As the end of the year nears, many hallowed traditions come to us. One of them, of course, is the annual collaboration post between Naty (from Naty’s Bookshelf, your prime source of book recommendations and reviews) and me! Here’s what we’ve done in the previous years together:
- 2021: Bookish Board Games
- 2020: Game-Movie-Book Recommendations for Theme Days
- 2019: Mutual Guest Posts with Book-Board Game Recommendations
- 2018: If You Liked This, Try This – Books and Board Games
- 2017: Bookish Board Games
This year, we’re giving gift ideas – board games (written by me) and books (written by Naty), particularly suited for the more casual gamer or reader.
Ever gifted someone a board game? Great idea. And then this person excitedly opened it and wanted to play it there and then? Still a great idea – in principle. But then somebody had to punch out all the four hundred cardboard bits and make sense of the 20-page rulebook for an hour while everybody else’s attention slowly drifted back to the snacks and drinks? Yeah, that wasn’t that great an idea.
So here are three games that you can gift and start playing right away – including (with) people who don’t play board games very often. They’re accessible, they’re fun, and they leave you wanting more.
Pro tip: When you gift one of them, it might still be a good idea to watch a short YouTube video before on how they’re played.
So, let’s start with a game that can be played right out of the box – because it’s just so fabulously simple:
You draw a card. You play a card. That’s all there is to your turn in Lovecraft Letter. There is still enough room for you to lay some tactical traps for your fellow players – which they might avoid by astute play or sheer luck. Whenever someone falls into one (or it backfires), there will be shouts of glee (and gloat) around the table, until, after a few minutes, only one player remains standing (and claims victory for the round).
What this victory means depends on your edition of the game: In the original Love Letter, it means that you successfully delivered your romantic missive. In Lovecraft Letter (which is the only one I played), you have found a clue on the whereabouts of your lost relative.
There are a few more editions (for example, the Star Wars-themed Jabba’s Palace) which have only small differences rules-wise, so feel free to select whichever theme is most appealing to the person you are gifting.
If you’re a bit greedy, Port Royal is just your game. You can uncover ship card after ship card in the market to get an ever-bigger profit. If you like to see greedy people get their comeuppance, Port Royal might be even more for you: You want to draw as many different ships as possible, but when you draw the second ship of any type (there are five in total), your turn is over and you get nothing.
Should you have prudently stopped before, you can now rob the ships for income and hire sailors, pirates, priests, and other ne’er-do-wells. As your crew grows, you might undertake expeditions – or you just keep winning the right characters over to your side to come out on top. Whichever strategy you pursue, the game normally ends when you feel like now your team is strong enough to take on anything – and then you want to play another round.
This cooperative dungeon-crawler offers players the opportunity to defeat monsters and gain treasure together… but their success depends less on sharp brains than on sure hands. Combat is fought by landing a die on a big target. Easy – but wait! Depending on the monster you’re facing, you might have to toss the die with your non-dominant hand, with your eyes closed, over your shoulder or in a plethora of other challenging conditions.
This goes well with any crowd that likes their games to be less cerebral affairs: I once gifted this to an avowed board game nerd who was very eager to play the new game at his birthday (with his girlfriend and other guests already starting to roll her eyes about being roped into another of his thinky games) – but when it turned out that the game was about tossing a die from various contorted states, it was a great hoot for everybody.
So much for board games – let’s move over to books. Take it away, Naty!
For my part, I will be giving three book recommendations for different kinds of readers – I kept my recommendations to 2022 releases so that the chances are higher that the person you’re gifting hasn’t read any of these books yet, but maybe heard the buzz around them. I’ve also tried to keep them on the short side, so as to make them not very intimidating to more casual readers.
If you have loved Say Nothing and Empire of Pain, picking this up is the natural next step! This collection of true crime stories, from forgery of vintage wines to money laundering in Switzerland, keeps making it to Best Of 2022 lists because of Keefe’s incredible talent for storytelling. So much so that his books, especially Say Nothing, are my go-to when it comes to gifting people whose taste in books I’m not sure about. Also notice that I sneakily recommended two more books already, ha, and since I’m breaking the rules already anyway, I think it’s worth mentioning that if you’re looking for a non-fiction gift to a mystery and thrillers fan, I’ve heard amazing things about A Taste for Poison by Neil Bradbury, which goes into the poisons most used in fiction and what they do to the body. I haven’t read it yet but it sounds like an incredible mix of science and true crime.
I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie, although I’m not a fan of the retelling of her books – Daisy Darker is a fantastic exception. It’s such a great ghostly retelling of And Then There Were None, and it was just hitting all those notes that make her books an addictive read: it’s full of twists, it’s a bit dark but not too gory, it’s ghostly and has a satisfying ending. This was one of my top reads of the year and I highly recommend it for fans of mysteries and thrillers! If they’re not a fan of supernatural mysteries and prefer something more on the classic side, I really enjoyed The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda, which is about a series of mysterious disappearances in a small town; generally Megan Miranda’s books are very solid reads for mystery lovers. Another brilliant read from this year was Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier, which has to be the most hard-hitting, dark and realistic thriller I’ve read in a long time, and I highly recommend it if you can handle it – it tells the story of a woman who’s being accused of murdering her famous, very rich husband, and now that she’s in the spotlight, she’s afraid that another murder from her past will come to light.
Lastly, I’ve decided to pick something away from the mystery, thriller and true crime genres and delve into literary fiction, for fans of hard-hitting, beautifully written stories. Sea of Tranquility is about three characters in different timelines – from Canada in the early 1900s to three hundred years in the future on a moon colony – whose stories interconnect in an unexpected way. This has a hint of sci-fi, as the plot suggests, but I would definitely recommend it rather to fans of literary fiction instead of fans of usual sci-fi. This has twists and turns that keep you reading for its immersive storytelling. Everyone I know who’s read this LOVED it and it’s for good reason! If you want, you can also get The Glass Hotel by this author, which tells a very different story (it’s mostly a literary mystery about a Ponzi scheme and no sci-fi), but it very slightly touches on the story of Sea of Tranquility. You can definitely read both books independently, but it’s cool when books take place in the same “universe”, so to speak.
And what are your gift recommendations? Let us know in the comments!