Throughout my childhood and now in adult life, my family have always enjoyed a good family game and, at Christmas, we always had certain traditions in terms of which board games we would play and when.
For example, Christmas Eve would always be when the big, long game of Risk would begin - a game that was rarely completed! Christmas day, while waiting for lunch, would always be an argumentative game of Monopoly and in the evening, to finish off the day, we would always have a slightly merry game of Pictionary or Charades. Then on Boxing Day, Cluedo would finish off the festivities! A wonderful tradition! However, as the years went by, slowly the number of people who actually wanted to play started to go down. It turned out that lots of my family loved the ‘family game time’ but had become slightly bored of the games!
So, with that in mind, I set about trying to find games that had the same feel to them but that would re-invigorate a tradition that I did not want to stop!
Risk > Small World
Risk is a fantastic game. If you are reading this and have never played it, you really should. In Risk, your task is to take over the world by moving your military and rolling dice to defeat your opponent’s troops while making sure you are not leaving yourself so open that you lose your original territories. It’s a wonderful game of tactics, luck and, of course, risk.
The biggest complaint my family have with it is incredibly difficult to argue against –it’s length. We have played four-hour games and ended up with all of us still having exactly the same number of territories as each other. Whilst I thought this was funny and was still keen to continue, others felt differently. That’s not to say that they had not enjoyed it but they just, by that point, would have liked a winner! So what game would give the same feeling but in a slightly shorter space of time and have enough about it to ensure it would not just be a one-year wonder. The answer….SMALL WORLD.
Small World is a game from Days of Wonder that plays in about 40-80 minutes…and has a winner within that time period! Just like in Risk, players are trying to use their armies to take over territories on a map by killing their opponents.
As well as the shorter game time, players don’t just have normal armies. Players choose from 14 different fantasy races (and there are lots of excellent expansions if you really do get bored quickly) and combine them with 20 unique special powers to go into battle with. This can lead to combinations such as ‘Dragon Master Tritons’ or Diplomat Skeletons’ or ‘Spirit Trolls,’ all of which offer completely unique powers, numbers of fighters and strategies for victory.
Not only that but you will almost certainly need at least two or three different armies throughout the game. For me, it is a lighthearted game of risk that has the same feel and bags of fun. An absolute winner!
Monopoly > Catan
On to Christmas Day and the daddy of board games – Monopoly. Again, for me, Monopoly is a timeless classic but what is it about Monopoly I love.? I love rolling a dice, I love building up my empire and I love trading.
The biggest complaint that I’ve heard against Monopoly is that sometimes, in fact quite often, at least one player knows that they have lost a LONG time before the end of the game. Whilst this never bothered me and nobody in my family was ever too proud to admit defeat before the game has actually ended, I do understand this could put people off. While this can occasionally happen in the game I am about to recommend, it is so infrequent. Therefore I believe Catan offers an excellent alternative to a brilliant game.
Catan, or Settlers of Catan as it used to be known, is a resource management game where you make a hexagonal board using mini hexagons. Each mini hexagon has a number assigned to it. Then on the roll of die, whichever players have settlements on the hexagons that have the combined total of the dice are given resources. While this may not sound like Monopoly, for me, the rolling to try and get something gives the same feeling and in order to carry out the actions that you want, trading with other players is almost always necessary.
On top of that, the development cards are like the positive chance and community chest cards, offering you quick and easy ways to get victory points and resources. Although Catan is not a new game, for those who don’t know it, I truly believe it is a great alternative and it is a great stepping stone into a whole world of new gaming experiences.
- For more of a feeling of building towards something, try Ticket to Ride.
- For more of the feeling of racing around, try Jamaica.
Again for me, neither of these games can ever be replaced but there are alternatives to help keep them fresh.
Pictionary > Telestrations
For an alternative to Pictionary, look no further than Telestrations. This is essentially Pictionary mixed with slightly less frustration and plenty more laughs. In the game, each person is assigned a word that they then draw on their own little pad using whiteboard pens. Once complete, they pass their picture to the person next to them who looks at the picture and on the next page writes down what they think it is. They then pass it to the next person who draws what the last guess was and so on until you get back to the original person.
As you can imagine, this can lead to some hilarious misunderstandings and simple words like ‘Fish’ turning into ‘Jaws attacks the world’. You can even customise your game by coming up with your own words and phrases to start with. There is scoring but to be honest, you really don’t need to and this means everyone should be happy! I have played this with children and adults alike and it has always been a huge success.
- If you want to stick closer the Pictionary format, try Draw Out.
Charades > Taboo
For an alternative to Charades, Taboo is a must. Taboo, like Charades, is all about trying to guess words from cards. Unlike Charades, you are allowed to talk but there are certain words you are not allowed to say. Within the given time, you are trying to get your team to guess as many as they can. Sounds simple, and it is, but the pressure of the time limit and forbidden words can create some unforgettable laughs.
- For a slightly different experience and pictorial clues, try Dixit.
Cluedo > Mystery at the Abbey
If you have never played or haven’t played Cluedo in a while, reacquaint yourself with a wonderful game. However, if you want a new experience, which solves my one main grievance with Cluedo, then Mystery at the Abbey is the game for you.
Although I love Cluedo, the one criticism for me is that sometimes, when you roll a low number, you can essentially waste a turn if you already know what you need to from a room and can’t get anywhere else. Not only that but as some people’s turns can take a while, there can be a large gap between you having the feeling of being closer to the answer. Mystery at the Abbey solves that while offering a fresh take on the murder mystery board game.
Mystery at the Abbey involves simply finding the murderer. Each player has a set of their own cards and on your turn you can ask any person any question as long as the answer would not include a suspects name. For example, how many Fransicans do you have with beards? The player asked can refuse to answer but if they do answer, in exchange, they get to ask a question back. It is a really clever mechanism, which allows you to gain information even when it’s not your turn. Slowly but surely, you will then start to eliminate suspects until finally, hopefully, you are in a position to guess.
In every game I have played of this, everybody has always been incredible close, making an amazingly fun and a wonderful gaming experience.
- For a co-operative murder mystery experience, try Mysterium.