This holiday season when you invite the extended family over for game night, it will either be a tense affair that devolves into uncontrollable crying and gross accusations of real estate collusion. Or, it’s an Rockwellian good time of eggnog sipping and caroling. To help make it more of the latter (with a minimal level of shouting), here’s a list of the best board games, card games, and puzzles to give as holiday gifts for a jolly Christmas morning, or an epic gaming campaign during eight nights of Hanukkah.
P’Kolino Multi-Sided Bug Puzzle
P’Kolino’s 2-sided (one solids, one patterns) wooden puzzle doesn’t have a set solution. This is a good thing, because kids can spend hours — or at least a lot longer than they would with a traditional puzzle — coming up with as many artsy designs as their little developing brains can generate. That or just get frustrated and throw it at the cat when they can’t solve the damn thing. What a great holiday gift, eh?
Despite the fact that the gameplay resembles getting a glaucoma test during an eye exam (except instead of air puffs, you get hit with whipped cream), Pie Face is one of those board games that keeps everybody cackling and on the edge of their seats during the holidays. Simply spin the dial, put your face in the mask, and hope you don’t get creamed.
Gas Out Game
If ‘pull my finger’ is feeling a bit stale, here’s a holiday gift that’s a breath of fresh air: Gas Out is a family-friendly card game that uses an electronic fart machine (Guster the Gas Cloud — and not that Guster) for more than just sharts and giggles. Without actually letting it rip themselves, kids throw out numbered cards and press Guster the corresponding number of times (i.e. drop a deuce, press him twice). If he lets one go, everyone laughs. Also, they’re out of the game. The last player to discard while keeping Guster from cutting loose wins.
Players: 2 – 6
Invented by comedian Jo Firestone and her father, Fred, whose groaners were her inspiration to write jokes that are actually funny, this is Cards Against Humanity for pun lovers. You take turns drawing two cards from the deck and reading the prompts to the group. Then they 90 seconds to come up with the best possible pun combining them both. It’s a holiday gift where #DadJokes are for the win. Literally.
Because not every kid gets into medical school, ensure yours has a Plan B by teaching them how to run the family bar! Saloon Tycoon is a tile-placement board game where you compete to run the best damn pet shop saloon in the Wild West. The cool twist: Tile cards stack up on wooden cubes, not just sideways, to create multi-tiered houses of ill repute. By adding rooms/amenities, completing tasks (claims), and attracting influential citizens to their watering hole (while avoiding outlaws), the winner is the owner with the best reputation. You know who would be good at this holiday gift? Al Swearengen.
Players: 2 – 4
4D Cityscape Gotham City Puzzle
For the true fan who needs a break from their Batman: The Animated Series VR View-Master but not from the Caped Crusader all together, this 1,000 piece interactive puzzle of Gotham City is the perfect holiday gift. It includes a jigsaw puzzle map, a topography map, 3D models, and even a “mini-LED Bat light in the police department building that shines the Batman logo into the sky.” You can almost read the headline on The Gotham Times now: Batman Saves Christmas.
A rare holiday gift that is both educational for kids and wildly entertaining for adults, Anaxi is a competitive vocabulary lesson for family game night that uses Venn diagrams — those things you kind of remember from high school. To play, one person picks three color-coded word cards and puts them together on the base. After they start the timer, everybody writes down as many people, places, or things (or as English majors call them, nouns) that share those overlapping qualities. For example, Brown + Furry + Hilarious = Alf. If someone else said Alf (as they’re likely to do) the person who wrote down a unique answer like “a UPS truck driven by Zach Galifianakis” get a higher score. Play continues for 5 rounds and whoever possesses the strongest vocabulary wins. It’s probably going to be the person who uses whomever.
Players: 2 – 6
The goal of Fabulous Beasts is for 1-to-4 players to build the most fantastical imaginary beast world imaginable on their tablet screen. To do that, they take turns scanning and stacking animal figures and other oddly shaped pieces on a wirelessly connected platform. Each new beast is born into the digital world, where they evolve, interact, transform and generally get crazier as the Noah’s Ark Jenga tower continues to rise. To establish a new high score, players must learn how the different pieces affect each other in the digital world while improving their dexterity enough to balance a shark on top of a bear on top of some weird curvy things. When the tower collapses, it’s game over.
Players: 1 – 4
Game Of Thrones Clue
You never believed that Colonel Mustard actually killed anyone with the pipe in the library, but you have no doubt Grey Worm did it with the battle axe in the brothel. The game keeps the same basic rules as the original, but ups the brutal murder factor with more creative weapons including a Poison Vial, Arakh, Faceless Man, Crossbow, Catspaw Assassin Dagger and the always handy battle axe. It also has a double-sided board that lets you play in either at The Red Keep or in Meereen. And, because nothing is easy to keep track of in the world of GoT, the custom notepad for you to narrow down suspects is a rap sheet as long as your forearm.
Players: 2 – 6
A tiny puzzle for a tiny person, Petit Collage’s 24 mini-piece puzzles are printed on recycled paper and measure a mere 6 x 6-inches when finished — so perfect for puzzling on the go. They come in 14 illustrated styles that run the gamut from ladybugs, rabbits, and bears, to cowboys, and cats. They even have a little Brooklyn Bridge or a San Francisco Trolley, depending on which coast your hipster toddler resides, and they make a great holiday gift.
Star Wars: Rebellion
Parlay the family’s excitement from a holiday screening of Rogue Nation into a evening of Star Wars board games! Released this year, Rebellion is an epic battle between the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance (guess which side Dad is taking?) that spans multiple star systems across 2 game boards and includes 150 plastic miniature pieces that you can fly around re-enacting the battle on Hoth while your kids are taking their turns.
Players: 2 – 4