom, Letty, Brian, Roman, Han, or Tej – each with a special ability. You’ll pick a sweet ride, which also has a special ability. You’ll face the challenge of one of three scenarios: taking down Owen Shaw’s tank, raiding a semi full of valuable merch, or facing Deckard Shaw and a high-tech helicopter. During these challenges you’ll do every gonzo thing that the team does in the movies – jump from your car onto other vehicles, duke it out on top of tanks and SUVs, use your car as a lethal weapon, and pull off amazing and seemingly implausible stunts. And, of course, you’re never out of the game. If your car gets trashed, just steal an opposing SUV! The excitement of this game rivals that of the movies, and the toy factor is off the charts. You don’t have to be a fan of the films to enjoy this game, but it sure doesn’t hurt. I recommend picking up this game and the 9-movie Blu-Ray collection for the fastest and most furious on your list this holiday.

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist is a game for 2-4 super street racers by Prospero Hall from Funko Games. It retails for about $30 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Game to, Yet Again, Keep Uncle Joey Away From the Track
unicornUnicorn Fever

Back in 2009, a slightly strange and yet captivating horse racing game called Horse Fever was released. It was set in the 1930s and had a wonderful and weird artistic aesthetic. That team is back again with an even weirder reimplementation, this time with unicorns and rainbows and elves and all manner of the Fairy Realm. The core of Unicorn Fever is the same as just about any horse racing game – place your bets on the ponies and get paid out based on their odds of winning and how they placed in the race. What makes Unicorn Fever so fun is in the things you can do to help the unicorns you’ve bet on and hinder the ones that your opponents have backed. You’ll perform 3 actions before each round of the races which will give you special cards to perform the aforementioned shenanigans, gain more money for betting, place your bets, and gain special characters that will give you a special ability. Of course, you’ll have to jockey for position with the rest of the players for the best actions. Get it? Jockey? Hey, writing these things aren’t always a walk in the park. Anyway, after four races, the richest in all the Fairy Realm wins the game. If you’re familiar with Horse Fever, this version has been streamlined a bit for easier large group and family play. There’s lots of screaming, shouting, and excitement during each race. You’re bound to have a raucous and fun time at the rainbow track this holiday, unless you’re a certain person named Dan.

Unicorn Fever is a game for 2-6 rainbow racers by Lorenzo Silva and Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino from Horrible Guild. It retails for about $45 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.

Best Stuffer for the Stocking
fantasyFantasy Realms

Up front, this game is bonkers. But at least it’s super easy to play. In the game, each player is the ruler of a would-be kingdom, but trust me, you’re not here for the theme. Every player starts the game with seven cards in their hand. Each turn, you’ll draw a card either from the top of the draw pile, or from the discard pile. Then you’ll discard one card from your hand. Ultimately you’re trying to build a hand of cool cards that will help you score at the end of the game. That’s it, that’s the game. But here’s where it gets nuts. Each card will interact with some other card or cards in the game. Some cards will have high base scores, but some sort of penalty for several other card types in the game. Other cards will have low base scores but the potential to grow its score exponentially by creating a combo with other cards. Sometimes you’ll have a strong card combo going and then you’ll draw something that totally negates the key card in that combo. You’ll have to get rid of that card somehow, or pivot and try to base a combo on that new card. It’s a mind-blowing game of hand balance, chance, reading your opponents by what they draft from the discard pile and, honestly, a bit of math. I don’t usually like a lot of math in my games, but you barely notice in this one. You just look at what you have in hand, think about what you’d like to focus on, and hang on for dear life while you try and make it happen. Each game of Fantasy Realms plays in about 20 minutes, and after each game you’ll be thinking “maybe just one more?” Highly addictive and crazy fun, this a gift that will keep on giving long after the holidays are over.

Fantasy Realms is a game for 2-6 combo-loving conquerors by Bruce Glasso from WizKids. It retails for about $20 and you can buy it online here or at your Favorite Local Game Store.


Although I provide convenient links to buy many of the games in the gift guide online, I highly encourage all of you dear readers to shop at and support your local game store. Without the heroic efforts of the intrepid brick and mortar store owners, the hobby wouldn’t be half as amazing as it is today. Here is a list of Dice Hate Me-approved local game stores that I have either visited or have been helpful to me and the hobby. If you’re near one of these, buy there and give small business owners a warm glow this holiday season!

Don’t forget to check out previous Holiday Gift Guides below – there are 10 more years of great gift ideas!

Related posts:

  1. The 2020 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
  2. The 2019 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
  3. The 2017 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
  4. The 2018 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
  5. The 2014 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide
One Response to “The 2021 Dice Hate Me Holiday Gift Guide”
  1. Shelby Smith says:

    Thanks Chris! Great list as always!! Merry Christmas!

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