With Christmas right around the corner, it’s party time! Friends, families, colleagues, and total strangers will soon be gathering to celebrate the season. Why not bring a game to your Christmas gatherings? They get people talking and laughing, and they’re a great way to connect both with acquaintances and people you’ve known all your life.
These games are perfect for Christmas gatherings; all of them can include at least four people, and some can include many more. They’re easy to learn, don’t take more than 90 minutes or so, and most of them work with a wide range of ages.
A game by one of my favorite designers, Codenames is part word game, part puzzle game, and part cooperative race. Twenty-five cards are set out on the table, each with a word on it. The spymaster of each team gives their teammates one-word clues in an attempt to get them to choose a specific combination of cards. Choosing the opponent’s cards moves them closer to the win, and choosing the assassin immediately ends the game. You can play this game with as many people as you want, making it great for a party.
2. Ticket to Ride (UK)
A modern classic, Ticket to Ride sees players trying to connect cities across the US by rail. Each player has a secret set of tickets showing cities they need to connect, and the further away the cities are, the more points they’re worth. The rules are remarkably simple, the game shouldn’t take more than an hour to play, and it’s actually fun for players of all ages. There are many different versions of Ticket to Ride, including Nordic Countries (UK) — which isn’t a Christmas version, but it’s close!
You can also use the pass-and-play option on your iPad for a quick game without buying the physical game.
This game is all about art. But don’t get scared off yet. Dixit includes a large deck of cards, each with a unique illustration. One player chooses a card and describes it with a word or short phrase. Everyone else chooses a card, and all of the chosen cards are shuffled. They’re then placed out in a row, and everyone votes on which card they think was placed by the first player. That player gets points if only some people guess it. Everyone else gets points if someone votes for their card. Optimal clues are vague, but specific enough to get the message across to some people. It’ll get you thinking, but doesn’t require any strategy or heavy planning. And you can play with up to six.
This is basically a more complicated, more interesting version of Clue. One player takes on the role of a ghost in a haunted house and communicates with the other players — “mediums” — by sending them visions, each represented by a card. Mediums must interpret those cards to figure out who murdered the ghost, where, and how. Ghost stories are a classic part of Christmas, and Mysterium is a great way to take part in one! The game also supports up to seven players, making it a good option for large groups.
This game is astonishingly popular, and is one of the few hobby games to make the jump to mass-market stores — you can easily find it at Target, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble. Players work together to fight four different diseases before they can wipe out the human race. It sounds a little heavy for Christmas, but it’s a blast. It’s relatively easy to teach, takes less than an hour, and can be played by up to four players (or six with the In the Lab expansion [UK]).
You may get a little nervous being faced with a game like The Settlers of Catan, but trust me: it’s not nearly as intimidating as it might seem. Players will trade wheat, wool, ore, brick, and wood to build roads, settlements, and cities. Each settlement is worth one point, and each city worth two. The first to ten wins. It’s a highly interactive game that requires a bit of negotiating, and keeps everyone involved even when it’s not their turn. It plays four very well, and the 5–6 player expansion (UK) is really fun (it might even be my preferred way to play).
7. Scotland Yard (UK)
This game has been around for over 30 years, but it’s severely underappreciated. One player takes on the role of Mr. X, while the others are detectives who have to catch him. Mr. X moves around the board in secret, only revealing whether he went on foot, by taxi, or on the underground. The detectives must deduce his location and catch him before time runs out. This game can be surprisingly tense near the end, and near-misses always amp up the tension. Up to six players can play, and it’s great for a wide range of ages.
If you think your group would appreciate something with a bit more strategy, 7 Wonders is a great choice. The rules are deceptively simple: you only have three options each turn, but crafting long-term strategies from those options is where the game really shines. Gather resources, establish trade routes, beef up your military, and build ancient wonders of the world to win. With a play time of 30 minutes and room for up to seven players, it’s tough to top this when you want a bit of a challenge.
9. Captain Sonar (UK)
This is a raucous game. Players divide into two teams, one per submarine. Both submarines are trying to maneuver into a position to take out the other one, but they’re trying to do so without giving away their own position. The captain decides where to move and when to fire, but also has to communicate to his team where they’re going without making it obvious to the enemy. The first mate, engineer, and radio operator all need to work together with their captain to make sure their sub is running smoothly and moving into attack position… without becoming a victim of the other sub crew. It sounds overly complex and strategic, but it’s a goofy game like none other you’ve played before.
If you’re looking for a game that you can play with a lot of people of a wide range of ages, Camel Up is perfect. It’s a simple race game where you race camels around the pyramids. But it gets wacky when you start piling the camels on top of each other. You’ll need a good sense of timing to see which camels are most likely to win the race. Pick the right camels, and you’ll finish with the most gold. Up to eight players of ages eight and up can play this goofy racer.
For a game that seems exceedingly simple, I was surprised by how much fun Qwirkle is. The game consists of 108 tiles, each with one of six shapes in one of six colors. Players place their tiles next to those on the table so they match in color or shape, but not both. It sounds elementary, but figuring out how to maximize your points keeps you on your toes throughout. It’s so simple that kids can play, but there’s enough depth that everyone can have fun. It also supports up to four players.
12. Apples to Apples (UK)
Depending on your family, you might have already played this one far too many times. But if you haven’t, give it a shot! It’s a hilarious party game of word relations. One player chooses a green card with an adjective on it, like “fuzzy” or “hilarious”. Everyone else chooses a red noun card like “vampires” or “Abraham Lincoln”. The player who played the green card chooses the red card that best fits with it (or makes them laugh the most). It’s a game that will have your whole party laughing like mad. And the party box, which contains the core set and two expansions, plays up to ten players.
What Will You Be Playing?
These games might not be familiar to you, but all of them are great options for a Christmas party. With a nearly unlimited supply of options, there are sure to be other good ones out there!
What will you be playing at your Christmas gatherings this year? Do you need recommendations for a specific group size or age range? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!