Games for Christmas 2010

What to do with guests over Christmas / Some Christmas Gift Ideas 

If you are thinking computers games and Wii, DON’T; Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble etc NO; the miriade of commercial games based on popular films or TV shows STOP !

There is whole world of great games out there waiting for you, just not in the high street stores. They are less well known because they are rarely sold by high street retailers (with the exception of specialist games shops) and so are largely unknown to the UK public. If you want to buy any games mentioned below (prices will range from under £6 to £40) then there is a list of internet retailers on the right hand side of my blog titled Where to get the games.

As we approach the festive season our minds turn inevitably to the various ideas for presents and there are a number of lists out there of games that would work for Christmas (as just a couple of examples Mark Rivera's list is here and the BoardGameGeek recommendations here), so I thought I would approach this blog from a slightly different angle and look at what games you might want in the house for others to enjoy over the festive season.

Modern board and card games come in many forms but the best ones are not designed around hackneyed old games or some cult TV program / film of the moment, but rather stand out from the aforementioned games because frankly they are better. You know the saying ‘a pet is for life not just Christmas’ well so it should be with modern games. The games talked about in this blog post and my blog generally are great fun and hopefully you will be tempted to play them at other times of the year, not just over Christmas.

To those who say 'they don't like games' or have had bad experiences in the past with games I would make the following points concerning these games:
  • You don’t need to be good at spelling, general knowledge, computers or anything else to play them and have fun. I guess maths and a little logic will help but we all need a lot more of these elements to survive in the modern world than you will find required in the games listed below. 
  • There is not a dice in sight, the games are about how you deal with the situations and cards you are dealt not about trying to roll a 6 or indeed any other number.. 
  • The games are more about building than destruction, meaning that direct conflict between players should not be something to worry about, particularly if everybody remembers that when playing games it is more important to enjoy the journey and have fun than win at the expense of ruining the journey for the other players. 
  • There are games listed below that are in all probability unlike any games you have played to date.
This blog post is divided into three elements, so you can just go to the part that interests you:
  1. Quick Games for Christmas Morning
  2. Fun Games for Christmas Afternoon
  3. After the presents – Boxing Day
  4. Conclusion
Quick Games for Christmas Morning 
With people coming and going and a focus on food preparation you may need ways of amusing and distracting people for 20/30 minutes at a time. The following are some simple games that are quick to teach and will amuse both young and old:

Age 8+, 3-10 players (best with 7 or 8), 20+ min playing time
The box artwork from Pit
One of the cheapest games you can buy and one that has been around since the beginning of the 20th Century but is great at parties and family gatherings for 20 minutes of noisy chaos. Pit is a trading game with nine commodity cards of one type (wheat, sugar cocoa etc) for each player. All the cards are shuffled together and each player gets a random nine cards and then tries to exchange1, 2, 3, or 4 of their cards with another player with the aim of collecting 9 cards of one commodity; however whilst you are allowed to say how many cards you are trading you are not allowed to say what commodities you are trading. Once the trading starts, then all players trade simultaneously. This leads to a riotous game where people are shouting ONE, or TWO etc, very much like a trading pit. Each player desperate to get the attention of their fellow players trade and complete a set of 9 commodity cards before their opponents. Pit is a game that can last as long or as short a time as you wish and where players can be dealt in or out as commitments in the kitchen demand!

Age 6+, 2-6 players (best with 5), 30 min playing time
The box artwork from Straw
Another card game, but with a little more edge to it than Pit. A Camel card is placed in the centre of the table and then players place goods (each with a weight) represented by cards, on the camel both positive and negative (magical objects - obviously). As the game progresses there are various other special cards that allow you to copy the previous card, determine the weight yourself (the Aladdin Lamp card) or most importantly alter the direction of play. The aim of the game is not to take the weight on the camels back over 50. The player that is forced to break the Camels back looses and all other players win that round gaining points for the value of cards left in their hand UNLESS when the total is at 50 the next player can lay the elusive “Straw” card – in which case only they score any points. This game has proved a very popular with our group this year and is an ideal light game with a little edge that when poled our group recommended as the gift of choice at Christmas.

Jungle Speed
Age 6+, 3-8 players (best with 5, 6 or 7), 10+ min playing time
The box artwork from Jungle Speeed
Another card game but this time with geometric patterns and colours. The deck of cards is dealt to all the players. The players place their deck of cards face down in front of them and then each player takes a turn to turn over their top card over. If it matches any of the other cards already turned face up then the players with the matching cards try to grab the totem pole placed in the centre of the table. The person who successfully grabs the totem is able to discard all the turned up cards in front of them. What makes this variant on Snap so much fun is that the cards all look very similar and if you knock the totem pole over you get other people cards and if you grab the totem pole by mistake you get other peoples cards. If played in the right spirit and without too much aggression this a wonderfully amusing game that will delight everybody from children to grandparents. It is also an entertaining game to watch.

Fun Games for Christmas Afternoon 
So you have finally finished your Christmas lunch and the armchair beckons with the Queen’s speech and another Christmas afternoon spent watching The Wizard of Oz or worse still watching others playing Wii. The following games will offer a lively alternative to this traditional approach should you wish:

Age 8+, 3-6 players (best with 5 or 6), 30+ min playing time
The box artwork from Dixit
Dixit is a gentle non offensive game, that whilst only accommodating 6 players is again interesting to watch, to see how other people minds work. Each player is dealt 6 large cards, each with a very different colourful image. The first player (the story teller) uses a phrase or sentence to describe one of their cards, this is then placed face down in the middle of the table. The other players then have to pick the card in their hand that most closely fits the description and put it face down in the centre of the table. All the face down cards are then shuffled before being turned over and lined up in a row. The players then vote on which card they think most closely matches the description given (the storyteller doesn’t vote and you cannot vote for your own card - obviously!). Depending on the votes points are awarded and your playing piece advanced the given number on the scoring track. The artwork for this game is stunning and as a gentle game after a large Christmas lunch Dixit has much to commend it.

Age 8+, 1-10 players, 20+ min playing time
The box artwork from Bausack
A game described by; one of our family as ‘the best game he had ever played’; a game retailer ‘as a game that every family should have’; and by one of our games group ‘as the ideal Christmas afternoon game’. Bausack is a game of building towers with the most improbable wooden shapes. The wooden shapes have a real feeling of quality and the box has rules for four different games. The simplest game has each player in turn adding a wooden shape to that placed by the previous player. If the emerging shape is then knocked over the previous player gets a token and the next player starts building a new tower, the winner is the first player to get 5 tokens. Again this is another great game to watch and the tension on your turn as you have to find a way of adding another improbable shape to a tower of objects that at times beggar’s belief will hold everybody’s attention. Think Jenga on steroids!

Age 10+, 3-12 players (best with 8 to 12), 90 min playing time
The box artwork from Masquerade
Everybody is familiar with charades well Masquerade is a variation on this theme. Best played in teams one person from your team has to get up and act out what ever word or phrase appears on their card. However unlike charades the word or phrase can be anything and at times is the most absurd of things i.e. ‘the knobbly bits on a liquorice allsorts’. It is rarely easy but is always very funny and is at its best when all the team are throwing in ideas as to what the person is trying to act out.

After the presents – Boxing Day
Often peace descends and the temptation of turning on the TV or teenagers disappearing off to their rooms may be strong. Boxing Day is an ideal day for sitting down and getting a game or two out, once you have had a breath of fresh ait and a good long walk. With potentially more time available this list is slightly longer but again I have tried to suggest a variety of types of games:

Age 8+, 2-5 players (best with 4), 45 min playing time
The box artwork from Zooloretto
In this game the aim is to stock your Zoo with a variety of well known wild animals. The components are beautiful, the animal endearing and the game play simple. No great surprise that it won the Spiel des Jahres award for family game in 2007.

Age 6+, 2-4 players (best with 2), 30 min playing time
The box artwork from Totemo
A UK game introduced this year and already in short supply. The game is slightly abstract but uses the theme of building totem poles to pit players against each other as they seek to place their coloured components in the centre of the board based on the constraints of a colour wheel and scoring points for the number of totem poles your piece touches. Sounds strange but is well worth a try.

Age 10+, 2-4 players (best with 3 or 4), 45 min playing time
The box artwork from Fresco
Another new release this year and a board game with beautiful components and gorgeous artwork that has you competing with other artists to restore a fresco in renaissance a cathedral using a team of five apprentices. More thoughtful than the two previous suggestions for Boxing day this has each person trying to manage a number of different factors / resources to be the most successful artist.

Settlers of Catan
Age 8+, 3-4 players (best with 4), 90 min playing time
The box artwork from Settlers of Catan
If you haven’t heard of this game, check it out, it is the biggest selling modern board game ever and for very good reason. It has each player building roads, settlements and cities on an imaginary Island. The game mechanism ensures a lot of interaction, but no great conflict, between the various players as they trade commodities in order to have the natural resources necessary to build new roads etc. Its success as with a Hollywood movie has spawned many expansions (sequels).

Age 10+, 2-4 players (best with 3), 45 min playing time
The box artwork from Dominion
Last years Spiel des Jahres winner and an unusual but highly engaging card game that has enormous replay-ability. Set in a vaguely medieval fantasy themed world you build your Dominion by acquiring cards with various special abilities. Unlike another game you have ever played there are many ways to victory, no direct conflict with other players and if you like it many expansions.

Forbidden Island
Age 8+, 2-4 players (best with 4), 30 min playing time
The box artwork from Forbidden Island
If you have never heard of a cooperative game, then check this one out. It is a game where all the players are cast in a vaguely Indiana Jones type situation where they are trying to rescue (is that loot?!) treasure on an Island that is slowly (but it speeds up!) sinking. You the players win if you get the treasure and reach the helicopter before the island sinks – otherwise you loose. The only way to win is to all work together – a great introduction to cooperative games. 

Age 10+, 2-8 players (best with 5 or 6), 120 min playing time
The box artwork from RoboRally
Lastly RoboRally, it’s mad and will have you tearing your hair out or in my case in need of counselling but is just great fun; it will test you ability to plan 5 steps ahead and know right from left to the very limit and beyond. Think Wall-e with friends, on a dangerous factory floor where some evil super computer thinks it’s funny for you and your fellow players to have a race. The only problem is you are all heading in the same direction and once you get knocked of your planned rout by another player’s robot then all your plans go out the window!

Never heard of any of these games! Do not be put off, thousands of people will be sitting down across Europe to play these and a multitude of other games just like them. Just because you don’t see them in the toy shops of the UK does not mean they are not great fun. Think of these games as being like the food alternative to McDonalds, where McDonalds equates to the games available on the high street. If you are intimidated by rules then just put in a search for the game listed above on You Tube and you are sure to find somebody explaining how to play it. Have fun and a great Christmas.

p.s. There are lots of other great games mentioned in my blog that would work just as well as those mentioned above so if the above games don’t appeal check out the word cloud down on the right hand side and the bigger the word the more mentions of the game you will find in my blog. 

p.p.s. The game names and images in this blog post all link to the web site BoardGameGeek where you will find links to video's, lots of pictures of the games and much more besides.

1 comment:

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