Top 5 Christmas Games 2018

Snowman Chess

Christmas is fast approaching again.  Time for some serious gaming!  I have been playing games with my extended family pretty much my entire life at Christmas and it’s always a highlight of the year for me.

What should you play though?  You often have an unusual mix of people to play games with during the holidays, from the very young to the very old.  You certainly can’t break out your favourite heavy Euro unless you have very intellectual family members!

So in no particular order, here are my recommendations for games to play at Christmas, whether it’s with friends or family…


WerewordsWerewords

This is a bizarre mix of 20 Questions and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, but it’s surprisingly good!  Each round one person (the Mayor) is given a magic word, which they have to get everyone else to guess by answering Yes/No questions.  There is no limit to the number of questions, but there is a time limit.

The twist is that two other people already know the word everyone is trying to guess.  One of them (the Seer) is trying to help everyone get it right, while the other (the Werewolf) is trying to throw people off the scent.

Neither can be too obvious though, because if the magic word is guessed correctly and the Werewolf can work out who the Seer is, everyone (except the Werewolf) loses!  Conversely, if time runs out before the word is guessed, but people can work out who the werewolf is, they win (and the Werewolf loses).

It’s quick, it plays a lot of people and it’s always lots of fun.

Ganz Schon CleverPretty Darn Clever (Ganz Schön Clever)

This is a roll-and-write, which means when it’s your turn you roll some dice, decide which ones to use and then write the appropriate numbers on your scoresheet.  You’re attempting to fill in as much of your sheet as you can to score the most points.

It’s much cleverer than it sounds though.  Filling numbers in certain rows or columns allows you gain extra actions or fill in other sections of the sheet for free.  It manages to take the heart of a good Euro – pre-planning and effective combo-ing of actions – and condense it into a really small package.

The other thing that elevates it above other roll-and-writes for me is how you take the dice.  You get three picks, and you can take any dice you like, but you lose any dice lower than the one you choose each time.  Higher dice are usually better so you want to take 5s and 6s, but not if you’re going to lose 4 dice because of it!  When someone else it taking their turn, you also get to use one of their lost dice, so it keeps you invested in the game, even if it’s not your go.

It’s seen a lot of play at my local boardgame café, and for good reason – it’s fantastic!

HanabiHanabi

In a similar vein to Pretty Darn Clever, if you’re looking for something simple and short, but with plenty of interesting decisions, you can’t do much better than Hanabi.  It’s co-operative though, so you may or may not prefer it to Pretty Darn Clever.

In Hanabi you can’t see your own hand of cards.  You can give clues to other players about the colours or the numbers of the cards in their hand (but not both at once) and once you have enough clues, you can play your cards into ascending piles in the middle.

You just have to play 1 to 5 in each colour between you in order to win.  Sounds easy right?  It’s simple, but it’s certainly not easy.  Each time you give a clue, you use up one of your clue tokens and the only way to get them back (so you can continue to give clues) is to discard cards.  But what if you discard a card that’s useful?  Aargh!  The decisions are really tricky sometimes.

There’s far more depth to this game than it first appears.  It’s actually my all-time favourite game, so I couldn’t really recommend this one any higher!

Captain SonarCaptain Sonar

In a completely different vein, Captain Sonar is the ultimate team party game.  The only drawback is that you really need exactly 8 players.  Each team consists of 4 players who take on different roles on-board a submarine.  It’s a real-time game in which the two teams are sailing around a stretch of ocean trying to blow each other out of the water!

The captain on each team looks at a map and calls out directions (eg. “East!”) to travel in, marking the route on the map.  Meanwhile, the radio operator has to listen to the other team’s directions to try to work out where they are (you can’t sail through islands, so you can narrow down the possible positions over time).

The weapons operator has to charge up the weapons and when the captain thinks they know where the opponents are, they can fire torpedoes or drop mines.  However, bits of the submarine keep breaking and the engineer has to constantly try to fix them.  All of this in real-time!

If it sounds hectic, it is!  It’s an awful lot of fun with the right group though!

Time's Up!Time’s Up!

If you’ve got a large group and you need an entertaining party game for everyone, there’s nothing better than Time’s Up!  There is a published version, but you can play it with pen and paper.  Everyone writes down the names of three famous characters (eg. Mickey Mouse, Einstein, Donald Trump, etc.) on separate bits of paper and you put them in all in a hat.

Players take it in turns, alternating between the teams, to get their team to guess as many of the words as they can in 30 seconds.  The twist is that each round has stricter and stricter rules about what is allowed.  In round one, anything is allowed (talking/acting/singing/etc.).  In round two, you can only say one word (but humming/charades would be fine as well).  In the final round, you can’t make any sounds at all, so it’s got to be charades!

Now you might think acting out Einstein would be very difficult, but each round you go through all the names in the hat, so everyone will have heard Einstein at least twice before.  You just need some kind of action to get you into the right ballpark and then people will usually guess it fairly quickly.

It always goes down well in any group.  Just make sure you have an MC who can keep order or things can get pretty heated!


Do you play games with friends and family over Christmas?  Which games go down best with your group?

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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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