Whether you’re spending this “holiday” weekend with lovers or family, Jules has some gaming suggestions for you!

The creeping dread of Monopoly. The fear of Jenga. The tedium of Go Fish. The frustration of Trivial Pursuit. There are times for the classics. They still hold significance past their monumental status as institutions of family gatherings and the like; however, I am now more than thankful that there’s been a resurgence in card, tabletop, and board gaming, as well as easy-to-learn local co-op video games. Before, when I had to visit relatives or friends’ relatives, there would inevitably be some sort of game offered up once the food and drinks had reached an end. I always appreciated this, being an introvert and someone who takes a while to show more of myself rather than work off of a script built for small talk and chit chat. These games always offered me a way to ease into the atmosphere more, giving me a common goal and topic with everyone else in the room. That’s why for nearly three years straight I would have Battleship and The Simpsons’ Monopoly and even a couple of jigsaw puzzles at the ready when I was a kid and Christmas lunch was over. Now, though, there’s a whole heaping of new genres in this category that I’m excited to introduce to multiple families, especially a handful of new releases from the past year.

Coupled Up? Try Bounden

The first one I’ll mention is Bounden, the mobile game that requires two players and a smartphone, as well as plenty of rhythm and timing. I previously reviewed this game, but in the capacity of playing it as a couple with my girlfriend. The game is all about both players holding either end of a smartphone, moving it together as one through the air as the game utilises the accelerometer inside so that you may guide a reticle on the screen through a series of navigational goals. However, with the music accompaniment and the choreography that the game is based around, there is a certain element of trust and pacing involved. Frankly, it’s a lot of sincere slapstick fun when involving two regular people with little to no dancing experience. I feel like this works as a game, then, for all ages in most family gatherings. Kids can have fun tumbling around together and maybe even spark an interest in the dancing the game conveys, meanwhile adults and teens can have a good laugh at themselves and others for the unwieldy shenaniganry involved. It’s also a good conversation piece, being a different kind of mobile game than most are accustomed to, while also being an enjoyable ice breaker for folks who are getting to know one another.

Group Play? Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Steel Crate Games, 2015

Following on from a physical, but no-stakes game, we then have Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. From Steel Crate Games, this little gem is all about communication, comprehension, and being calm. Whether you play it with or without any sort of VR headset, the game focuses on one player being a bomb diffuser and manipulating a briefcase-like explosive device on their screen, while any number of people who aren’t looking at the screen must use a technical manual to figure out what kind of bomb they’re dealing with and how to diffuse it before the timer runs out. It’s tense and exhilarating, especially if you print out the manual instead of reading it as a PDF file or on your phone. Fumbling through pages, misunderstanding the diffuser’s phrasing and descriptions, not understanding the manual’s instructions, it all leads to entertaining chaos. While plenty of guessing games devolve into squabbles and such, with Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes that directly feels like another mechanic that’s inherent to the game. It just makes it all the sweeter when you do get that green light of victory. I can see many families coming out of this experience haggard, maybe even broken a little, but ready to handle any sort of makeshift technical support for the next time someone can’t figure out how to work Skype or their wi-fi.

At Home With Parents Who Want You to Get a Real Job? Get Funemployed

Funemployed, Anthony Conta, IronWall Games/Urban Island Games, 2014

Moving onto the realm of physical media with cardboard and tables being involved to some extent, I really found myself enjoying the game Funemployed. The only way I can describe it is Apples to Apples meets Charades meets improvisation. The players are dealt cards with certain attributes that range from “Online Degree” to “Kleptomaniac” to “Night Vision Goggles.” With another series of cards in the center acting as a pool to draw and exchange your hand from, the game starts when someone draws a Job card and everyone else must convince the “employer” as to why they’re the best qualified, using their hand. The game forces you to act on your feet and put your best foot forward or backward depending on the job that entails. It essentially becomes a card game version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, with each player seeking to one-up their predecessor with an even funnier pitch for why they’re the model employee. I think it’s an interesting evolution of most games that require you to fill in the blanks or be the funniest in the group when playing to a certain judge. I definitely find it to be the much more hilarious and sincere cousin to something like Cards Against Humanity, which I feel nowadays still relies too heavily on the entire crux of having the worst and most twisted sense of humour for the sake of shock value.

Funemployed is innocent and in the best way. It means your pool of potential players isn’t restricted to only the people you can trust to not judge you too harshly for your jokes; it means anybody can play with anybody else of any age, gender, race, etc. The game doesn’t focus on or rely on you having a dark sense of humour, which can make any black comedic jokes you make all the more surprising and effective if you do stray into that territory, but also lets others communicate discomfort in those situations without having reasons like “that’s the point of the game” thrown back in their face. Play Funemployed and tell the world why you’re the best astronaut with your “False Teeth,” “Box of Wine,” and “Uncontrollable Libido.”

First Date on Valentine’s Day? Brave Mysterium

Mysterium, Libellud

Now we adjourn to the parlor with Mysterium. At its absolute core, stripped down of everything else, Mysterium is essentially co-operative Clue. There’s a murder, there’s a lineup of suspects, there’s a murder weapon, as well as a manor furnished with all manner of era-appropriate rooms to die in, and you must all solve this riddle within a certain amount of rounds. However, you aren’t just simply gathering your clues from Point A to B to C in Mysterium. First of all, there is the in-universe set-up that the players who are trying to solve the murder are all psychics from various backgrounds. Why is this especially noteworthy? Because in Mysterium the victim is also a player, and they’re trying their best to guide you in the right direction. It’s such a simple conceit, the idea that the recently deceased can communicate with the player, but it works so well and fundamentally changes the entire game. This is emphasized with the fact that the “Ghost” must be mute, aside from giving basic directions that only pertain to game mechanics. The Ghost’s clues are also incredibly vague, taking form in a series of cards that are surreal visual cues for what the Ghost might feel is a good way to tip off the psychics as each one is given their own set of clue cards every round. These include a man and woman pulling from each end of a door in a field of doors, a ceiling full of hanging anchors over a red river, and a man riding a penny-farthing bicycle over rooftops.

I played multiple games of Mysterium, and it was an utterly unique delight every single time. From the team of psychic players who must put their best artistically analytical hats on, to the fact that every card does have some significance, to the cardboard clock that ticks down with every consecutive round adding to the tension, to the co-operative aspect meaning nobody is your enemy, and the Ghost just silently bubbling over with frustration at hearing every player misinterpret their clues, it all swirls and mixes together to create this wonderful fusion of elements that just makes this game feel right. It never feels like it overstays its welcome, nothing feels that hard since any difficulty is down to the player’s own skills, there’s plenty of laughter to be had especially with a frustrated Ghost looming over everyone, and with every clue you guess correctly in each round, culminating in pinning the murder firmly on a suspect in a majority vote, you genuinely feel smart and accomplished. It’s a game that rewards its players with such an intangible sense of confidence, yet failure only reinvigorates any determination left.

I love all of these games and what they represent. They’re games that require others, and while there are sometimes competitive aspects, the overall goal is to have fun at the end of the day and most importantly to share that fun with others. Winning feels great, but it feels even better when you’ve been through the experiences I’ve detailed with each of these games, and that’s only obtainable when played with others. It’s why I heartily recommend giving these a shot when suggesting something for friends or family to do and when any younger relatives are restless and wanting to cause some controlled ruckus. I also love that these games require full involvement of each player, nobody can be coasting along or lazily going through the motions without everything coming to a screeching halt.

The best bit is that they also encourage involvement in ways that both nudge people out of their comfort zone, but still keep them firmly planted on their own two feet, leaving the decision of whether or not to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly to the player. You can play your role, be that what it may: Whether you’re the one person in the group who knows Morse code that can help with Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, or you have the proper dance background for Bounden, or perhaps your quiet value of discerning visual composition comes to the forefront in Mysterium, or maybe you have a sense of humour you don’t get to show off much until you’re Funemployed. When it comes right down to it these games are all about being around other people you feel safe with, or want to be comfortable in the presence of, and they accomplish that without you even realizing it, and I think that’s what makes them incredibly valuable to have at this time of the year.