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10 best board games to play at Christmas instead of Monopoly

Gather the family around some proper Christmas crackers.
People playing board games at Christmas
Image: Monkey Business / stock.adobe.com

You should never play Monopoly for Christmas. It's boring, goes on forever, everybody's played it a billion times and it's guaranteed to end in frustration and fury alike. No, there's so many greater options, so we've listed the best Christmas board games for family and friends, with options for all ages.

If you've been looking for a great board game to enjoy with your loved ones these holidays, or just an alternative to bloody Monopoly, that's no problem. Whether it's flicking discs at gunslingers, building towers for rhinos or pulling the alphabet out of a banana - no, seriously - we've got everything you need to have a fun Christmas here.

Best board games for Christmas

  • Cockroach Poker: Deal with all the less-loved critters of the animal kingdom in this bouncy bluffing game.
  • The Chameleon: Find out who among you is a sneaky reptile, or bamboozle your way to victory.
  • Point Salad: Assemble the best salad possible in this crunchy resource game.
  • Rhino Hero: Super Battle: Craft a high tower with cards and have your animals battle for victory in the rooms you make!
  • Bananagrams: A word-making game about assembling letter tiles as quickly as possible.
  • Ticket to Ride: London: Build a network of public transport across London before your friends can.
  • Mysterium: A ghostly game about communicating with spirits using only images and flashcards.
  • Flick 'em Up!: Have a high noon shootout using special flicking discs in this quick dexterity game.
  • Forbidden Island: Collaborate with your friends to escape a terrible fate on a cursed island.
  • Saboteur: What's yours is mine (a gold mine, that is) in this game about sabotaging a dwarf's dig site.
  • Blockbuster: Movie trivia and goofy acting meet in the middle in this pop culture guessing game.
  • Catan: A classic resource-management game in which sheep and rocks are the first steps to a glorious trading empire.

So unwrap our list of the best board games to play at Christmas below, with every single one fit to grace the top of any tannenbaum (or lay beneath its tinselled boughs). Discard that copy of One Direction Monopoly and pick up any one of these shining stars of the board game world instead.

1. Cockroach Poker

An all-ages bluffing game where bugs and vermin are your currency and your weapons alike

best Christmas board games
No puns for this caption. They bug me too much.

Despite what the slightly unpalatable name might suggest, Cockroach Poker isn’t actually a gambling game, so do encourage your kids to get involved in the festive cocky-roach activities. That said, there will be plenty of bluffing involved, so if you’ve got a terrible poker face then we’re sorry for the steamrolling you’re about to receive.

In Cockroach Poker players have a handful of delightful creatures such as rats, spiders and, of course, the titular cockroach, which they must attempt to fobb off on their fellow players by passing them off as something else. For example, if I handed someone a fly but said it was a scorpion and they believed me, then they would have to attempt to pass it off as the same thing or something else. This continues until someone is rightfully called out as lying or wrongfully accused, with the card going to whichever player slipped up. If someone manages to collect four of the same creature then they are declared the loser and everyone else wins.

Cockroach Poker is a fantastic party game for Christmas because it reminds us to care for all the lonely little critters shunned during the festive season - and it’s a lot fun to play to boot.

Buy Cockroach Poker on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

2. The Chameleon

Social deduction at its finest in this interrogation-based game

best Christmas board games
Bonus points if your eyes can look in different directions, right?

It’s time for another game about weird animals and bluffing, this one being social deduction game: The Chameleon. In the world of this board game chameleons are ostracised for their sneaky ways and cannot be trusted - therefore, they must be rooted out through a series of word choices and careful observation. Ah, the ol’ yuletide tradition.

In The Chameleon each player receives a card telling them if they are or are not the chameleon, before the secret word is revealed to everyone but said reptile. Players must then select a word that they think relates to the secret answer without giving the chameleon too much to go on, because despite not knowing what the topic is, the chameleon has to give a word as well. The majority of players only win if the chameleon is found, so they have to work quickly to narrow down their choices, whilst the chameleon needs to work out the secret word if they want to escape.

The Chameleon is a refreshingly simple social deduction game because there’s almost no baggage attached- making it perfect for lazy Christmas afternoons.

Buy The Chameleon on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

3. Point Salad

A resource-managing card game about making the perfect salad

best Christmas board games
Lettuce gather round the board…

Christmas may be a time for heaving roast dinners and great fat puddings smothered in brandy, but there’s still plenty of room for a bit of salad - or, in this case, a Point Salad. The Dicebreaker team is very fond of this game and for good reason; Point Salad is an excellent little card-drafting title with an exceptionally simple ruleset.

Every turn a player is invited to select either two vegetable cards or a single points card from a shared pool. Vegetable cards don’t mean diddly-squat unless you have the right points cards to score them with. For example, a card might mean each onion you have is worth one point. However, having to take from a shared pool means that you’re also competing with everyone else to get the cards you want, so forming a good backup plan is essential if you want to win. Additionally, some cards will mean that certain vegetables count for minus points, which you’ll have to balance out if you want to grab the ultimate victory.

Even if you probably won’t eat a salad this Christmas season, at least you’ll be able to play with one.

Buy Point Salad on Zatu and Amazon US.

4. Rhino Hero: Super Battle

Stack cards to create your own tower and make it to the top

best Christmas board games
You know, I'm not sure this building's up to code.

Reindeer may be the more suitable animal to celebrate during the festive period, but can they fly? Actually, scrap that. Do they beat up rival animals in a tower-block race to save the city? I didn’t think so. Which is why rhinos should be your go-to choice for awesome aerial animals this Christmas, and the best way to show your appreciation is to play Rhino Hero: Super Battle.

As with the original family favourite Rhino Hero, you’ll be stacking cards to create a suitable building for the masked crusader to climb up. However, this time you’ll also be competing with other super-animals to successfully reach the top of the tower and save the day. Each turn players select a horizontal ‘floor’ card which they must successfully balance atop two vertical ‘wall’ cards, before rolling to see which floor they’ll be placing their chosen hero on. If they happen to land on the same floor as another super-animal then they must battle for supremacy of that particular floor, with the losing player having to move down a level.

Rhino Hero: Super Battle may not be especially complex but it is a very tense and exciting game to play.

Buy Rhino Hero: Super Battle on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

5. Bananagrams

A simple, Scrabble-like game about creating words with letter tiles

best Christmas board games
A man, a plan, a canal, Bananagrams! Oh, wait.

Citrus fruits and berries may be more traditional Christmas fare, but I do believe that the eccentric banana also has a place in modern-day festivities. A perfect accompaniment to a plate of spiced biscuits and aerodynamic enough to balance on the branch of a winter pine, the banana can play many roles in the festive cheer - including that of a great Christmas board game.

In this case, Bananagrams is a short but sweet word game actually contained within a banana-shaped bag, wherein players compete to finish their own crossword faster than anyone else. Once their select supply of letter tiles have run out players must take what they need from a shared pool, with the game ending when the first player declares their crossword completed after all the available tiles have been taken.

There’s nothing more to Bananagrams than this, thereby keeping things as accessible and as fast-paced as possible. After all, no-one wants to squirm over complicated word puzzles when they’re warm and full of food.

Buy Bananagrams on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

6. Ticket to Ride: London

A recreation of the classic train-building game set in bustling London

best Christmas board games
Games pass by quickly and easily, so it's actually a lot better than London's public transport.

Where is A Christmas Carol set? In the snowy streets of jolly ol’ London town, of course. So what could be a more festive activity then travelling its beloved streets in the 1970s?

Ticket to Ride: London is the latest spin-off in the hit train game series and, though not set in the Victorian era of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale (Ticket to Ride: United Kingdom is), it is an authentic way of touring the historical city. A more straightforward version of the original game, Ticket to Ride: London doesn’t actually involve any locomotive travel, instead having players catch iconic double-decker buses to claim routes. As you collect transportation cards you’ll be able to discard them to control the corresponding paths, with the player controlling the most paths being the winner.

A faster and simpler way to play Ticket to Ride due to the fact games wrap up (a little festive joke for you there) in around 15 minutes, this game is a fantastic way to pass the time between sumptuous courses of Christmas dinner.

Buy Ticket to Ride: London on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

7. Mysterium

A lightly spooky seance game about deducing what your companions are trying to tell you

best Christmas board games
You will be visited by three ghosts - and none of them will be very good at explaining themselves.

Mysterium makes another appearance on our best Halloween games list, but we'd argue it's more than worthy of both, as - to keep the Christmas Carol theme going - it's a fun seance game about communicating with ghosts in the 19th century.

Don't worry for those of you with kids - Mysterium isn't really scary, just nicely atmospheric. The ghosts are just asking for help from the players, trying to communicate their orders to the living players using only weird pictures. Does this image of a hamster steering a train lead me more to the bathroom, or the lounge? One player, as the ghost themselves, has to try and guess how the other players think, silently handing out surreal images and hoping that their meaning will be understood before the clock strikes midnight. Jacob Marley would certainly approve.

Buy Mysterium on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

8. Flick ‘em Up!

A cowboy-themed dexterity game that has you shoot discs at your opponents' minions

best Christmas board games
But can you flick from the hip?

Back in the days where we had nothing better to do during the Christmas holidays than flicking through TV channels like TCM and ITV4, western movies became a staple of the dark winter afternoons.

In an effort to relive such gloriously irresponsible times you could bust out a copy of Flick ‘em Up! - a game of outlaws and lawmen facing off in the Wild West. Flick ‘em Up! isn’t just festive because of its rootin-tootin theme, but also because it's one of the best choices for keeping the whole family happy by involving arts and crafts: you build your cowboy town from the game’s available pieces of 3D scenery. Once things are set up, players then choose whether to be on the team of courageous lawmen or ruthless outlaws. Actually playing Flick ‘em Up! involves moving and shooting cowboys by accurately flicking discs at the opponents’ units, with shots only counting if a player’s cowboy is successfully knocked over. Laying out enemy units is important but it may not necessarily be crucial to the current scenario, with players having to pay attention to whatever the game’s overall goal may be.

Clear away those gravy-covered plates and fill the table with spaghetti (westerns): Flick ‘em Up! is merry, messy fun.

Buy Flick 'Em Up! on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

9. Forbidden Island

Work together, or sink together!

best Christmas board games
Great game, terrible holiday destination.

What can encapsulate the feeling of Christmas togetherness more than working out how to escape a cursed island before everyone drowns in the steadily rising waters? There’s nothing quite like a bit of simulated danger to really bring people together.

Which is exactly what you’ll find in Forbidden Island, another co-op game by Pandemic designer Matt Leacock. In Forbidden Island you and your fellow shipwrecked explorers must search for a collection of valuable treasures and items in order to successfully escape the sinking ruins. As the water levels rise tiles begin to fall into the sea’s depths and it becomes harder to find what you need to get away, so players will have to coordinate their efforts as carefully as possible.

The start of a fantastic series that also includes Forbidden Desert and Sky, Forbidden Island is a great way to lose yourself in somewhere other than the miserably cold winter climes.

Buy Forbidden Island on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

10. Saboteur

A fast-paced trickery game about hunting for treasure deep inside a mine

best Christmas board games
That mine? Mine!

Frankincense, myrrh and gold. Classic Christmas iconography. “But where does gold come from?” I hear you ask. (Yes, you definitely asked this.) Why, from the dwarves working away down in the mines of course! (Please don’t fact-check me on this one.)

To commend the efforts of those brave dwarves, why not gather your loved ones to play a festive game of Saboteur, in which a team of courageous dwarves venture into the mines to find worthy treasures before finding their way back to their surface dwellings once more. That’s if the machinations of the sneaky saboteur dwarves don’t steal all the gold themselves. In Saboteur, players are either an honest miner or cheating saboteur, with roles remaining secret until they are revealed at the end of the game. The miners must retrieve gold cards whilst building a path to the goal card (or exit) by laying corresponding cards adjacent to each other. The saboteurs will attempt to interrupt this path by laying down appropriate blocking cards, all whilst taking the treasures for themselves.

Even though the game might have you at each other’s throats for a time, Saboteur is so quick to play that grudges will soon be forgotten. Hopefully.

Buy Saboteur on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

11. Blockbuster

A movie-guessing game that feels like the natural evolution of charades

best Christmas board games
Film buffs, unite!

Movies are a big part of most Christmases - sitting around the TV, absorbing It's a Wonderful Life or The Sound of Music. Or, if you're really lucky, Gremlins. Blockbuster takes that idea and runs with it, a fun trivia-like game that has players remember and act out films to make their way to victory.

There's also a big nostalgia theme running through it - it does come in a VHS box, after all - but that feels nicely appropriate on Christmas, when half the films on TV are in black-and-white and how everybody over 50 keeps talking about how much more snow there was back in their childhood Christmases. Crack open Blockbuster, muster up your best Humphrey Bogart impression, and while away the wintery hours together.

Buy Blockbuster on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

12. Catan

The legendary resource-managing game that has you build your own industrious kingdom

Catan board game Layout
All joking aside, if you put the thief on that sheep tile, Christmas is cancelled. Swear to god.

We’re finishing things up with an absolute classic. Catan (formerly known as Settlers of Catan) is undoubtedly one of many people’s first board gaming experiences and for good reason. The game’s ruleset is easy to digest and it provides a great introduction to some fundamental tabletop mechanics, such as managing and trading resources. What’s more in the spirit of Christmas gift-giving than swapping wood for sheep?

If you’re unfamiliar with Catan, it’s a game wherein players attempt to form their own settlements in a brand new world, by negotiating trades with other nations to obtain the resources they need to develop their thriving communities. New roads and buildings need brick, oar, wood, grain and sheep to be built, so strategically placing your settlements, offering good deals and a bit of luck are essential to success in Catan.

An easy-going experience that appeals to pretty much everyone and anyone, Catan is a surefire bet when it comes to picking a board game to play at Christmas.

Buy Catan on Amazon UK and Amazon US.