The Best Board Games To Play Over Christmas

It’s late afternoon on Christmas day. Your family has just polished off a wonderful lunch, had a bit to drink and are on the verge of going into a food coma. You’ve all been together for a few more hours than you’re used to these days and nobody is quite sure what to do. Next thing you know, a battered copy of some old board game gets pulled out of the linen closet. Then the greatest of terrible holiday traditions begins: family arguments.

Family arguments can be explosive. One minute you’re playing Monopoly and the next thing you know, you don’t talk to your sister for years. However we can’t let tradition slide. The solution to this problem is simple; instead of arguing over games, play games designed around arguing. When the argument is the game, you can contain the fallout while still taking part in the holiday tradition.

Social deduction games are a popular type of board game where players are typically given hidden roles and must struggle together towards their own goals. Full of lies and deception, they are the perfect self-contained family argument to have before everyone has an afternoon nap.


The Resistance

Players: 5 to 10

Play Time: 30 minutes

In the not too distant dystopian future, a resistance force has gathered to topple the empire. Imperial spies have infiltrated the resistance and nobody knows who they can trust. The resistance must work together to assemble teams and go on missions while the spies try to weasel their way onto the mission in an attempt to sabotage them. One of the most popular social deduction games currently available, The Resistance is a game where players must use the limited information available to them to win everyone’s trust or convince them that someone is a dastardly spy.

For families that aren’t fans of dystopian futures, The Resistance: Avalon is a separate game that takes the core gameplay of The Resistance and transplants it into King Arthur’s court, replacing the resistance members and spies with loyal knights and minions of Mordred. The Resistance: Avalon includes a handful of role cards that will mix up the quickly developing metagame. These role cards are also available in the Hidden Agenda expansion for The Resistance if you prefer the original theme.

The Resistance becomes more interesting the more you know about the people you’re playing with. If you’re playing with your family, you’ve got a lifetime of tells and trust to work with.


Spyfall

Players: 3 to 8.

Play Time: Variable. Typically 8 to 10 minutes per round

How did we get here? Spyfall is a recently released party game where a lone spy is desperately trying to avoid detection long enough to work out where they are. At the start of every round, all players except the spy are dealt the same location card. They interrogate each other, trying to suss out who knows where they are and who doesn’t have the foggiest idea. If you think you know who the spy is, start throwing accusations because you win by finding the spy. Don’t be too specific in your answers though because the spy wins by working out where you are.

Spyfall is a hilarious game of improvisation. You may draw everyone’s attention as you flounder, desperate to come up with an answer that doesn’t give away that you’re on a space station or confidently avoid suspicious while everyone else is trying to work out why the hell there would be a spy in a supermarket.


Sheriff of Nottingham

Players: 3 to 5

Play Time: 60 minutes

It’s market day in Nottingham and the sheriff is on the lookout for contraband. Players must declare their goods to the sheriff, hoping their bag will be inspected when they’re being honest and praying that they’ll sneak past while they’re lying. Is the disturbing amount of honesty simply a ruse to sneak a cart load of contraband in the final round? The game truly comes alive when everyone tries to convince the sheriff to look at everyone else’s goods. Bribes? Why yes, the sheriff can be bribed into looking at someone’s goods or to look the other way. Using money to make your point is almost as traditional as the family argument itself.

Sheriff of Nottingham avoids the direct accusations of the other games. If your family is likely to take accusations personally, it’s a good choice to stop your little tiff from turning into a full blown row.


Comments

    I have been enjoying Ticket to Ride. That is a good game.

    The Avalon variant of Resistance is pretty damn good in a larger group, can't see it working too well with 3-4 players.

    I recently played Splendor, it's a game that would work really well with families. Friendly competition, easy learning curve, good amount of replayability.

    My Christmas games are going to be Ghost Stories, Escape: The Curse of The Temple, Pictomania, and Love Letter. It's going to be a short and pleasant holiday.

    Last edited 21/12/15 1:24 pm

      The Resistance (and Avalon) don't work at all with 3 or 4 players. The minimum player count is 5 and improves with more players. Not everyone is going to have enough willing participants but that's why I mentioned the player count in the article :p

      Splendor is a great game. The only problem is that it's a very isolated game. Most players sit in silence, poring over their options and thinking hard about their future turns. On the other hand, it's a great puzzle to work out and has one of my favourite things in all games: the ability for players to control when the game ends.

        I find the sweet spot for resistance is 8 players. It works ok with 6, but doesnt have the kick with less. and starts to drag and fall apart with more than 8. IMO.

      I like the Merlin card in Avalon which adds a lot. 6-8 players is the sweet spot. Always worth a few games when you have enough people round a table.

      Resistance (both variants) needs a minimum of 5 players to play.

      Last edited 21/12/15 5:03 pm

    Good luck finding copies of Spyfall.

      There are print and play versions of the game floating around, although I'm not entirely comfortable with spreading them. Same goes for browser based versions for people who are fine using their phones/tablets to get things started.

      Zing stock it and I've seen them have copies for a while now. I bought mine ages ago when I first saw it there, thinking I would never see it again if I didn't buy it, but I still see it every time I visit one of their stores.

      you can just use the online version - http://spyfall.meteor.com/

        Are the locations the same? I like the idea of the physical copy but found that it's slightly unfair on the spy because they have to look at the locations to guess where everyone is. Sometimes it can be a dead giveaway. Having it on a screen on your phone might make it easier to hide that.

      If in Perth, Tactic in London Court is the place. Otherwise try popcultcha.com.au.

    Check out Forbidden Desert for some nail-biting family friendly co-op action.

      How does it compare to forbidden island, haven't actually looked to see what the differences are

        I've heard that Desert is the better of the two, more of a challenge.

        Desert is bastard-hard, and it's really good at that Pandemic thing where when you die, it feels SO OBVIOUS that you should've been paying more attention to your water ... but when you pay more attention to your water next game, something else kills you just as quick. It's great fun, and I found it more replayable than Island.

    At the start of every round, all players except the spy are dealt the same location card. ... If you think you know who the spy is...I'd be highly suspicious of the person without a card.

      The spy is dealt a spy card.

      You'd be amazed at how many rules explanations of this game end up with people thinking that everyone has a different location card.

        hey man what colour do you see?

          One of the first games of resistance someone used that question to surprisingly good effect.

          Everyone in the group quickly learned that resistance is blue and to automatically say blue if anyone questions you though =P

    Ladies & Gentlemen is another great game.

    Betrayal at the House on the Hill is another great one with a tonne of replayability.

    I don't really play board games, but somebody gave me The Walking Dead board game for my birthday a month or so back. Might pull the shrink wrap off that and give it a go over xmas if I can get anybody interested.

      If it's the one based on the comic, do it. If it's the one based on the TV show and it's just called The Walking Dead (I think there are a few newer ones now which I've never played), throw it out.

        Judging by the artwork on the box, I think it's based on the comic i.e. all the characters are hand-drawn, not photos of the TV show's cast?

          Yeah, that's the one. It can be quite fun.

    Spyfall looks good if there was anywhere in Brisbane that actually sold it.

    Resistance: Avalon, Coup and One Night Werewolf are the go to games in our family. They are quick, easy, kid friendly and pretty cheap in the scheme of things.

      Try Zing for Spyfall :)

        Thanks. Picked this up at EBGames/Zing. They seem to have a decent selection of board games now. Looking forward to this.

    Saboteur is a good one for large groups. Quick to teach and fun to play as a accusation type game.

      It's a really easy one to pick up too.

      Especially if you're the saboteur first round and can play off slight inconveniences as mistakes.

    I would highly recommend Camel Up as a family/party game as well. Caters for up to 8 players, and easy to understand rules (although there is a fair amount of luck involved, which leads to some very amusing outcomes!)

    Betrayal on the house of the hill, is pretty entertaining everyone's Co operating n it's a friendly tense games as people roll for haunts n boom there's a traitor who's summoned demons.

    Good times.

      Betrayal is a really fun concept, but after a few plays I found that the randomness in the betrayal kind of killed it. Every now and again you get a brilliant game, but most of the time either the betrayal happens so early that the good guys have no chance of dealing with it, or so late that it's a walkover for them.

      I found Betrayal is good when you have people who are willing to act out the roles a bit, or get into the story somewhat - suddenly turning into a monster and attacking everyone is more fun if you're playing along with it.

      Hanabi is a good short game, can be quite difficult if you adhere directly to the rules, I don't think I've ever played a game where we've managed to do that yet, but it's all good fun - very much a group puzzle, solving game

    Pandemic and ticket to ride are great for family gatherings and rookie board gamers.

    Dixit and Telestrations are great games to introduce for family and rookie board gamers as well. Dixit is all about guessing the card using obscure thinking whilst Telestrations is basically Chinese Whispers. Dixit needs about 3 or more people to make it fun. Telestrations I think is about 4 players max.

    New York 1901 - simple to learn and play, but still fun to play. I've got copies of Love Letter (Hobbit), No Thanks, and Cockroach Poker to give to non-gamers for Xmas, so hopefully I'll get a game of one of those in.

    I'm bringing Avalon to Christmas with me and hoping I can get my generally rules-averse family along for the ride. It's so much fun when it goes well.

      I've been playing Avalon with my non board gaming parents and kids for over a year now. So ages from 8 to 65. All really enjoy it. Good luck!

    Spyfall is fun, and it doesn't take too long. It's a great game when you're sitting around with drinks and nibbles.

    Sushi Go! has been a hit with my family over the last couple of days. Short games, simple to pick up for people who don't play games or even for the littler ones (~5+) to join in and the new Party Box edition has enough "menu" types that you can mix up each game to feel different or add more depth really easily.

    I gifted a copy of Codenames to my sister earlier in the year. Time to find out if she's played it, or I'll be opening it for a game tomorrow.

    I'd recommend Tales of Arabian Nights. It's only vaguely competitive (the real opponent is the game itself), the rules can be a bit fiddly, but only one person needs to know how it works to run the game, not to mention the theme is very evocative, so it's great with kids, and it's pretty open ended, so you just keep playing it til everyone goes to bed.

    Colt Express is just the best. It's fast-paced and funny, and when plans go pear-shaped, the visual is so hilarious it's hard to be mad about losing. I love it to bits.

    I find Resistance is good to learn things about your friend and family that you didn't want to know. Will you be ever be able to trust your spouse after you saw how ruthlessly and naturally they lied to you, using as a mask what you previously believed to be a genuine good nature while looking you in the eye?

    I much prefer Citadels. It's quick and very easy to pick up by playing a couple rounds. There's a hidden role mechanic to it as well, but no lying. It's all about being able to read your opponents' intentions and guess what role they picked each turn while trying to be unpredictable yourself, without crippling your game plan. It is also better for smaller groups (2-5).

    Last edited 25/12/16 9:47 am

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