Under the Radar’s 2022 Holiday Gift Guide, Part 1: Tabletop Games

Dec 05, 2022

By Austin Trunick


Welcome to Under the Radar’s 2022 Holiday Gift Guide! We’re kicking off this festive season by looking at some of our favorite tabletop game releases from the past year—any of which would make a fine gift for someone who enjoys their gaming unplugged. This year’s list is especially heavy on role playing games, but we can’t help it when there are as many excellent new releases in the category as there were this year.

Stay tuned for more of our 2022 Holiday Gift Guide, which will feature our suggestions for vinyl reissues, books, video games, collectibles, toys, Blu-rays, and more! And while you’re here, please consider a gift subscription to Under the Radar for that special indie music fan in your life.

Dungeons & Dragons

D&D Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Deluxe Edition (Wizards of the Coast)

SRP: $154.98

This campaign takes place in Krynn, one of Dungeons & Dragons’ most iconic settings, made famous in the Dragonlance novels and the adventures of past editions. It’s a world that was all but leveled by a near-apocalyptic event brought on by an ill-advised tussle with the gods. The gods have long departed, leaving the survivors to rebuild civilization in their wake. Although their influence still lingers in conclaves of believers, it’s a hardened world largely defined by war. Shadow of the Dragon Queen takes place as an exiled villain, the Dragon Queen, prepares her army to march across the land.

Oldschool D&D players will probably have some level of nostalgia for the Dragonlance setting, and this book gives players and DMs plenty of tools to apply that setting in 5E. The included campaign (designed to take a party from levels one to ten) is separate from the world’s best-known storylines, which ensures that even the biggest fans of this particular setting will get something they haven’t seen before. But, that’s not all!

Those who go all-in on the Deluxe Edition will also receive the new Warriors of Krynn board game, co-designed by one of the creative minds behind the industry-changing Pandemic Legacy series. The game, which comes with miniatures, more tokens than you can shake a stick at, and a booklet of scenarios, can be played on its own, disconnected from the roleplaying game. Another (very cool) option, however, is to weave the board game into your campaign. In the Shadow of the Dragon Queen book, you’ll find prompts where you can use the board game to play out the massive battles that you’ll encounter in your adventures in Krynn, where the results will impact your roleplaying campaign. It’s a pretty awesome way to simulate war in D&D—where the player characters have to fight alongside hundreds of soldiers against an unyielding Draconian army.

Can’t decide whether you want to give your tabletop gamer a board game or an RPG? With this gift set, you can give them both. (Buy it here.)

D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set (Wizards of the Coast)

SRP: $169.95

We understand – it can be hard to pick out a gift for the D&D player in your life, and downright intimidating if you don’t play yourself. Wizards of the Coast have been supplying such a steady stream of new materials since the dawn of the latest edition that the shelves of your local gaming shop are bowing with thick, heavy books full of artwork, stat blocks, and lore that span so many different variations of the game. If you don’t share a gaming table with your giftee, it can be downright daunting trying to find something you know will suit their particular tastes or needs. This season, though, there’s a new option available that will fit in many players’ collections, whatever their role at their roleplaying sessions: the D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set.

This collection brings together three books—two from a while back, and one brand new volume—that vastly expand on the core volumes that D&D players most likely already have in their collection: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents players with new subclasses, spells, and other character options, and DMs with tools for building traps and randomized encounters, as well as rulesets for things like sleeping and falling. (What happens when, say, a griffon drops a hero off a cliff? Xanathar’s Guide lays out how to handle that.) We recommended the second volume, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, in last year’s gift guide, but in short it gives players even more subclasses (plus a new Artificer class), spells, and magical items, while DMs get rules for things like patrons, sidekicks, and natural hazards, and a bunch of pre-made puzzles. The new addition in this set is Monsters of the Multiverse, a hefty compendium that collects beasts from previous volumes, including some previously only found in foreign settings, and updating them for use in any type of adventure you please. It also compiles more than 30 races from past volumes, putting them in one convenient place for players when, until now, you’d have to search multiple books to find them all.

Above anything else, the D&D Rules Expansion Set gives players new options—lots of ‘em. It’s stuff that can be used in any style or setting, making this set something that would be welcomed into most any D&D player’s collection. (Buy it here.)

D&D Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (Wizards of the Coast)

SRP: $69.99

Launch your D&D campaigns into outer space with Spelljammer, a three-volume boxed set that reintroduces the classic, intergalactic Dungeons and Dragons setting to 5E.

For those who missed out on Spelljammer over past incarnations of the game—or, who aren’t dinosaurs like myself, and were too young to have experienced it, it’s kind of important to know the tone. Spelljammer isn’t necessarily hard science fiction. It’s not particularly grim, unless your DM makes it so. This is fantasy sci-fi, where spaceships are piloted by spellcasters, crewed by elves and clockwork gnomes, and battle with space dragons and other cosmic horrors. This Spelljammer is very playful and fun, so if you’re worried that outer space sounds “too serious”—don’t be! These adventures are more akin to Star Wars, Flash Gordon, or Krull than, say, Alien or The Martian. (Although if you do want to run a horror or survival-style game in this setting, there’s room.)

What you’ll find inside these books are a lot of fun toys to play with, which will help take your adventures into the stars. The Astral Adventurer’s Guide is essentially the entryway into the setting—useful to both players and DMs—explaining how travel works in the Astral Sea, the mechanics of spelljamming (piloting a ship with magic), and introducing the Rock of Bral: a sprawling city built on an asteroid, which is used as a general meeting place for beings with space business and a springboard for interstellar adventures. There’s also a section with suggested races and backgrounds for the setting, while the largest chunk of the book is made up of really cool-looking ships, with entries that include things like stats and (very cool!) gridded layouts for staging battles on these vessels if, say, you’re boarded by space-pirates (or are the ones doing the pirating.)

Boo’s Astral Menagerie is the set’s creature bestiary and, hoo boy, it’s just delightful. It’s only 64 pages—so, not nearly as thick as other monster manuals—but the range of beasties in here is spectacular. The critters in the book span from humongous, Lovecraftian horrors, through clockwork robots to ridiculously fun-sounding beings like Vampirates, Giant Space Hamsters, and Space Clowns. Space Clowns! The third book in the set, Light of Xaryxis, is a short campaign intended for characters leveled from 5 to 8.

The set also includes a handsome (and truly massive) DM screen housed inside its sturdy slipcase. Even if you don’t plan on running the included adventures, Spelljammer at the very least introduces fun ways of getting your party from one D&D world to another—and provides lots of toys that will definitely inspire a DM to look to the skies as they future stories. (Buy it here.)

D&D Journeys through the Radiant Citadel (Wizards of the Coast)

SRP: $49.95

The Radiant Citadel is a floating city in the Ethereal Plane, curling like a corkscrew around a magical shard of crystal referred to as the Auroral Diamond. Lost for centuries, the Citadel was once home to twenty-seven disparate civilizations—through their combined ingenuity, they built this marvelous place as a shared home. Abandoned for mysterious reasons, their ancestors eventually rediscovered the lost land. Now, it’s a shimmering hub of diplomacy, commerce, and refuge—a peaceful meeting point connecting many worlds.

Journeys through the Radiant Citadel is an anthology of thirteen stand-alone D&D adventures, each corresponding to party/characters levels starting at one and topping off at level fourteen. The stories are linked through the Radiant Citadel, although most don’t take place there—much like Candlekeep Mysteries (which we adored, and wrote about last year)—leaving it up to the DM whether they would like to run the book as a campaign, or pick-and-choose their favorite adventures to adapt for an existing campaign, or run them as one-offs. What’s really cool about Radiant Citadel is that it was written by members of the D&D community, who took inspiration from their own, real-world cultural backgrounds. The adventures, creatures, and settings of this book take an excitingly diverse approach to the game. (Buy it here.)

D&D Starter Set – Dragons of Stormwreck Isle (Wizards of the Coast)

SRP: $19.99

Want to get into D&D—or, better yet, get friends or family members started on the roleplaying hobby? There’s rarely been an easier (not to mention affordable) entryway to Dungeons & Dragons than their starter sets, which include all of the essentials they’ll need to play an introductory campaign. Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is the newest of such sets, and does just about everything it can to make someone’s first games of D&D as welcoming and user-friendly as possible. The box includes a rulebook for low-level characters, an adventure designed for first-time roleplayers, five pre-made characters and a set of dice.

If you and your friends have never tried D&D, you can pick this up and get right into playing—it’s a good way to get a taste for the world’s most-played fantasy RPG without investing into the larger books right away. Even if you’re an experienced DM, it’s an easy adventure to run to help get newcomers’ feet wet. Whatever your case, there’s a lot of value in this box for just under twenty bucks. (Buy it here.)

Role Playing Games

The One Ring: 2nd Edition (Free League Publishing)

SRP: $49.99 (core rulebook) – $123.92 (bundle)

Considering that this second edition of The One Ring roleplaying game became the most successful Kickstarter for a RPG core rulebook of all time when it launched last year, we know that there are a lot of people out there itching to play within the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. (With how much fantasy roleplaying is inspired by his works, anyway, it’s no surprise!) The One Ring invokes the flavor and atmosphere of Tolkien’s books and the Peter Jackson films, and is one of the most gorgeously-illustrated fantasy gaming books we’ve encountered, to boot.

The One Ring is set in between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It’s been decades since Bilbo Baggins helped the Thorin’s dwarves re-take the treasures of Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug, and unwittingly brought the One Ring home to the Shire. A dark shadow, however, seems to linger on the horizon—there’s a feeling that the momentary peace in Middle Earth could soon come to an end. Most humans, dwarves, and hobbits, and even some elves dismiss the strange goings-on as rumors, but not you. You and a small band of similarly interested adventurers, perhaps inspired by Bilbo’s heroic tale, set out to investigate this threat to your lands.

If you have a Tolkien fan in your life who is also a tabletop gamer, The One Ring is a must. It presents an excellent pathway to exploring the setting’s rich lore, and even creating some of their own. The game is available as a Starter set which gives players the basics they’ll need to start an adventurer; a Core Rulebook, which gives them everything they’ll need to make their own adventures; or a bundle which includes both of the above at a discount, plus some cool additions like a lovely GM’s screen and maps. (Buy it here.)

The Transformers Roleplaying Game (Renegade Game Studios)

SRP: $55

Prepare to transform and roll out as your very own heroic Autobot in The Transformers Roleplaying Game, the first officially-licensed gaming module to depict the Cybertronian wars. Renegade Game Studios have adapted their Essence20 system—previously seen in their G.I. Joe roleplaying game—so that players can create their own Autobots from scratch, which is just as cool as you’d imagine. You decide on your bot’s vehicle mode, background, occupation, weaponry, powers, weaknesses and character flaws. You wanna play as a 40-foot-tall robot named Pulverizer who transforms into an armored garbage truck? You can! This is the sort of thing that Transformers fans like myself have been dreaming up since we were in second grade and sketching them out in the margins of our spelling workbooks.

For those of you like myself who have a strong preference, the Transformers Roleplaying Game takes its inspiration largely from the G1 mythos—the story and illustrations in the core rulebook have the same feel and flavor as the original cartoon, Marvel comics, and the 1986 animated movie. (Heads up, GMs – episodes of the old cartoon make a great basis for your adventures.) There are detailed rules for combat, which allow for some pretty sick turns where, say, your Autobot can transform into their vehicle mode, race across the table, and deliver an attack from the enemy’s flank. It’s a system that’s probably best played with miniatures—and if you’ve still got a box (or shelves) full of Transformers at your disposal, they’ll work. How cool is that? It’ll be the most fun you’ve had playing with the figures since you were a kid. (Buy it here.)

Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game (Free League Publishing)

SRP: $47 (starter set), $49.99 (core rulebook), $121 (bundle)

Are you a human or a replicant? Free League Publishing invites gamers to step into the neon-lit alleyways of Los Angeles in the year 2037, almost twenty years after the events of the original Blade Runner (1982) and more than a decade before its follow-up, Blade Runner 2049. Players are asked to become Blade Runners—an amalgamation of detective and bounty hunter—charged with hunting down rogue replicants, but also taking on cases that explore other aspects of the iconic world from the films, as they were inspired by works by Philip K. Dick. It’s an immersive universe that’s barely been tapped in official form, and one that’s ripe for GMs and their players to spin new tales within.

Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game is now available for pre-order for an end-of-2022 release, which gives you the chance to gift the sci-fi fan in your life with the newest system on the market. (Buy it here.)

Board Games

Monopoly: David Bowie Edition (Hasbro)

SRP: $44.99

Calling all the young dudes! There have been many different themed Monopoly games over the decades. In our household’s games closet, on top of the two regular sets, you’ll also find a Star Trek version based on the original 1960s series, one tied to Spider-Man 3 (the last and worst of the Tobey Maquire/Sam Raimi movies) that was somehow a wedding gift for the wife and I, and also a more modern Spider-Man Monopoly we got for our nine-year-old daughter last Christmas that features heroes from across the Spider-Verse (including Spider-Gwen, Silk, and Spider-Ham). But we’re not sure there’s ever been a Monopoly game quite as cool and out of this world as the new David Bowie Edition.

The game has been retooled to center on The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, and Bowie’s entire career. Instead of properties, you purchase one of Bowie’s albums that are spread across the board chronologically, starting with his 1969-released second album Space Oddity (aka David Bowie) and stretching all the way to his final album, 2016’s Blackstar, released just two days before his death and a fitting final statement from one of the most unique and influential musicians of all-time. Each is represented by the album’s cover art. Instead of Chance and Community Chest cards, players pick up Sound and Vision cards (named after the song on 1977’s Low, the first of the Berlin Trilogy). Rather than Railroads, the board has four different classic Bowie tours and instead of the Water Works and Electric Company utilities there are Photographer and Stage Crew spaces. Once you have all the same colored albums you can place Arenas instead of Houses and Stadiums instead of Hotels. And playing pieces include Major Tom’s space helmet, the hat from the “Ashes to Ashes” video, and the unmistakable Aladdin Sane lightning bolt symbol. The box and board are handsomely adorned with many classic Bowie photos from multiple eras.

During the pandemic our family would play weeks-long games of Monopoly, playing a little bit each night over dinner. We did the same with Monopoly: David Bowie Edition, but soundtracked to a different Bowie album (often on vinyl) each night. There may not be life on Mars, that we know of, but any Young American or China Girl will greatly enjoy the latest version of one of the most beloved board games of all-time. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Splendor Duel (Space Cowboys/Asmodee)

SRP: $29.99

Splendor is one of the all-time classics of modern board gaming: a game that’s easy to teach and very colorful on the table, with its chunky, poker-style chips that make it look inviting to even the most casual of gamers. We can understand that some Splendor die-hards might be wary that a new spin on the game would be akin to meddling with perfection—but fear not! Splendor Duel is something entirely different: a head-to-head challenge that retains some of our favorite elements from its predecessor, but turns it into something crunchier.

Designed by Splendor’s Marc Andre alongside Bruno Cathala (of Kingdomino and Five Tribes fame), Splendor Duel moves the game’s chip/gem market to a grid and forces players to take chips that are adjacent to each other, adding a spatial puzzle to a game that had no such thing. This board will frequently need replenished at random, which gives the player who refills it the advantage of first pick from the new market—but gives their opponent a special, one-time-use token that bends the game in their favor. Compared to the laid-back vibe of original Splendor, Splendor Duel is a heady game of chicken.

Needless to say, we love it – it makes for a great two-player, strategic battle that wraps itself up in 20-30 minutes. And—if you don’t have it yet—the original Splendor plays up to four, and is still one of the best values in board gaming at its price point. (Buy it here.)

EXIT Advent Calendar: The Hunt for the Golden Book (Kosmos)

SRP: $49.95

If you’ve tuned in for our gift guides of holidays past, you’ll know we’re big fans of the EXIT series from Kosmos—they’re essentially “Escape Rooms in a Box,” packed full of puzzles that tell a story and unravel a larger mystery if you’re clever enough to solve them. We’ve recommended these games in the past: they’re very affordable, and make for an excellent date night or another evening’s worth of entertainment. If you’re seeking a stocking stuffer for a gamer or puzzle hound, there’s a massive range of EXIT games available with themes and difficulty levels to suit your needs.

You might also know that we’re big fans of advent calendars, which help pass the long wait until the holidays arrive and build up our anticipation. EXIT’s Advent Calendars combine these two loves. As you open a new door each night, you’re presented with a new room and a new puzzle—solving these will tell you which door you’ll need to open on the next night. In The Hunt for the Golden Book, you’re helping Santa Claus find his missing address book before Christmas Eve, and many of the puzzles make references to classic holiday tales and movies. The puzzles provide a great opportunity for the family to work together at a fun game for 10-15 minutes each night in the month of December, and we could easily see this becoming an annual tradition. (Buy it here.)

Stocking Stuffers

Deluxe Roleplaying Dice (Metallic Dice Games)

SRP: $4.49 and up

No matter their game of choice, every tabletop role-player in your life should appreciate a really nice set of dice. These aren’t just inanimate objects—the fate of heroes and the weight of the world could hinge on a single roll. It’s not just randomization we’re talking about here: the number a die lands on can be a matter of life and death.

Metallic Dice Games design and manufacture luxury dice that will bring an added touch of class and elegance to any roleplaying table. (These are the sort of dice that we’d imagine Jay-Z and Beyoncé would use in their D&D sessions.) Options are available at different budget points, and in more styles than you can shake a stick at. Some of our favorites are their Liquid Core dice, with glitter suspended inside liquid at their center—they look magical, sparkling as it settles, and are a great fit for any fantasy spellcaster. (Take a look at that gorgeous photo above.) There are also dice made from carved wood, metal, and even beautiful stone such as lapis lazuli and tiger’s eye. You also need to check out their Mega Dice: gorgeous d20s that are the size of a golf ball. The metal Mega Dice are heavy, nigh-indestructible, and will literally rumble a table when you roll them. If that doesn’t add an extra level of intensity to their game, we don’t know what will. (Buy them here.)

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