Christmas is a time for good food, roaring fires, festive movies and spending time with your family. Also, if you’re related to me, it’s a time for intense, life-long rivalries, played out through the medium of board games. What are the best games to play at Christmas for you?
For as long as I can remember, one of our Christmas Day traditions has been to settle in for an evening of shouting, frustration and, occasionally, absolute glory. The teams are always the same (boys vs girls) and things get very serious, very quickly (though not really).
There are plenty of great games to play at Christmas that work in big group situations, but I’m going to focus on some real board gaming classics that I think would work for anyone.
I’m pretty sure I’ve been playing Articulate my entire life. The premise is simple - on your turn, you race against the clock to describe things to your team. These things fall into certain categories (Object, Person, Nature etc…) and you move forward on the board a number of spaces equal to how many words your team correctly guessed.
The catch - the board is circular and shows six repeating categories, meaning your category for the round is dependant on where you land (as opposed to just picking the one you want) and all the usual word game rules apply: no ‘rhymes with’, no ‘starts with’, no ‘sounds like’.
This game has a way of making you into an absolute dunce one minute and a genius the next. If you’ve never experienced the sheer joy of someone screaming something absolutely insane as a guess to what you thought was a great clue, you haven’t lived. For example -
Me: ‘He was in Monty Python and Fawlty Towers’.
My sister: ‘JOHN CHEESE!’.
Another lifelong Christmas staple, this game made me realise I absolutely can’t draw.
Mechanically, it works exactly the same as Articulate only with drawing instead of verbal descriptions. There’s a board showing categories and on your turn you take a card and draw whatever it tells you to.
However, there’s one key difference - this game uses a die for movement, meaning it isn’t remotely fair. There’s nothing worse than rolling three 1s in a row, only to be overtaken when the other team finally get one right and roll a 6.
As with any party game, the true joy is in seeing how people’s minds work and marvelling at some of the things they come out with. I’ve seen a picture of a dog incorrectly guessed as a chicken leg and I’ve seen an oval correctly guessed as a swimming pool. Very silly, very funny, definitely worth a go.
Cranium is evil. But it is a good one of these games to play at Christmas. I still remember the first time we played it - settling in after a busy Christmas Day, thinking to ourselves ‘this will probably be like Articulate and Pictionary combined’. Instead, we were dropped into a world of spelling words backwards, whistling famous songs and sculpting Richard the Lionheart out of clay in 60 seconds.
The great thing about Cranium is everyone is rubbish at it. You might be particularly good at spelling but that won’t serve you well when you keep getting the ‘do an impression of someone’ card. It’s a great leveller and allows for some moments of absolute brilliance from everyone in your family.
These days there’s loads of versions, in case you want to tailor it to your particular family dynamic, but I’ll always love the original and its evil, evil ways.
At the opposite end of the ‘shouting at your family’ spectrum (though maybe not, if you’re REALLY competitive), Scrabble is a great game to bring out if there’s only a few of you in the mood for a game and you’re very sleepy after Christmas dinner.
It seems strange to explain how it works but, just in case you don’t know, Scrabble is a word game. You have a rack of seven letter-tiles (kept secret) and on your turn you have to add a word to the board, ensuring at least one of your letters joins up with a letter from a previous word. There are bonuses to be scored and clever letter placement can mean you end up making multiple words.
I’ve played countless games of Scrabble in my life and somehow it’s always fun. I think, for me, the real joy is in trying to make the most of the letters you have in relation to an ever changing board state. That feeling of playing the perfect word at the perfect time, and listening to everyone at the table both curse and applaud you, will never get old.
Now, this isn’t technically a classic in terms of age (I only bought a copy last year) but it feels like one of those folk games that people have been playing for hundreds of years, so I’m including it.
The sock game is, quite frankly, stupid. To summarise - each team has a sock filled with an identical assortment of random items. Each round, an item is chosen (via a spinner on the board) and one person from each team must race to find that item first. When I say ‘find that item’, I mean they reach into the sock with one hand and get rummaging.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of having your hand in a sock, desperately trying to find a single marble or a golf tee. The fact that it’s a race also means there’s an extra element of tension that often manifests in swearing, strange faces being pulled and teammates trying to put you off in any way possible.
It’s an absolute joy and works well for all ages, meaning even the youngest members of your family can have a go (and will probably do really well because of their small hands!). Highly recommended.
Just in case you want a few more suggestions, I’d be remiss not to mention some other games that have been a huge Christmas hit in recent years. In no particular order:
That concludes our list of top 5 classic games to play at Christmas. Is there any we missed? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames.