'Tis the season for table-flipping, rulebook quoting and shouting things at your brother that would make Rudolph’s nose blush. Christmas is here and we all know the situation. During the post-lunch snoozing period, the least bloated of you suggest a game, and, you decide to join in. However, an hour in, one of your beloved relatives, usually a child, or a bigger child with a car and a mortgage, becomes enraged as they have to pay rent on Mayfair for the third time in a row.
Games are a wonderful pastime and an amazing way to spend time with your family allowing you to discover skills and interests you never knew they had. However, the Christmas afternoon game has become notorious for generally lacking in fun and potentially causing arguments. In this list, I will be suggesting some games that are great fun but also lack the capacity to induce rage in the people who play them.
There will be no overt dependency on luck, no tactical deception, and no ‘take that!’ If you are lucky enough to spend Christmas with your loved ones this year, these games might provide you with a peaceful and amusing way to spend the afternoon. As a final disclaimer before the list gets underway, I am a terrible sore loser when it comes to board games. I take a loss as a personal slight, I will not flip tables but I will sulk and analyse my mistakes for hours afterwards. None of these games resulted in this for me and hopefully the same will apply for your uncle on his fourth glass of brandy.
Mariposas is a charming game for two to five players. The game mimics the migration of butterflies from Mexico to North America that takes place each spring. The game requires players to play one of the two movement cards in their hand to move their butterflies across the board. Player’s butterflies will collect different types of flowers, which vary depending on which spaces the butterflies land on. These flowers are then spent on breeding more butterflies. Creating more butterflies is an essential element of gameplay due to the thematic feature of seasons passing and butterflies dying.
Players start the game in spring with generation one butterflies. At the beginning of summer, all generation one butterflies are removed from the board and only generation two and three butterflies remain. The constant awareness that in a few turns time, the number of butterflies you have can be more than halved, forces players to think very carefully about their choices. Do you focus on producing as many butterflies as possible?
Or do you focus on the games various objective cards and landing in certain spaces to earn points? The dilemma here is made even tighter by the fact that players are incentivised to get as many of their butterflies as possible back to Mexico before winter. Players can earn an obscene amount of points for getting up to six butterflies back to Mexico before the end of the game. The game allows for numerous playstyles and strategies including set collection; racing and strategic piece placement.
Despite the tight decisions and racing elements, it is hard to get frustrated when playing Mariposas. There are no options to sabotage other players or make their plan less efficient. Thematically this makes sense. Butterflies are not aggressive or conniving; player’s butterflies are also allowed to land on the same space and collect the same flowers. The game is an absorbing way to spend an hour and a half and its charming theme and gentle gameplay make for a refreshing change when looking at such a strategic game.
When I Dream is a wonderful party game for four to ten people. The premise of the game is simple. One player takes on the role of the dreamer and has to wear a blindfold (or shuts their eyes). Everyone else receives a role card and is either a fairy, a boogeyman or a sandman. There is a stack of double-sided cards that contain various objects on them e.g. dragon, spoon, radio etc. in the middle of the table. The fairies, boogeymen and sandmen take turns giving one-word clues to the dreamer without giving the answer away, so for spoon a player might say “cutlery”. The players keep giving clues until the dreamer gives either a correct or an incorrect answer. At this point, a new card is flipped and play continues until the sand timer runs out.
At the end of the round, the dreamer tries to remember all the answers they gave to earn bonus points and then receives all their right answers as points. The role cards also come into play here as fairies receive points equal to the dreamer’s correct answers, boogeymen receive points for the dreamer’s incorrect answers and sandmen get points for the amount of incorrect and correct answers being the same.
This system adds a nice level of variation, as you can never be completely sure which roles are present in any round. This leads to some hilarious situations. For example, the answer could be flamingo and the clues given are “pink”, “algebra”, “bird” and “motorcycle”. If you are the dreamer, you only have yourself to blame if a completely random clue throws you off. If you are not the dreamer, it is fun reading everyone’s grins and grimaces when a particularly awful clue is given. This game is a fantastic way to spend an hour and the humorous situations it creates will lighten even the most belligerent of family members.
I am exceptionally biased when it comes to Terra Mystica. I love the game and would consider it, one of, if not my favourite game ever. The game requires players to choose a colourful fantasy race from a selection including dwarves, mermaids and alchemists among others. The game then sees the players trying to build the largest civilisations possible for their chosen race. They do this by terraforming sections of the game board to allow their race to inhabit it. Player will also build numerous structures that provide them with resources for future rounds.
Unlike the other games on the list, it would be possible to write a three thousand-word article on the intricacies of Terra Mystica alone, not to mention the two expansions that have been released for it. The more you play the game, the more you see the similarities between it and chess. There are certain openings that are essential to know in order to maximise the efficiency of the race you are playing.
It is definitely the heaviest game on this list and it’s probably not the first game I would recommend suggesting your less-accommodating or patient family members to give a go. However, if you have a few family members who are up for something a bit more mentally challenging and have a couple of hours to spare, then this game is second to none.
Terra Mystica is a euro game through and through and therefore, the focus is on engine building, not on crushing your opponents or invading their civilisations. There is even a system in which an opponent can gain the power to activate certain special abilities if you build next to one of their structures. This is a pleasant experience because you are all focused on building the best civilisation possible whilst being aware of your opponents, not fearing them. My experience of sharing this game with others has been to give it some time. Due to its complexity and reasonable playtime, it may be the sort of game to introduce to one or two family members before Christmas and break out again on Boxing Day.
I actually bought Tuki as an impulse purchase. I knew nothing about the game but liked the box and thought the idea sounded cool (terrible ice pun intended). Tuki is a dexterity game for two to four players. The game tasks players with assembling snow (white) and coloured blocks into different patterns by stacking them on top of each other. The orientation of this pattern is decided through a dice roll. The symbols on the dice correspond to a huge deck of pattern cards, one of these cards is drawn each round and it is rotated to match the symbol on the dice. This means there are thousands of different looking structures that players have to build and no two games are ever the same.
The game's theme is another charming idea. The word Tuki is based on the Inuit word ‘tukilik’, meaning an object that carries a meaning or message. The structures players are building are these objects. Usually, statues that are placed in the middle of the tundra to help Inuit people find their way.
I have recently had a yearning to get into dexterity games, however, I know from my many failed attempts at card tricks that I possess the dexterity of a drunken orc made out of jelly. I also imagined that dexterity games could be highly frustrating. However, Tuki proved me wrong on that front. It is a really engaging and entertaining game that requires more brain-power than steady hands. The race against other players to finish the structure first adds a nice element of tension but it was exceptionally rare in my play-throughs that one player raced ahead of everyone. It seemed to be fairly united, if one person struggled, we all struggled.
I will be bringing my copy of Tuki home for Christmas because I had such a laugh playing it with people. Even when my structure completely collapsed, I was able to see the funny side and looked forward to rebuilding it. Likewise, when my opponents or I, managed to complete a really tricky structure first, there was just mutual admiration, no ill-will. I also found the game to be very addictive; I played my first game on a work night, and found my group saying, “one more game?” Far more often than we should. This is an excellent game for nearly all age groups and it receives bonus points for being the only game on my list to feature anything resembling a winter setting.
Planet is a unique experience for two to four people and I have already packed it up ready for my festive travels. The game requires players to build their own planet with diverse enough environments to attract more animal species than their opponents. I have never been a huge fan of gimmicky games but planet won me over completely. The game’s main components are ‘planet cores’ multi-sided and magnetic balls that players take turns sticking environment tiles to.
After a few rounds, players begin recruiting animals. Each animal appears on a card and will only go to the planet that meets its environmental requirements e.g. the largest ocean or the most separate deserts. After several rounds, the player who has the most animal cards wins the game. Planet is incredibly simple and ridiculously satisfying. There is a very therapeutic pleasure in seeing your little planet begin to take shape. It is not uncommon for players to ignore recruiting animals, choosing instead to draft the tiles that will make their planet look the coolest.
The component quality of Planet if fantastic and everything feels satisfying about playing the game, despite the fact, it is relatively inexpensive. This would be an ideal game for a Christmas day afternoon, where half of the household is asleep and the rest are looking for some easy and engaging. I have been stomped into dust whilst playing planet and have still really enjoyed the game due to its tactile planet cores and wholesome artwork. The fact that players take turns drafting tiles also makes a big difference because you cannot blame any failures on the luck of the draw. Planet is streamlined, simple and superb.