Pandemonium Staff Picks

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Shopping for a holiday gift?  Not sure what to get for the gamer or S.F. buff who has everything?  Looking to treat yourself during a long winter?  No problem!  The staff of Pandemonium all have our favorite products, things that we would love to either give or receive.  If you’re looking for something but not sure what to look for, here are our personal choices.  From card games to board games to roleplaying games to miniatures to books, there’s something here for everyone.  Take a look at our recommendations, and prepare for a truly awesome season of gifts! View Products Here

The List:

  • Trial By Trolley
  • Blades in the Dark
  • Fiasco



  • Dungeon World
  • The Quiet Year
  • Warhammer 40,000 & Age of Sigmar Start Collecting! Boxes



  • Mysterium
  • Spirit of the Century
  • Spinning Silver



  • Mancala
  • Blank Playing Cards for game design
  • Crud Creek Nosepickers



  • Fog of Love
  • Commander Decks
  • Race For the Galaxy



  • Wingspan
  • Marvel Splendor
  • Paint Now! Miniatures Painting Kits



  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Hidden Treasure Mystery Boxes MTG
  • Commander Legends Draft Booster Boxes



  • Chinatown
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
  • Pandemic
  • Terra Mystica
  • Acquire
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • Arkham Horror LCG
  • Codenames
  • Darkness
  • Star Realms
  • FATE System Core Books
  • D&D 5e




Trial by Trolley: It's an absolutely cutthroat game with a very simple premise- throw your friends under the trolley. The rules aren't very complicated and it's very easy to get your friends who are intimidated by more complicated board games to play with you.

One player plays the conductor, and the rest of the players are divided into two teams. Those two groups of players represent two groups of people tied to two separate tracks. There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. The trolley is headed straight for them. The game attempts to have the two groups solve the classic utilitarian problem argued in philosophy classes all over the world- if you're the conductor, who lives and who dies? The players must argue fiercely that the other group deserves to die while they deserve to live. It's the most fun party game I've ever played!

Blades in the Dark: A fiction forward RPG that is easy for beginners to pick up and deep enough for experienced players to play over and over again. The players play a group of scoundrels; criminals in the dark underworld of a haunted city called Doskvol. The city lies somewhere in between the aesthetic of Victorian England and Venice, and provides a fantastic playground for the players to play mercenaries, smugglers, thieves, and more.

Fiasco: A roleplaying game with no GM where players each take a role in a story and roll dice to figure out how their characters relate to each other. The players then act out the scenes in each act, leading to exciting twists and turns along the way. Settings range from high schools to weddings to robberies- anything is possible!

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Dungeon World: Never roll an initiative die again! This RPG shares many mechanics with Blades in the Dark, one of Eleanor's picks, but is set in a classic Tolkien-esque fantasy world. Light on rules; focused on narrative and world-building. '2d6' is the roll for almost every action in the game. Designed to keep you focused on the fiction, rather than the rulebook. Core principles:

  • Portray a fantastic world,
  • Fill the characters' lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens.

The Quiet Year:  It's a unique sort of symmetrical RPG which asks 2-4 players to take equal part in imagining the rebirth of a small community, following a time of great unrest. Gameplay centers on the collective drawing of an intentionally crude map. For me, the game provides just the right amount of structure while still giving huge freedom to its players. For creative people with an interest in games; gamer folk with an interest in being creative.

Warhammer 40,000 & Age of Sigmar Start Collecting! Boxes: Games Workshop makes some of the most beautiful and durable plastic miniatures in the world, and it's no secret that this quality comes with a large price tag. The Start Collecting boxes are a way to start a Warhammer army much more cheaply than buying things individually. They vary slightly, but each Start Collecting box is discounted by between 30-40%, compared with buying their contents separately. For Warhammer nerds and people who have always dreamed of being a Warhammer nerd.

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Mysterium: One of the loveliest board games I’ve ever played has been Mysterium.  I say “loveliest” in both the literal and figurative sense.  The art is stunning and unusual, with a mixture of cartoony stylings, gothic settings and surrealist landscapes, but it’s also tightly constructed and creative when it comes to the rules.  This dreamlike Polish game casts the players as psychics investigating a murder- except for one player, who controls the ghost of the victim.  The ghost conveys clues through choices of visions to share with the psychics, who must in turn decipher these clues and work together to solve the mystery.

What’s great about the game is the combination of eerie premise, cooperative gameplay and imaginative thinking.  The rules aren’t hard to master and the strategy is simple, but every session is a unique challenge nonetheless.  Does the vision hint at a color, an emotion, or an object?  What was going through the mind of your fellow player when they chose it?  And for the ghost, how can you best express a secret without the use of words or precise images?

This game can be played by friend groups, families, or even clever children (so long as they’re alright with a premise involving ghosts and murder!)  It’s a game for people who enjoy artistry and intuition, who read Edward Gorey cartoons, who pick apart art for symbolism, or who just wish the classic Clue game didn’t have that plot hole of the murderer trying to solve the murder!

Spirit of the Century: (Note this one only gets restocked 1-2 times a year, so sign up on the product page to be notified of the next batch.) Spirit of the Century is a delightful roleplaying game that should be in every tabletop nerd’s collection!  It brings to life old pulp fiction novels (and modern retro pulp movies!) as the players don the personas of larger than life 1920s heroes and do battle with sinister and sometimes ridiculous villains.  It can be used to play long campaigns, but is designed to facilitate impromptu one-off sessions, making it perfect for a lighthearted game night.  Though it uses the Fate system, it’s a standalone work with the rules fully explained, and those rules are pretty near perfection.

How many games have fun character creation processes?  In many games such a thing can be a tedious grind, but not in Spirit of the Century!  Since you’re playing protagonists of pulp fiction, you each come up with several novels your character starred in to flesh out their abilities- and you get to cameo in each others’ novels!  By the time a character creation session is done, not only do you know what you’ve created, but you’ve already been through several mini-adventures.  The game master has guidelines on how to create improvised and episodic game adventures, when to throw in bad guys and when and how to let the characters show off their unique talents.

This is a great game for people who love retro-futuristic aesthetics, comic books, old movies, or just something fun and fast-paced.  A game can be utterly ludicrous- defeat the super-scientist gorillas!- or surprisingly thoughtful- there’s a timeline with the world’s news and suggestions for those who want to play a more thought-out examination of what life was like for people in the early 20th century.  Whether you’ve played a million roleplaying games before or this is your first one ever, you’ll find something to enjoy in Spirit of the Century!


Spinning Silver: Fairy tale adaptations are a dime a dozen in modern fantasy, but how many of them really stop to examine both the philosophical themes and the logical implications of the stories?  Spinning Silver is a brilliant and heartfelt spin (if you’ll pardon the expression) on the classic Rumplestiltskin.  What exactly does it mean to turn something into gold?  What kind of supernatural creature would care so much about rules and exchanges?  And isn’t there something a little nasty about a story that celebrates cheating an outsider?

Miryem takes over her father’s moneylending business when he proves too tender-hearted to collect on debts when townsfolk fail to pay them back.  She rescues her family from poverty and defies the antisemitism of the town, but soon she’s caught up in the much larger intrigues of the Staryk- a group of strange, elflike beings who have heard she can turn silver into gold.  They don’t understand or care about metaphors.  They believe she has magic powers.  And now the King of the Staryk wants her as his bride.

Fantasy fans and devotees of folklore and fairy tales will love this book for its clever magic system, compellingly resourceful characters, and tightly-knit plot.  There’s even a little romance just when you least expect it!  The firmly moral but steely-hearted heroine is a rare delight (not to mention the joy of finding a Jewish protagonist in a medieval fantasy novel!) and will appeal to fans of strong and smart female characters.  And anyone who wants a visit to another world will never forget the Kingdom of the Staryk.

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Mancala: As one of the oldest games in the world, it's safe to say that the appeal of Mancala has withstood the test of time. Easy to learn while still providing a depth of strategy, this classic game is an experience for players of all ages, one that pairs particularly well with in-between moments and thoughtful conversation. 

Blank Playing Cards Poker Size: This is a weird one, but hear me out. Remember playing a game that had one fill-in-the-blank card, where you could scribble down whatever popped into your head, and gleefully tuck it into a deck, ready in wait to surprise all your friends and show them just how clever you are? Yeah, me neither, but wouldn't it be great to share that feeling of self satisfaction with your family? So many games these days are just playing cards with quippy phrases in response to odd prompts; why not make your own family bootleg of that one about the apples, or that other one with the humanity? Start a new tradition with the fam squad! What could go wrong?!

Crud Creek Nosepickers: Snotling Blood Bowl Team: Need we say more? Don't forget minis can be used for many purposes - modifications, skirmish games, paint projects - get creative!

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Fog of Love: There is simply nothing out there like this two-player game. They distilled every piece of information on romance and relationships into a game, and then play-tested it until it was fun. It is a masterpiece, where you play an imaginary couple navigating life together. Achieve your goals while staying true to your character, and you could end up winning with or in spite or your partner!

Commander Legends or Zendikar Rising Commander Decks: There is no better jumping off point for a commander deck than a pre-con. The value is insane tucked into those tiny cards - many of the pre-cons from previous years have gone on to double or triple in value just because everyone wants what's inside - Atraxa, or Breya anyone? Commander Legends Decks are an amazing starting point to a deck that you can slowly build for years to come!

Race For the Galaxy: This is one of my favourite 2-player board games, it's super replayable and very strategic. This year 2-player games are more relevant than ever, so I just had to include another one! (Other good two player games include Innovation, Mottainai, 7 Wonders Duel, Star Realms, Wingspan, Azul, and Keyforge! Most cooperative games play 1 or 2 players really well, too!)

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Wingspan: This instant cult classic was such a hit upon release that it became hard to find copies!  With its beautiful art and elegant rules system, Wingspan took the unlikely board game premise of birdwatching and made it incredibly engaging.  Players compete to attract birds to their wildlife preserves, learning about the creatures on the way (even if they’re adults!)  Wingspan won all the awards and was even featured on NPR, and it actually lives up to the hype.  Get it while we still have it! If you've already purchased Wingspan try the Oceania Expansion! (End of December release.)

Marvel Splendor: The hit board game Splendor gets a super-heroic makeover in this Marvel edition!  Recruit the Avengers- and even some of their villainous enemies- to stop Thanos from wiping out the world’s population, and get ready for a dramatic endgame against the big man himself.  Splendor’s rules are easy to learn but hard to master, thus making it perfect for replaying over and over.  Marvel Splendor is a standalone game, so players of the original Splendor will pick it up fast but it will also be a great entryway for beginners.

Paint Now! Paint Kits: For people new to painting their own miniatures or just looking for a fun project, these kits are everything you need wrapped in one bundle.  With paints, brushes, pre-primed miniatures and instructions, Paint Now! Paint Kits make miniature painting easier and more fun than ever.  Whether you want a stepping-stone to help learn how to get into the hobby or just want everything in a convenient package, these have great value and would make an excellent gift to any nerdy friends or family you may have.

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Lords of Waterdeep: Super-fun and accessible worker placement in a famous D&D setting. Easy to learn, with enough complexity to keep you coming back for more. It's a classic.

Hidden Treasure Boxes: MTG Everything you need to get started or grow your collection! Eddie and Landon have been building these all month with basic lands, standard booster packs, some rares, and a tonne of commona nd uncommon cards. Start your collection, or play your box against your housemate in a sealed tournament!

Commander Legends Draft Booster Boxes: So fun to draft - draft with your Grandma (responsibly.)

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Board Games:
Chinatown: Spiel des Jahres nominee - build and negotiate your way to the top business in Chinatown!
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Amazing for small-group stay-home activities.

Pandemic: In addition to being a great cooperative game, it's quite topical.

Terra Mystica: (hardcore gamer game, fairly complex). Fantastic territory control game, super deep and strategic. Players are encouraged to build near each other for cheaper building costs, but then end up competing for resources.
Acquire: Invest in businesses, merge them, and watch them grow on the board.

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Semi-cooperative board game where you explore a haunted house flipping over and placing game ties until suddenly one player becomes a monster with secret goals and abilities and everyone else needs to make it out of the house alive.

Arkham Horror LCG: Great two-player game. Many expansions.

Stocking Stuffers or Secret Santa:
Codenames: Winner of multiple awards, it's a great game for four or more players in this great mix of social and strategic gameplay.
Darkness: A Strategy Card Game of Ancient Mysticism: Be the greatest druid in this small, aesthetic, and locally designed game!

Star Realms: Fantastic two-player game, also locally designed. Built by some Magic the Gathering pros.

Roleplaying Games:
Any of the FATE System Core Books: Fast-paced new-age roleplaying game, very story-driven and easy to pick up and play.

The Fate Dresden Files RPG: Need to have each of the first two books to play!
Fiasco: See Eleanor's list!

D&D 5th Edition: The classic, you'll always be able to find people to play with. 5e is a fantastic new edition that plays super smoothly and sets the market standard.

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For more ideas check out our gift guide section! Written By: The Pandemonium Staff, Mira G, and Irenee W. Forward by Mira G.

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