Some actually brilliant boardgames to break out over Christmas.

by - 18:24

A few days ago, The Irish Times published a list of board games to buy for your family this Christmas, and the suggestions ranged from awful, to uninspiring, to dull, and back again. The real injustice here is that modern board gaming is incredible. The board gaming industry is in the middle of a renaissance and every year, more and more exciting, accessible, dynamic and interactive game are released! There's no reason to stick with stodgy old-fashioned games like Monopoly or Scrabble, or to play low-quality cash-grabs like the Strictly Come Dancing Board Game

Here are some suggestions for games to play this Christmas, which won't end in you wishing you'd just watched telly instead!

You can find most of these through online retailers (like Amazon), or by contacting local board game retailers. 


Throw out Trivial Pursuit! Timeline is one of the best trivia games going. Rather than having to remember obscure football facts from the 1980s, Timeline asks you to guess when certain historical events happened. And the key word here is guess - you don't have to be right to win, just right enough! Each time a card is played, it moves into a position relative to other cards on the table. So the moon landing happened after D-Day. Your next card says "invention of the bicycle" and you just need to figure out where it goes relative to those other two. Super clever, super accessible, and also only costs about a tenner.


If you like deduction games like Cluedo, Cryptid is the perfect update to that genre. Players are racing to discover a mythical creature on a landscape made of hexagons. Each player has a clue, which by itself is not enough to find out which hexagon the creature lives on - maybe their clue is, the creature is within one space of water. But when all players combine their clues, only one hexagon will remain. The first player to figure it out wins the game, which means you'll be trying to hide your clues from everybody else! This game will really get you thinking!

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

One more game about deduction, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is like a choose-your-own-adventure game, but made for larger groups to play in a couple of hours. Over the course of each game, players will be cooperatively racing to solve a crime, interviewing suspects, consulting maps, assessing evidence. By the end, you'll feel like crime-solving geniuses or a crowd of dimwits, but either way you'll have had a lot of fun getting there!

Forbidden Island 

Another cooperative title, where players try to defeat the game rather than each other. In Forbidden Island, players are racing around an island to collect ancient artifacts and return to the helipad before the island sinks into the sea. As more and more pieces fall away, things get really tense. The cooperative nature makes this perfect for families to play together and especially if some younger kids struggle with competitive games. If you like the sound of this, you can also look at Pandemic - a slightly more complex game in a similar style.

Rhino Hero

Rhino Hero is like Jenga, but instead of removing wooden blocks, players are adding floors to a cute skyscraper made of cards. Some cards will insist that they also have to move a little rhino superhero too, which is incredibly nerve-wracking. The slightest nudge will cause the whole tower to collapse. This game never fails to evoke giggles from everyone playing!

Ticket to Ride

Big, bright, easy to learn, but with lots of fun strategy and interaction. Ticket to Ride has you creating train routes between cities, according to the secret objectives on your cards. Blocking other players is the key to victory, so bring your A-game! Ticket to Ride packs a full game experience in about an hour, so you can stop dreading the never-ending game of Monopoly that often takes up Christmas Eve.

There are a few editions out there, but I suggest getting Ticket to Ride: Europe.


A word association game that gets you thinking and puzzling and bluffing. The nice thing about Codenames is that it pitches two teams of players against each other, so it can quite easily handle ten players without getting too long or complex.


A bit of an older game, but if you like the trading aspect of Monopoly, you'll love Bohnanza. Weirdly, players are bean farmers, trying to harvest the best fields of beans. I know, it sounds stupid. But some very simple twists in the rules mean that you cannot win unless you're willing to strike up some good deals, time your moves, and hoard "stink beans". I really recommend Bohnanza, especially for families with older kids, but you might want to seek out a how-to-play video online - the rules that come in the box are a bit hard to parse.

King of Tokyo

This is Yahtzee, but waaaaay better! Players are giant monsters in Tokyo city, battling to be the biggest and best. They do this by rolling dice and trying to get dice combos, which give them attack powers, points, energy and health. If a player is feeling tough, they can position themselves as the King (or Queen) of Tokyo, earning a bunch of points, but becoming an easy target for other players too. The theme really helps elevate this game and players pushing-their-luck leads to a lot of laughs.

Movable Type

Alright, this is a game that I designed, but if you're a fan of Scrabble or other word games, it might be perfect for you. Rather than just getting dealt a bunch of letters, players pick their letters - do they want to take all the vowels, denying their opponents, or just go for high scoring letters, in the hopes that they can string them together? The biggest twist is in how the game is scored and won. Rather than keeping track of a score all the time, players earn letters into a score-pile each round. And then in the final round, players pick up their score piles and try to play words from them. It is the value of only this final word that counts when picking a winner, meaning the game is tense right up until the very end! (buy it here!)


This super simple Irish-designed card game feels a little bit like Uno, but with one incredible twist: at the end of every game, the winner gets to take one of the blank cards and write a new rule on it, to use in the next game. In time, you'll have a game that evolves to reflect you and your family, the games you've played and decisions you've made. It'll be a game to treasure.

The Mind

This is a very unusual game where players are trying to read each other's minds in order to cooperatively play a set of cards in a specific sequence. It needs to be played to be understood, as there really isn't anything else like it in the market. One nice thing about The Mind is that players aren't allowed to talk while they play, so if you're craving some peace and quiet after a busy Christmas morning, this might be the answer!


This game combines the feel of Tetris with a super-cute theme, having players constructing and managing their own bear-zoos. Selecting the best parts and arranging them in the most appealing way is the route to victory. And even if you don't win, your bear-park is going to look amazing. Barenpark is lovely game for families.

And So Many More...

Honestly, I could talk about board games all day, but here are just a few more you might want to consider for your family-Christmas.
  • Isle of Skye - buying and selling tiles to develop islands in the north of Scotland. This game is far deeper than it looks.
  • Carcassonne - a classic tile-laying game.
  • Quadropolis - Sim City as a board game. Simple rules lead to a really delicious 4-player puzzle.
  • Hanabi - like The Mind, a cooperative game with no talking allowed. Very unusual, but very clever (and cheap!)
  • Azul - a new game in 2018, Azul is an abstract puzzle game. Lots of player interaction and gorgeous chunky pieces.
  • Rampunctious - Lovers of puns need to forget Cards Against Humanity. Rampunctious is a tool-kit to come up with your own jokes.
  • Dare to Dream - three players are kids trying to get to sleep and one player is nightmares trying to wake them up. Very cool theme and unique gameplay.
  • High Society - a very fast bidding game where, at the end, the player with the least remaining money is eliminated. There are few games like it!
  • Jaipur - for two-players only, trading spices, cloth, and camels!
  • Coloretto - very simple but full of tough decisions to make, players are collecting cards of the same colour, but if you take cards of the wrong colour, you start losing points.
  • Acquire - throw away Monopoly and replace it with this classic instead.
  • Whitehall Mystery - perfect for a family with older kids. One player is Jack the Ripper and everybody else plays the police trying to catch him!
  • Smash Up - a crazy card game of robot dinosaurs fighting ninja zombies and all things in between. 
  • Kingdomino - a simple game where players build little kingdoms with different types of terrain. The simple rules mean you can focus on having fun.
  • Karuba - who would have thought bingo mechanics could be so much fun? Players all get the same tiles and have to use them to path routes for their adventurers to to travel along and find the hidden temples.

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