15 Board Games to Play over the Holidays

Holiday breaks are a great time to spend quality time with family and friends. But how should you fill up all those hours? The solution: board games.

Great Games to Play with Kids


Forbidden Desert – This game is a co-op, which is perfect for families. The gist is that your flying machine crashed in the desert, and you have to try to find all of the pieces lost in the dunes before you run out of water. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play.


Mice and Mystics – I love this game. The story of the game is that the prince’s father is enchanted by an evil sorceress. She captures the prince and his friends, and in order to escape her clutches, they turn into mice. The players each take a character and fight against the sorceress’s evil minions. The story is awesome, and it’s co-op, which again makes it great for kids. Also, because you’re completing a new part of the story each play through, you can play the game multiple times over the holidays. The time it takes to play varies based on the scenario, but it’s usually around an hour.


Ticket to Ride – This is a fantastic game for people of all ages. The rules are very simple, so kids pick up on it quickly. Players build train routes based on the route cards they pick. They try to connect their cities across countries. It’s simple, fun, and quick. I’d say it takes about an hour to play.


Takenoko – I love the theme of this game. The players all take care of a giant panda and try to complete different goals. One category of the goals involves the panda eating bamboo, the second category deals with growing the different colored bamboo, and the last category deals with placing differently colored tiles to make a pattern. The game is simple to explain, but definitely has lots of strategies to win – and it’s super adorable. It takes about an hour or so to play.

Great Games to Play with Non-Gamers or Casual Gamers


Flash Point: Fire Rescue – I definitely recommend this game for people who don’t normally game. The theme is extremely accessible. The players are firefighters who are working together to try to save people caught inside the building and also put out the fire. If the fire spreads too much, or too many people are killed in the fire, everyone loses. But if you manage to save enough people, you all win! Because it’s co-op, it’s a fantastic game for people who don’t usually play games. It depends on how many players you have, but usually it only takes about an hour to play.


Love Letter – In this game, all the players are different suitors who are trying to get their love letters to the princess. It’s a bit of a bluffing and a bit of a deduction game. It plays quickly, and the rules are super simple to understand. It’s a fantastic game for down time between activities. The game lasts around 15-30 minutes.


Sheriff of Nottingham – Sheriff of Nottingham just came out this year, and it’s fantastic. It’s a straight up bluffing game. Each round, a different player is the sheriff. All of the other players are merchants trying to get their goods into Nottingham. There are goods and then there are contraband goods. When you put goods in your pouch, you have to say you only have one kind of good, and how many of that good you have. But you can lie – so if you lie, and the sheriff inspects you, you pay the penalty to him. But if you were telling the truth and the sheriff inspects you, he or she has to pay the penalty to the player! It’s a really fun game that encourages a lot of fun interactions between players. It takes an hour to an hour and a half to play.


Pandemic: Contagion – This is a game based off of the original Pandemic game. In Pandemic, you are doctors and scientists trying to cure the world of four different pandemics. But in Pandemic: Contagion, the players actually play as the diseases, and infect cities. You get points based off of what cities you infect and if you’ve placed more disease there than everyone else. It’s really fun and really simple, and only takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play.


Splendor – Splendor is extremely simple to learn to play, but the paths to victory are varied. I love this game because you can literally start playing almost immediately, but once you’ve played one game, you realize just how deep the game actually is. When I first played the game, I immediately played two more times. So if you’re looking for a simple game with a lot of depth, this is definitely my recommendation.


Cards Against Humanity (or Apples to Apples) – CAH (or Apples to Apples if you’re playing with family or kids and don’t want to say the most horribly offensive things ever) is perfect to play with friends or family who want to just have fun and be ridiculous. It plays exactly like Apples to Apples, but is for awful people who think horrible things are hysterical. It’s the perfect party game, but be warned: only play it with people you’re not worried about offending, and it’s definitely not appropriate for kids!

Games to Play with Gamers


Elder Sign – Elder Sign is a fantastic Cthulhu-themed game. I prefer it to Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror. The dice roll mechanic adds suspense to the game without it taking too long. Also, it’s a fantastic co-op game that’s super hard. The stakes are really high, because if your group doesn’t win, the world ends, so all the players get really invested in the game.


Betrayal at House on the Hill – In Betrayal, you play a group of investigators – think the Scooby Gang – and you’re exploring this creepy house. As you explore, you place new room tiles. Each room has something creepy about it. Some of the rooms have omens in them, and once you manage to roll under the number of omens you have found, the haunt begins. This changes the entire game. There are 50 different haunts, and the one that happens depends on where the haunt began and what omen was drawn that round. At this point, normally one player becomes the betrayer, so they’re working with whatever evil thing has appeared. The rest of the group is trying to either survive, kill that person, or leave. It’s a super fun game that’s just full of atmosphere.


Dead of Winter – I freaking love this game. It’s a zombie survival game that could have a betrayer in the midst. There’s a sense of the urgency and desperate nature of the humans situation that I love. All of the characters who the players control are unique and really cool. While the rules are simple, the game itself is complicated. So it’s definitely not one that I’d break out with people who do not play games.


Battlestar Galactica – This game is complicated as hell, so it’s definitely one I would only recommend you play with either people who play a lot of board games, or people who love the show. That said, this is one of my favorite games, pretty much ever. It completely captures the feel of the TV show, and is an amazing game. Everyone plays as a character from the show, and at least one of you is a Cylon. There are two loyalty phases of the game, which means that the Cylons might not be awoken at the beginning of the game. It’s a game of secrecy, survival, and – if you’re the Cylon – trying to fuck shit up for the humans. It’s fantastic. I highly recommend this game. It takes anywhere from 3-4 hours, which is perfect if you don’t have work or school during the holidays.


Twilight Imperium – Do you love galactic conquest and have about an entire day to play a game? Then this game is for you. Again, you probably don’t want to play this game with people that do not game. The rules are complicated and take a while to explain, but the game itself is really, really fun. Each player controls an entire race. Each race has a home planet and are trying to build spaceships, conquer other planets, get influence, and gain victory points. To win, you can take a diplomatic path, a technology path, or you could just attempt to kill everyone. Every time you play, you build the galaxy differently, which means it has a ton of replay value, besides the fact that there are a ton of different races, each of which have their own special abilities. I’d say this game takes anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to play, depending on how many players you have and how well they know the game. It’s an epic battle for the galaxy, and it’s awesome.

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