Every December 26, our family has a Christmas tradition: we play family board games.
Usually I buy us a special game each year–a newer game that maybe many people have never heard of, but we try it out and play it and have a great time!
One of the most popular posts on this blog is my post on two-player board games. I wrote it originally a few years ago, and then I kept replacing some games with other great ones that people recommended, so it’s been constantly updated. Some are old staples, but some are newer games that are really fun!
And today I thought I’d share some of our family’s favourite family board games to get you ready for family time this Christmas!
Great Family Board Games for Families with Little Kids
This inexpensive game was our family’s staple for years! Basically each player is growing their own beans. Yes, beans. There are a whole variety of beans in the game–blue beans and green beans are really common, but cocoa beans are worth a lot (the game makers are very smart).
You can only plant one type of bean in each field, and you start with two fields, which you can expand over time. And you have to plant the beans that are in your hand in order. So if you have a bean that you can’t plant, you have to trade it for something you do want. It’s the trading that’s the fun part, and kids have to be old enough to understand that a cocoa bean for a green bean is a really bad trade, no matter how much their sister tries to con them into it. But it’s really easy to learn and kids love the pictures!
I always liked this game because it taught such great spatial skills! Basically, each person gets their own colour (you can only play with 4 players, or you can play with two and each get to do the other colour). And each of your pieces has a different shape. You have to play all of your pieces to win (or the game is over when no one else can place a piece). But your pieces can only be placed corner to corner–no two sides can ever be against each other. So it takes some thinking! But even young children can conceptualize it.
Basically, you’re a French executioner and you have to cut off people’s heads (they get cut off just by being at the front of the line when it’s your turn). And each person is worth a different number of points. The king is worth a ton. But the martyr is worth NEGATIVE points if you kill him! You have action cards in your hands which can shuffle the deck or move people around so that they come up for execution when it’s your turn.
It’s really, really easy to learn, and even younger children can get the hang of it. And it’s not as gruesome as it sounds (plus you can teach a lot of history!) Check it out!
This is a cool game where you build the city and you add tiles every turn, while placing your people to “claim” points. You get points for farming, or for a road, or for cities. And there are expansions that give you points for other things, too. And then, as you’re placing your tiles, you can cut off an opponent’s road, or cut their field in half, or do other things that take away points from them and add them to you. It isn’t hard to learn and it doesn’t take very long, and every game is different because you build it!
Here’s a card game where it’s all about matching–or not matching. This is going to be hard to explain, but once you get the concept, it’s easy. The cards have different colours, different shapes, different fills, and different numbers. A “set” is something with three cards where each element is either ALL the same, or ALL different. So you could have a set where they’re all purple, they’re all ovals, and they’re all fully shaded–but the numbers are all different. Or you could have a set where one is orange, one is purple, and one is green, and three different shapes, and three different fills, and three different numbers.
The neat thing about this game is that there’s NO advantage to being older. So kids can win as often as adults do (and our kids often beat us!) And it’s great at teaching patterning.
Now, what about when kids get older and can handle more strategy? Here are some games that don’t take too long!
Family Board Games that Take Around Half an Hour
Seriously, you need some that are fast!
We LOVE Dominion. Each Dominion game comes with 24 or 25 different cards which all do different things, but you actually only play with 10. So each game you can switch it up and something new will happen and the strategy will change! It’s super fast to learn and super fun. This was our family game back in 2012, and it’s become a staple. The next year I added an expansion to it–Dominion Intrigue, which adds more cards that you can potentially play, with a bunch of other suggested strategies.
We’ve played it with our own kids, but also with friends away at a cabin, and with people just over for dinner!
This is our new family favourite. Or at least, Keith and I love it the best! It will definitely played this Boxing Day. You choose a different era of the ancient world, and then you have tasks that you have to complete. Each era has 7 turns, and you get to choose cards and try to amass the most wealth, while also trading with those around you. I really enjoy this one, and it’s not that hard to explain. It takes about half an hour for each era.
Family Board Games That Can Take a Few Hours
When we were younger, it was all Monopoly or Risk! And those are certainly fun. But they’re not the only ones around anymore. Here are some more of our staples:
Settlers of Catan (now just called Catan, but I’m old school)–$31.48
A family staple! You build your initial settlements on resources–grain, iron, brick, sheep, or wood–and then each resource space has a number associated with it. Every time someone rolls that number on dice, you collect the resources for that square. And with those resources you build things–roads, settlements, cities. And that gets you points. But you can also block people in (that’s mean!) or try to get a monopoly on a resource. It’s really fun! And if you have more than four people, there’s also an expansion set for 5 or 6 players (we’ve used that; it works well).
This game will be to the next generation what Risk was to us.
Here’s a different kind of game because you’re not in competition with each other–you actually cooperate! Four diseases have broken out in the world, and your team of specialists has to cure them before they infect the populace too much. So you have to work to your strengths as characters. You can’t play with more than four players, though, which is unfortunate, but it’s still really fun!
Every time we have people over for dinner we play Ticket to Ride. It’s fairly easy to explain, and lots of fun to play! You start the game with three “routes”–routes that you have to build joining two cities. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your routes overlap. (Like Toronto-Miami and Chicago-Miami). Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, they don’t. (Toronto-Miami and Seattle-Las Vegas). But you build your routes with your trains, and sometimes you even block other people in!
I’m actually pretty darn good at this game, if I do say so myself. Check it out here.
Family Board Games That Teenagers Will Really Love
The photos are awkward. And so are the categories! You choose a photo for that particular turn, and then you roll the dice. For each dice roll there’s an assignment associated with it: What are the people in the picture thinking? What would make this photo even more awkward? If this photo were on a magazine cover, what would the magazine be called? What happened just before this picture was taken? Everyone has to write down their answer in secret, and then the “judge” for that round has to guess who gave each answer, and then gets to award points for the best answer. It’s super awkward. Which is awesome.
This card game exploded onto the scene last year with all of its exploding kittens and laser beams and sometimes goats. It’s just plain funny–and the cards and action cards are funny, too (if you like that kind of humour). You draw cards and play until someone explodes, so the goal is to get points before the other person happens to explode. We gave this one to our kids who live out of town last year, and they really like it, too!
If exploding kittens and guillotine weren’t gruesome enough for you, here’s the Gloom game! Each person has their own unfortunate family. Your goal is to kill off every member of your family in as gruesome a way as possible, and to have bad things happen to them. They may be “mocked by midgets” or “pursued by poodles”. And you can play happy things on your opponents (which will aggrieve them to no end). And it makes the game even more fun if, when you play the card, you make up a story to explain what happened.
When we were first getting to know our now son-in-law, Connor, we played this game. He was remarkably good at coming up with sad, unfortunate stories and circumstances. Not sure what that said to us. 🙂
The game where you all get to show off the photos on your phone! You have 30 seconds to find a photo of a big mistake. Or a sunset. Or food. Or at the zoo or at a party. And then you get points for finding the photo the fastest or by having the best photo.
It’s a great crowd-breaker, too!
So if you want to make this Christmas special for your family, why not do what I do every year, and choose a game or two as a family Christmas present? And then take a day during the holidays and play games all day! You can even stay in your pyjamas and just hibernate as a family. That’s what we do, and honestly–it’s my favourite part of Christmas, because we’re all together again and having fun!
Now let me know in the comments: what are YOUR favourite family board games?