5 Family Christmas Board Games (Saturday Review)

Yes, Christmas is just around the corner, so it’s time for me to put together lists of games you might want to get out over the holidays and play. I thought I’d start with a list of five games that you can play with all the family. These games are easy to teach and learn and quite quick to play. Most of them can be played up to four players, so if you have a large family gathering, you might need to split into smaller groups. I hope you find this list useful.

The Split

Release Date: 2022Players: 2-6
Designer: Michael FoxLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Rain WattAge: 10+
Publisher: Wayfinder GamesComplexity: 1.5 / 5

The Split by Michael Fox from Wayfinder Games is a competitive game where players are a gang of criminals who have pulled off the heist of the century. Now it’s time to split up the loot. Rather than giving everyone an equal share or splitting the spoils based on how much work everyone put into heist, you decide to play several rounds of Blackjack. After all, that way everyone can show once more how great they are at bluffing and cheating and make off with the lion share, leaving the rest of the gang with scraps.

(Photo courtesy of Wayfinder Games)
(Photo courtesy of Wayfinder Games)

As this game goes up to 6 players, it’s ideal for a larger family gathering. Maybe it’s not quite the right game for a younger audience, but with a little help from a grown-up, everyone should be able to take part. After all, most people will know how Blackjack works and if they don’t, it’s very quick to explain: get as close to 21 as possible, without going over.

The game itself consists of dealing out a number of loot cards, then playing a round of Blackjack and finishing it off with playing cheat cards, if you have any, that can adjust your result or cause havoc at the table when you do a table flip, where you swap your hand of cards with another player. So even when you think your Blackjack hand is safe, you may get a nasty surprise from one of the other players.

The whole game is over when the loot has been divvied up, at which point you work out the value of your loot, which consists of either fixed value items or is a matter of set collection, depending on the type of loot. There is one last twist before you decide who the winner is, because you end up losing everything if you didn’t manage to win a disguise in one of the rounds of Blackjack.

The Split will lead to lots of laughter, moments of intense poker faces and you soon want to play it again – and again.

Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery

Release Date: 2018Players: 1-4
Designer: Kate Beckett, David René MillerLength:  15-30 minutes
Artist: David René MillerAge: 8+
Publisher: subQuarkComplexity: 1.0 / 5

Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery by Kate Beckett and David René Miller from subQuark is the perfect family game. Not only is it really easy to teach and learn and very quick to play, it also comes in a mini mint tin, which means you can literally put it in your coat pocket or your handbag. What’s even better, pretty much anyone can play this game, as long as they can read dice.

It is a competitive game, but it is purely based on dice rolls, so it’s very heavy on the luck element, which really levels the playing field and allows everyone, irrespective of their experience with board games, to play this game and be in with an equal chance of winning.

You start the game by rolling a single six-sided dice to decide the so-called “spirit number”. Then players take turns rolling three dice. If at least one of the results of a single dice matches the spirit number, then you get skulls: one if one dice matches, five skulls for two matching dice and ten skulls for three matching results. The first player to get to exactly 15 points, without going over, wins.

There are a handful of other things, such as a crystal skull that allows you to block a dice result, as well as the Skulduggery coin which comes into play at certain times and can force all players to pass their skulls to the next player in clockwise order. These add a small element of tactics, but nothing too difficult.

The game is really gorgeous. The tin is hand embossed, the metal coin is custom to the game and the skulls are small plastic beads that look wonderful. The dice are also lovely and the whole game is really tactile. A great game for the whole family – or you can play it solo if everyone is taking a nap after the big Christmas dinner.


Release Date: 2015Players: 2-4
Designer: Rüdiger DornLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Claus StephanAge: 8+
Publisher: HABAComplexity: 1.5 / 5

I’ve played Karuba by Rüdiger Dorn from HABA only online, so far. I’m still looking for a physical copy of this wonderful family game. It’s another competitive game that’s really quick to teach, learn and play. It’s also very multiplayer solitaire, which means there is basically no player interaction.

Every player has their own jungle board and four explorers with four matching temples. Each of the four explorers has a different colour, which matches the temple that they’re trying to reach. Your task is to lay paths through the jungle that the explorers can walk along to reach their destination. Every round, a new tile is selected and every player finds that tile in their stack and then places it into their jungle. Alternatively, they can discard the tile and move one of their explorers a certain number of steps along the paths.

The first player to reach a temple of a given colour will get a certain number of points, the second player to reach their temple of the same colour will get fewer points and so on. There are also gold and silver coins along the way that explorers can pick up and that are also worth points. Once all tiles have been drawn, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

It’s the ideal game that everyone can play. A bit of spatial awareness will be beneficial, just like it is in Carcassonne for example, but other than that, it doesn’t matter your age, board game experience or much else. It’s ideal for the whole family and one of those games that will quickly become very addictive.

Colt Express

Release Date: 2014Players: 2-6
Designer: Christophe RaimbaultLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Ian Parovel, Jordi ValbuenaAge: 10+
Publisher: LudonauteComplexity: 1.0 / 5

Colt Express by Christophe Raimbault from Ludonaute is a so-called programming game. It’s another game I’ve only played digitally so far, but a physical copy is on its way to me and I can’t wait to play this over Christmas with the whole family. It’s another game that can be played with up to 6 players, which makes it a lot more versatile in a family Christmas setting.

(Image courtesy of Ludonaute)
(Image courtesy of Ludonaute)

The game also benefits from its visual appeal. It comes with a 3D cardboard train into which you place your wooden bandit meeples. As you take your turns and move through the train or go between the roof and the inside of a carriage, your meeple moves accordingly, so you can immediately see where everyone is. I think it will really encourage people to the table and see what this game is all about.

In the game, you’re basically a bandit, trying to rob the train and get away with as much loot as possible. The problem is, you’re not the only bandit. The other players are also bandits and there is even a marshall who is trying to stop all of you. So you’ll be punching each other, having shoot-outs and trying to steer the marshall to your competitors, so that you come out on top.

The thing is, you don’t just take turns to move your meeple. Instead, you take turns playing action cards, which represent things like moving into the next carriage, picking up loot, moving to the roof, punching or shooting – or moving the marshall. Each game round, players take turns playing a single card and going around the table a certain number of times. Depending on the round, players might play cards face-up, face-down or a combination of both.

Once the round is over, the played cards are then resolved one by one. So, effectively, you program your moves in advance and you have to second-guess what other players are going to do, as well as keep in your head where in the train you are, so that you don’t punch into thin air or walk into the arms of the marshall.

As you play your cards, you think you’ve got it all planned out. So when the cards are resolved later and things don’t quite go your way or rather, everything goes wrong, you realize it’s not quite as easy as it seemed. Most of the time it’s just funny to watch your meeple try to punch another player, when they have already moved out of the way or if you think you’ve moved onto the roof, so you can avoid the marshall, but in reality, you end up inside the carriage and march straight into the marshall’s open arms.

It’s the sort of game that you mustn’t take too seriously or you end up getting frustrated very quickly. I know that programming games aren’t for everyone, but I would hope over the holidays, everyone is a bit more relaxed and happy to take Colt Express in the spirit it is meant to be played.

Kombo Klash

Release Date: 2021Players: 2-4 Players
Designer: “Nero” Ondrej SovaLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Jake ParkerAge: 8+
Publisher: Hub GamesComplexity: 1.5 / 5

Kombo Klash by “Nero” Ondrej Sova from Hub Games is Memory on steroids – sort of. What’s certain is that, if you have a good memory, you will have an advantage. It’s also clear that people who love big combos will love this game. After all, the clue is in the title.

It’s another competitive tile-laying game, where you try to place one of your tiles so that it’s next to at least two other tiles of the same colour. When that happens, you can flip the tiles over and score points. The tiles also have specific effects, allowing you to flip tiles back face-up, so you can use them for a new chain or to move tiles one space along, again maybe allowing you to create a chain of three tiles. It’s all very tactical, but if you’re really good, you will create chain reactions and score a huge amount of points on your turn.

Kombo Klash is probably a little bit harder to explain than the other games in this list, but it’s still really easy to grasp whatever your age or board game experience. It’s basically a mix of Dominoes and Memory with some extra bits thrown in. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to learn and you should get into the swing of things quite quickly.

The game ends when someone reaches a certain amount of points, depending on the length of game you want to play. So you can start with a shorter game and once everyone is familiar with how it all works, you can decide to play a longer game and make things more interesting.

Well, that’s my list of five family Christmas games. I hope I have been able to give you some options to try out over the holidays or at least, I have inspired you to bring a game or two to your family Christmas get together. Whatever you do,

Family fun – enjoying games as a family (Topic Discussion)

As we know, and as I always say, there are so many games, chances are there is something for everyone. Not only that, there will be games for all sorts of different types and sizes of groups. That has always been true for family games that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages and interests. In this article, I want to look at what it is I enjoy so much about playing games with my family.

Of course, one of the main reasons I play games is the social interaction with people. That takes on a slightly different meaning when it comes to playing with your family, as opposed to friends or people you’ve not met before. As I mentioned in my article “Face-off“, I love the time my wife and I spend playing a game. It’s a special time. We connect, share time together and focus on the game.

It’s even more special when our daughter plays a game with us. She used to do that a lot, but when she became a teenager, it stopped. Luckily, and I’m extremely happy about it, she’s slowly coming back to playing games with us. They tend to be smaller, shorter games, rather than the longer and more strategic games we used to play. However, whether we play a single 10-minute game or get her to play several shorter games with us, it’s so wonderful to spend time with her as a family.

She prefers competitive to co-operative games. I think she wants to show that she can win against her parents. It’s a friendly sort of competitiveness, even if we sometimes fight nail and tooth. At the end of a game, there are never bad feelings. Our daughter has learned early on that losing isn’t a bad thing.

Games with Siblings, Nieces, Nephews and the Wider Family

In my article “He ain’t heavy“, I talked about the fun my brother and I had with board games. I don’t see him much these days, as we live in different countries, but my wife’s brother’s family lives nearby. I mentioned how we first introduced my brother-in-law’s family to board games and how they subsequently introduced us to new games in my article “Home is where the board games are“. So whenever we meet up, we tend to play board games together.

My two nieces tend to play with us grown-ups and our daughter. Catering for a larger group of players isn’t always easy. However, when the family gets together, everyone tends to be quite relaxed and people happily sit out a game or two. After all, we usually spend a whole afternoon together. So there is plenty of time to play games. Everyone is also happy to try out and learn a new game, which is a great opportunity for me to teach some new games or for them to show us their latest game. That makes finding suitable games to play together as a family a little bit easier.

Luckily, everyone also enjoys not just light games, but slightly more demanding ones. Chai is one of the more recent ones they like, for example, but we also play games, such as Colt Express. Azul has also been popular for a while. There is a fairly wide range of options to choose from.

Whatever we play though, it’s so much fun seeing people of a wide range of ages and playing styles play together.

the cardboard coaches and other components from Colt Express
Colt Express

Games with the Parents and Parents-In-Law

That also includes my parents or my parents-in-law. For them, I tend to choose lighter and quicker games. A firm favourite with my parents is Carcassonne. I guess, it’s an evergreen game for a reason – and not because of the colour of the tiles. It’s such an easy game to explain and so very visual. My mum plays very competitively, while my dad doesn’t really mind either way. My wife’s parents usually just want to build a beautiful map. Either way, it’s an hour or so well spent. Yes, it’s an hour for us, because we always play with at least one expansion.

I recently introduced Town 66 to my wife, our daughter and subsequently my parents-in-law. It’s another very visual game that’s very easy to teach. It does require a little bit more focus though. So it’s a bit more taxing, but everyone really enjoys it. It’s such a fun little puzzle that game creates and trying to be the last player standing, while having the least number of tiles in your hand is a lot of fun.

My plan is to introduce them all to Scout, which I think they will enjoy for similar reasons. I know that both games are very different, at the same time I feel they scratch a similar itch. Both are from Oink Games, so it’s no surprise they feel similar in some ways. They’re both certainly easy to explain and don’t take very long to play.

a hand of cards in Scout

How About You?

Now I want to know if you play games with your family. If so, what sort of games do you play? Do you choose different games depending on which part of your family you’re with? Do you have some games that you think always hit the mark? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below. I’d love to hear what games you play.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Family Game Time – games that are great for all the family (Topic Discussion)

I recently asked for some suggestions for board game topics I could write about. Phil Gross answered my plea and suggested I write about the best game to play with your in-laws. I loved the idea, but I wanted to open it up a bit wider and talk about games that are great for all the family, young and old, blood relatives and in-laws alike.

Let’s try and frame that question a bit more. We’re basically looking for games that are quite easy to explain and have very little rules complexity. We probably also want games that don’t require too much maintenance and play relatively quickly. I always think that time is often the biggest barrier for people, because they don’t want to have to worry about spending a lot of time on a game they might not enjoy. Shorter games also allow you to try lots of different ones, so you can find one that fits the group of people you’re playing with.

We will also have to consider the age range. After all, family does mean kids and grown-ups alike. So we probably want to find games that kids enjoy and that have age-appropriate content, but that still offer the adults something that they will enjoy. I suppose we’re looking for the equivalent of a DreamWorks film which has adult humour, without being an adult film, while at the same time offering a lot of action and kids’ entertainment, without being too childish for the grown-ups.

I think that covers it pretty well and is already quite a high ask. So let’s look at what games I can think of that fit those criteria.

Classic Family Games

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest Monopoly or Mouse Trap. Yes, those games do tick a lot of the boxes we want to be ticked for a good family game. However, they also haven’t aged very well and I don’t think they offer quite the right amount of interest for older players. Instead, I’m going going to suggest Carcassonne.

I can’t believe I still haven’t reviewed this evergreen tile-laying game that is still going strong. It’s such a brilliant game that really suits the whole family. You don’t really have to explain much to get going. You can explain most of the rules as you go along. It’s also such a visual game that it will click pretty quickly with everyone.

Placing tiles in Carcassonne is very much like doing a jigsaw puzzle. There is the tactility of the thick cardboard tiles and the lovely wooden meeples. There is the actual puzzle-solving part of finding the best place for your tile, as well as the best orientation for it. You also end up with a lovely map at the end of the game, just like you end up with a beautiful picture after completing a jigsaw. So even if you’re not very competitive by nature, you’ll still enjoy making the map and imagining the reasons for the three churches being built right next to each other.

There are many different versions of Carcassonne now and many expansions that you can mix into the base game. That way you can make the game as long or as short as you want. You can even play a co-operative version now, if you really don’t like the competitive and sometimes cut-throat nature of the game.

Modern Classics

A game that I would consider a modern classic is Ticket to Ride. It’s another game that I haven’t reviewed and that is great for the whole family. It might not be suitable for very young kids, but it still covers a wide age range. You can choose between the various versions of the game for different kinds of experiences, but whatever one you end up playing, they’re all pretty easy to teach and don’t take too long to play. It might require a little more patience from younger players though.

Ticket to Ride is a very visual game. You have the map right in front of you and you can see where everyone’s tracks are. Finding places on the map can sometimes be a little tricky, but then again, it’s a great way of improving your geography knowledge. It’s almost an educational game in that sense.

For me, it also ticks the nostalgia box. If you’re my age, you will probably have played a game where you travel around a map, usually roll-and-move style, and need to get to certain destinations along the way. Globetrotting is a pretty simple, yet somehow magical and enticing, theme. Ticket to Ride uses that to create an interesting and exciting gameplay experience that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people.

the board and components of Ticket to Ride: Europe (image courtesy of Days of Wonder)
the board and components of Ticket to Ride: Europe (image courtesy of Days of Wonder)

Modern Family Games

Now let’s venture into the present of hobby games. What I want to suggest next is a roll-and-write game. No, it’s not Yahtzee. Instead, I want to talk about Aquamarine, a game that I did review. I’m not generally a huge fan of roll-and-write games. They often seem more like filling in a spreadsheet than playing a game. For games from the genre to get my attention they need to capture my imagination. I don’t want a game that says that it will take me on a scuba dive into a beautiful reef. I want a game where I actually really feel like that’s what I’m actually doing and Aquamarine does that perfectly.

The rules are really simple and you need only the tiniest smidgen of algebra knowledge just to work out the difference between two dice results. That’s it. The rest is about working your way through the reef to see the fish, explore shipwrecks and generally have a wonderful time swimming through the water. You may even feel a bit claustrophobic as you reach new depths. Instead, you may find playing Aquamarine meditative as you get into the rhythm of rolling dice, drawing your route, marking off oxygen and looking at where you want to go next.

Sticking with the watery theme, I would also suggest Deep Sea Adventure as a great family game. Simple rules, quick playing time, plenty of dice rolling luck to level the playing field and generally a lot of fun. You can also adjust the way you play according to the audience, making it more or less cut-throat as you see fit. The game looks great on the table, has wonderful components and is just perfect as a family game.

How About You?

So that’s my list of family games I would suggest people add to their collection. However, there are many more that I haven’t mentioned. Are there any you love to play with the family? What are your favourites? Are there any games that you think look like the perfect family game, but really disappointed you when you played them? If so, what were they and why did they not work out? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Let’s try and collate a long list of family games together.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Chill Lofi by Ramol
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/6788-chill-lofi
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license