Games For A Family Christmas
I am a huge believer and advocate for the fact that there is a game for everybody. We live in a golden age of boardgames and don’t believe anybody who tells you otherwise. I am entirely confident that if presented by an open-minded individual who claims not to like boardgames I could change their mind by introducing them to some of the games currently available. However, hitting a non-gamer with the entirety of what has entered the hobby gaming scene in the last couple of decades is borderline cruel, so how best to introduce them to the wonder of our hobby? Well, there are a few ways, the one I’m going to suggest here is to use an ‘if you like x you might like y’ approach, focussing on aspects of the game. So next time you’re at a family Christmas, rather than grimly accepting whatever gets pulled out, why not ask why its being pulled out, and offer an alternative?
If they like Monopoly:
First off, there’s nothing wrong with liking Monopoly, there just isn’t. The game has flaws, but that doesn’t make people who like it wrong or worthy of disdain. There are some thing that Monopoly does quite well, and a few elements that are well worth doing.
Do you like its set collection aspect?
Collecting a set of cards and putting them into use is satisfying, if people like doing it once or twice over a game’s length they’ll probably like doing it twenty or thirty times, suggest:
Ticket to Ride
Do you like its bargaining aspect?
The heart of a good game of Monopoly (and yes, such a thing does exist) centres on its bargaining, the way in which the final property of a Monopoly assumes a value far beyond its marked price, and even more so dependent on the position of other players. Unfortunately there is a lot of the game left after all such bargaining has taken place, but there are classics that let you keep doing it until the game ends:
Settlers of Catan
Do you like its engine building?
Monopoly consists of buying locations that earn you money to buy locations to earn you money to build on those locations to earn you money… and so-on. Its basic, and its primitive, but that’s an engine builder right there. There are lots of obvious ones, but consider suggesting the loop of more money means more land means more problems with:
If they like Cluedo:
Or Clue in America. Again, if you remove the roll and move aspect Cluedo is a well-presented game that does what it does well. If it weren’t for many childhood years eliminating myself as a suspect early because I would know if I did it, I’d probably be a bigger fan.
Do you like its story?
People like being a detective, they like the simple structure of who did it, where and with what. If this wasn’t obvious from the success of this very game in mainstream boardgames it would be clear from the fact that Agatha Christie remains one of the bestselling authors of all time and Sherlock Holmes the character played by the most actors. Its also clear from the non-mainstream success of:
Do you like its puzzle?
There are a few games that do shared logical deduction well. Cluedo does rather force players to make their own fun with it though. For a game that has multi-layered deduction built in:
Do you like asking the right wrong question?
Gaining information from other people’s questions is the best way of winning Cluedo. Hiding what you know by asking the right wrong questions is how you win when someone else is learning from your questions. If someone enjoys figuring out what to ask who when to throw off who else, then:
If they like Scrabble:
The word building classic bar none, Scrabble is a great game, but it has a specific skill step between people who know the word qi and those who don’t. It can be tough to play across skill levels and generations while taking a lot of hard focus to play well.
Do you like laying and building a grid of tiles?
The most competitive Scrabble players know its not about the words, its about the board position, in which case why not get rid of the words altogether? For that matter, why not get rid of the board:
Do you like actually forming words?
If so its hard to talk down Scrabble, but Scrabble can actually be a little mean, even when played by friends. Why not try out:
If they like Pictionary:
Anyone can play Pictionary, and it allows people to be creative in a manner that they never knew they could be. It also encourages people to assault each other with marker pens, so there are alternatives to ink-based violence.
Do you like bad drawings?
Obviously, half the fun of Pictionary is a truly terrible drawing, but when they turn up, they can stall the game into recrimination and rage. As an alternative, consider a game where terrible drawings come up on a regular basis and are never allowed to bog things down longer than the laughter lasts:
Do you like being creative?
Pictionary lets people that don’t get the chance to be creative take strange and inventive routes to solving problems. Sadly, their fingers sometimes let them down on the way to completing those routes. There are games that provide the creation without the drawing:
If they like Trivial Pursuit:
If there were a prize for inverse proportion of cards printed to time played with, Trivial Pursuit would be a solid winner. If you’re the sort of person who checks over the second hand game market (and I am) you’ll know that Trivial Pursuit is the easiest thing in the word to pick up, again and again. That’s not because its bad as such, but that humans are better than they might think at learning abstract facts.
Do you like the trivia?
Trivial Pursuit offers the same questions in the same format over and over, and its not uncommon to learn a section of the cards in even a single game. Instead, try out a game where the nature and difficulty of the questions actually changes depending on what other questions have been answer so far?
If they like Risk:
The daddy of Dudes On A Map remains a perennial favourite of armchair generals everywhere, but watching someone grind out of Australia and knowing that they’re unstoppable by the time they reach Irkutsk despite there being hours of play left has broken the best of us. Happily, there are alternatives.
If they like the reality.
There will always be Risk players who dig the idea of being a real general playing through real history, they tend to like a long hard struggle as well. If you’re looking for a long, tough and realistic tabletop experience there are a few options, but only one that has the global reach of Risk:
If they like everything.
Few games on this list have been so directly re-designed and improved as Risk. So if someone likes it, just let them know it’s been updated:
If they don’t like tabletop games
Amazingly, some people think they don’t. This is generally because they’ve had bad experiences with other boardgames and its our duty to offer them a helping hand by pinning down exactly what they don’t like.
If they don’t like the competition.
A huge source of dislike for tabletop games is their oppositional nature. It creates petty arguments and disagreements when families are together, especially when people have been drinking at big events such as Christmas. Its also one of those things some people really can’t help, and they don’t like themselves when it gets its claws into them. This is because many people are totally unaware of the existence of co-op tabletop games. Its best to start people off with something relatively simple, but once the idea of the tabletop being a place to bind people together rather than tear them apart is presented then the world is your oyster:
If they don’t like the speed.
Or lack of it. Tabletop games take a relatively long time to set up, have rules to read and learn and are generally slower and take more commitment than other forms of entertainment. They don’t have to, of course:
Try some of these out at your next family Christmas and you might be pleasantly surprised when you get some tabletop converts. Its certainly worth the effort, remember, you’ll be seeing them next year too. If you’ve had some successes with presenting hobby games to non-gamer family members, we’d love to hear about it, what’s your favourite game for changing the minds of anti-tabletoppers?