My family has never been known to be particularly timely, which makes every holiday gathering we have (and we have quite a lot of them) a bit slow to start as family members arrive hours after the official start time. This can get downright excruciating when it’s my six aunts who take it upon themselves to make Noche Buena dinner (we celebrate on the 24th) and you have a gaggle of cousins milling around, looking like they haven’t eaten in a century.
Right around when the whining is at its loudest is when I break out the games, usually picking from an assortment that is easy to pick up, learn, and play until the lechon is out of the oven. Your mileage may vary depending on the age, aptitude, and interests of the people you’re playing with, but these games are pretty much guaranteed to keep both adults and kids occupied and out of the kitchen until you’re ready for dinner. Most of these are going to be card games since they have minimal parts and take only a couple of minutes to set up. When the hunger’s peaking, nobody’s got time to set up the endless tiny pieces of Pandemic or Ticket to Ride.
With adorable cartoon sushi smiling up at you and a drafting mechanic that’s easy to grasp, Sushi Go! is usually the first game my cousins ask about when we’re looking for something to do. Each player tries to rack up points by creating “platters” of sushi, choosing a card from each hand that goes around the table during the rounds. You can end up with a ton of dumplings, or maybe some sashimi that are worth more but are harder to put together. Don’t forget to collect puddings as you go for those bonus points!
Now I’ll warn you, this one can get pretty competitive when you need that last sashimi for some big points and your jerk older cousin steals it for himself. It’s also been known to exacerbate hunger, so play with some snacks on hand.
Indie Boards and Cards
A personal favorite, and a favorite of the cousins who are best at lying their little butts off. Each player is dealt two cards with some pretty goshdarn cool-looking dystopian nobility on them. The characters all have abilities, such as being able to take an extra coin from the pot, assassinating a character, or swapping cards out for new cards. The point is pretty simple: destroy every character around the table while trying not to die yourself, by gathering enough coins to stage a “coup” (namedrop!). This is harder than it sounds when roughly every four rounds at least one person is forced to stage a “coup” and attempt to kill a character.
Since you don’t reveal which characters you have until they’ve been killed off, this is a game where bluffing can get you really far ahead and shatter the last remaining ounces of trust your family has left in you. It’s probably our most played game every holiday season.
Pro tip: The best pair of cards to have (or pretend to have) is the “Duke” and the “Captain.” Trust me.
Love Letter: Batman
Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
There’s a regular old Love Letter that this one spun off from, but the Batman edition has cool art and I can never resist the sweet siren song of licensed properties taking over some good games. The sixteen-card deck consists mainly of familiar villains like The Joker, though Batman and Robin do make appearances.
The cards are numbered one to 16, and you want to be left with the highest-numbered card at the end of the round, or simply be the last player standing. Each player starts with one card, and as play moves around the table, the players choose and discard a card that allows them to use an ability to try and expose their opponents’ cards or knock them out of the round.
This one was a little slow for us to get into because it seemed so simple, but then we started to do all the different voices of the characters as we play the cards (my Joker cackle is genuinely terrifying) and it’s a family tradition now. It also takes under a minute to set up and fits in your pocket, so it’s just a good one to keep on hand in general.
R & R Games
So let’s say everyone’s feeling extra cranky because of that low blood sugar, and aggressive competition is maaaaaaaaaybe not the way to go. Hanabi’s got you.
This is a cooperative game where you can see everyone’s cards except your own. The objective is to work together to figuratively put together a beautiful fireworks show by giving a teammate information about what cards they have, discarding cards, or playing cards, and trying to lay cards down in order of one to five of all the same color.
It sounds like a simple game, but lord, you need to have a great memory to keep track of all the information your teammates are throwing at you sometimes. My cousins and I all had a great time trying to make sure we gave each other useful information within the limited parameters. More than once we ended up ruining a fireworks display by forgetting that the card we were about to play was a green two and not a red one, like we’d been told earlier (Ahem, ROGER).
Oh, Spyfall. If your family has an abundance of creativity and a love of conversation (like mine), this is a wonderful game to break out.
The game involves players receiving a card each round with a location, such as “Casino” or “Pirate Ship”, and a role, such as “Waiter” or “Captain”. The catch is that one player will instead receive a card that says “Spy” and no location. The idea is for the Spy to try and learn the location of the rest of the players before the players figure out that the person is a spy. You do this by asking questions (preferably open-ended ones), such as “What sort of items can you buy here?” and “Do you think the water’s warm or cold?” Eventually, someone will make an accusation, or the spy will guess the location, and it’s all just a matter of time.
While there is a physical copy of the game available, my cousins and I prefer to take out our phones and tablets and play through the online edition, which is totally free.
The conversations can get pretty crazy, and if you get a good spy who’s great at bluffing, the game can really turn out to be a blast. My baby cousin kept us all going for a good fifteen minutes one Christmas because her poker face was just flawless.
What board games do you break out to keep the peace (or vent the hunger pangs) when the relatives come over? Let us know in the comments below!
Azha Reyes spends entirely too much time playing video games, and even more time rambling about them. They’ve been known to cry about character development on occasion. They rarely shut up at @writethenoise on Twitter, if that’s your kind of thing.