18-Card Holidays Challenge Finalist Announcement

Now that the big holiday season is (mostly) past us, it’s time to reveal the finalists for our 18-Card Holiday Challenge! Our team of judges has been hard at work poring over all 143 challenge submissions. We’ve seen games about setting the Thanksgiving table, hosting a holiday party for tipsy coworkers, rewrapping gifts, scrambling skeletons, a sci-fi egg hunt, and so much more!

For each entrant, all 3 judges evaluated the pitch videos and print-and-play files to find the most interesting, unique, and thematic games. From there, we discussed our top picks to figure out which ones would continue to the final round of judging. Interestingly, there was very little overlap between the judges' top picks. As a result, we have a higher number of finalists than usual, which just highlights how varied the submissions were!

Without further ado, here are the 15 finalists, listed in alphabetical order:

Ascent! The Bristol Balloon Fiesta Game

Jacques Carver

This solo game about launching, flying, and landing hot air balloons drew our eyes because of the way it uses its cards on the table to create a much larger play experience. You can almost see the balloons flying through the sky as they move across the imaginary board. 

Christmas Cutthroats

Nick Huster & Diana Lanzas Calero

It’s a holiday on the high seas! Christmas Cutthroats offers a unique twist on a traditional holiday experience as pirates battle over gifts. Perhaps the most exciting aspect, though, are the double-sided character cards that determine which actions a player can take at any given moment.



Nate LaFave

National Cat Herders Day may not be the most popular holiday, but this curious cat-collecting game has a light-hearted approach to its subject and a clever approach to its mechanics. With special abilities like CHONKY and STUBBORN, it’s clear that this game knows its audience. 



Franco De Joya & Joebyn Sewell

Dionysia sends players back to ancient Athens in search of drama. Players draft cards to create the perfect play, layering their scenes across 3 acts. Each twist and turn of the plot adds a set of icons that score in groups based on the topmost scene of the act. Dionysia’s crisp, clear take on an unexpected historical holiday earned its place in the finals.


Dyngus Day

Corey Andalora

Polish celebrants, rejoice! Dyngus Day is a set-collection game about celebrating Dyngus Day with the best combination of food possible. What sets it apart is its scoring: players share their hands with the players on either side, scoring the lower one. This gives Dyngus Day a communal element that makes it feel like a true holiday game.

Find the Afikomen

Marceline Leiman

Light and family-friendly, Find the Afikomen is a cute play on a Passover tradition of hiding matzoh for children to find. Players must be the first to complete three specific sets in sequence as they cycle through the deck in search of the cards they need.

Gifts Swap

Poki Chen

We saw quite a few gift-swapping games during this challenge, and the aptly-named Gifts Swap stood out as one of the best versions of that theme. Clear, simple actions make the game easy for new players to learn while still leaving room for deeper strategies to emerge, and the flexible options for scoring open up more interesting gameplay.


Adam Danoff

One of our judges described Krampusnacht as “deduction with depth” which perfectly explains the appeal of this 4-lane game. Players take the role of either Santa or Krampus, trying to influence kids to their side by playing hidden cards. With limited information available, they must anticipate the other player’s strategy if they hope to win.

Leaping Lions

Darryl Tan

The dancing lion is one of the most iconic sights associated with Chinese New Year. Leaping Lions builds on the Malaysian tradition, which incorporates platforms of different heights across which the lion dancers must leap in unison. This exciting theme carries through the game, which has players drafting cards and manipulating their personal tableau in a variety of ways to create the most impressive spectacle.

Lest We Forget

Nick Smith

While many of the submissions we received were celebratory, Lest We Forget was among the few entries that centered a more serious contemplation of what a holiday might mean. This solo game provides a lot to ponder as players arrange memorial markers. The placement of cards using overlapping corners gives the game a strong visual appeal alongside its contemplative theme.

Noche Buena

Juan Miguel Ala-Tolentino

The first of two finalists featuring Filipino Christmas traditions, Noche Buena builds on its shared tableau scoring with an interesting twist: the player’s last card in hand at the end of the game determines which food types in the tableau they’ll score. 

Parol - Christmas Lanterns

Ricky Andrade Jr.

Parol made an instant impression on the judges because of its beautiful table presence. This colorful game about Filipino Christmas lanterns is an eye-catching introduction to a holiday tradition many Button Shy fans may not be familiar with.

Sir Gawain & the Green Knight - A Yuletide Quest

Josiah Miles

Perhaps not your ordinary Yuletide fare, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight is a complex positional game with open information. Players must take advantage of the powerful abilities on the table as they attempt to advance their four knights to the other side of the board – while preventing the other player from doing the same!

Then to the Maypole

Mark Tuck

Then to the Maypole celebrates May Day by asking the player to move their dancers into position across 6 unique songs. Getting those dancers in place isn’t easy, as each one has a special ability that must be used or it costs the player points. With a strong theme and familiar mechanics, Then to the Maypole quickstepped its way into the finals.

Ugly Christmas Sweater

Jeremy Henderson

What holiday contest would be complete without an ugly Christmas sweater? This “shared tableau, individual scoring” game stands out because of its simple rules and smart scoring. Players must claim symbols in their own control row in order to score those same symbols in the shared rows between players, creating a natural tension around each card’s placement.

Congratulations to all the finalists of the 18-Card Holiday Challenge! For those who didn’t make the list, keep your eyes open for the next challenge. We’ll be announcing the winners of this one on or before February 2, 2024. To stay connected with the Button Shy community, and get all the updates on this challenge and more, please join the Button Shy Discord here: https://discord.gg/aUBMvnu

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