Top Ten Games To Break Out For The Holidays

With Halloween 2010 in the books, we are firmly entrenched in the holiday season. That means lots of visits with friends and relatives over the next few months, and that in turn means lots of people to keep entertained. Food, fellowship, and football will only keep everyone happy for so long. It’s easy to resort to zoning out in front of the TV, but it’s far more fun and sociable to clear off the table and bring out some games.

Which games do you offer as an evening’s entertainment to your guests? The challenge is finding something that doesn’t take all day to learn how to play, isn’t thought-intensive (read: you can still manage to play even if you’ve been into the eggnog), and is good for a wide age range. Classics like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, and Uno are always a good time, and almost universally liked, but why not play something new this year? Here are ten games that are quick and easy to learn, outrageously fun to play, and will make geeks and non-geeks alike very happy.

10. Pandemic

If you’re the type of person who plays to win the game and take all the glory, Pandemic may not be for you. Why? Because all the players have to work together, and they either all win or all lose. The players take the roles of various specialists trying to prevent a complete wipe-out of humanity due to disease. Each role has different strengths (the Dispatcher can move other players to a city where their help is immediately needed; the Medic can cure an entire city in one turn) so people who love solving problems really love this game. Pandemic does require a little more thinking than the other games I’ve listed, so I’d recommend playing this one before breaking into the Tom & Jerrys. (Two to four players, ages 12 and up.)

9. Guillotine

Wizards of the Coast markets this card game as “the revolutionary card game where you win by getting a head”, and while that line is so cheesy you could make pizza out of it, that’s pretty much how it works! The players are all guillotine operators, trying to collect the most prestigious of heads in three rounds of executions. Common folk don’t count for much, but nobles like Marie Antoinette? Score! It’s nowhere near as morbid as it sounds, and while it’s recommended for tweens and up, if you think a 10-year-old could handle it, I’d say go for it. (Two to five players, ages 12 and up.)

8. Sushi Roll!

This dice and card game is ridiculously quick and easy. Each player gets a hand of cards, and they take turns playing the sushi chef. The chef rolls 4d6 with pictures of sushi items on them; the other players then have to match the “order” that comes up on the dice with cards from their hand. The first to match the order wins the round. Special cards that might end up in the players’ hands allow them to declare another player’s order as stinky (no points for them!) or steal their order for added excitement. (Two to eight players, ages 6 and up.)

7. Such a Thing?

Be warned: this one can get dirty in a hurry! Players are dealt a number of cards with vague characteristics, like “can fly”, “is considered extravagant”, and “is used on a farm”. Each player lays a card down, with the claim that there is such a thing that has all the characteristics out on the table. When a player calls out that there isn’t such a thing, the previous player has to come up with a reasonable example of something that fits the description. The rest of the players judge – if the explanation is just, the challenging player gets stuck with three more cards; if the rest of the table declares shenanigans, the defending player gets those three cards. The first to get rid of all their cards wins! (Two to eight players, ages 10 and up.)

6. Have You Herd?

The farm kid in me still loves anything with farm critters. In this great little dice game, you strive to stock your farm with an eclectic herd of rabbits, sheep, pigs, cows, and horses, all without losing them to wolves or foxes. It’s very kid-friendly, but will keep adults entertained for hours, too. (Two to four players, ages 8 and up.)

5. Ticket to Ride

If you have a railfan (train geek) among your holiday guests, putting Ticket to Ride on the table will make them grin from ear to ear. The game board is a map of North America, criss-crossed with train routes. Players draw cards from one deck to determine which routes are theirs to try to complete; they then collect cards from another deck corresponding to the car colors on their routes so they can lay down the actual train cars. The game ends as soon as one player runs out of train cars, then points are determined based on the length of the completed routes and how long the individual trains are, with bonuses for the most cars on the board and the longest route. There are lots of expansions and versions for other areas of the world. Warning: not a good game for color-blind players. (Two to five players, ages 8 and up.)

4. Carcassonne

The first time I ever played Carcassonne, I had my ass handed to me by my friend’s 12-year-old son. Despite the embarrassment, I went right back for more! The players place tiles to build up the area around the medieval French city of Carcassonne, creating farms, roads, cities, and monasteries.  You gain points by putting your meeples (the little wooden people that each player gets) to work as farmers, thieves, knights, and monks. Whoever has the most points when all the tiles have been laid is the winner. There are expansion packs up the ying-yang to build a bigger, more detailed world, but the basic game is a blast all by itself. (Two to five players, ages 10 and up.)

3. Hungry Hungry Hippos

Yes, I do mean the kiddie classic. Hear me out! A couple of our friends bought this to MisCon this spring for our game club’s party room. The reaction was universal: “Oh, wow! I loved that game when I was little! I haven’t played it in forever!” And then there would be a heated battle for everyone’s favorite color of hippo and the nom-nom-noms would ensue. It was a huge hit and I bet it will be at your house, too. (Two to four players, ages 4 and up.)

2. Apples to Apples

This wild game of comparisons is rapidly becoming a classic party game. Everyone gets a hand of red noun cards (everything from Cowboys & Indians to Timbuktu). Each player takes a turn being the judge, drawing a green adjective card and asking everyone else to play a red card they think is described by that adjective. It’s up to the judge to decide who made the best comparison – and they might just decide the best one simply as the one that made them laugh the most! One of the best things about the game is that it’s great for large groups – as many people as fit at the table can play – and it gets better the more players you have. (At least four players, ages 12 and up.)

1. Clay-O-Rama

Clay-O-Rama (also known as Claydonia) isn’t a board game. It’s a game played with Play-Doh, a few dice, and a big open floor. Its rules first appeared in Dragon Magazine in 1987, with an expansion set of rules (Claydonia Conquers the World!) appearing in the same publication two years later.

In a nutshell, each player makes a Claydonian monster out of the contents of a can of Play-Doh. They can make whatever they want – my most recent Claydonian was a beholder with feet – and can even pull a little clay aside to make into missiles for their monster. The monsters have various standard attacks (my beholder had two eyestalk attacks and a bite attack), plus their special power, determined by a d20 roll against the power chart (mine could reshape the limb of an opponent Claydonian). Everyone places their little masterpieces on the floor, rolls for initiative, and they’re off like a herd of turtles! Claydonians can only attack when they make contact, so you have to march them into battle (one hand’s breath per each foot they have per round). The last Claydonian standing wins, even if they’ve lost all their limbs in the process.

Clay-O-Rama is quite possibly the most silly, bizarre, crazy, and hilarious game EVAR. I never pass up an opportunity to play it, and you shouldn’t either.

Games 2-10 are available all over teh interwebz, or at your FLGS. Clay-O-Rama rules can be found in PDF format in a few places online, and naturally are in the classic issues of Dragon if you still have your collection of those (which you should!).

Did I Miss Any?

Well, I’m sure I missed a bunch, but I’m always up for new games! Tell me about your favorite party board games!

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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