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It’s the time of year when holiday gatherings fill your calendar (whether you like it or not). There’s food and music, and if you’re at one of the GOOD parties, there are board games! Last year, we gave you a fantastic list of the Best Board Games for Holiday Gatherings (you can read it again here). This year, we’re back with 12 More Board Games to liven up your holiday gathering. We have brand new games, fresh from the recent tabletop conventions around the world. We have new variations on some old favourites. And we have some special ‘holiday’ themed games to share the festive spirit.
Before we go any further, let’s revisit the rule book for how to choose the best board games for holiday gatherings:
- First, members in your party: Even if the box says 2-6 players, you can flex the rules a bit by playing in teams of two for up to 12 players. I can not be held responsible for the mayhem that is likely to arise, but it will be entertaining.
- General mechanics: This is the way you play the game. For example, you may love deduction games, role-playing games (RPG), or card games. Personally, the dice hate me, so I prefer set collection styles.
- Time to play: This is good to know, but you really need to consider the set-up time, which includes explaining the rules to newbies.
- Holiday Sacrifice: The all-important question is, will this game end in bloodshed? There are alternatives if responsible adults have vetoed this option.
Cooperative Games for Friendly Holiday Gatherings
Kites – Floodgate – $20
It’s nice to throw in a cooperative game at family gatherings. It stems the blood flow and encourages some positive communication. Sometimes. If you’re looking for something peaceful and encouraging, Kites is a real delight. This is the game where everyone works together to keep all of their (figurative) kites in the air. Up to six players take turns playing cards, flipping sand timers, and managing the space for the perfect air show. This is definitely a favourite for everyone in the family at any party.
Beacon Patrol – Pandasaurus – $20
This cool co-op game is all about exploring your own tile placement. Each of the players are Captains of the Coast Guard. Together, you check beacon buoys and lighthouses to ensure the safety of the North Sea Coast. Place your tiles next to tiles that are already laid out, move your ships, and explore the sea. The goal is to explore as many tiles as possible. This game is soothing in its simplicity and great for bringing the family together. There’s a solo mode, but I think it works best with up to four (4) players, and despite what the box says, kids from 8 years and older will pick it up easily.
Aethermon: Collect – AetherRen – $20.00
This award-winning game is still fresh on the tabletop market, charming players and judges at both PAX Aus and SWSX Sydney Games Fest 2023 (Best Tabletop Game). It is so cute and so easy! My kids love it!! Suitable for 1-4 players, and even though the box says 14 years and older, younger kids will be able to play, too! Players move the shared group token either horizontally or vertically around a grid of cards. The goal is to collect the various Aethermon characters, creating sets/families as you go. You can play cooperatively or competitively, bending the rules with additional Artefact cards or creating rules with various elements. Aethermon: Collect is a great introduction to a larger RPG in development as we speak. You can find out more on their website here.
The Best Board Games to Restore the Peace
Bonsai – DV Games – $35
A brand-new tabletop game that will make a bonsai master out of anybody. Best of all, there’s no guilt when the plant dies. Just like the ancient art, there’s a soothing sense of zen when playing this game, as players take turns to grow their own bonsai to display in the Imperial Gardens. At each turn, you can choose to meditate (collect cards and tiles) or cultivate (place tiles). Each tile in your Bonsai is worth a certain number of points, and the player with the most points wins the game. This is a great game for patience and strategy while cultivating any interest in the ancient art of bonsai, and the perfect game for a quiet wind-down and contemplation after the big holiday feast.
Ecosystem: Coral Reef – Genius Games – $17
A recent addition to our family collection and is already well-loved. Fans of tabletop games may know the original Ecosystem, an open card-drafting game where players place the cards in a grid to build their own ecosystem. The key to the game is biodiversity, with each card depicting an essential animal or habitat within the ecosystem. Ecosystem: Coral Reef is a new version of the game that changes the setting from European forest/meadows to the reefs of our tropical oceans. It’s got the same clever mechanics and similar gorgeous illustrations, with a new twist to focus on the Food Web in our ecosystem. This game will appeal to all ages since it is easy to pick up for kids and tricky to master with strategy. Ecosystem: Savanna was also fresh on the shelves, released in 2023.
Take the Party on a Grand Adventure
Everdell Series and Farshore – Starling Games – from $65
Possibly one of the most talked about games in recent years. It’s also had a bunch of expansions released, keeping the game feeling fresh and new. The game is set in the valley of Everdell, which is inhabited by a variety of creatures and critters. It’s a great family-strategy game featuring a soft narrative as a theme behind the gameplay. As each player takes their turn, they can choose one of three actions: place a worker, play a card, or prepare for the next season. Each action offers a strategic step towards building a city for your group of creatures to live in. The winner has the most points attained from achievements in the game. For those already familiar with Everdell, there is a new standalone game: F
Lord of the Rings: Adventure to Mount Doom – KOSMOS – $30
Hot off the press, this is the latest game to tie in with the classic fantasy series Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This roll-and-move game is faithful to the books as it follows Frodo’s journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom while avoiding the ever-present Nazgul. Where it stands out from other ‘roll-and-move’ games is where it allows choice and encourages all players to work together. Adventure to Mount Doom is a great way for fans to spend an hour or so guiding the Fellowship both collectively and sometimes individually across the game board.
Games for After You Have Eaten
Fika: The Clever Coffee Break – 25th Century Games Store – $17
Not every board game needs to be for the whole party. Sometimes, you just need a quiet break away from the holiday gathering. And that’s where a great board game can help. Something like Fika. Though I will warn you, it may look like a piece of cake, but this little game is quite the strategic mastermind! Fika is a two-player game where a player is a cafe owner in competition with the other. Each round starts with a set theme or colour for your cafe’s display. Then, players simultaneously select and reveal one card from their hand. If your card has a higher number, you place your card first in the cafe display. Each card also has special objectives that need to be completed to score the points. The player with the most points wins the round, and the winner is the first to win two rounds. Unfortunately, no desserts are provided with the game; otherwise, it would be perfect.
Steam Up – Guf Studios – $110
Best played after lunch or dinner, when everyone is already well-fed. It can also get a little rowdy with competitive players! This fun game is suitable for 2-5 players aged 8 years and older. Players take turns choosing whether to gain or spend food tokens for Dim Sum in Steamers within their Feast Zone. There are also Fortune cards for an extra benefit during your turn or to disrupt your opponents. Points are collected from each meal, and yes — the biggest…uh, score wins! Bonus tip: Buy the Deluxe edition for the most adorable meeples ever seen!
Best Board Games with the Holiday Spirit
To be fair, this category is pretty hard to find enjoyable games that aren’t over-the-top cheesy. The term “Holidays” is a pretty all-encompassing affair. There are lots of different “holidays” being celebrated at this time of year; I, for one, celebrate the Summer Solstice in sunny Australia (when it’s not burning). However, there aren’t many games on that theme. The games I have listed here are the best games to suit the winter feel for most of our Book Riot readers in the Northern Hemisphere. And for my fellow Southerners, let us know your favourite tabletop games through social media.
Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries – Asmodee – $90
Ticket to Ride is one of the classic board games, regularly mentioned in the Top 10 Tabletop Games of All Time. The original version is based on the US rail system circa 1900 and won the coveted Spiel des Jahres for Best Game in 2004. Since then, there have been many variations featuring maps from all around the world. Our favourite for the holiday season is a very special edition set in the Nordic Countries, otherwise known as “Santa Land.” Initially, Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was only available to buy in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Fortunately, a worldwide limited edition was released in August 2008 and can be found fairly regularly online. The game is true to the nature of the series: collect and play cards to place your trains on the board, connecting different cities as required on your ticket cards. The difference with Nordic Countries is the heightened competitive nature. This version is for 2-3 players and has a heavier focus on blocking your opponents with more aggressive play. If you are after a competitive game and not afraid to spill some blood in the snow, you are going to love this version.
Here to Sleigh (expansion for Here to Slay) – Unstable Games – $15
Fans of the original Here to Slay RPG card game will love this holiday expansion pack. The core game is a competitive RPG where players need to assemble a party of Heroes to slay dangerous monsters. It has a strong Munchkin vibe to it, as players create their heroes using various cards to build their party of heroes with class and skill. The first player to slay three monsters or build a party with six classes wins the game. The ‘holiday-expansion-pack’ introduces new card types, fun holiday artwork, and new win conditions. There are also the extra-cute holiday-themed overlays to add to your cards. Now that’s a Good Gift!
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Take Over the Holidays! – Mixlore – $35
Raise your hand if your holiday tradition is to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is the game for you! It’s a quick tactical card game featuring six (6) characters from the film, all trying to create the most magical holiday ever. You can choose to play as Jack, Sally, Santa Claus, Oogie Boogie, Dr. Finkelstein, or the Mayor. With over four (4) rounds, players need to collect “Holiday Tokens” using cards from their hand and some savvy placement on the table. Each of the characters has different specifics to their cards, so it’s fun to replay the game and mix up your faves. This is definitely one of the best tabletop games for holiday gatherings.
Tabletop, cards, or board games — no matter what you call them, they are always a fantastic addition to every holiday gathering. Something to entertain, something to bring the gang together, and something to celebrate the holidays with. For more fun ideas, check out Kelly’s list of Cute & Fun Bookish Games here. Happy Holidays!