A Classic Christmas in a typical British household often includes a tree, presents, turkey, the Queen’s Speech, Strictly Christmas Special and BOARD GAMES! When I say board games, I’m sadly not referring to the array of amazing and clever games we’re seeing released these days – no, I’m referring to the tired old “classics”, such as Monopoly and Scrabble.
To me, Monopoly is an abhorrent game with no excitement, and always ends with a runaway leader as the game drags on until it grinds to a slow, unsatisfying halt. Scrabble fares only slightly better but I retired from Scrabble after beating my brother-in-law and his wife back in Christmas 2007 – they saw themselves as Scrabble experts and after my victory I vowed to bow out at the top! Plus I was underwhelmed with the game.
Now that we’re experiencing a golden age of board gaming where very clever people are making some very entertaining and engaging games, there’s an opportunity to create some new household names and Christmas favourites – my small list of entry-level, “gateway” games are are easy to learn, provide a decent amount of Christmas fun and don’t outstay their welcome. These are games even Grannie will enjoy!
Top 5 Christmas Games for Non-Gamers!
5. Sushi Go!
Sushi Go! is a simple draft-and-pass game where you’re trying to score points from getting combinations of tasty sushi. You simply deal a number of cards to each player (the number of cards is dependent on player count) and each player chooses a card to keep from the ones in-hand, then passes the remainder of their pile to the player to their left, simulating sushi moving around on a conveyor belt as it does in a Japanese restaurant. You then choose a card from the new deck you have in-hand and pass the remainder, as before – this continues until all cards have been taken, then you add-up the score for the round.
The genius of this game is in the decisions you make as to what types of sushi you want to collect – are you going to risk going for the 10 points a set of three sashimi will give you or do you want to get six points for having the most maki rolls? Or are you desperate to dip a nigiri in wasabi for bonus points? Oh, and make sure you don’t have the fewest puddings, as that will negatively impact your score at the end of the game.
Sushi Go! Plays for a total of three rounds, and a game can take as little as 10 minutes. I have taught this game to non-gamers before and they have become unhealthily addicted to it, saying they’ll never look at sushi in quite the same way again! It could easily become the most talked about thing of the Christmas period!
Before my first play of Splendor I really didn’t see where a game would materialise out of a bunch of cards and some coloured poker chips with gems printed in them – I was so very wrong! This game of card drafting and set collection is possibly the most cerebral game on this list, but I find the theme of Renaissance jewellers and the artwork to somehow sit really well with the theme of Christmas.
On your turn you can take three gems (chips) of different colours, two of the same, reserve a card (and collect a gold chip) or use your gems to buy a card from one of the three tiers. Cards contain permanent gems on them that are never returned to the supply in the way the chips are, and the higher tier cards contain points. Nobles will come to visit (and give you three points) if you earn enough gem cards in their preferred colours – the first to 15 points wins.
Splendor plays in about 20 minutes and the time doesn’t vary much between player counts (2-4 players). It is easy to teach and from experience I can say that almost everyone who plays this game for the first time reflects and then wants to play again.
This is a Christmas game for those who want to get away from the noise and submerge themselves in some light gem collecting for a while.
3. King Of Tokyo
King of Tokyo is another game I underestimated at first – it plays out as a cousin-of-sorts to Yahtzee – players take the form of giant Godzilla-style monsters trying to lay waste to Tokyo, and more importantly, each other!
This is done by rolling six wonderfully chunky custom dice on your turn and choosing to re-roll all or some up to twice before using claws to smash your opponents, lightening bolts to gain energy (which can be spent on awesome and amusing power-ups), hearts to heal your wounds or three numbers of a kind to earn points. You win by either being the last monster standing or by being the first monster to get 20 points.
Games of King of Tokyo more than likely have people standing round the table cheering and cursing – a great game for the whole family or possibly for the adults to play with a few drinks once the kids have gone to bed!
My brother bought Dixit for my family one Christmas a number of years ago (before I had properly rediscovered board gaming) and it has become a tradition to take in to my parents’ when we meet up every Christmas since.
On a player’s turn they are the “storyteller” and make up a sentence (or phrase or word) based on an image on one of the six cards in their hand and says it out loud (without showing the card to the other players). The other players then have to choose a card from their own hand which best matches the sentence and give their selected card face-down to the storyteller. The storyteller then shuffles all of the selected cards and every player has to secretly guess which picture was the storyteller's.
If nobody or everybody finds the correct card, the storyteller scores zero, and each of the other players scores two. Otherwise, the storyteller and whoever found the correct answer score three. Players score one point for every vote for their own card. The game ends when the deck is empty or if a player scores 30 points. In either case, the player with the most points wins the game
The beauty of this 2010 Spiel des Jahres winner lies in the artwork and the connections people make to said artwork – I once said “Ghostbusters 2” in reference to a picture with the Statue of Liberty’s hand emerging from the sea and my brother correctly guessed while everyone else was flummoxed.
We often play in teams with young family members so while not necessarily being able to think of clues they can be involved – plus the rabbit meeple score markers, which we call “Rabeeples”, are fun!
I’d describe this 2016 Spiel des Jahres winner as a word guessing game for four to 1,000 players! That doesn’t tell the whole story in what is easily the best social game I’ve played.
In Codenames the two opposing teams elect a spymaster, and on their turn the spymaster will give a one-word clue that can point to multiple words on the board made up of a 5x5 grid of cards, each with a single word on them. Their teammates try to guess words of their team’s colour while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team and “innocent bystanders”. If a team ever selects the Assassin then they lose instantly.
I wish I could quantify the amount of fun I’ve had playing this game – it’s my Games Group’s go-to game when we want to kick-off the evening with a bang or even end it on a high. It plays at any player count above four and is crazily cheap for the amount of fun you can have.
If you’re worried about the spelling abilities of younger players you can go for the pictorial version, entitled Codenames: Pictures, and there are even themed variants available including Disney, Harry Potter, Marvel, Deep Undercover (an adult-only version, so I’m told) and a fully co-operative version called Codenames: Duet for those who don’t like confrontation.
You may now be thinking “that’s Christmas sorted,” but these five games are the tip of the iceberg – this golden age of board gaming is producing so many clever games that I think we’ll have Christmas sorted for many years to come – even for those traditional ‘non-gamers’ in your family!