NYC Holiday Shopping Suggestion: The Compleat Strategist

If this is your idea of a board game…


…you really, really need to take a trip to one of my all-time favorite stores in New York City, The Compleat Strategist – the perfect place to find a completely original gift for that special someone on your list:


Seriously, if game night at your house involves Monopoly and Sorry, it will literally be a mind-blowing experience as you step through the door and come upon shelf after shelf…


…stocked literally from floor to ceiling…


…with board games…


…and board games…


…and still more board games…


…and more board games…


…that you never, ever knew existed:


See, while most Americans know board games to be the same old titles Hasbro and Mattel have been putting for decades, an entire world of new and imaginative games has been flourishing well under the radar, much of it coming from Europe.


Best of all, there’s something for everyone. Have a son or daughter into war-themed games? There are PLENTY of war-based board games, historical or otherwise, that will take you well beyond Risk and Stratego:


Got a niece or nephew into the scary stuff? Ditto the horror genre, from vampires to haunted houses to zombies:


From knights to astronauts, you could pick a genre, walk into The Compleat Strategist, and find a dozen games that fit your interest:


Of course, if you’re looking for your run-of-the-mill Twister or Trivial Pursuit, they’re also for sale, though you’ll have to go to the back of the store to find them:


What a few suggestions? Here are my favorite games you’ve probably never played. Most are available at the Compleat Strategist, but are strangely missing from their website.

1) Pirate’s Cove (not avail. at Compleat Strategist)


This. Is. The. Best. Game. EVER.

You and your friends are pirates in the Caribbean, fighting to be the most infamous buccaneers on the high seas. On each turn, you sail to islands to loot and pillage – but if a fellow pirate happens to choose the same island, you must fight it out to claim your booty. Improve your pirate ship, bury treasure, fight to the death – it’s all here in Pirate’s Cove.

The rules take a bit to digest, but after a round or two, I have yet to find a new player who doesn’t consider this one of the most fun board game experiences they’ve come across. Trust me – you will love Pirate’s Cove.

Amazon: $47

2) Ticket To Ride


You and your fellow players are turn-of-the-century railroad barons, seeking to create railroad lines linking the biggest cities in America. However, many of your desired routes overlap, and herein lies the challenge. For example, as you’re just about to connect Boston to Los Angeles, a rival baron suddenly swoops in and nabs the precious Salt Lake City to Las Vegas connection, requiring you to make a hasty detour before the game ends.

Unlike Pirate’s Cove, Ticket To Ride takes about five seconds to pick-up, yet offers unexpected possibilities with each new game. Highly recommended for players of all ages.

3) Carcassonne – Big Box Set


Set in medieval times, your goal in Carcassonne is to build the largest cities, fields and roads while warding off intrusion by fellow players. Included expansions introduce inns and cathedrals, abbeys and manors, and even dragons. By the end, you’ll have a sudden desire to book a trip for historic Europe.

Carcassonne is the game that made me realize there was something else in the world beyond Clue. I was living in Italy during college when a German roommate showed up with this and hooked me for life. Highly recommended.

4) Forbidden Island


You and your friends are on an Indiana Jones-style adventuring expedition, setting out for the mysterious Forbidden Island to recover four precious treasures before it sinks. This isn’t a competitive game – you’re all on the same team, and you either recover the four treasures, escape via helicopter and win – or, the island sinks and you all go down with it.

Forbidden Island is the first cooperative board game I’ve ever come across, and it’s amazing how the dynamic changes as you argue over what the best move is for the group to take, rather than duke it out for a single winner. For this reason, I’ve heard that it makes a great family game.

5) Gloom


Gloom is set in a wonderful world of Edward Gorey-like depression and morbidity. Each player controls a macabre family, and the goal is to make them have the most miserable lives possible before finally killing them off. At the end of the game, the player with the most depressed family wins – but rival players can counteract the negativity by bestowing acts of kindness and happiness on opponents.

A card game, Gloom works best when you go beyond the card text and invent your own ideas of happiness and gloom.


Nearly all of these games can be found at the Compleat Strategist, located at 11 East 33rd Street, between Fifth & Madison in the shadow of the Empire State Building (at full retail price, FYI). Like a good bookstore, you could easily spend an hour shuffling through the games, and maybe discover a great way to pass a rainy Saturday.

If you come across a good game, definitely let me know!


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  1. The best game I’ve discovered recently is Bang! — a turn-based bard game that puts you in the middle of a spaghetti western. Really smart and well-designed.

  2. card game, not bard game.

  3. Great article, but you’ve made the cardinal sin of a web journo by reviewing a great shop that does a great job of sourcing and presenting products, and then you’ve linked to Amazon for each product, so that people can bypass the shop and buy it there instead!

    You haven’t even bothered to put online shopping links to Compleat themselves, where they’ve got all of these for sale in their own web store!

    For shame.

    • Wait, James, that’s the problem, they DON’T have all these for sale online! Forbidden Island, Pirate’s Cove, and the Carcassonne Big Box are not on their site, though I’m pretty sure you can get all three in store. I added the Ticket to Ride link, but that’s a hefty price for Gloom.

  4. I haven’t yet heard of Gloom – I shall have to look into it!

    As a team-effort, avert disaster game, I’d suggest Pandemic in place of Forbidden Island. My experience is that Pandemic has more replay interest.

  5. I should have known you were a gamer! *one of us*

  6. My favorite game is Dominion, featured prominently in the “…and still more board games…” photo. Truly an excellent game… it’s never the same twice, and if it ever becomes stale, pick up one of the expansions, and you’ve just increased the possible card combinations by like, a million.

    • I gotta check that one out. My only problem with card-based games is convincing casual players they’re not getting into something like Magic The Gathering, where you’re really not good at it until you’ve played a whole bunch of games.

  7. I love The Strategist. I used to go there for expansion sets for my Monopoly parties. They used to have a store in the Rock Center concourse.

    I played Forbidden Island over the summer, and it was fun, and definitely different for the collaborative nature of it. I just thought the individual games ran too short.

    My current favorite game is Munchkin. My kids and I have gotten their cousins and friends addicted. The art on the cards is by Jon Kovalic of DORK TOWER fame, and the humor makes for a lot of fun game play. I can’t seem to access The Strategist’s site from work, so I can’t provide a link.

    • Munchkin’s fun – I like Cthulhu Munchkin best! I just find you need to play it with, er, people with the Munchkin sense of humor (which sadly isn’t everyone).

  8. Under the radar indeed, who knew? There are worlds that I never knew existed.

  9. I Nick!

    I still have that Carcassone box with me, since I was the last one to leave the apartment 🙂

    • Ha, that’s great! I was kicking myself for not taking it, til I remembered the rule book was in German, which definitely doesn’t help with those problems you run into.

  10. I’ll just leave this here for those that haven’t watched it videos of some of the above mentioned games with the rules and game play with some of the hollywood geek actors.

  11. Love Compleat Strategist.

    Also, I second the support for Dominion.

    But if you’re looking for a great game for all ages that doesn’t require a lot of explanation (other than Ticket to Ride), you must check out Dixit.

    Over at The Dice Tower, Tom Vasel gives fantastic board game reviews:

  12. As the owner of a small, independent game shop in Tennessee, this post makes me happy. Please spread the word that there are so many cool board games out there!

    Might I also add Fluxx (and it’s many offshoots) to your list of fun games that are never the same each time?

  13. My partner & I were back in NYC over the holidays visiting family and we made a point of checking this shop out after seeing your post. Our picks were “Gloom” and “Nuns on the Run” and they absolutely lived up to expectation. I grew up with the classics and only recently started to be exposed to all the imaginative new board games that’re out there. Too fun!

    • Marie, really really glad to hear it. While I really appreciate the longevity of Parkers Bros. (hailing from my hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, no less), it does sadden me that their output has become the end-all standard. Good luck Glooming it up, and definitely 1) check out the expansions, and 2) feel free to add your own flavor text when the card descriptions become a bit tired.

  14. My game store of choice. Go to the store; it is worth paying the actual price rather than Amazon’s slashed prices. Places like this make NYC better; patronize ’em!

  15. What about Settlers of Catan? That’s also one of the best board games ever, not to mention the numerous add-ons and follow-ups to the game.

    I second the opinion by Curbob, check out Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek fame) and his friends on Tabletop @

    • Kuan, if you dig Settlers, more power to you. I own it, but it’s one of those games that has spent a lot of time collecting dust on my shelf. Every time I think of how I sell it to non-gamer friends, I come up with “You collect and trade resources…And…Hmmm…” It’s not that it’s not fun, and the expansions do add something. But there’s something very insular about each turn that turns me off. Meanwhile, I just got done playing my first game of Last Night On Earth, and you know what? I don’t think I ever got that feeling playing Cattan. But again, not saying Cattan is a bad game by any stretch, and I love that it’s a gateway board game experience for Barnes & Noble shoppers everywhere.

  16. Supremacy was the best game I’ve played… there were extra modules with Spys and Sabouteurs etc….wondering if the Compleat Strategist has this in-stock??

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