Games for the Holiday Season

by Dec 10, 2019Olaf's Corner0 comments

The holidays are coming!..

Soon our schedules will be filled with events that bring us closer to the people we love. Families, friends and co-workers will gather to enjoy each other’s company. No matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Chinese New Year or simply enjoy the festivities of the winter season, it can be a time of togetherness. And of course, there will be gifts. Lots of gifts. Gift giving provides us with an opportunity to show our love and appreciation to the people that matter to us most. The thought behind a gift is usually more important than its cost. However, in a digitized world, where it is easier than ever to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of gift choices, it can be difficult to find the ‘right thing’ to communicate that thought.

I have always enjoyed giving gifts and, in my experience, board games can be a great option for any occasion. Not only are board games a physical representation of the thought behind the gift, they are fairly bursting with potential for bringing the experience of togetherness to more than just the giver and recipient. By default, board games resonate with the spirit of the holiday season as they encourage us to connect with the people around us in a meaningful way. So, even buying a board game for myself as a treat has the ripple effect of extending the joy of the game to those I choose to play it with. Overall, board games provide us with a win-win situation (pun intended).

They also have another built-in benefit: Almost everyone loves a board game. Most of us have warm memories of playing games with friends or family in our younger days. Games remind us of a time when life was simpler, and entertainment included spending actual face time with the people around us.

With an ever-growing number of titles to choose from, there are board games to suit almost every configuration. From solo-play and 2-player games to large group and team games. They also vary in style. Game mechanics can include strategy, problem solving, or simple and light entertainment for all ages. No matter who you are and what your interests might be, there’s a game for you.

Games also make great items to bring along to a party. Think about it, most people will bring the obligatory bottle of wine, but a board game will be noticed and remembered. If that is something you would like to do, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the rules of the game beforehand, so you can explain it to the group if asked.

So, let me recommend some great games to enhance the holiday experience.


Games for Gatherings and Parties

Board games can be the perfect companion for a party, family gathering or work-related event. Games for these occasions should be both easy to teach and easy to learn, as well as encourage interaction. They should also be able to accommodate larger player counts. Ideally around 6 people or more. Some games can be played in teams and can entertain up to 15-20 people. Here are some that have been successful for me:


4-12 players, ages 10 and up

Concept is very addictive but has an extremely simple set of rules. Players are presented with a large game board that is filled with different icons. The goal is to guess words through the association of icons. Players choose a word or phrase from a card, which the other players will be required to guess. They give clues by placing pieces judiciously on the available icons on the game board. The combination of the chosen icons should represent the word.
i.e. Animal+Flying+Small+Yellow+Black = Bee!
This game can also be played as teams and can accommodate pretty much any size of group.


3-7 players, ages 8 and up.

Winner of 2019’s German Game of the Year Award!
The perfect addition to any family gathering. An extremely simple yet elegantly designed game for groups of up to 7. Each player attempts to guess a hidden word using one-word clues provided by the other players. But be careful, if 2 or more of the clues are the same, they will be cancelled out and the guesser will not be able to see them.


4-10 players, ages 10 and up

A thrilling movie trivia game where 2 teams face off with the goal of remembering more movie details than the other. Game play allows for 2 teams, each of which can be expanded to accommodate a larger number of players.


3-7 players (or more in teams), ages 10 and up

Trivia games are a popular board gaming genre. However, they can be intimidating for some people. Wits & Wagers offers a great solution. It is a trivia game where all the questions are related to numbers (i.e. what is the ‘Height of a famous building’ or ‘average income of a particular celebrity’). Each player writes down their best guess and their answers are arranged in ascending order. Then, everyone bets on the answer that they think is closest to the actual number without going over. In other words, you don’t win by knowing the answer, you win by being closest to the answer. A wonderful game that gets the crowd involved immediately.


Stocking Stuffers

Just want to get something small to put a smile on someone’s face? There is a plethora of titles out there with a price tag of less than $20CAD. However, just because they are on the less costly side of things does not mean they are lesser games. Here are some great options:


2-5 players, ages 8 and up 

This is an optical illusion game. Cards have 4 different colors on them in different shapes. The players have to align them correctly based on the color in play and the percentage of that color on the cards. If you doubt someone’s assessment you can challenge and get points if you are correct. The back of the cards will tell you the exact percentage. Addictive and easy to learn.


2-4 players, ages 10 and up 

A light strategy game with a simple rule set and the goal of delivering a love letter to a Princess. Playing their cards one at a time, players use the abilities of key characters to outwit their opponents. Players must utilize each character’s special skill to avoid being caught and successfully deliver their love letter to the Princess. Once a player acquires a set number of ‘favor tokens’, they win the hand of the Princess.


1-12 players, ages 6 and up

Even though one could categorize this as more of an ‘activity’ than a game, Story Cubes can provide hours of fun. The game comes in a small box containing 9 special dice. Each die has 6 different pictures on it. Players roll the dice and then must create a story using the images shown on each of the 9 die. A game of imagination, silliness and laughter. Comes in different versions including Classic, Actions, Voyages and Mix.


2-5 players, ages 7 and up

A very simple but addictive card game. Each player has 15 cards numbered 1-15. All players simultaneously play one of their cards hoping to gain the points card in the center of the table. Highest card wins, but now that card is out of the game. The key is to time the play of your highest cards strategically because if 2 or more players play the same number they cancel each other out.


Games for Kids

Board games make great holiday gifts for children. They encourage social interaction, promote logical thinking and problem solving. Most family games can be played starting ages 8 and up but there are many games that are specifically designed for even younger players, from ages 4 and up. Many of them feature game mechanics that are just as interesting for the adults as they are for the child. Here are some of my personal favorites for an audience of ages 4 to 8.


2-12 players, ages 4 and up

Based on the adult version of CONCEPT, CONCEPT KIDS uses a similar mechanism but instead of guessing WORDS from a card, players draws cards with ANIMALS depicted on them and try to guide the other players into guessing that animal. They do this by placing tokens on a large central game board that features a lot of different icons, each describing a different aspect of the animal (fur or scales, where it lives, what it eats, it’s color, etc.). The combination of all the tokens hints at the animal on the card. A wonderful game for ages 4 and up, which can be enjoyed by adults as well.


2-6 players, ages 6 and up

This is a classic European style game that impresses with its colorful board. Players attempt to find one of many trees on the board matching the symbol on a previously revealed ‘fairy tale’ card. Whoever finds it first can try to claim it. Everyone tries to remember as many trees as possible in order obtain cards more quickly. A wonderful introduction to modern board gaming for ages 4 and up that also offers additional rules for adults or older children.


2-6 players, ages 4 and up

Clack is the perfect game activity for kids looking for an opportunity to release some pent-up energy. 36 magnetic discs are laid out on the table, each with a colored symbol on its face. A player rolls the two dice, one showing colors, the other symbols, and then everyone simultaneously tries to grab any discs showing the colored symbol determined by the die roll. The more discs you stack, the more points you earn. A fun filled game with great components for ages 4 and up.


2-4 players, ages 7 and up

Seldom has a game with such a simple rule set impressed me as much as this one. Players try to move their sheep across the game board in order to claim as many spaces as possible. On their turn, a player divides their stack of sheep and moves half of them across the board in a straight line until they are stopped either by the edge of the board or an opposing player’s stack of sheep. The game ends when no more moves are possible. Whoever occupies the most spaces wins. A wonderful abstract strategy game for ages 7 and up. It can also be enjoyed by adults looking for a light strategy game.


Family and Light Strategy Games

If you enjoy strategic play but want to avoid an overwhelming set of rules, there are many great games available. Many of these games are designed to appeal to a broader audience and can be played either as a family or with friends. A good game is a gift that keeps on giving for many years to come and can provide the recipient with hours of fun and great memories. Most family games offer a player count of 2-5 players and a playtime of about an hour with the bonus quality of re-playability. Here are my recommendations for high-quality board games, which offer interesting game mechanics.


2-6 players, ages 8 and up

Players participate in a competition between ‘villages’ to see who can be the first to cross the river which divides them. Each player chooses 5 action cards from their hand and ‘programs’ their pawn’s moves. Then everyone reveals their first card and completes their chosen action in order. This process continues until all 5 cards have been played. Action choices include placing rocks, building a path or moving their pawn. The game features beautifully designed components and a relatively simple rule set which provides many interesting strategic choices.


2-4 players, ages 8 and up

Winner of last year’s German Game of the Year Award, Azul is a remarkable abstract strategy game in which players try to collect points by filling different rows with similarly colored tiles. Players take turns drafting colored tiles from suppliers to their player board. Later in the round, players score points based on how they’ve placed their tiles. Extra points are scored for specific patterns and for completing tile sets; wasted supplies harm the player’s score. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Azul has all the makings of a modern classic and becomes more interesting the more you play it.


2-8 players, ages 8 and up

This game is less about strategy and more about luck. Players bet on a camel race that is happening on the center board. They get rewarded for predicting either the leader of a leg of the race or the overall winner. The interesting twist is that the camels can be stacked. So, if a camel ends it’s turn on the same space as another it is stacked on top and the lower one will carry it when it moves. This makes it very difficult to properly predict the outcome of the race. Because of its popularity, the game is currently enjoying a second edition that has stunning artwork and beautiful components. It is also worth mentioning that this game accommodates up to 8 people making it a great choice for larger groups of families or friends.


1-6 players, ages 14 and up

A charming and beautiful game that uses a variant of bingo as its core mechanism. Players attempt to build a town on their personal player boards. Once a player is able to place certain tokens in the correct formation, they may exchange those for a building that will earn them points. Every player gets the opportunity to dictate which color token can be placed. Each game can feature a different set of buildings which makes it very re-playable.


“Just Because’ or Bring-Along Gifts

The holidays are an opportunity to say, ‘I appreciate you’ to an acquaintance, landlord, teacher, delivery person or client, and compact, portable games can be a great choice in these cases. The trick here is to give a game that’s easy to learn and which can appeal to a broader crowd of players. Here are some options I’m considering this year.


2-6 players, ages 10 and up

A fast reaction card game that gets your adrenaline pumping. Each player draws a card from the center pile and reveals it. If the symbol on the drawn card matches the symbol on another player’s card, both players must immediately face-off with one another and try to give an example of the person, place, or thing on the card before the other has a chance to do the same. If you blurt out a correct answer first, you win the other player’s card and the card drawing continues.


2-6 players, ages 10 and up

A classic card game in which players place their cards in ascending order next to one of 4 rows of cards in play. If you can’t place a card, you have to take all the negative point cards from that row. Simple to learn but provides hours of fun for groups of many sizes.


2-4 players, ages 8 and up

A light strategy game that offers a cool version of dominos. Players try to collect points by building a kingdom in a 5 by 5 grid. Players choose their tiles in an order that changes each round. Easy to learn and pretty to look at.


2-4 players, ages 6 and up

A popular game for a good reason. Players begin the game with six blocks. The starting player places blocks of a single matching attribute (color or shape but not both) on the table. After that, a player adds blocks next to at least one previously played block. The blocks must all be played in a line and match either the color or shape of the previous block without being a duplicate. Place them efficiently and you will be rewarded greatly. A neat combination of scrabble and dominos.

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