Family Games for your Holiday Hangouts
So it’s that time of year, where Americans traditionally travel to meet family, cook an absolutely absurd amount of food, and groggily watch some football in a tryptophan haze. For some families, this is a wonderful time to catch up with loved ones. For others, maybe it can be a slog through a weekend full of people you don’t really know or relate to. Either way, board games are a fantastic way to connect with others and have a memorable holiday.
There are plenty of games that are perfect for get-togethers, such as Codenames , Ticket To Ride , and Farkle are some of the familiar family classics. However, we would like to talk about some games that will help expand your collection. So let’s dive into some deep cuts, some games that maybe people aren’t aware of or hadn’t thought of for post-turkey turn-taking. Here’s several games in a variety of styles that support play groups of 5 or higher:
Let’s ease into this list with a nice and easy party game. The concept behind Concept is simple - it’s similar to Pictionary, but instead of drawing your clues, you use emojis. The board is a grid of icon-style ideas, like Animal/Plant, Big/Small, Natural/Man-made, etc. The clue giver uses tokens to highlight which icons describe the secret word.
The game is simple enough that anyone can pick up the gist just by watching, but still fun enough to keep a large group entertained. The rules sheet details a primary way to play, but the game is flexible enough to be played any way your family wants to - cooperatively, in teams, or giving points to correct guessers, whatever you want.
Find out more about Concept on Board Game Geek.
Halloween may be over, but it’s never the wrong season for a solid, good game. Paranormal Detectives is a hybrid of a party game and a strategy board game that involves just the right amount of creativity and deduction.
One player is the ghost of a recently deceased person, and the other players are psychic investigators who are trying to be the first to solve the mystery. The Ghost player picks a Story card that describes how they died, and the five Key Facts that the detective players must deduce. The detective players have Investigation cards that allow them to ask a question, and tell the Ghost player how to answer.
And therein lies the magic of this game. Being a ghost, the Ghost player can’t communicate in normal means. They must use their poltergeist-y powers creatively to tell the Investigators what they need to know. Sometimes this means helping them draw a figure, or influence their Tarot deck, or using a dropping cryptic hints on their Ouija board.
The game is easy to learn and loaded with excitement - players racing to decipher the Ghost’s clues first is wonderfully tense. There’s loads of replayability, as the game comes with 28 unique Story cards that set the scenario, and a free app to create even more Stories. Players get a kick out of switching between Ghost and Investigator roles. Paranormal Detectives is a fantastic pick for families with teenagers, grandparents, or even regular parties!
Find out more about Paranormal Detectives on Board Game Geek.
Card-based party games is an extensive genre in itself, led by the notorious Cards Against Humanity. However not all card games rely on edgy, bawdy humor to be fun. Enter Superfight, a game about superheroes! Hilariously bad superheroes!
The core experience in Superfight is a light, low-stakes debate. Two players use the cards in their hands to build the least worst Fighter they can. Then, with the other players acting as a jury, the two Fighters explain why they win. Surely Lava Rambo is a tremendous force to be reckoned with, but maybe his match lies in the Crazy Cat Lady - who has freeze breath. Who has the advantage? The jury votes and decides the winner, who goes on to fight again!
Find out more about Superfight on Board Game Geek.
The phrase “roll-and-move” is sometimes used derisively in the board game hobby. It evokes games that have very little challenge and excitement. Formula D, however, is the wonderful rare exception to this stereotype. Formula D is an exciting, dice-rolling, push-your-luck, formula car racing game that never ceases to be fun.
What makes Formula D fun and unique is the use of gears. Players have to shift their car’s gear up on their turn to roll larger dice to go faster. However, they also have to gear down to go slower around the tight turns. If a player speeds through a curve without ending their turn in it, they push their car too hard and take damage - or if it's too much, their car may just slam into a wall and blow up!
Find out more about Formula D on Board Game Geek.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Sherlock Holmes is one of the best games to play in a large family setting. The rules are simple to learn, players are free to drop in and drop out during a session, and each session takes 60 to 90 minutes - just long enough to fill up an evening.
The core gameplay in Sherlock Holmes is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure story. To start with, players choose one of ten cases to tackle. Then the game gives a description of the crime scene, a directory of London circa 1860, and a newspaper for the day. Players read the segment of the story and decide which clues they want to investigate, and look up someone in the directory to follow up on the lead. When players think they’ve found the murderer and motive, they end the chase, and compare their answer with Holmes himself. (Protip: Sherlock Holmes is basically the Superman of detective work, and canonically a giant jerk, so take his feedback with a grain of salt!)
Find out more about Sherlock Holmes on Board Game Geek.
Werewords comes from a long lineage of social deduction games, and is a very streamlined, easy-to-play version that was nominated for the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres in 2019. The twist that Werewords adds to the Werewolf formula is simply a "Twenty Questions" phase. Since it’s a Werewolf game, the werewolves are secretly trying to derail the game, while staying hidden from the villagers.
For families and play groups that like a little bit of spicy chicanery in their games, Werewords is superb. It uses an app that guides players through the games, while also playing quickly enough that stakes are low and light and fun.
Find out more about Werewords on Board Game Geek.
The Captain is Dead
Cooperative board games are a fantastic option for family nights. They encourage communication, teamwork, and a sense of camaraderie. Cooperative games are also great for groups who let their competitiveness get the better of them. Pandemic has always been a go-to crossover game, but let’s talk about maybe a lesser known, but still excellent cooperative game: The Captain is Dead!
The Captain is Dead is a little more complex than other games on this list, but not excessively complex. It’s still very easy to teach, and the added complexity instead adds a fair bit of strategic depth and a solid narrative arc. The Captain is Dead is also one of the few cooperative games that players up to 7 players.
This one may require a group that’s a little more comfortable with learning game rules than the other games in this list, but for those groups and adventurous families, The Captain is Dead is absolutely worth a look.
Find out more about The Captain is Dead on Board Game Geek.
Lastly, let’s talk about a deceptively simple and light strategy game. Tiny Towns plays up to 6 players, and the rules explanation takes less than five minutes. That’s no exaggeration - Tiny Towns may have the fewest rules of any light strategy game. However, the strategy in Tiny Towns can be as challenging as any other game in its class.
Tiny Towns, at its core, is a very satisfying building game. Players accumulate 5 types of resources, and try to arrange those resources on their board in specific ways to build different buildings. It’s a little like the crafting portion of Minecraft - one shape will make a Tavern, a different shape will make a Farm, et cetera. The challenge comes from the resources that other players give you - they may not necessarily be the resources you need at the moment.
This game makes it onto this list for the two reasons mentioned above: it plays a large group, and it’s very easy to teach. It’s a great way to introduce non-gamer family members to a light strategy game.
Find out more about Tiny Towns on Board Game Geek.