Christmas and board games go together like turkey and stuffing. But if the prospect of endless rounds of Monopoly and Cluedo fills you with dread, there are some far better alternatives. Here’s our rundown of some of the best games to play with your family this festive season.
Instead of charades, play … Concept
Charades is a mainstay of festive gaming, and there’s something inherently hilarious about watching your aunt Margaret flailing wildly as she attempts to mime The Silence of the Lambs after three sherries. But if you want take things to a slightly more cerebral level, check out Concept.
It sees players attempt to silently convey words or phrases by placing tokens on a board covered in symbols. It means you’ll have to be creative to get your meaning across. A man? The sky? Blue and red? Probably Superman. A film? Women? Music? Religion? It could be Sister Act. And, while there are plenty of simple options to play with, anyone who really fancies a challenge can opt for a tougher phrase such as: “To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
4-12 players, 30 minutes, ages 10+, £26.99. Designers: Gaëtan Beaujannot, Alain Rivollet
Instead of Scrabble, play … Wordsy
Scrabble may be the world’s favourite word game, but by modern standards it’s decidedly clunky. For some real lexicological fun try Wordsy, a slicker, more satisfying alternative that feels a bit like the classic gameshow Countdown.
Players compete to make words using a shared set of letters on randomly drawn cards. But while only the letters on the table will score you points, you can add extra ones. In the photo above, for instance, you could create the words “bench” or “packaging”. It means there’s no chance of being left with an unusable cluster of Qs, Xs and Zs.
There’s also a clever scoring system where a well-played short word can net you more points than a longer one. The result is simple, brainy and utterly addictive.
1-6 players, 20 minutes, ages 10+, £19.99. Designer: Gil Hova
Instead of Taboo, play … Codenames
This subtle game of espionage casts players as teams of spies attempting to identify their own operatives from a grid of secret agents’ code names. One player on each side knows the identities of the agents on the board, and they attempt to guide their team-mates to the right answers using a series of cryptic one-word clues.
The first team to correctly identify all of their agents wins, but there’s huge potential for confusion along the way. Overly ambiguous hints can lead players to mistakenly identify innocent bystanders or, worse, one of the opposing team’s spies, helping them towards victory. There’s also an assassin lurking somewhere in the grid – and revealing them results in instant, and ignominious, defeat.
Codenames squeezes moments of tension and laugh-out-loud humour out of a very simple premise. It’s a must-have game on anyone’s shelf and perfect for playing with big groups.
2-8 players (or more), 15 minutes, ages 14+, £16.99. Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Instead of Trivial Pursuit, play… Timeline
Trivial Pursuit is still the default option for family quiz contests, but there are plenty of better alternatives – and the smart but simple Timeline is one of the best.
Players start the game with a handful of cards, each showing a historic event, such as the battle of Waterloo or the sinking of the Titanic. You’ll take turns to play cards into a line in the middle of the table, aiming to arrange them in chronological order. Which came first: Hannibal’s crossing the alps, or Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon? The invention of chewing gum, or the invention of the shopping trolley?
The beauty of the game is that even when you are unsure of an answer, you can use your opponents’ previously played cards to narrow your options. You might not know whether the execution of William Wallace happened before or after the Black Death, but you can be pretty sure that it was after the reign of Cleopatra and before the American Declaration of Independence. It means that even when you find yourself stumped, you still have a fighting chance.
2-8 players, 15 minutes, ages 8+, £13.99. Designer: Frédéric Henry
Instead of fighting with your in-laws, play… EXIT: The Game
Christmas may be the season of goodwill, but it can also spark some unholy family bust-ups. If you’re worried about a brawl breaking out over the mince pies, why not try a cooperative game that puts everybody on the same side?
The EXIT series is a tabletop take on real-world escape room games, Crystal Maze-style experiences which challenge players to overcome brain-teasing problems using their powers of logic, perception and lateral thinking. This cardboard version comes with masterfully designed puzzles. And for every one you solve, another seems to pop up to take its place, making the game more intricate and absorbing as you play.
There are six games in the series, all with different settings, from a top-secret laboratory to an ancient Egyptian tomb. They’re one-and-done affairs: you can’t replay them once you have unravelled their mysteries. But at £13 a pop, they’re cheaper than taking your family to see a movie – and much more fun.
1-6 players, 45-150 minutes, ages 12+, £12.99. Designers: Inka and Markus Brand
- What are you looking forward to playing this Christmas? Let us know in the comments below.
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