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10 Great Family Games for Christmas Gatherings

My wife and I in downtown Chicago.
"On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, 'Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.' Back on Earth we call this Christmas."Kazran Sardick in Doctor Who, "A Christmas Carol."

Christmas is, as they say, the most wonderful time of the year. But why is that? Regardless of religious beliefs, I think it’s because the Christmas season is a time for celebration with family and friends. And you know what? Even strangers seem nicer this time of the year!

For us board gamers, Christmas brings an opportunity to not only acquire more games (be honest, we know you asked for some), but to play more games as well. With work and school on break, you’ve got way more time to settle down at the table and teach your family—possibly extended family—how to play your favorite games. As with most things in life, however, not everyone will appreciate your hobby the way you do. Lengthy 4x games could cause rifts in relationships, competitive “take-that” games could be the reason you only see each other once a year as it is, and nobody likes playing cooperative games with Uncle Tom because he just tells everyone what to do for the duration of the game. It’s a real problem, but there is a solution.

The board game hobby is special in that it caters to a wide range of personalities. From party games to strategy games and everything in between, there are games of all types and for all ages as well. There really is something for everyone.

Today, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite games I’ve had success with when it comes to playing with friends and family. Of course, not all families are the same, so judge accordingly. This list will focus on games that are accessible to a wide range of ages and that play well with more than four or five players. Now, without further ado (and in no particular order), I give you The Top 10 Family Games for Christmas. *Cue fanfare*

1. Camel Up

Ten years ago, if you had told me I would have a fantastic time releasing dice from a pyramid and betting on wooden camels as they raced around a cardboard track, I’d have laughed. The laughter would have stemmed from confusion or the absurdity of it all. However, I am here today to bear witness that racing camels while using dice that are stored in a pyramid is some of the most fun I’ve had with family and friends.

Camel Up plays up to 8 players (up to 10 with the expansion), which is one reason why it makes a great game for Christmas gatherings. But it’s also relatively simple to learn and quick to play. I haven’t tried it with my kids yet (the oldest is only four), but I daresay you could play it with young children, given a bit of guidance. Young and old, Camel Up provides random elements mixed with savvy betting. It’s a game where even the smartest uncle can’t use his intellect against you (although he’ll still deduce the probability of certain rolls with ease).

I believe Camel Up is a perfect game for family gatherings, regardless of what types of games people like. Fast, fun, and the harbinger of laughter, Camel Up has been a hit in the past, and it shall continue to be so moving forward.

2. Codenames

Let’s be real; you knew Codenames was going to be on this list. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not because you’re psychic. Well, you might be, but that’s not the reason I was thinking of. The reason is, it’s a good game, especially with a larger group. 

Codenames breaks the group up into two teams: the Red team and the Blue team. One player on each team is the “code giver,” or the person who must come up with the best clues or suffer the wrath of their teammates. I won’t dive into the “how to play” stuff (I’ll leave that for you), but suffice it to say that it gets the collective brains thinking like no other game I’ve seen. And because everyone thinks differently, some clues are more obvious to some than to others. Other times, the clue giver thinks their clue is the best ever and there’s no way their team will not figure it out. Well, sometimes the unthinkable does happen.

Depending on who you’re playing with (i.e. kids and/or adults), you can adjust the rules or difficulty (house rules!) to make it easier for those youngsters to have their say. It’s a great way to get people together, especially if you haven’t seen them in a long time and they’re essentially strangers to you now (looking at you, Aunt Ruth).

I find the sweet spot for Codenames is about 8-10 players. I don’t think I’d play with less than 6 players, however.

3. Handsome

Handsome is a Button Shy Games title, and one I was fortunate enough to review. It’s an 18-card word game, and each card has one or two letters—no vowels, however. Essentially, each round a certain number of cards are laid face up in the center of the table for everyone to use in their word, and then they’re also dealt a certain amount of cards (player count depending). Players may use any vowels they want (except Y, because that’s a consonant in Handsome) in order to string their consonants together to make the longest word possible. And that’s it. Simple, yet a lot of fun.

Handsome plays up to six players which, for only using 18 cards, is quite an accomplishment. The game is super portable, as it comes in a small bifold wallet with little pockets on each inside flap to hold the cards. It’s great for flying, boring road trips to Granny’s house, and also while at Granny’s house with her and everyone else she invited. You’ll also need a pen and paper for each player; either that or just use your smart phones to jot down your words and keep track of points. 

It’s good for kids, too, but be careful not to blow them out of the water by using words like “Superfluous” when all they know is “Cat.”

4. Danger: The Game

I’ll start this with a disclaimer that I’m not super huge into party games. In fact, I’d just as soon not play them ever. That said, Danger: The Game is one party game that I am willing (yes, willing) to play. It plays up to 8 players, which is great.

Each round, a new person is in grave danger by virtue of the Danger deck. The card they draw is the danger they’re in (i.e. you’re surrounded by a group of disappointed fathers), and it’s everyone else’s job to convince them that you’re the best person to get them out of the jam they’re in. To do so, you must use whatever you have available in Skill and Tool cards. Needless to say, your friend in danger probably has a better chance of survival on their own as opposed to you using an Escape Goat as a tool and your biggest skill is that everyone thinks you’re one of their parents.

This is where your imagination and suburb salesmanship comes into play. If you can sell your plan—using only those two things—you get the Danger card and thereby gain a point.

As with most party games, you’ll want to know your audience. Most family gatherings are great for this type of game, and both kids and adults can come up with some crazy, hilarious situations. I definitely recommend it…if you’re family’s into that sort of thing.

5. Cartographers

I love Cartographers. It’s a wonderful flip-and-write game in which players use a common card that’s been flipped over to create a map. Each card has a specific shape (much like Tetris) and region assigned to it (i.e. farms, water, forest, etc.). Each round, you will score points according to specific goal cards (which can change each game). Perhaps best of all, Cartographers plays up to 99 players! (At least, that’s what the box says. I’m sure you could photocopy another sheet and have 100 people play.)

It’s not too difficult to learn, and there is even player interaction when the monsters are drawn from the deck. In this case, players pass their map to their neighbor, who then draws the monster’s region’s shape anywhere on the map. Then, once the damage is done, the map is returned to its owner. I recommend sitting beside a relative that doesn’t hate you for what you did when you were a toddler. Even then, what family won’t place it in the worst possible location? You’re on your own there.

6. Tsuro of the Sea

I want to distinctly point out that I’m referring to Tsuro of the Seas here, and not just the regular Tsuro game. Tsuro of the Seas, you see (see what I did there?), has monsters that add an extra bit of chaos to the game. Of course, if you’re not a fan of the random monster movements, you can always play without them and you’ve got yourself the regular game of Tsuro anyway, just with boats and not dragons.

Both Tsuro and Tsuro of the Seas plays up to 8 players, which, again, is what we’re going for here. But it’s also a lot of fun, easy to teach, and playable by a wide age range. It doesn’t take too long to play, either—especially if you add the monsters into the mix.

7. Colt Express

If your family is all about presentation, Colt Express is a definite must-play this Christmas. The 3D train that acts as the board practically begs for attention (much like Jimmy, your younger cousin), and the scenery bits are fantastic aesthetics, despite not having any actual function in the game. Of course, Colt Express is actually a good game as well as good looking, so playing it will be a hit as well.

Colt Express plays up to six players, so it’s a good one for the cousins to play together, or the aunts and uncles to have fun with. Or why not a tournament? Your options are limitless. The mechanics are mainly action programming, which makes some turns unpredictable and adds a great deal of entertainment. I’ve taught Colt Express to people at work during lunch (who don’t really play games), my parents (who are getting up there in age…no offense, Mum!), and other friends and family and have always had a good experience. And, like I mentioned, it looks super cool all set up as well, and that’s gotta count for something!

8. Formula D

I add Formula D with a caveat, which is to make sure people actually want to play before starting. If people aren’t paying attention to take their turn, the game can take too long. But, if everyone’s doing their part to take their turns when it gets to them, Formula D can be a wonderful game. It even plays up to 10 players, which is nothing to scoff at!

As you may have guessed, Formula D is a racing game. You can have player abilities and all that, but it’s still loads of fun in its basic roll-and-move form. You need to manage your speed when going around corners or entering a bottleneck with other racers. Your car can take damage, and if you take a turn too fast or ram into the back of another racer’s car, you’ll be taking some big hits. Still, sometimes it’s worth it to speed around corners…if you have the health to do so. Sometimes it’s those risks that grant the best rewards. Also sometimes, those risks see you end the race early. *Shrugs* Follow your heart on that one.

Like I said, Formula D plays up to 10 players, so you can entertain a good number of people in just one game, which is half the reason it’s on this list. The other half? It’s fun. Those two halves combine to make a wonderful experience. Turns can (and should) be short, so if everyone’s into it, the game won’t feel like a drag (not to be confused with drag race).

9. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

Marvel. It seems like the Marvel Universe is everywhere. We’ve got a kajillion movies, a plethora of Marvel-themed board games, video games, comics, collectible cups…you name it! Marvel has created a massive fan base, from older adults to young kids. That’s why Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is a great choice for your Christmas game session.

Legendary (to shorten its name a bit because I’m lazy) is a cooperative deck-building game, which is helpful when playing with younger kids, or people in general that may need an extra bit of help while playing to understand how their turn works. There are lots of Marvel heroes to chose from, even just in the base game, including characters from X-Men to the Avengers squad. With expansions, you’ll have more than you’ll know what to do with. Which is great, because everyone has their favorite hero and will obviously want that hero in the game.

There are many villains and minions to fight as well, which helps add variety to the game. It’s not terribly difficult to learn, it plays up to six players, and while everyone is technically working together, there is an ultimate winner (and for the competitive family, that’s a big deal). If nobody can agree on a theme, there’s a good chance this will settle all disputes when brought out.

10. Disc Duelers

Last but certainly not least is Disc Duelers, a battle-driven dexterity game that plays from 2-21 players (according to BGG; I’ve maxed out at six players). It does require a fair bit of real estate, either on a smooth floor or table. Use Lego, Duplo, bricks, blocks, books, and other random toys and paraphernalia to create the arena. Then you battle!

It’s like Crokinole on steroids in that you’re flicking character discs in an attempt to move and hit your opponents’ discs. OK, so maybe flicking a wooden disc is the only similarity to Crokinole, but I digress. Once a character disc’s health is depleted, that character is out of the game. Fortunately, players control three characters each, so even though one character is out of the game, you are not. There is a bit of flicking skill involved, but it’s casual enough that you’ll be alright even if you got a C- on your report card for Flicking class. 

One of the things I like about Disc Duelers is that players aren’t sitting down. Rather, they’re circling the table, finding the best position from which to flick their disc. I wouldn’t call it exercise (you’re not moving that much), but it definitely gets people involved.

Disc Duelers is a solid game and can bring some solid fun. There are variants as well, including volleyball, soccer, racing, and teams. These variants can really spice up your engagement. Of course, I prefer the basic battle, as I love a good game of combat.


Welp, there you have it! Ten games that should break up the monotony of prolonged family gatherings. These games were selected because they play more than five players, they have an easy entry point, and are downright fun.

Of course, there are plenty of other games out there that would be great for Christmas gaming sessions (like Roll for Your Life, Candyman!, thematically), but I’ll leave you to think on that. In fact, why don’t you let us know in the comments what games you and your family likes to play when they get together? Or, what games are you hoping to teach and get to the table this Christmas? 

Merry Christmas, one and all! And happy gaming!

Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.

10 Great Family Games for Christmas Gatherings 10 Great Family Games for Christmas Gatherings Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on December 04, 2019 Rating: 5

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