‘Tis the season to be jolly! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you can still see that this time of year is special. Winter is nearly here, snow may be on the ground where you live, and the year is about to end. As we scramble to get in as many games as we can before the end of the year we usually find that we get the privilege of gaming with friends or family that don’t normally play games.
So today I present my guide to holiday gaming. Let’s get started with the best introductory games for non-gamers!
When gathering together with family for Christmas I usually like to “dumb down” the level of games that I bring along. While I think they would probably enjoy longer, heavier games I find it’s just not worth it to try and teach those types of games. So I like to bring games that are light and accessible, yet still fun to play.
The other day I sent out a tweet and asked what games people like to bring for non-gaming family members. I got a great response:
So let’s run through some of my favorites from those that people mentioned (that I have played before):
Qwirkle: This is such a simple game but has such excellent tactics. I have the travel version so it’s so easy to bring along!
- Dixit: It’s like Balderdash without the fiddlyness and with beautiful cards. Can you make up a story? Then try out this game. Plus, it can play up to 12 players so know one will be left out at your Christmas gathering!
- Ticket to Ride: A classic gateway game renowned for simplicity and accessibility! My non-gaming sister-in-law put it on her Christmas list a few years ago. If you haven’t taught this to your non-gaming family members yet, this is the year!
- Apples to Apples: It’s simple… play a card that you think the player will choose. While that sounds a little boring, this game is a lot of fun with family members. And it can help you learn about them. So invite your crazy uncle to play so you can learn to avoid what he likes!
- Farmageddon: This is a fun “take-that” farming game where you scrape by to get any points you can. The theme is funny and the artwork is great. Plus, the price is ideal!
- The Great Heartland Hauling Co.: For small box games with big strategy this one is a winner. You are a trucker utilizing a pick up and deliver mechanic. It plays quickly and has awesome wooden 18 Wheeler Meeples!
- Hanabi: It can be infuriating! But it is so much fun. This is a hidden information game where you build fireworks. The info that is hidden are the cards in your own hand. Everyone else can see what you have except you. Work together as a team in this cooperative game to build all the fireworks!
- Love Letter: About as quick as they come, Love Letter is a card game about winning the princess’ heart. It’s so quick and easy that it would be a crime not to play it with non-gamers.
Any of those games listed above would be good games to play with non-gamers. They are all accessible, relatively light, and all are fun to play. But if you’ve got people who want a little more strategy, here are my mid-tier recommendations for Christmas holiday gaming:
For those wanting more…
Sometimes family will want a slightly heavier game. You may have already piqued their gaming interest with one of the games listed above. So now what? Here are a few games that I think fit the “gateway” mold very well. These are games for people who want to play more and want a little more strategy.
Stone Age: I love teaching this game to non-gamers who want a little more. It has excellent strategy. But moreso, there is the idea of trying to do the absolute best with your tribe on every single turn. And the theme is fun.
- Carcassonne: I would have put this in the upper list, but some people don’t always quite get the placement strategy. Fundamentally it is simple: Take a tile, Place a Tile, Put a meeple on it if you want. But there is a serious amount of fun going on here.
- Dominion: I have had my fill of this game, but it definitely is a great one for those wanting more strategy and depth. This is the original deck-building game where each turn you can add cards to your personal deck. As the game progresses, the better cards in your deck allow you to do more and better stuff. It’s also pretty easy to teach and learn.
- Pandemic: While I’m not huge on the cooperative thing in games, this game is greatly loved and adored my many people. You have to work together to stop the viruses from spreading and creating epidemics. The theme is pretty cool and there was recently a newly revised version out. So this might be something for those who want more.
- Kingdom Builder: I love this game. And I love the variability with the expansions. The concept is simple, but the strategy is deep. Kingdom builder is another fun game where you try to maximize each and every turn. I highly recommend this one.
- Bohnanza: This is a card game about planting beans. But the strategy here is pretty awesome. When should you harvest? Should you wait one more turn? Should you buy that 3rd bean field? This game involves a lot of fun decisions.
Those are some very good options for mid-tier games that you might want to try with your families. Finally, here are my gamer games that I might try to push on people this Christmas season:
The Big Dogs…
These are games that are deep, strategic, and heavier than what your family of non-gamers might be into. But if you can teach them well and quickly explain the games then they might be worth trying to get to the table.
Power Grid: This can is a nice heavy game with a ton of strategy and interesting decisions. You are trying to build a power grid and supply power to the most cities. But there is a balance of overentending yourself for money or hanging back and trying to leapfrog for the win. Excellent game.
- Anything Rosenberg: Agricola, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Glass Road, Caverna. You can’t go wrong. These are heavy games that allow you to spend a long time sitting down with your family. But these games are intense and challenging. I recommend them.
- Anything Feld: If you want something slightly less intense, but no less awesome, then check out games by Stefan Feld. Macao, Notre Dame, Trajan, In the Year of the Dragon, The Castles of Burgundy, Rialto, Bruges, Bora Bora. Seriously… this guy is a designer of awesomeness!
- 7 Wonders: The learning curve is a little too steep for this to have been in the previous lists. But this game is seriously awesome. You are trying to build one of the 7 Wonders and you are trying to make yours the best! A cool card drafing mechanic is the main concept behind the game and it works really well.
- Lords of Waterdeep: If you’ve got any Dungeons & Dragons people in your family then I recommend trying out this worker placement game with them. It’s a fantastic game that works really well.
- Empire Builder: A classic. This game involves players drawing routes on the board with crayons. Routes allow your trains to access different cities. This is probably my favorite pick up and deliver game.
There you go. I’ve provided three different game categories for you to push on your families. After the holidays I’ll report back since I’m going to ramp up my efforts this year. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it went with you all! So pour yourself some egg nog, eat too much food, and play games with your family!
With the Fourth of July on a Thursday this year it is likely a few of you are taking some extra days off for a little family vacation. That means you’ll likely have a good opportunity to teach/play games with people who probably don’t typically play games. So today I present a short list of games that are accessible and enjoyable to gamers and non-gamers alike.
Here are the criteria that a game needs to meet to make it into today’s article:
- Easy to learn (Can teach in under 5 minutes)
- Easy to play (Decisions are relatively simple)
- Under an hour (Sorry Uwe, your games are awesome, but not accessible for family get-togethers)
With those simple criteria in mind here are my top five board games that you can play with your family this holiday weekend:
Disclaimer: I have not played Hanabi. But Hanabi is a fireworks game in a small box that seems like it would fit the criteria above. Here is a video by Tom Vasel showing how it’s played:
This game looks like a really fun game to try out with your family. And since fireworks are so appropriate for the Fourth of July weekend I just had to add it to the list.
Here’s how I teach Carcassonne: Take a tile and lay it down.
This game is so simple from a mechanics perspective and yet their is so much depth in your decision of where and how to place the tile and then whether or not to put a meeple on it. That’s what I love about games like this: simple mechanics with deep strategy.
With just the base game this one definitely can appeal to non-gamers. Add in the Inns and Cathedrals expansion and it adds some depth. My favorite expansion is Traders and Builders where you’ve got wheat, beer barrels, and Fruit by the Foot to gather up for more points.
This game is just such an easy game to teach and play that I love to bring it along to family gatherings.
#3) STONE AGE
This one probably goes beyond the 5 minute teaching rule, but it’s simple enough that I like to bring it along. People really seem to like the cave-man theme. I like this game because there is some fun, deep strategy. Here’s a look at the components in the game:
This game can give non-gamers a little bit of component overload. But teaching them how simple it is to play will get them going in no time. As a bonus, have them smell the cup. If you own the game, you’ll understand!
#2) KINGDOM BUILDER
Our founding fathers were building a kingdom (of sorts) when they signed the Declaration of Indepence, so what better weekend to try this game with your family?
Kingdom Builder is another game that is really easy to teach and play. On your turn you basically place three settlements on the board. Based on where you place them you may or may not have earned points (which get scored at the end). If you place a settlement by a special location then you have earned an ability which can help you the rest of the game. This game has a rulebook that is easy to follow and is quick to learn. I also like the cool boards in the game and the replayability (I know some people won’t agree with me on that… oh well). I’ve probably played it 30 times and it hasn’t gotten old to me, though owning the Nomads expansion helps.
#1) TICKET TO RIDE
No Settlers of Catan here. That game doesn’t meet the simple to learn criteria. Ticket to Ride does meet the criteria. It is so simple to setup, teach, and play. On your turn you can do one of three things:
- Draw train car cards
- Claim a route by placing trains
- Draw destination tickets
That means the game moves along pretty quickly. And this game is a lot of fun. Players work toward connecting their routes. The inevitable blocked route will occur and someone may get a little grumpy. But the bottom line is that this game is so easy to introduce to non-gamer family members that you might just convert them into a gamer!
Here’s a video from CoolStuffInc.com describing the game:
So there’s my round-up of the best games to play with your non-gamer friends and family this holiday weekend!
But… what about YARD GAMES? I don’t want to be stuck indoors during the beautiful summer weather! Okay. Here’s a quick list of four fun yard games to play with your friends and family this holiday weekend:
Grab that palino and huck it! The palino is the name of the small white ball. One player tosses the palino and then players take turns bowling, tossing, chucking, heaving their bocce balls toward the palino. The players closest to the palino score points. This game also provides a fun way to give people a tour of your yard. If your yard is weedy and gross, maybe skip Bocce.
Growing in popularity, this fun tossing game involves players throwing strings with balls on the ends at makeshift ladders, usually made from PVC. Players score points based on which rung of the ladder the string and balls land on. You can build yourself a set of this pretty easily. But if you choose to drill through golf balls, don’t smell the burnt plastic inside. I almost passed out by doing that!
#2 CORNHOLE / BEAN BAG TOSS
Another tossing game. This time you are throwing a bean bag into a hole. Players take turns lofting a bean bag through the air trying to get it to fall through the hole in the board. Here is a particularly striking and appropriate version of Cornhole:
We have the Vikings to thank for this game. Apparently they were into tossing things as well. Weird how all these outdoor games involve throwing things. Perhaps I should have added Croquet to the list to mix it up a bit.
Kubb is a game where you throw batons at chunks of wood. Your objective is to knock down all of your opponent’s kubbs and then knock over the king. This game is a lot of fun because of the ability to stack the kubbs when they’re knocked over. It takes a while to play, but time with family is always worth it, right? Just ask your crazy uncle!
Here’s a nice boring video about the game:
Looks pretty awesome, huh?
HONORABLE MENTION: Hammerschlagen
Thanks for reading! I hope that you get in some nice quality gaming with your non-gamer family and friends this holiday!