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6 board games and RPGs to play over Christmas, no matter what your holiday plans are

Always pass the vibe check.

Featured image for Christmas games list 2023.
Image credit: Larian Studios, Scorpion Masque, Plaid Hat Games, Chaosium, The Op, Iello, Dicebreaker

As the Ghost of Christmas Present says in The Muppet Christmas Carol: “Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.” We’re applying this warmhearted philosophy to the tabletop by providing you with a collection of recommendations for games to play over the holidays, so that regardless of where you are and who you’re with you’ll always be able to have fun.

Whilst some folks love getting together with their families, others prefer a Christmas filled with friends. Whatever your plans for the holidays are, we want to make sure that you’ve got the best possible game to hand, no matter if you’re looking for silliness, seriousness or scariness.

The best game for a family gathering: The ART Project

Save priceless art and Christmas

The ART Project sees player flying across the world to fight against an insidious organisation. | Image credit: Dicebreaker/The Op

The ART Project is a co-op board game for one to six players that challenges you to travel across the world in search of stolen art. As members of a heroic organisation dedicated to protecting important art from the greedy White Hand gang, players will need to work together to find and save various films, paintings, busts, books and music.

Released this year, The ART Project is a fantastic co-op game which has captured the hearts of the Dicebreaker team, with Matt calling it the ideal next game for Pandemic fans. What makes it ideal for a family gathering is its excellent cooperative gameplay and scalable difficulty.

In the game, players move between locations on a map, drawing and choosing from one of two cards each round. Some cards will require the group to expend certain resources – fuel, walkie-talkies, guns - in exchange for others, as well as place White Hand members on specific places on the board. However, players can play their cards in any order they want, allowing them to devise a strategy around getting the resources they need.

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The group can then decide to move to other spaces on the board – which costs fuel – and fight any agents of the White Hand stationed there. Combat has whichever players are involved rolling dice to beat a target number, which will change depending on how many White Hand members are there and whether the players have already picked up any art pieces. The more art pieces players can acquire, which spawn whenever three matching symbols on cards are played, the harder the fights will get.

However, players can increase their chances of success in combat by exchanging walkie-talkies for ally dice, which they’ll keep for the rest of the game. The more art pieces collected, the closer players are to victory and the harder their encounters with the White Hand become – making for the perfect rise in tension. Each board is double-sided and features multiple different destinations, such as Egypt and Japan, with their own unique rules and difficulty levels.

For a brilliant family board game that everyone can get involved in, be sure to bring The ART Project to your Christmas lunch.

Buy a copy of the The ART Project from Zatu.

The best game to play over drinks with friends: Gap

Suitable for shots

An image of cards from Gap.
Its quick playtime and easy-to-learn rules make Gap the perfect game for social situations. | Image credit: Iello, Arcane Wonders

Gap is a card game that supports between two and six players and can be played in a very speedy 10 minutes. The goal of the game is to have the most points possible by carefully collecting number cards of varying colours.

Each round has players playing cards to pick up other cards. Depending on the card played, the current player will either take any matching cards in the row or any cards that are numerically adjacent. For example, if a 2 was played and there was a 1 and 3 in the row, the player would take those cards. Should there be no matching cards or any numerically adjacent cards in the shared row, the player will need to place their card into the row and take nothing.

Any cards players do take need to be placed within a column in front of them, with all cards being placed alongside their matching colours. This continues until players have played all the cards from their hands, before they count up their total points. A player’s point total is made up of the largest number of cards they have in a matching colour minus the smallest number of cards in a matching colour. For example, seven blue cards minus two red cards equals five total points.

This is where the drinking with friends aspect comes into Gap, as whichever player has the lowest number of points each round can choose to drink in honour of their loss. Even if alcohol isn’t involved, Gap is still a great little card game to squeeze into any fast-moving gathering of friends.

Buy a copy of Gap from Zatu.

The best game for a couple’s Christmas: Sky Team

Christmas in the cockpit

Sky Team board game spill with box included
Players need to trust each other when playing Sky Team together. | Image credit: Le Scorpion Masqué

The winner of this year's Tabletop Award for Best Board Game, Sky Team is a two-player-only title that sees you attempting to fly a plane as pilot and co-pilot. The players must work together to successfully land an aircraft in a variety of situations, reaching the right speed and direction to ensure a safe landing.

Each round has the players rolling dice behind a screen, before deciding how to use each die result. Dice can be used to adjust the speed and turning radius of the plane, as well as activating the parts of the aircraft that are essential to landing safely. As well as controlling the plane, players will need to contact air traffic control to help keep the landing zone clear of other aircraft attempting to land at the same time, or otherwise risk a deadly collision.

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There are multiple ways players can prematurely end the two-player board game: flying too fast and falling off the runway or tipping the plane too far to one side and flipping it upside down. All very stressful stuff.

What’s more, players cannot discuss their dice results with one another before placing them onto the board, with each player taking turns to use their dice. This means that players will need to learn from each other and trust in their decisions. If players are struggling, they can choose to exchange minimal clues – with the options for communication being open to interpretation.

Sky Team is a great board game for couples to play over the Christmas break as its challenging and engaging gameplay, as well as cooperative theme, will bring them even closer together - and might even strengthen their teamwork skills.

Buy a copy of Sky Team from Zatu.

The best game for holiday adventures: Freelancers: A Crossroads Game

Magic, wonder and garbage

Freelancers features a rather unconventional fantasy world for players to explore.

Freelancers: A Crossroads Game is an adventure board game based on a gameplay system that aims to provide a narrative experience on the tabletop.

Taking place many years in the future, Freelancers has players becoming members of the gig economy attempting to earn a living gathering loot from piles of junk left by a now-dead humanity. As a team of weird creatures, players will explore different locations to complete various quests, meeting new people, discovering secrets and getting into fights along the way.

Rather than taking place in a traditionally fantastical setting, Freelancers is set in a strange post-apocalyptic world populated by goblin cyborgs, fish people and robots. The art style for Freelancers does a lot to carry the game’s immense charm, as well as its light-hearted and humorous writing. Instead of reading from a book, players use a companion app which will give them passages to read from. There are even options to have the game’s writing be narrated to you by some excellent actors.

The gameplay for Freelancers is very straightforward. Whenever players are at a set location, they can choose to perform one of several actions specific to that place. Depending on their choices, players can advance the plot, discover new quests, meet new allies or get into trouble. Certain situations will find players fighting rival freelancers or monsters, using their characters’ unique abilities and equipment to battle. Players will also have a camp they can retreat to if they need to rest and recuperate from their travels if they need to.

For a straight-out-of-the-box roleplaying experience that requires absolutely no planning and can be paused and picked up at any time, Freelancers is an excellent choice to enjoy an adventure-filled Christmas with.

Buy a copy of Freelancers: A Crossroads Game from Zatu.

The best game for a nightmare before Christmas: Call of Cthulhu

Staying alive will be a Christmas miracle

Artwork for Call of Cthulhu - Mansions of Madness.
Many horrors await players in the dark alternative reality of Call of Cthulhu. | Image credit: Chaosium

Though some people love the bright lights and wholesome fun of the festive season, others crave a dive into the depths of terror during the darkest days of the year. If you’re looking for something scary for the holidays, then Call of Cthulhu is a more than suitable choice.

In Call of Cthulhu, players become ordinary people who stumble upon a terrifying plot that could spell the end of the world, with one player taking the role of the Keeper – the person who narrates the story and controls all the other characters, much like a D&D dungeon master. Based on the Cthulhu Mythos, Call of Cthulhu: Seventh Edition is the latest version of the tabletop RPG and has players creating characters to explore its deadly world with.

Whenever players encounter a situation where they face resistance, they can attempt to overcome the challenge by rolling a d100, with the goal of meeting or rolling under their character’s number for the most relevant skill. For instance, if a character was trying to look for a switch to open a secret door, they’ll need to pass a spot (hidden) check to succeed. Passing checks is hard in Call of Cthulhu and failure is sometimes the only way forward.

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Unlike many other classic tabletop RPGs, Call of Cthulhu is more concerned with frightening players than empowering them. As a group of normal people meeting incredibly strange and dangerous things, players can expect their characters to suffer both physical and mental injuries along the way.

The best players can hope for when playing Call of Cthulhu is that their characters survive - albeit bruised and traumatised, considering the many eldritch monsters, cultists and even powerful intergalactic beings they’ll possibly encounter.

For people who like a side of terror with their Christmas cheer, you can’t go wrong with one of the longest-running horror RPGs ever created.

Buy a Call of Cthulhu RPG starter kit from Amazon.

The best game for a solo hideaway: Baldur's Gate 3

December means Dungeons & Dragons

An image of bard level-up screen from Baldur's Gate 3.
For some, creating and levelling up their character may be their favourite part of Baldur's Gate 3. | Image credit: Larian Studios, Dicebreaker

If socialising isn’t your thing over the Christmas holidays, then playing Baldur’s Gate 3 is the perfect way to spend a solo vacation.

Set within the world of tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, and featuring gameplay heavily inspired by the D&D 5E system, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a fantastic tabletop-based video game. Having recently walked home with six accolades from The Game Awards, BG3 is more than worth your time if you want to get lost in a narratively rich fantasy world in which you’ll be making important choices, meeting interesting characters and fighting dangerous creatures.

The third in a series of video game RPGs set in the Forgotten Realms D&D setting – with the first having been released all the way back in 1998 – Baldur's Gate 3 sees players making their own character and controlling them on their adventures through the Sword Coast and beyond. Similar to D&D 5E, players can choose from a variety of playable species and classes, as well as customising their appearance and other aspects of their character.

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Their character can be joined by various other characters whom they can form relationships with – including romantic ones – and invite them to join their adventuring party. Players can take control of up to four characters at once, including their own custom-created character, which comes in useful when encountering different challenges.

Some of these challenges can include passing skill checks by applying modifiers to digital dice rolls; others may be fights with hostile beings. During combat, the player-controlled characters will be able to take actions on their turns such as performing attacks, casting spells and using their abilities. Players can also find other ways to progress through the game besides fighting, such as persuading potential enemies to stand aside or finding alternative paths in the environment.

A solo Christmas doesn’t have to be a boring one thanks to the brilliantness of Baldur’s Gate 3.

Buy a copy of Baldur's Gate 3 from GOG.

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Alex Meehan avatar
Alex Meehan: After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.
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