This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2020, CNET’s gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.
Sure we’ve got two new living room game consoles this season, but there’s also something to be said for the classic board game experience. In fact, there’s been a creative renaissance in recent years, with increasingly sophisticated tabletop games capturing a surprisingly mainstream audience.
The themes of the most popular board games are, not surprisingly, often focused on zombie attacks, sci-fi battles, Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy and Lovecraftian supernatural high jinks. Some popular board games, such as Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth, combine map tiles, miniature figures and a polished tablet app that handles some of the card and combat management for you.
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So here are some of the best board games to give or get in 2020, any one of which can turn game night into an epic adventure. Feeling ambitious and want to make your own extra accessories, pieces or card holders with a 3D printer? We’ve got ways to do that covered, too.
Gloomhaven is the $100-plus king of modern tabletop games. But it’s also insanely complicated, comes in a 20-plus-pound box and takes hours to play. Jaws of the Lion is a new streamlined version for more mainstream audiences and easily my favorite new game of 2020. The cleverest part is that all the map tiles are replaced by a spiral-bound book of pre-made maps.
Read our first impressions of Jaws of the Lion.
There’s a lot happening in this colorful Marvel-themed game. It’s a kid-friendly symbol-based card game at one level, but with awesome-looking Marvel character miniatures (done in a Chibi style) that jump between NYC-based locations like Central Park and the Avengers Mansion.
Probably my favorite “modern” board game, with tons of floor tiles you can use to create a haunted mansion, plus dozens of plastic miniatures for investigators and monsters. The vibe is definitely classic Lovecraft, and this board game actually requires you to use its companion app, which creates the layout, spawns monsters and even adds sound effects.
Fantasy Flight Games
It’s time to get the fellowship back together! Another board game with a tech twist, it starts with tons of cards, map tiles and miniatures, but it also uses a free iOS/Android/PC app, which adds extra narrative content, and tells you how to lay out the map and which monsters to fight.
The go-to game for many Lovecraft fans, with amazing narrative storytelling built around nothing but cards and a few cardboard tokens. The game involves laying out location cards on the table and exploring them for clues (while fighting monsters). It’s a “living card game,” which means there are regular releases of card packs with new characters, missions and enemies.