Long evenings, lazy afternoons beside a roaring fire and spending quality time with friends and family… Ahh, we love Christmas! It’s also an ideal opportunity to sit around the table and play a relaxing game or two of cards.
No, don’t panic – we’re not talking about a standard 52-card deck here. We’d wager the majority of you have been there before, playing the same tired games of Rummy or Hearts over and over. You’re hungry for something more – not necessarily a step up in complexity (after all, you still need to explain the rules to Grandpa and little-cousin Tammy), but rather, a step up in variety. A step up in… pizzazz.
What you’re after is a list of bright and colourful card games that are easy to teach to the whole family. Ones with mechanics that aren’t totally alien to those that are comfortable around ‘traditional’ card games. And, importantly, games that aren’t going to break the bank. Well, you must be on the "Nice List" this year, because as luck would have it, we’ve prepared our very own Top Five card games list for you!
Top 5 Card Games for Christmas
Our first suggestion is a game by Uwe Rosenberg. Yes, there was a whole different side to the German board game designer before he moved into the heavier Euro-style games market with titles such as Agricola, Caverna and A Feast For Odin… Before, Rosenberg was best-known for Bohnanza. This fabulous card game is all about farming types of beans.
Set collection is the name of the game here, and players have to ‘plant’ the same type of bean cards in their fields. The delight in Bohnanza is that you cannot rearrange your hand – you have to keep the cards in chronological order in which you receive them. It goes against every bit of muscle memory you have to ignore this mechanic!
It means you need to find ways to rearrange your cards so you can play them in an order that suits you. Players are allowed to trade cards on their turn (similar to how you might offer trades in Catan), which leads to sly grins and chuckles around the table. Especially when you can see what other players are planting in their fields…
Looking for something light, that takes all of 20 seconds to teach, will have you all in fits of giggles and appeal to your competitive side? You need Dobble. In essence, Dobble is Snap on steroids. There are five different variants you can play, but all of them are about whoever has the quickest reactions.
Our favourite version of Dobble is ‘The Well’, in which you deal the 55-card deck out to everyone, and one starter card in the middle. On each circular card, there are eight different cartoony pictures (from a range of over 20). Players only look at their top card, and they have to try and match a symbol from it to the central card as quick as possible, place the card down and say the name of the symbol. (Of course, when we said ‘place’, we meant ‘slam’, and when we said ‘say’, we meant ‘screech frantically’!) Their card is now the top card, and play continues, with the aim being to exhaust your hand first.
Dobble is marketed as a children’s game – but try telling that to ruthless adult siblings over Christmas! Regardless of whether you’ve had any of Santa’s sherry or not, when you play Dobble, on occasion you’ll play a card in such a frenzy that you have a mini moment of madness, where suddenly describing the matching symbol itself becomes tough. Er, the er, white thing with the flame-y wick-wotsit… The umm, ca-ca, the candle!
Can also play up to eight, if you want über-chaos, but best warn the neighbours, first. It could get noisy!
Christmas Eve. The kids are asleep (or doing a good job of pretending), and you’ve finally sat down. You want a two-player card game you and your partner can enjoy before the madness of tomorrow. Jaipur is one of the best card games out there, and it’s a superb mixture of set collection, hand management and trying to remember all the cards your opponent has been picking up.
You’re both trying to collect goods from the face-up market, and then selling sets for points. Do you save lots of goods at once to gain a bonus? Or do you sell straight away, to perhaps get more for them?
It’s a race, but also risk-versus-reward. With it being the best of three rounds (a round lasts about 10 minutes), Jaipur is one of the ‘old faithfuls’ that will never gather dust. You’re not going to just play three rounds. You’ll play this one over, and over, and over.
Game of Thrones: Hand of the King
Too late, winter’s already here! Sorry, we’ll try to keep the in-jokes to a minimum for non-fans of HBO’s hit series. Yes, Hand of the King is a grid-movement, set collection game set within George R. R. Martin’s marvellous fantasy novels. The central character here is Varys, the scheming Master of Whispers, and he, along with 35 other cartoon characters from the show sit in a 6x6 grid.
On your turn you’ll move Varys orthogonally in the grid to land on a different character. It might be a member of the Stark family, the Lannisters, the Greyjoys – all your favourites are here. You’ll claim this character, and any other family members of theirs that you've passed over to reach them. Remember, wherever you leave Varys might set-up the next player for a great move!
Players will be aiming to acquire the most members of a ‘House’, and when they do, they’ll claim the House’s banner. If another player matches or gains more family members of that House, they will then take the banner. When all family members of a particular house has been claimed, a one-off power can be activated (these differ from game to game), which might swing the power back in your favour.
Eventually Varys will not be able make any more legal moves, at which point the game ends, and whoever has the most banners will be the winner.
Game of Thrones fans will adore this, and love claiming their favourite characters. You don’t need any knowledge of the TV show or books to play Hand of the King, but you won’t appreciate the theme or characters as much.
We imagine Skull’s the kind of game a bunch of Hell’s Angels would play on Christmas Day in a tattoo parlour – bluffing, boozing, and a whole lot of accusing. But don’t let that stop you playing it with your grandma – in fact, we heartily recommend you do. This is probably the easiest of our five suggested card games. It takes less than a minute to teach.
It’s a 3-6-player game with elements of Poker and Perudo to it, in that each player starts with four cards in their hand – three flowers, one skull. One at a time, players play one of their cards face-down in front of them. Or, they can opt not to play a card, but instead state how many combined flowers they predict they can reveal, between all the players’ placed cards.
From this point on, players no longer place any more cards, but instead up the ante, until nobody dares state a higher total. That player then flips over any combination of cards that they choose – if they match their prediction, they win the round and get to flip their ‘tile’ over. Do this twice and they’ll win the game. If they accidentally reveal a skull, however, they do not win – instead, they lose one of their four cards at random.
The brilliance of Skull is that if you are the highest bidder, you always have to start by revealing your own cards, first. Meaning, if you’d tried to bluff the other players into bidding higher, but had in fact played your skull in attempt to catch them out, you’ve spectacularly shot yourself in the foot! Players are eliminated if they lose all of their cards.
We applaud that the ‘cards’ here are all circular and wonderful chunky cardboard – they’re more akin to pub beer-mats. (Don’t you dare use them as actual coasters, though.) They’ve also got gorgeous artwork, ranging from Calavera Day of the Dead skulls, while the Celtic, bearded skeletons have an appropriate matching thistle for a flower, of course. Skull is a simple game – but a splendid one, at that. And since it can last anywhere between three to thirty minutes, you’ll find yourself playing it long into the winter nights.
With these five card games in your arsenal, you’ve got a title to suit all needs this Christmas. The real question is: which one should you play first?