Ah, the holidays! That time of heightened expectations, when adults become children again and there’s magic in the air. For many of us, this is one of the best times of the year. Visits with family, giving and opening gifts, baking cookies, building snowmen, enjoying an amazing meal (plus all those leftovers!), catching holiday movies on television, and attending religious services make up annual traditions that many of us cherish throughout our lives. And of course, there’s no better time of the year to settle down with a riveting mystery or that nonfiction tome that you picked up to impress Uncle Albert or Great-Aunt Edna.
At least, these things are what I like to imagine will happen when my family gathers to celebrate. But if your family is anything like mine, it becomes less “fun” and more “dysfunctional.” Arguments at the dinner table, meltdowns under the Christmas tree, and tears among the tinsel may make for some interesting family drama, but there’s nothing fun about it. And although reading a great book often provides a means of escape from the hot mess brewing in the kitchen, sometimes that’s just not a viable option.
Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice storytelling or immersion into a fantasy world to provide a respite from the drama – simply pick up a board game and invite your family members around the table to play. Last Christmas, I watched my family bond over a simple dice game called Zombie Dice, which is something I never would have imagined. But it helped us survive the holidays and perhaps began a new annual tradition. So without further ado, I present to you several winter/holiday-themed games to try with your families.
Holiday Fluxx is a fun card game that starts out very simply, so it’s easy to teach as you go along. The basic premise of the game is draw one, play one. Each player receives a hand of cards at the beginning and must play at least one card each turn. The deck consists of several different card types – goals, keepers, rules, actions, etc. The game is holiday themed (everything from Halloween to Hanukkah to New Year’s Eve) and the winner is the player who has played enough keepers on the table in front of them to complete a specific goal. What makes this game fun is that the cards played can change the rules, goal, and more. The game may go from draw one, play one to draw one, play four in an instance. It’s easy and typically quick, perfect for a round or two between dinner and dessert.
Carcassonne: Winter Edition is a tile game, with the premise that you are building cities, roads, and farms, laying claim and trying to earn points from completed construction. Each game starts with a set of basic tiles that must be played at the beginning. Once these basic tiles are in place, each player draws a tile from a bag and must place it in a logical place on the table. By logical, I mean that a road must be placed against a road, city walls have to meet, a river can’t just dead-end. After all, we might be greedy, but we can’t change physics! After a tile is placed, the player has a chance to claim that newly begun road, city, farm, or river, after which they strive to place tiles that will complete those things. Once completed, that landmark or structure earns points, and of course, the player with the most points wins the game. The Winter Edition plays much like the original Carcassonne, the only exception being the wintry setting. Perfect for playing against a backdrop of your own wintry weather!
If you’ve ever played Love Letter, chances are Letters to Santa will feel immediately familiar. With just 16 cards and 11 gift tokens, this tiny game is easy to learn and play, and rounds take only a few minutes. The backstory to this game is that you are trying to get your letter to Santa. To accomplish this, you have to complete one of two goals each round. A round begins with a player dealing out a single card to each player. On each turn, the player draws one more card, then must play one of the two. Each card has a specific action that must be completed upon being played. To win the round, a player must either correctly guess the cards of the other players to knock them out of the round and become the last player standing or they must have the highest valued card when the deck has been played through. Whoever wins the round gets a gift token, whoever wins the most rounds wins the game! It’s a classic game of bluffing mixed with a little bit of war, and is so fun! Letters to Santa is especially charming, as the deck contains snowman, reindeer, toy, Krampus, Santa, and other Christmas-y cards!
Finally, for the more hardcore game aficionados, a must-play game is the recently released Dead of Winter. Recipient of multiple game-of-the-year awards, Dead of Winter requires that players work together in order to survive a zombie apocalypse. Each player leads a faction of survivors, and all players must work together for the good of all survivors. However, each player has their own secret mission to accomplish, which makes for a layered and complex game. The secret missions could be beneficial or could prompt the player to sabotage the larger game for his or her own benefit. This game is great for zombie-lovers and has the added benefit of making your family work together toward a common goal!
These games are a great way to make a family come together during the holidays, but for librarians looking for themed programs for teens, these are some great games with obvious appeal. Host a game night, provide snacks, and have several of these games on offer. For more fun, also check out 12 Days, Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, GiftTrap, and The Nightmare Before Christmas Munchkin. With a wide array of games boasting various lengths, difficulty levels, and gameplay types, game night should be a success. Throw on a holiday movie in the background and have everyone wear their ugliest Christmas sweater for more fun!
— Jancee Wright, currently reading Half Bad by Sally Green