Games to Play at Christmas

Christmas

It’s Christmas!  Time to play some games!  Except, you’re surrounded by family members of wildly varying ages and gaming experience.  How do you find games that you can play with Granny and the kids, and adults who only play games when they’re with you?

My extended family all tend to get together at Christmas (this year we have 7 adults and 7 kids) and games are a high priority!  So if you’re not sure what to play, let me provide a few suggestions of games that have worked well with my family over the years…


In order to cater for the various situations you might find yourself in, I’ve separated my recommendations into categories based on who you’re playing with.

Everyone

Sometimes you’ve got the entire family together and you want something that will work with absolutely everyone all at once.  Try these:

TelestrationsTelestrations

Telestrations is a classic party game where everyone has to draw pictures, pass them on and then guess what the previous person has drawn.  It has many advantages over something like Pictionary.  Most importantly, the worse you are at drawing, the more fun the game is!

It’s not competitive and everyone draws or guesses simultaneously, so there’s no downtime either.  It’s the perfect party game for extended families.  Everyone starts with a different word or phrase that they have to draw.  The drawing phase is timed and then everyone passes on their drawing for the next person to guess.

Once the next person has guessed though, you hide the picture, pass on the guess, and the next person has to draw the guess.  You carry on round the circle alternating between drawing and guessing and, as you might expect, the thing being drawn keeps changing as it goes round.  The worse the drawing, the more it changes – with some hilarious results!  It’s particularly great to play with kids.

There’s no scoring or objective.  You just look through all the drawings and guesses once your original drawing gets back to you and laugh!

Cash n GunsCash ‘n Guns

Rather surprisingly for a game about pointing guns at everyone, this works really well, no matter who plays, from the very young to the very old.  The guns don’t look realistic at all (they’re made of bright orange foam) so it’s unlikely to offend anybody’s sensibilities.

The game simulates a Mexican standoff: everyone has a gun and on the count of three, they all simultaneously point their guns at each other.  Everyone has a limited amount of ammo though, so before pointing the guns, each player has to decide whether or not load their gun for this round.

If you have lots of guns pointed at you, you can decide to run away.  Anyone who’s left then fires their gun (which might just go ‘click’ if they haven’t loaded any ammo) and anyone who gets shot is out of the round.

Whoever is left standing gets to share out a pile of loot in the middle and the objective of the game is to get as much loot as possible (without dying) by the end of the game.  It’s played over several rounds and while it does have player elimination, everyone has three lives so if you get shot you’re not out immediately.  By the time people actually start losing all their lives, the game is usually close to finishing.

It’s a light-hearted game that’s very easy for people to play and is always lots of fun!

Adults Only

So you’ve plonked all the kids down in the living room to watch the latest Disney film and the adults have a couple of precious hours without them.  What do you play?

Pandemic: IberiaPandemic

Not everyone is going to want to spend their kid-free time playing a boardgame so you probably have reduced numbers and I find any of the many varieties of Pandemic work really well here.  This year we’ve been playing Pandemic: Iberia, which makes for a nice change.

If your family is anything like mine, you may have several members who were traumatised playing Monopoly and Risk as a child.  Games that lasted for hours and always seemed to end in tears.  Playing something co-operative is the only way you can get these people to play a boardgame.

Pandemic also has a theme that everyone can get behind: trying to stop the spread of deadly diseases.  The rules are simple, it doesn’t last too long and I find the puzzle solving aspect of it really satisfying.  It’s a family favourite.

 

CodenamesCodenames

I would probably recommend CrossTalk over Codenames actually, but Codenames is much easier to get hold of and my family has still had a great time playing Codenames over the years.  In case you have more than four players, if your family like word games at all, Codenames is great.

Being a team game, new players don’t need to worry too much about the rules initially; they can just pick it up as you play.  Each team has a clue giver who is trying to communicate certain words to their team from a grid of words laid out on the table in the middle.

The tricky aspect is that each clue you give can only be a single word.  Trying to link ‘Antartica’ with ‘jar’ and ‘knight’ using only a single word is very difficult!  You usually end up trying to connect to only two words (or even one if you’re really struggling).

It’s fairly cerebral, but for adults who want a grown-up activity while the kids aren’t around, it works a treat.

Kids Only

Being the official provider of games in my family, there are times when the kids all want to play a game (and the adults don’t!) and this duty usually falls to me.  Are there any games for kids that you would still enjoy?

The Animal Game

This is an old parlour game, but it’s a lot of fun with kids.  Everyone sits in a circle and each seat (not person) is given an animal sound and action.  For example, the lion action involves raising your hands like claws and going, “Rrrraaargghhhh!”.  Any child sitting in the lion’s seat takes on that animal while they’re sitting there.

The lion is always the king of the jungle and occupies the top spot (you should sit in this spot initially).  Work your way round the circle assigning animals until you get to the last spot before the lion, which is the bottom spot and is always the snake (put your hands together, wiggle them forwards and go, “Sssssss!”).

Starting with the lion, the child in that seat does the lion action followed by one other animal’s action.  The child sitting in that animal’s seat then does their action again, followed by another animal’s action, and on it goes.  If any child does an action wrong or takes too long, they have to stand up and sit in the bottom seat (the snake).

Every child below them then moves up one seat to fill the space and you begin again with the lion.  The trick here is that all of those children now have different animals because the animal belongs to the seat, not the child.  This makes it much more difficult to get their actions right, which provides a great deal of entertainment.

Be creative with the animal actions (don’t worry about being too realistic) and the kids will have a lot of fun with it.  You want to start as the lion to provide a clear start to every round.  I sometimes say that the kids’ objective is to try to knock me off the top spot.  As they get the hang of it, you can go faster and be more strict about them getting the sounds correct in time.

The AdventurersThe Adventurers: The Temple of Chac

If you don’t have too many children and they’re not too young, The Adventurers is great.  It’s a push-your-luck game with a bit of strategy to it.  Everyone gets a character (with some nice miniatures) and they have to run through a temple grabbing as much treasure as they can while being chased by a giant boulder.

If the boulder catches up with them, they die and they’re out, but it goes very slowly at first so there’s no danger of anyone dying early.  As the game goes on, the boulder gets faster and the more treasure the players have picked up, the slower they go!

You think everything is going to be fine and you’ll easily get out, but near the end you suddenly realise that you may have picked up too much treasure and taken too long!  Whoever gets out with the most treasure wins.  I never get out.  I’m always too greedy, but it’s lots of fun.


So those are my Christmas picks.  Which games would you recommend to play with families over Christmas?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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