A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist US.
Long before I founded my board-game company Clarendon Games in 2012, one of the things I loved most about board games was their ability to bring people together. Even in our harried modern world, all it takes for families to press pause, put down their devices, and talk with (or shout at) one another all evening is one brilliant board game. Which is a big reason why board games make terrific gifts this season (but, really, any time of year).
My favourite board games to give have a certain kind of alchemy that brings out the best in people, whether that’s helping control freaks loosen up, turning people who are normally quiet and reserved into loudmouths, or making the cautious become adventurous. They are also the types of board games that the cleverest person doesn’t always win and, importantly, don’t take too long to play (because nobody wants a gift they can’t finish). The nine giftable board games below include something for pretty much all ages and players, from competitive types who always want to beat the rest, to laid-back players who enjoy games for the camaraderie more than the results.
For the competitive older sibling who loves Succession
Designed for two to eight players, Jungle Speed is, as its name implies, an ultra-fast-paced card game where each player tries to empty their hand as quickly as possible. Every player begins with a hand that includes an even amount of cards, and any cards left over are placed beneath the totem (a wooden piece placed in the center of all the players). Rounds unfold by each player revealing a card in their hand — if any are holding cards that match, then those players make a grab for the totem. The person who doesn’t grab it first then collects both matching cards — and the stack beneath the totem — adding them to their hand. It’s hectic and frenetic, relying on each player’s keen observation and rapid reflexes.
For the kid sibling obsessed with everything Marvel
Another brilliant and raucous card game, Superfight challenges three or more players to argue and plead their cases as to why their “fighter” would win in a duel. The core deck contains 500 cards — 170 “character” cards and 330 “powers and weaknesses” cards. Players begin by drawing three character and three power/weakness cards, and then two face off at time, with the goal being to create the best-possible combination of one character and two power/weakness cards. Mouths run rampant as folks try to convince the group why their fighter is best, and the rest of the group chooses the winner, who then moves on to face the next opponent. Best played by the brutally honest — which is why it makes a great gift for youngsters who have no qualms about sharing their opinions — Superfight is hilarious and silly, and truly fun for almost all ages (the game bills itself as for 8 years old and up). Plus, there are lots of expansion packs you can buy to add to the fun.
For the doomsday-prepper uncle
I’m not sure how well this has been fact-checked, but I recently read that 14 percent of Americans have a zombie-apocalypse plan. For them — or anyone whose favorite time of year is spooky szn — Zombicide is the game to give. Designed for one to six players (ages 14 and up), this collaborative board game turns players into survivors of a zombie takeover, challenging them to find weapons, learn spells, and acquire skills, all while working together as one team to complete a designated mission to slay the zombies. It’s on the pricier side, but the box is jam-packed. It includes 65 Lilliputian-sized zombies, 125 cards, 60 tokens, and 48 trackers.
For the mom who loves a Sunday crossword
If your mum spends every Sunday curled up in her favorite chair with the Times crossword, this team-based battle of the brains is for her, or any other wordsmith you may know. In each round, one player on each team (the game calls for three or more players) tries to get their teammates to guess a hidden word or phrase using only the game’s 105 explanatory cards. Speaking and acting is forbidden — the cards, each of which have a single noun, verb, or adjective on it — are your only arsenal. Every correct guess earns each team a point, and the one with the most points at the end wins. Word Slam bills itself as for ages 12 and up.
For the detail-oriented dad who’s also a film buff
Made for four or more players and played in teams, Time’s Up unfolds over three 30-second rounds. In each, teams play with the same set of cards, trying to get their fellow players to guess as many answers as possible. In round one, almost any kind of clue is allowed. In round two, only one word is permitted (along with unlimited sounds and gestures). And in round three, no words are allowed at all. This specific set is movie and TV-themed, with more than 800 titles to guess, making it perfect for that dad who refuses to get rid of his DVD collection and prefers to rent movies on Netflix the old-fashioned way.
For the sappy aunt who always sends cards
This charming game involves risk, deduction, and a sliver of luck. The goal is to get your love letter into the hands of Princess Annette, while thwarting the advances of competing suitors. Each player starts with a single card, and as the game progresses in turns, players take one card and use one card, aiming to knock the competition out of the game. You also hold one secret card in your hand, which determines who among the players currently carries your message of love for the princess. Players begin their turns by drawing the top card from the deck, then choosing one of the two cards in their hand to play, even if their choice doesn’t bode well (the cards have instructions like “look at another player’s hand” or “trade hands with another player.”) Ultimately, you want the person closest to the princess to have your love letter, so it reaches her first. Fun and fast, it takes no more than 20 minutes to play, and is designed for two to six players ages 10 and up. Your aunt won’t only love this for its sentimental value — she’ll likely appreciate the playing cards themselves, with their detailed illustrations.
For the grandparents with short attention spans
My company’s vintage card games are based on 19th-century Victorian parlor games, which had no fiddly bits such as boards or playing pieces. To play any of these, you don’t need more than the cards in the packs. I think they’re the perfect combination of fun and lighthearted, because people can chitchat while playing. While you’re meant to play these individually, they work equally well in teams. And all follow a simple format: The first person (or team) to win five “hands” wins the game.
After Dinner Riddles is a simple question-and-answer game. Players take turns drawing the top card from the deck and reading out the riddle on it. The first player to shout the correct answer wins the card. In Bluff Trivia, players alternate asking one another questions like, “How long did Rip van Winkle sleep for?” or “What was the biggest selling album in the 1980s?” You win a card every time you get an answer correct — or if you bluff and give a wrong answer that you’re not challenged on. If you are called out as a bluffer and your answer is indeed wrong, the challenger wins the card; but if it is correct, then you win that round’s card and one of your challenger’s cards from a previous round. Each card in Categories Game contains a topic — from breakfast cereals to Tom Cruise films — and players take turns rapidly listing an item in that category. If they can’t name something for the category, they’re eliminated until there’s just one person, who wins the card.
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