By November 29, 2010

Selecting Family Games During the Holidays

One of the things I liked the most about family events as a child was playing games with the extended family. We would often play the card game Hearts with two decks and a dining room table full of people. It was hilarious, and I had fun even if I didn’t win. We also played Charades as a large group, or broke into smaller groups to play games like Trivial Pursuit or Parcheesi.

If you are the resident “Game Nerd” in your family, you already know that it can be tricky to balance games that Gamers like to play with games that non-Gamers have never heard of.

Here are a few games that will be fun for everyone. Well, just about everyone.

Games For More Than Six People

If you are into board games, five seems to be the magic cutoff for a lot of games. A lot of popular board games can’t support more than five players (such as Carcassonne), or they bog down because the game play becomes tedious in a larger group (PowerGrid).

The more people in the playgroup, the more difficult it is to find a game that everyone likes — or in this house, avoid a game that somebody doesn’t hate. My overall recommendations to selecting games for more than five people are to:

  • Keep total game time to thirty minutes or less
  • Try to select games that allow people to come and go
  • Look for games that either allow for differently-minded people to participate, and/or lessen embarrassment for non-Gamers.


This game is fantastic, and only gets better as you add more people. More players increase the amount of silliness, and it also helps mitigate weaker players. The more people per team, the more likely you are that two players will “click” and guess each other’s clues more effectively.

I’ve given several of these as gifts, and after two years of playing at every major family event it’s the game people still ask to play.


It often runs longer than I’d like, but the one major strength to Cranium is that there is something for everyone.

Does your sister Becky correct your spelling all the time? No problem, Cranium makes her a star. Uncle Larry draws naked women on the napkins during the family dinner? Cranium’s drawing challenges makes him a little creepy. Is your stepdad an engineer who knows everything about anything ever built? Yup, Cranium lets him shine, too.


Golf is a card game. You’ll need two decks for six people, but any gaming house worth its salt will have two packs of cards lying around. The object is to avoid points (just like in golf). You get zero points for each pair of cards at the end of the round, and points for everything else. The game takes about five minutes to explain, and it scales really well with a lot of people. It is also very low-key, and is a great game to play for when everyone has a bellyful of food.


This old family favorite is a riot with adults. I don’t know what it is about Uno, but it brings out the hyper-competitive in everyone. This can be great if you have a person in the family who is normally quiet but transforms into a card shark. It can also backfire on you if you already have people in the house who are prone to bickering. Uno is a low-effort game just like Golf, and is probably already in every house. If it isn’t, you can pick up a deck of Uno cards almost anywhere.

Games for Less Than Six People

Smaller player pools mean more “gamer” like games. A lot of the best European-style “family” games are designed for around four players. My overall recommendations to selecting games for less than five people are to:

  • Choose games that are easy to learn
  • Have generic or non-traditional themes
  • Either have few pieces, or few types of pieces
  • Avoid games that put new players at a strong disadvantage
  • Avoid games that make it hard to stage a come back


This tile game is an absolute must in every home. Some people will love it, but everyone will like it, and no one will hate it. Carcassonne is a quintessential “Euro” style game, where anyone within the age range (8+) will enjoy an aspect of the game. Some will love the art style, some will love the randomness of every game, and some will love the tactile aspect of manipulating the tiles. It even has something for the plotters and schemers, and depending on the audience the game can be super friendly or cutthroat Illuminati-style.

Some people like the expansions mixed in, but I recommend that you start with the basic set.

Zombie Fluxx

I will warn you up front: some people will love this game, some people will hate it. This card game with ever-changing rules and win conditions can be a great casual game. I believe that highly structured people (like Stilts and my stepfather Professor Sparxx) are really put off by the random aspect of Fluxx. If you are more of a chaotic neutral type, you may really enjoy Fluxx.

I like playing it because it’s silly, it has zombies, and is easily played when I am tired. We often play this game after 11PM.


This is a weird little game. It has a lot of pieces, like an American-style game, but it relies very little on random outcomes and a lot on social interaction, like a European-style game. The object of Chinatown is to earn as much money as possible within six turns. Money is made by building stores of out randomly drawn tiles on randomly drawn lots.

Trading is the name of the game here, and you have to be very charismatic in order to do well. The game if very easy to learn, and is great for up to five people. If anyone in your family is a sales person or a stock broker, this is the game to try.


A fast and furious card game where you try to match “sets” of cards by pattern, quantity, or color, Set is very popular with kids of all ages and visually-oriented people. Game play is very fast, and the game can be played by just about any number of people. Like any good “social” game, people can cycle in and out between rounds, and it can be played anywhere.

I definitely recommend this game for any family with an artist, designer, architect, photographer, or any other “design-y” person in it. This game will be less popular with methodical, data-oriented people. Sometimes you get a real nerd who develops a mental algorithm to find sets (Stilts, I’m looking at you), and then the game takes on a weird race between the hyper visually perceptive and the hyper analytical.

Buy / Bring More Than One

It’s your holiday gathering, so you’ll understand your group better than I can. My recommendations may not match up perfectly with your group, so here’s another piece of advice: have a few group-friendly games on hand. A lot of the games are inexpensive, like Set, Golf, and Carcassonne. Chinatown is the only big ticket item on this list, and I think that’s because it’s in between printings right now.

You could spend about $75 or less and be covered for any composition of players, from any reasonable number between four and fourteen.

Posted in: games, review

4 Comments on "Selecting Family Games During the Holidays"

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  1. Adam K. says:

    My family is big on card games. We play a lot of Pinochle and Hand & Foot. As far as pre-made games, we really like almost anything based on contract rummy such as Phase 10, Five Crowns (same people who make Set), and Quiddler (for a word game variant). We’ll also occasionally play Skip Bo (which is just the old card game Spite & Malice in new packaging).

  2. Jarred says:

    Great suggestions. Thanks DrFaulken.

  3. BushPutin says:

    Gotta check out ‘Munchkin’…especially if you have young-ish children (7+)….