It’s the one time of the year that non-board gamers tend to find themselves playing a game in what is somewhat of a a post Christmas dinner tradition for many. As they enjoy the festivities with friends and family over a family feast, games tend to be brought to the table to wind the evening down.
Yet many are missing out. While the usual suspects of Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Taboo and the like are all decent enough games, they are all old hat and don’t shine a light on the possibilities offered in modern tabletop gaming. To more hardcore board gamers like myself, the thought of trudging through one of the stereotypical choices is more bloating than any five course meal I’ve ever been served up on the 25th December. And whats worse, many people get “games” from Santa for them to play on the day, the vast majority of which are, with all due respect, over-priced, unimaginative, most probably quiz based games that after they are put back in the box from the initial uninspiring play though will in all likelihood never see the light of day again.
And for me, that is a real travesty. There is countless fantastic party games that would not only be perfect for Christmas, but would be games you would want to play over and over again, never mind the following year at Christmas!
Last week I teased a top 10 of games to play this Christmas, but since it was rather hard to narrow down, I’ve went for one for each day of Christmas – thats 12 for those that are somehow unfamiliar with the 12 drumming drummers, 11 pipping piper, 10 leaping lords and so on. Plus two of the games on this top 12 I have already covered in more detail on previous Tabletop Tales. I’d guarantee if you got one of these fine titles onto the table this festive period, you will not be disappointed. They are all simple, accessible, great fun and a perfect window to modern tabletop gaming…
Repos Productions high concept word deduction game kicks off our list, and it is one of the most beautiful designed I’m going to cover. Playing in teams, one person has to convey a certain concept – such as an item, film, famous person, place, etc – to their team mates. The method of conveying is achieved by taking a concept card and using a board covered with generic icons to place tokens on a series of icons that they believe represents their concept. Think Charades with a board full of icons. As all the concept cards have three levels of difficulty, it is very family friendly.While I can’t help but really admire this game for its design and absolutely outstanding components, it is much more of a thinker than others on this list, hence why it isn’t higher. Yet it works a treat anytime it comes out on the table, although I personally prefer a little more “fun” in my party games.
The self-titled “whole brain game” is probably the most well recognised titles on this list, and there is no way I could have a top 12 games to play on Christmas day without this. First released in 1998, it merges aspects of Trivial Pursuit, Rapidough, Pictionary and Charades into a random team battle game. With bizarre challenges such as having to draw blind or act out impersonations, it often descends into hilarity. While there isn’t much depth to the game, its great fun for all the family. This has probably been the game I’ve played most often on Christmas over the years and its real strength is in how accessible it is. While you could argue this falls into the “traditional classics” of Christmas, its one that I believe doesn’t get enough credit for what it is.
10. Absolute Balderdash
Released the year I was born in 1984, this is another that will ring a bell with many. Balderdash is a fill in the blank bluffing game where a card is drawn and read out loud to all players. The word will be a real word that nobody has likely heard of, and the game is simple writing what you think the word means. Once all players have guessed, they vote on their favourite meaning and both the top voted answer and any correct answer scores points. Absolute Balderdash (called Beyond Balderdash out with the UK) was a updated and expanded version that released 22 years later in 2006. It now features movie plots, famous quotes, laws, abbreviations and famous dates. The added kicker of this version is that the real answers are usually far more outrageous than what anyone can imagine. One of the funniest games you can play, its fantastic for any party.
9. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Last week I mentioned Werewolves of Millers Hollow and this title from Bezier Games launched in 2014 is another reimagining of the classic Werewolf game from the mid 80’s, and for me the best yet. It is a hidden role game where players are each given secret roles and have to try and work out who is a werewolf. Each round their is a vote to “lynch” a player and it only takes the downfall of one werewolf for the game to end in victory for the survivors. Where it gets interesting, is each role has a unique special ability that can provide an advantage in either avoiding detection of gathering clues. And unlike other Werewolf games, there is no player elimination or indeed a moderator. Accommodating up to 10 players, each round takes no more than 15 minutes. Its quick to learn, easy to setup and real fun to play. Will tell you just who you can and cannot trust in your family as you sit round the Christmas dinner table.
This years Spiel des Jahres winner comes in the form of this team deduction game from Vlaada Chvátil. A spy master is appointed in each team who know the location of the spies in the field – a grid of 25 cards with words on them. The spy masters much give one word clues to lead their team to figure out what word they mean using a grid card drawn at random. If they choose wisely they will identify an enemy spy which will cover the word. Choose wrongly and they could take out an innocent civilian causing a penalty, or the dreaded double agent who will bring them all down. The first team to identify all their opponents spies win. The end result is a fantastically tense and engaging party game. As the players are using clues they devise to make sense to their team, it can be tailored to all ages. A worthy Spiel des Jahres winner, and a sequel with pictures replacing the words has just been released.
7. Camel Up
The 2nd Spiel des Jahres winner on the list. Regular readers will know all about this classic betting game from the feature I did a few weeks back. To summarise, its an absolute hoot of a game that is much more simple and engrossing than it seems and it would be absolute perfect for your post Christmas dinner party game for all ages! It is basically a game where you bet on racing and stacking camels! Read my Never Judge a Camel by its Mechanics article for a more in depth look at Camel Up.
Monikers is essentially advanced Charades. The “advanced” comes in the form of all cards feature a character, whether it is a real celebrity, historical figure or fictitious creation. Inspired from the public domain game Celebrities, Monikers follows the formula of Taboo and Articulate in that its basically a guess the word game. Played over three rounds, the first of which the clue giver can saying anything they want apart from the name of their character. The second round is much more of a challenge, and you only have a single word to let your team know who you are. And in the final round, you can’t say a thing and have to act out like your character. So simple yet astoundingly good old fashioned fun, its a great jump in and out team game that is perfect for parties. And it is available for free as a print and play game from their website! Check it out.
5. Ca$h ‘n Guns (2nd Edition)
First released in 2005, Ca$h ‘n Guns got a 2nd edition in 2014 and it quickly established itself as one of the top party games on the market. For 4-8 players, it is a game about the aftermath of a successful heist with the robbers at odds over who gets what. Essentially, its the board game version of Reservoir Dogs! The goal is to have the most money at the end of the game and, of course, still be alive! In a round, one player is “The Boss” and dictates play, turning over loot cards that are up for grabs in this round. These include cash, diamonds, paintings, first aid kits and extra bullets. All players load their wonderful foam guns with either a “bang” card or a “click! click!” card and on the bosses count of three all point their guns at each other, with the boss able to demand one player pointing a gun at them point it at another player. Following a short time to survey the current stand-off, the boss counts to three for a second time and anyone can lower their gun and opt out of the round. All remaining players pointing guns now turn over their bullet cards and any player receiving a bang takes a wound and is out of the round. Starting with the boss, the remaining players take it in turns to select from the loot. The boss token passes to the left and a new round is started, with the game lasting a total of eight. And the end result? Simply fantastic!
4. The Resistance
There is a lot of social deduction games on the market, but The Resistance stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. Playing in 30 minutes with 5-10 players it is set in a dystopian future where players are assigned roles as either members of the the Resistance or the Empire infiltrators. It is all about working out who is who and deducing if you can trust players. The gameplay comprises of the leader entrusting plans to a group of players they decide, who must agree on the plan. All players then vote in secret on whether to support or sabotage the assignment. If the mission is successfully supported, the resistance win the round, if not the empire wins. The key is keeping your identity hidden at all times. With no player elimination and a very tense and enriching narrative, its unique to other social deduction games in that there is more information to hand that makes figuring out other players roles easier, and ultimately protecting your role harder. The unscripted social interaction is fantastic and creates a stimulating and engaging gaming experience that is perfect for any party. An absolutely stellar game.
3. Bang! The Dice Game
Bang! The Dice Game takes the hidden identity mechanic and brings in dice. Up to eight players are assigned a secret role; sheriff, deputy, renegade and outlaw. The sheriff reveals his role to the group and starts the game by rolling dice. The object is for the sheriff, with the support of his unknown deputies, to kill the outlaws and renegades, while the outlaws just have to kill the sheriff to win. The final option is the renegade who has to kill outlaws and the sheriff. The wonderfully crafted dice dictate the actions you can take, with the option of two re-rolls. They present the ability to shoot players one or two spaces to your left or right, the ability to heal, or the gating gun that shoots everyone should you roll three of them. Arrow symbols result in the natives attacking and creates delayed damage and the dynamite can’t be re-rolled, with three ending a players go. Each player is also given a character card with a unique ability. The fantastically packaged game is great fun with the dilemma of who you can trust being the crux of the game, with the off the cuff chat trying to convince the sheriff who you are, truthfully or not. The dice rolls bring a new and interesting dynamic to the social deduction format and ultimately provide a mash-up that is perfect fodder for a party night. Playing in as little as 15 minutes this is highly entertaining party game worthy of your attention.
Another game I have featured on Tabletop Tales before. Questions will be asked that Cards Against Humanity never made the list, but this trumps it as it remains fresh every time it is played due to the interview process of using random skill to pitch yourself for unlikely jobs. I love this game so much that it was so hard not to put it as my number one, its fantastically cleaver and insanely fun! Read my Board Game Help Getting a Job for a more in depth look at this behemoth of a party game.
When I first played Cryptozoic’s 2014 bluffing game in the summer of 2015 it immediately blew me away for its simplicity and sheer ingenuity. For up to eight players, it features 30 different decks with a random location on it. A deck is secretly selected and a spy card is added, shuffled and then a single card dealt to the players. A eight minute timer is set and the goal is for the spy to work out where they are and blend in while the other players to identify the spy. This is achieved by questioning your fellow player, with the catch being you don’t want to give too much away and alert the spy to your location. The questions can be anything you want addressed to anyone you please, who once they answer then get to question someone else. At any point during the eight minute timeframe, a player can accuse someone of being a spy and if they have the majority backing the accused has to turn over their card and the round ends. If they are indeed the spy, the others gain a point. However, if it is a false accusation the spy gains a point, and likewise if they timer hits zero. Yet that is semantic as this game isn’t about scoring, it all about the gameplay. You will laugh yourself silly at the randomness of the cryptic questions and obscure answers players will throw out, all while trying to decode the meaning and deduce if someone if with you or against you. All with the added pressure of the eight minute countdown! Being the spy and having to bluff and sweat your way through eight long minutes of deceit is also highly rewarding and challenging, especially when you are clueless to the location. Each card also features a individual role for the location to further complicate matter. It’s a fantastic game that you won’t want to stop playing, perfect to play in any group of people and easily my number one game for this years post Christmas dinner game. There is a sequel,(cleverly entitled Spyfall 2) about to be released in January 2017, which is easily one of my most anticipated games of 2017. Check it out!
NEXT WEEK: As we approach the end of the year, I continue the run of listicles with my own, personal, top 25 games of all time. This self indulgence will be split over two weeks: positions 25-11 in week one and the top 10 in week two…stay tuned!