Some of my favorite memories of the family holidays are playing board and card games. I remember the many hours spent playing “War” and “Slap Jack” with my brothers and sisters at my Great Aunt’s house. And while these are simple games it was something I looked forward to as a child. Games bring families together and the holidays are a great time to try some new games with loved ones and friends.
A friend of my mother-in-law asked for some recommendations for games for a family ranging in age from 7 to adult. She wanted games that the youngest to oldest could enjoy. My husband and I put this list together and I decided to share it in case anyone else would be interested. I know there are a lot of holiday gift guides out there. I hope to give you some different ideas with this mix of games. I tired to keep the games simple; with rules that are easy to read and understand. Each category has five games. Many of these games won’t be found at your big box stores. Target and Barnes and Noble do offer a good selection. If you can’t find the game try Amazon or another online game store. Of course your friendly local game store is a great place to look, shop local!
Games in this category are geared to the whole family being able to participate. Children below 7 may need a partner to help them. The Themes have a wide appeal and the rules are easy to learn.
1. Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is one of the first “gamers games” that I learned to play, and it is still a favorite. The rules are simple, the components amazing, and the strategy a blast. There are many versions out there. New versions seem to be made every year. I would suggest starting with the North America version, or whatever country you are most familiar with, and then trying out the others most interesting to you.
In Ticket to Ride players are collecting card of different colors to claim railway routes. Players have secret routes, or Destination Tickets, they are trying to complete while earning the most points along the way. The longer the route the more points you can score. The player who scores the most wins.
Ticket to Ride is a wonderful game and always a hit with everyone I play it with. And it has become a holiday tradition to play the Nordic Nations version with its snow theme sometime during our Christmas break. Regrettably, that version is only three players. If you do buy the original Ticket to Ride I suggest also picking up the 1910 expansion for the bigger cards and extra scoring options.
Carcassonne is also one of the first games I played when I got into the hobby. And, like Ticket to Ride has many, many versions and expansions. Again more seem to come out every year! I also suggesting starting out with the original version and adding from there. Many expansions are very small and only add a few tiles.
The theme for Carcassonne comes from its namesake, a walled city in Southern France. The tiles feature scenes from the city and the surrounding countryside. It is a tile-placement game where players draw and play one tile on their turn. There are city pieces, roads, grassland, or monasteries on the tiles. Tiles can also have a picture such as having both a road and a city. Players put the tiles together so that sides match, road to road, city to city, much like a puzzle. Meeples, the wooden people pieces, are placed on the tiles to score points. Players may try to complete a city, build a road, farm the fertile soil around the city, or completely surround a monastery to score points. Players must choose wisely as they place their meeples or choose the not place the meeple. The supply is limited, and only when a meeple scores, does the owner get it back.
I know I love tile-laying games, but Carcassonne is one of the best for families. It is beautiful, fun, and easy to learn. The meaningful choices and risk keep older children interested and the easy rules means even younger children can play. Farmer scoring can be confusing for new players. It is okay to not use the farmers your first few games. Just add add them in once you get the basics down. Of course, by then you might want to add some of the many expansions to keep the game fresh. And, like Ticket to Ride, there is a new Winter Edition available.
3. Qwirkle / Qwirkle Cubes
Qwirkle is an abstract game, or a game with minimal luck and very little theme. Chess, is an example of an abstract game. In Qwirkle players are using wooden blocks with one of six shapes and colors on it. The first player will place as many blocks with a single matching shape or color as they can. Then, the other players place blocks next to at least one previously played block. Placed blocks must all be placed in a line and match, without duplicating, the color or shape of the other blocks in the line. You score points for each placed block and all blocks adjacent. You can even score in more than one direction. Bonus points are awarded when you complete a line of all six colors shapes.
Qwirkle is a great game for families, but younger children may need some help to play. It has won many awards including the Spiel des Jahres, or the German Board Game of the Year. It is light and fast to play, but offers a lot of strategy and decision-making. I personally prefer Qwirkle Cubes, where the pieces have six sides, all the same color, but different shapes. You get to roll them before your turn. Yes, it adds some randomness to the game, but I think it makes it more interesting.
Taking the family to see the monkeys, zebras, and tigers at the zoo is a great way to bond as a family. Another great way to bond is by playing Zooloretto. Players are trying to build the best zoo to attract visitors while avoiding taking too many of the same animal and running out of room. The rules are simple and the theme appealing to almost anyone. The deeper strategies and having to know what your opponents are doing may mean younger players will need some help. Zooloretto has also won the Speil des Jahres and has many expansions to add if players enjoy the game.
Keeping with the animal theme, the last game for this category is Fauna. This game is very different from Zooloretto. In Fauna, players are looking at a single animal each turn. All they see of the animal is its name and picture. Players are trying to guess the animals weight, length, height, tail length, or the areas where it lies. Sounds simple, right? It is, until you play and have to guess just how long an Asian Elephants tail is or where in the world you can find a Beluga Whale.
Players get points for guessing correctly but lose tokens temporarily when they are put into the wrong areas. It can be risky to guess if you aren’t absolutely sure. While this is an educational game, it is amazingly fun. Animals lovers will enjoy testing their knowledge and anyone can have fun guessing how much a ferret weighs. It is great for families and people who don’t normally enjoy board games because all you have to do is guess and place your blocks on the correct spaces.