Monopoly should never, ever be played at Christmas. Why? Because it’s guaranteed to spawn eternal rifts between family and friends. Destroying the love you share with one another, and ruining the yuletide atmosphere completely. Also, it’s dead boring.
So what are the games you should play during the festive season? Like some of the best co-op board games, these should be games that bring you together in a shared activity; whether that’s building towers, travelling the city, ousting a secret intruder, creating crosswords and more. But they don’t always have to be fully co-operative - after all, what is Christmas for if not a little family disagreement?
Like many of the best board games on the tabletop, family games aren’t exclusively for kids but they should appeal to all sorts regardless of age or experience, with accessibility taking precedence over most other aspects. Except for fun, of course.
Often, they make for some of the best beginner board games to play after Catan or other easy-to-learn games, and once the sherry starts flowing and you’ve had one too many spoonfuls of brandy-soaked Christmas pudding the best party board games can get everyone further into the festive spirit.
Whatever kind of Christmas celebration you’re having this year, you can be sure that there’s a family board game out there for you - and it’ll be a heck of a lot better than that tatty but familiar copy of a much-maligned family board game ‘classic’ you only break out to keep the grandparents happy. It’s never too late to be introduced to a new favourite board game, anyway.
Best family board games for Christmas
Unwrap our list of the best family 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
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 hand full 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 family board 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.
2. The Chameleon
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.
3. Point Salad
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.
4.Rhino Hero: Super Battle
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 Rhino Hero 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 board game 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.
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 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. Afterall, no one wants to squirm over complicated word puzzles when they’re warm and full of food.
6. Ticket to Ride: London
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. Released this year, 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.
7.Flick ‘em Up!
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 wack-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 it’s also one of the best family board game choices in that it involves arts and crafts in that 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. Flick ‘em Up! is indeed merry messy fun but don’t just take my word for it - have a watch of what Wheels thinks of the game below in his roundup of the top dexterity games to play instead of Jenga.
8. Forbidden Island
What can encapsulate the feeling of 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 a game created by Matt Leacock, the designer behind another of the best co-op board games out there: Pandemic. 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 of co-op games for kids, Forbidden Island is a great way to lose yourself in somewhere other than the miserably cold winter climes.
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 family to play a 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.
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 family board game to play at Christmas.
Looking for more family-friendly board games to introduce to your loved ones during the Christmas holidays? Have a look at our list of the best beginner board games.