Cheese, biscuits, mulled wine, turkey and board games. All things that come to mind when you think of Christmas. But like nan drinking too much mulled wine, or cheese-based trumps, board games can go terribly wrong. Make a poor choice and you get fights over the rules, or suffer the tedium of sitting through a never-ending game of Monopoly. 

Luckily, we’ve prepared a gaming guide for the perfect family Christmas gathering. 

The Quest For El Dorado 

The Quest For El Dorado is a really simple racing game that’s easy to pick up, but actually offers a lot of room to be tactical and cunning.

It starts by building the board using modular board pieces. This is great, as it means that the games can be different every time. 

Then four people pick their starting colour and race across the board, trying to be the first to arrive at the city of El Dorado. This is achieved by playing cards. A green card will help you move through a jungle, while a blue card helps wade through water, etc. You can use your cards to purchase better cards from a shop too.

Knowing when to play your cards and when to use them to buy better ones enriches the experience, and the simple goal of being the first to get to the end is very easily understood. 

The Quest For El Dorado is an absolute cracker and should be on anyone’s Christmas list. 

Chinatown

Miss the arguments Monopoly provides? Then get down to Chinatown. 

Chinatown is a really simple game about trading. 3-5 players are assigned buildings and plots of land at the beginning of each turn, and must then trade and barter them to turn their disparate plots of land into contiguous building gold. 

I was initially hesitant to play. The group that I play games with can be quite reserved, but they immediately launched into frantic trading. One husband-wife duo ended in mutually assured destruction. It was the best kind of carnage. If you want something rowdier, Chinatown is your game.

Small World

For those of you for whom Risk is a bit of a Christmas mainstay, I recommend Small World. This is the ‘heaviest’ game on this list, requiring a bit of rule reading and perhaps a trial run. But it’s also really fun. 

In this fantasy affair – which even has a World of Warcraft spin-off – you mix up a set of powers and races and combine them together. You could be ‘Spirit Halflings’ or the ‘Dragon Elves’ or one of many different combinations as you vie for domination of the board. 

What makes Small World genius, though, is its system of races going into ‘decline’. Eventually, you will have to retire your race and pick a new combination. This means you get to try lots of things, but you also don’t feel so bad if someone attacks you and wipes you out. It doesn’t matter. You can pick a new race at the beginning of the next turn and start again.

For a game all about attacking each other, I’ve never had anyone play Small World and feel upset or picked on. Which is a monumental achievement.

The Search For Planet X

In The Search For Planet X, you all play competing telescopes. No…wait. Come back. You see, Planet X is excellent. You use an app to build up an idea of what is in the night sky, making guess about what is where and using the app to check if you’re right. It’s basically multiplayer Sudoku and it’s great. 

Planet X is really absorbing, as you hear a hush descend on the table and people become real scientists, jabbing their theories into their devices. This isn’t one for the whole family, but those who love a puzzle will fall for it. Plus, the app helps with remembering rules and organising the game. It’s awesome. There’s even a single-player mode which is great, especially in these times

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If you have a family member into their history and face-to-face duels, two-player game Watergate is a must. Then there’s Codenames, which is about getting teams to say a word after being given a short clue. It’s a lot of fun.

As board games are about coming together, I have a request for you. If you have any great recommendations, please drop them in the comments and share the love all around. 

Have a merry, socially distanced, Christmas one and all!