What are the very best card and board games to play with coworkers and family this holiday? Games that are actually FUN – that you could bring to a party as a great gift for cheap, or tuck in the stocking for Christmas Eve?
Quinns will be writing a piece next week about games more suited to those who already love the hobby, but as part of our ongoing mission to convince the world that board games are great, we wanted to put together an easy resource for the question we seem to get almost all the time: “What game should I buy to play with my family?”
If you’ve been linked to this by someone else who loves board games, hello! We’ve put this list together as both a video and a written list. Enjoy!
Matt: Greetings Holiday Humans, it’s time to mildly panic as you realise that family will soon descend upon you like a flock of seagulls to a discarded ice-cream. Rather than trying to explain your job to relatives to the point that you might have a mental breakdown, we’d recommend playing board games instead.
These are the 15 best big-family games: all play with at least 6 people, and most can handle 8. In no particular order, let’s go!
A lot of games have you guessing what someone else is drawing, but in Pictomania you ALL draw at the same time – whilst also guessing what other people are drawing, at the same time. Do you double-down on nailing your drawing to get points for correct guesses from other people, or watch everyone else like a hawk and get more points for being the first to work out what other people are drawing?
It’s just a great simple, electric idea – and this delightful new small-box version of the same is almost half the price of the original game, going for pencils and paper instead of pens and whiteboards which makes it both MORE TWEE and ecologically better. Simple, smart, lovely.
Cockroach Poker is one of my all-time favourite games. Dastardly, hilarious, and one of two games so simple that I can and will play them at ANY time. Each player is dealt a hand of wonderfully ugly bugs and creatures, and is tasked with simply not running out of cards.
And the whole game is just sliding other people cards, and telling them what that card is. ‘This? This is a spider.’ When you receive a card, you can either agree that they’re telling the truth, call them out on what you think might be a lie, or brilliantly – pick up the card, look at it, and then pass it on to someone else. ‘Oh shucks, it is a spider,’ or ‘It wasn’t a spider, it’s a toad.’
That’s the whole game, and it is unbelievably fabulous. Best of all, it’s a game in which nobody wins, instead just one player LOSES. It’s ridiculous, tiny and absolutely essential.
Not quite as small but possibly as brilliant, Codenames is likely the game in this list that most readers will already have heard of or played – two teams try to crack their code by using clues provided by their team’s Spymaster. Looking down at a 5 by 5 grid of words, Spymasters take it in turns to choose ONE word, and a number. The rest of their team must then identify that many words that all relate to the clue word given. Flip all of your team’s words, and you win.
If you get it wrong though, you might flip a word for the opposing team – or worse, flip the one word that is FORBIDDEN and your team will IMMEDIATELY LOSE THE GAME. You must not speak the forbidden word. Shhh! They will hear us!
But wait, what’s this – another code-cracking game? Decrypto didn’t get as much love when standing in the huge shadow of Codenames, but it is quite different and I might even like it slightly more. Both teams have four secret codewords that are revealed on cool, scrambled cards when slotted into the lo-fi cardboard consoles. Each round a player from each team gives three clues, so that the rest of their team can then – in the correct order – guess the sequence of three numbers written on the card they drew that round.
And that’s easy! EXCEPT, the other team are taking notes on your answers – whispering furtively as they gradually unpick what those words must be. If you can crack the other team’s code – you’ll win the game. So whilst Codenames is all about precision and clarity, Decrypto gives you the space to be deviously clever. It’s a game of subtle looks and Cheshire Cat grins. And it is beautiful! Gorgeously designed, beautiful to look at – what a solid package.
Right, so maybe you want something a bit heavier? If you can handle something that does require *quite a few rules*, Mysterium is fascinating. Investigators must uncover the truth of a murder in traditional board-game detective terms: murderer, location, and murder weapon. But forget about Colonel Mustard, this is more Professor Fermented Plum. Each night investigators are gifted with a strange dream in the form of a piece of unique art, and they must then decipher what that dream means. Oh, and these dreams are being given to them by a ghost, and the player who’s the ghost isn’t allowed to talk at all for the duration of the game.
It plays with 7, but in a family setting I’d probably suggest splitting people into teams of two – it’ll speed things up without changing the core of the game. It’s too tricky and rules-y to recommend to everyone, especially if the ghost player is the only one who really knows how to play – but it’s a unique experience that’s hugely rewarding should you be able to get people to focus on the ethereal.
Equally big on table space but unbelievably easy to learn and play, Flamme Rouge plays with four, and that goes up to twelve with the expansion – it is the best racing game that money can buy.
Forget about The Game of Life, even though yes I know that spinner thing is fun – this game of exhaustion, slip-streaming, and trying to squeeze ahead of the pack is evocative, thrilling, and anyone can play. It even has rules that let you carry over your cyclist’s exhaustion cards into the next race that you play, adding texture and story to multi-session family tournaments.
If you want something fun and light and silly that kids will love, Flick ’em Up is an incredible cowboy playground. It’s such a good family game that I don’t have my copy, because I gave it to a family! As we pointed out in our review, don’t mess about with the campaign missions – they aren’t all that fun. Just learn the rules and then make up the rest as you go along. Pow pow!
Oooh this is a nice one. Sushi Go is a tiny-box classic, and Sushi Go Party is heaps more of the same – this luxury version plays with up to 8 people, and it’s a wonderfully colourful simple game in which you pick a card from your hand, play it to the table to say you’re keeping it, and then pass the rest of your hand of cards to the person on your left – before then receiving new cards from the person on your right. Repeat until everything is on the table, score some points, go again.
Give your family bad sushi without repercussions! There’s a ton of variety in this little tin – and the manual even has a “menu” that suggests the cards you should use when playing with different types of groups. Nice. Cute lil sushis! NICE.
OOH what a box this is. Guide four characters through an unfolding maze in which every player can move every piece, but only do one or two actions. So your dad can move things West, but that’s it. If they need to go North, that’s on Auntie Sandra.
Oh, and you do all this in real-time, at the same time, with up to eight people, and you are not allowed to talk. It’s less of an elevator pitch and more of a Die Hard style elevator explosion – before this game I never knew it was possible for a room to feel raucous whilst sitting silently. Not ideal for players on the furthest ends of the age spectrum, but otherwise, gosh – what an absolute riot.
Now it’s time for the game that lets you wink at your uncle without causing alarm. Shifty-Eyed Spies is one of the best-looking games that money can buy, and it couldn’t be more simple. Each player gets two cards: a character and a location. You look around the table for the person playing as that character, and then you have to wink at them. Once they’ve received said wink, they will then look at the location you’ll need to meet them at to hand over a secret spy package. But if anyone else sees either of you doing any of this, they can intercept the meeting and blow your cover! Keep completing missions without being noticed, and you’ll win! That’s basically it! Wonderful!
Diamant – originally released as Incan Gold, which sounds like a blend of instant coffee I frankly wouldn’t buy – is a game of treasures, dangers and pushing your luck.
Heading out on five expeditions, you’ll uncover gems along the way – and at any point when you all vote secretly, you can tell everyone else that hey – I’m going home. And everything we’ve found so far? I’m taking it with me. Basically slinking off like a thief from Indiana Jones. But if anyone else goes home at the same time? You’ll have to split the loot with them.
Keep pushing ahead though – maybe even alone? And anything you find is ALL YOURS. But if you hit too many hazards then everyone still in the cave goes home with nothing. Will you fill your chest with riches, or be nibbled into submission by snakes? I’m going to get eaten by snakes, it’s who I am. If you’re a big fan of watching your family fall prey to hubris, Diamant is great.
Bad news, there’s a werewolf in town and someone has been murdered. Good news, it’s all largely automated by your mobile phone. Werewolf, or Mafia, is the popular folk game of death and deception, where a couple of players are secretly bad eggs that you’ll have to oust with a combination of deduction and gut feelings.
Accusations are thrown around the room, innocent players are gradually killed, different secret identities keep players on their toes. It is a fantastic, involved game but one common complaint is that if you get killed on the first night, you’re out of the game for maybe 15, 20 minutes. And it can be SO FUN to sit in silence and watch the game unfold but try telling that to Auntie Susan who’s turned the TV on and cracked open the port. Susan, please. The Eastenders omnibus will be repeated on Tuesday.
One Night gets away from this problem by having a game with no knock-outs, that also basically runs itself. You’ve got an app that tells people when to close their eyes, when to open them, and what to do – then you just interrogate each other until you either deduce who the werewolves are, or lose the game and become their dinner. If this game is a hit with your family, I’d also recommend The Resistance: Avalon – it’s more fiddly and rulesy, but GOSH IT’S SO GOOD.
Still on the fun lie-train, Sheriff of Nottingham plays up to 6 with its expansion, and is basically Customs: the game – or as my brother calls it: ‘What’s in ya bag ya basta’d?’ Players put goods – and maybe contraband – into little bags that then get handed to an inspector, who interrogates, extorts – whatever they want. Maybe don’t open that bag, and I’ll… give you this shiny gold coin?
The expansion means that each round you have two players checking everyone’s luggage – the Sheriff of Nottingham’s horrid looking minions. And what a fun dynamic that adds to the table! Do we trust grandma? Should we open her suitcase? Grandma – this suitcase is full of crossbows… How many times have we talked about this?
Monikers is a fantastically crafted version of a public domain game commonly known as Celebrity or Fishbowl – two teams go head to head trying to guess cards by saying anything other than the title of the card, then play a second round with the SAME cards but are only allowed to say one word for each card, and then a THIRD round – now slightly familiar with the cards in play – in which they must simply mime each card while the rest of their team guessed. It’s a game with a slow start that escalates gradually into hilarity: this is an excellent, gorgeous party game in a box.
BUT! But but but – sound the due diligence alarm: it felt utterly remiss not to include Monikers in this list, it’s literally my wife’s favourite game – but SU&SD did like it so much that we actually wrote an expansion for it called The Nonsense Box that you can buy. We put a lot of love into this and I’m really proud of it – but that does mean that we literally have a vested interest in this game, which is something that I don’t personally feel colours how I feel about Monikers – but it doesn’t matter how I feel about it! Clear bias exists here and we feel like it’s our duty to inform you of that. Do with this information what you will! Next game!
Finally, and maybe I’ve saved the best till last – here is the second game that I will play at any time. Skull is the toothy essence of poker boiled down into a form that anyone can enjoy. Each player has four cardboard disks in their hand, one of which has a skull on it. You just keep putting disks face down until someone calls a number they think they can flip without hitting a skull – with the sole rule that whoever bids highest has to flip all of theirs first. If you hit a skull, you randomly lose one of your discs. And that’s the whole game. It doesn’t sound like much – but ask anyone who’s played it, it is a stone-cold classic. Minutes to teach, jump straight in, and then let players discover the nuances of it themselves as they play. It’s a beautiful design that unfurls like a flower. If you buy one party game, this is it – and the new version is so much prettier!
The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down