Ah Christmas. Another year almost done, and time to follow my traditional December formula. The large Christmas Eve family dinner (and the opening of gifts), and on Christmas we get to enjoy leftovers. With the excessive amount of food in our bodies, we relax as much as possible – switching off the brain in front of the television (can’t we just agree Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever?), or we play games. These traditionally consist of trivia games (30 Seconds, Trivial Pursuit), and if everybody is feeling adventurous, my wife gets out her copy of Cranium. Which is absolutely fine, these are the games they know and love, and gaming is after all about having fun. But what if they’re playing these games because they’re not aware of the alternatives? Is it not my duty as an amateur blogger to inform them of other experiences?
This year I’ve set myself a challenge. NAY, I’ve sent myself on a quest! A quest to challenge their gaming norms, to present the best modern family games that I can lay my hands on. I’m bringing my family-game A-game. This is the year I set change into action. Ladies & Gentleman, I present to you my selection of games to win the family over during the holidays.
One of THE buzz games of the year, but with a definite advantage over Pandemic Legacy in terms of widespread appeal. Not everybody will love the complexity of working together to save the world from disease. But a competitive word game? Sold!
But, a word game with a modern twist. Codenames is a team-based party game, with every team consisting of one Spymaster and field operatives. On their turn each Spymaster is giving one-word clues to make his / her teammates pick specific cards (each displaying a specific word) from a 5×5 grid. The locations are shown to each Spymaster on a grid, and they need to be as careful as possible with their clues so that the wrong words are not chosen, which could give the other team an advantage, or cause your team to lose.
It sounds serious but it’s an incredibly fun title, and easily accessible for all. From watching as the opposing Spymaster realises they gave a bad clue, to operatives taking wild guesses when they’re in desperate need to stay in the game, you’re guaranteed laughs. Stuart’s glowing review stated that Codenames should be picked up by everybody. Yes even you Uncle Frans.
Score: 5 Jingle Bells
Ticket to Ride: Europe
Ticket to Ride is part of the reason for the large surge in popularity in board games over the last 10 years. It is a classic set-collection game, with each player compiling sets of coloured train cards to complete specific routes known only to themselves. The longer the route, the more points you score.
The reason why I’m going with the Europe map, is because it’s a friendlier title than the original US map. It features new ways of completing routes (ferries, tunnels and train stations), as opposed to being completely helpless if somebody cut you off in TTR. So less chance overall then of my mother-in-law not saving me any pudding if I cut her off from reaching Stockholm. Also, the added features provide more variety and help with longevity.
Score: 4 Jingle Bells
Sheriff of Nottingham
A fantastic bluffing game where players take turns to play as the titular Sheriff and inspect shipments of goods into Nottingham, while the rest attempt to either transport legal goods or smuggle contraband past him. No not contraband, I meant APPLES. DEFINITELY NOT A CROSSBOW. HERE IS 5 GOLD GOOD SIR. WINK WINK SAY NO MORE.
The key encounters take place when the players place their chosen goods inside a velvet bag, which clips to seal the items inside. Players declare to the Sheriff what the contents are, for example 5 Apples (it’s TOTALLY not your fault if some mead found its way inside the shipment. Well, maybe.). Players then try to persuade the Sheriff not to open their bag and may even offer a bribe, or others may bribe the Sheriff to open another player’s bag. It all sounds like a South African political training tool. And then the real game starts, as everybody’s poker faces are put to the test. Debates and bribes are ongoing until the time runs out and the Sheriff decides to leave or inspect a bag. If the Sheriff is wrong, he gets penalised, and if potential smugglers are caught, contraband gets confiscated and the offenders have to pay a fine. Contraband that was smuggled successfully scores highly at the end of the game. Download the great companion app for access to ambient music and sound effects, a timer, and a scoring function.
Score: 4 Jingle Bells
Players compete to develop their own Japanese cities and build specific landmarks. To build you roll dice to gain resources, but if you have the right buildings you can even score on another player’s turn, so each player is actively engaged throughout. Machi Koro and Catan share a few similarities, but for this list I chose this dice-roller over the drier Catan. With a quirky theme, fewer take-that elements to create a friendlier setting, Machi Koro does the job but at a quicker pace.
Score: 3.5 Jingle Bells
Survive: Escape from Atlantis
Players: 2–4 (5-6 with expansion)
At 33 years of age, Survive can’t teach us any new tricks, but offers an advanced course on how to dish out a beating. Players attempt to evacuate their meeples off a sinking island to the safe corner islands of the map. Problem is, there are only so many boats, and the island is disappearing quickly. Standing in their way are whales, sharks, whirlpools and of course, each other. Form temporary alliances to share rescue boats, or even send sea creatures to eat your opponents.
Score: 3.5 Jingle Bells
The Second Salvo
A good strategist always has a back-up plan. In my arsenal I also have Lords of Waterdeep, Carcassonne Gold Rush, Sushi Go, Love Letter, Splendor and a new copy of Camel Up (unplayed) if any of the others games don’t go down well.
Let us know in the comments section which board games you enjoy with your families. And to all, have a merry merry gaming Christmas.