'Tis The Season:
Holiday Gaming Tips

Dec 07, 2015

Ah, the holidays! Extra time off from work, relatives coming from out of town and eating good food. There's also spending lots of time in the kitchen cooking said food, scrounging space to accommodate everyone, as well as running around like the crazy holiday host you've become. Wait, when did this stop being fun? Now these folks are wondering what there is to do between rounds of snacks, Hallmark channel movies, and asking for the third time how Aunt Marge's surgery went.

Turkey Holiday Stock Image 0

Give the family something else to focus on besides Turkey and Politics...for everyone's sake.

As the season of turkey, tinsel, and trees closes in, many of us may find ourselves in similar predicaments. Whether with friends or family, it's going to be your responsibility to make sure every is having a good time, and keeping everyone happy can often be a challenge. I might not have the best recipe for roasted turkey, but I can at least offer some advice to help smooth over your festivities. Some tips for gaming over the holidays!

A little note before we get started: I blitz through the names of several boards games in the course of this article. If any of them are unfamiliar but sound interesting, and you'd like to know more about them, I've linked the names to their respective BoardGameGeek pages for easy reference, or our own articles if we've covered them.

Old school family plays a board game

It's not the 1960's anymore: games of all types can be enjoyed at family events.

Tip #1: Know your group. Without getting too philosophical, lets take a moment to ask why playing games around the holidays is such a great idea. Yes, games have the potential to break up boring stretches of time, but more than that you're probably looking for more ways to connect to those around you. Gaming is a social activity, and anything that gives you the chance to talk and laugh with others is going to be a huge hit. With that in mind, pick the game that's appropriate to your crowd. If you've got a mostly casual group, or have lots of people who don't really doboard games, you'll want something that can be taught quickly, with few rules. Games like Sheriff of Nottingham are ideal for these situations; quick to teach, and lots of player interaction.

Consider how much table space you have available and how many people are interested. Games that seat large numbers of people with relatively simple rules, referred to as “party games”, can save the day here. Apples to Apples is one such game many have heard of, and its picture-based cousin Dixit happens to be a favorite of my own family. If your group doesn't mind a little more head-to-head competition, Spyfall , The Resistance , and One Night Ultimate Werewolf should have everyone roaring, with a drink in one hand and some cards in the other. Some of these games can even be played without a table, if everyone's gathered across the couches and armchairs of your living room. Of course, if your group doesn't mind games slightly heavier on the bits and rules, feel free to gauge the mood and pick something more involved. Might I recommend Dead of Winter? It's sometimes fun to make people feel more appreciative of their holiday meals while they play out being a starved colony of humans, fighting off the zombie apocalypse.

Dixit Cards

Dixit cards are so very very pretty - always a plus.

Tip #2: Know your rules. If you'll indulge me for a moment: it's perfectly acceptable to want to rip the plastic wrap off the new game you found under the Christmas tree and learn the rules as you go, but please for the sake of everyone else that's going to try it with you, please take some time to read the rules first. I've had other anxious onlookers ask “when can we play” over and over, but staunchly I've told them time and again “give me 30 minutes to read the rules first”. I'll admit you might be able to get away with “winging it” with a group of fellow gamers, but unless you're sure everyone is going to be collectively learning the rules with you, do them a favor and do your homework. Nothing is more jarring than having to stop the action for the third time to consult the manual. Frequent rules questions or disputes can also put the brakes on a merry gaming session. If you're not comfortable reading rulebooks, check YouTube. Lots of people, including the game designers themselves, put up “learn to play” videos that you can either watch solo or together!

Tip #3: Be chill. Haven't you worked hard enough as a host already. Now is the time to sit back and let things take their course. On a serious note, people are going to play how they want to play. Let them play. That's the point, after all. If you micromanage, if you hammer people with rules technicalities, if you freak out when someone knocks a glass over, that will be the highlight of the evening. Gaming with friends and family is all about creating narratives and stories people will look back on. Let those be the memories they take away. It's a short tip, but a vitally important one. Relax, and have a good time with everyone else.

Tip #4: Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Ultimately, there is a time and a place for a good game. Maybe your relatives are having a good time catching up over drinks... or maybe everyone is already mad thanks to what Uncle Fred said after two glasses of wine. When people are tired or already engaged in something else, it's probably the wrong time to suggest a group activity. Some of the biggest mistakes I've made were in trying to bring games out that I was excited for when others weren't on the same page. Gauge the room, and when in doubt, ask around. Also, have faith in people! Most people enjoy variety, and while they might not be ready for a round of games at this moment, they may later on if you let them come to it naturally.

Avalon board game box art

The Resistance comes in several versions, and Avalon adds a King Arthur theme and powers. Choose the game right for your family!

Well there you have it, and for all you video gamers out there, these same rules can be applied. Pick something appropriate and break it out at the right time. Or leave it out in a “gaming area” and let people cycle through. Wyatt wrote an article about one of his favorite party video games, Knight Squad and his last shindig had people cheering from the living room for hours with it. Some families still love the idea of Rock Band just because they can all jam along...while others might like watching their nephew or niece complete a story-filled adventure like Child of Light, which might be great for younger children. Give your holiday gaming a few moments of thought, and it can be something that brings the family together, not divide them.

Entertaining during the holidays doesn't have to be as hard as wrapping gifts. Just remember to reflect, plan out what might work best, and then put others before yourself... right before you crush them in your game of choice.

Like the ideas we have about improving the holidays? Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get more nifty tips on how to enjoy being a gaming nerd. Happy Holidays!

Adam Factor