For me, the holidays are all about spending time with loved ones. And what better way to enjoy the company than over a game?
My family has a long-standing tradition of playing games whenever we visit each other. It started with my grandfather, a math whiz who adored card games. I grew up playing everything from Hearts to Hand & Foot — and the occasional Yatzhee match.
Games of all kinds provided a makeshift hearth around which all my family members could gather, enjoying friendly competition, chit-chatting, and laughing together as we played. Today, we continue the tradition with games such as the deck-building game Dominion and innovative card game Unstable Unicorns.
Video games are equally fun, although the audience is more limited. When we can, my husband and I enjoy playing video games with his cousins or our mutual friends, either in person or online. The holidays are the perfect time for this.
The key to enjoying game time as a family is finding the perfect game for everyone. That means picking a game that’s easy enough for beginners and children to enjoy, but also engaging enough for the gamers in the group to feel entertained. Better yet is when a game encourages either friendly competition — the keyword here is friendly— or collaboration! And if there is space to catch up with conversation while playing, you have a real winner on your hands.
Here are a few of the games — both physical and digital — that I recommend for families based on my own experience!
8. Jackbox Party Games: Silliest Games for Teens & Adults
If you have a console, tablet, or mobile phone, the Jackbox Party Games are hilarious. Jackbox Games has been releasing these bundles of silly party games since 2014, so there are plenty to choose from. I’ve played them long-distance with friends via our PlayStation 4s, but I’d like to try them on my phone next time I’m with family.
A sense of humor is what makes these games so much fun. One of my favorite mini-games is Drawful, where you draw pictures based on silly prompts. Meanwhile, Quiplash tests your wits with ridiculous prompts such as, “A lesser talked about room in the White House,” or, “An actually beneficial thing to hoard.” Some of the games have been so funny, they’ve had me in tears.
Because some of the prompts are mature in nature, I recommend this one for families with teens (not children) or parties of adults. Expect lots of laughter with these!
7. The Mind: An Easy Game with Mind-Blowing Results
My husband and I recently purchased The Mind, a card game with simple instructions yet mind-blowing mechanics. Each player is dealt a card. They must then place the cards down on the table, one at a time, in numerical order — without saying anything. This requires players to stare deep into each other’s eyes, do a little internal math guesswork, and take a wild risk in laying down their card on top of the last one, hoping it’s the next in the series. If another player has a lower card, you all lose the round. The trick is to see how long you can keep it up. Each round, players get additional cards, until you are playing with several in your hand.
What is strange is how, over time, you begin to read each other’s minds. I won’t give away the secret of how this game works, but it always makes everyone giggle in glee as you start to succeed more and more…
6. Portal 2: A Friendly Partner Game
Sure, you can play it alone, but the video game Portal 2 is best played as a couch co-op game. The physics of blowing holes in walls that connect to other holes is simple for most to pick up. However, as you progress through the game, you must find your way out of rooms that are increasingly challenging to escape. The trick is working with your partner to solve the puzzle of how to make it to the exit.
Portal 2 is a collaborative game with a great sense of humor. I recommend it to anyone who wants to play a video game with a partner for a while. It’s available on PC and — thanks to backwards compatibility — even the newest Xbox consoles.
5. Clue: A Murder Mystery Classic for Cerebral Types
I have been playing the classic board game Clue since I was a kid. Sure, it is a murder mystery — so very young or sensitive children may not be the best audience — but it’s still a lighthearted game with fairly simple instructions. You choose one of handful of larger-than-life characters, and then move your way through a mansion (on the game board) as you collect clues to figure out who the killer is, what weapon they used to commit their crime, and where they did it.
The biggest challenge is keeping rack of clues, which young children may not be able to do easily. It’s recommended for ages eight and up, which vibes with when I started playing it. You can always pair up if a child needs help, too. I recommend this cerebral game for any holiday gathering — and you can even watch the short-but-sweet movie beforehand to learn the characters and have a good laugh.
4. LEGO Video Games: Controller-Swapping Fun for the Whole Family
The LEGO series of video games are fun couch co-op games with a casual drop-in, drop-out style. This makes it fun for families to play together, as you can swap controllers and help each other solve LEGO puzzles.
The best part is that there are so many LEGO games, you can choose the one that most interests your family! Are you all Star Wars nerds? There’s a LEGO game for that. Do you love Batman? You can be him, too. Or maybe you’re more into fantasy, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings — you’ll find themed games there, too!
3. Dominion: A Relaxing Strategy Game
The deck-building card game Dominion is a staple in my household. We have several expansions to mix things up, and we’ve even played online during the pandemic when we couldn’t physically be together.
The idea is pretty simple: you purchase coins, with which you purchase cards that give you all kinds of benefits, and the end goal is to purchase more property than anybody else. How you accomplish that is up to you. Some people buy a lot of money so they can afford more; others buy sneaky attack cards to mess with other players, or find clever cards that offer extra coin to spend or more meanuvers in a turn.
The game feels fairly easy to me, but I have been playing it for a long time. I would recommend this one for older kids, teens, and adults who aren’t afraid of a little learning curve early on. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a blast to play. You can also take your time with your turns, giving you plenty of time to chat or grab a piece of pie to keep you going.
2. Monopoly: A Game for All Ages
How could we leave out the classic board game Monopoly?! This is another game I’ve been playing since I was a kid. Maneuver your game piece around the square board, buying properties and amassing a small fortune as you go. It’s simple enough for kids to play and classic enough for adults to feel nostalgic. Plus, there are so many themed editions of the game now, so you can always mix things up with Super Mario Bros, Scooby-Doo, Disney villains, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars… there’s even an Elf edition for the holidays.
1. Mario Kart: Adrenaline-Fueled Fun for Bigger Parties
If you’re looking for friendly competition with a bit of an adrenaline rush, Nintendo’s Mario Kart is your game. There are tons of editions to play on past Nintendo consoles, but a good recent edition for the Switch would be Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Anyone can pick it up and play it, as it’s a go-kart racing game for up to two people per console — or up to eight via multiplayer! This makes it ideal for larger groups, even if not everyone is a gamer. And if you have more people who want in on the go-kart racing action? Turn it into a tournament, where only the winner of each round moves on to the next race as new people come in to compete (or however you want to do it).
You’ll need the Switch to enjoy this party game — but if you have one, I can’t think of more fitting fun for a group of people to enjoy together. Expect lots of squeals and laughs as players maneuver tight turns at high speeds, with the occasional crash along the way!
What games do you like to play with family and friends? Do you have any gaming plans for the holiday season this year?