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The top 10 family board games for Christmas 2023

For lots of people, no Christmas Day is complete without playing a board game after the turkey and crackers have been cleared away - and the Cambridge Independent has rounded up the best on the market this year.

Board games have come a long way since you last kicked over the Monopoly and stalked off in a huff - now they are much more sophisticated and fun and offer a chance to bring the whole family together.

Karl at Waterstones with his top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith HeppellPicture: Keith Heppell
Karl at Waterstones with his top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith HeppellPicture: Keith Heppell

Whatever your Christmas day celebrations entail - whether it is a huge family gathering with young and old together, or you’re doing a grown-up festive season, there is something to entertain everyone.

We’ve spoken to a games expert at Waterstones bookshop in Cambridge to find out what the big trends are in board games this year and what will offer the best experience for your Yuletide celebrations.

Karl Webb runs regular game events at the Waterstone’s store on Sidney Street in Cambridge, so he knows what players of all ages love best and what should be in everyone’s Christmas stocking.

He said: “When people ask me to recommend a game I always ask a few questions first because it depends on who is playing and what kind of experience they want. First of all I need to know who their youngest player will be - if that’s 20 then it’s wide open, but if your game needs to include a five-year-old that will rule out a lot of suggestions. Still, there are lots of games now that include all ages and are still fun.

“Some people might want a game that they can play for hours, which will give them some true family entertainment. Or some people are just looking for a game that they can play between dinner and late-night movies depending on what their Christmas looks like. I’ve included several examples of both types in my list.

Karl at Waterstones with his top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell
Karl at Waterstones with his top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell

“My number one choice this year is In the Footsteps of Darwin, which has been a huge success at Cambridge game nights because it is so easy to learn. I would recommend that for a Christmas Day game because everyone will be able to start playing quickly and having fun straight away. I’m always an advocate of the simple games that have a lot of decision making in them. And Darwin is one that I can explain quickly and once I leave the table I know people will be playing it all night. They may not understand all of it, but they can take a turn and as the game progresses, see the benefits and the strength of the game rather than having to be bombarded with a whole bunch of rules.

“I’ve also included a brilliant two-player game called Mind Bug - because not everyone has a huge family around them at Christmas.”

Karl’s top 10 games for Christmas 2023:

1. Darwin – 2-5 players, age 8+, 2023, £34.99

Karl at Waterstones with his favourite of his top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell
Karl at Waterstones with his favourite of his top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell

Darwin has impressed me on so many levels, it easily makes my number one slot. The attention to detail on all aspects of production with art components and gameplay is a delight to play. In Darwin you play as Darwinists on the Beagle voyage around the world collecting evidence and specimens from a central board in the form of animals tiles and adding them to your personal journal.

After 12 rounds, whoever scored the most points wins. Animal tiles have icons to collect and reward you for collecting all species of the same type or continent. There is a good amount of game in the 30 to 45 minutes it takes to play it. The rule book does an excellent job explaining the game, and I feel with the Cambridge/Darwin connection is a brilliant new family board game choice this Christmas.

2. Disney Dixit - 4-6 players, age 5+, 2023, £32.99

Dixit has been around since 2008, and has always been one of the most accessible, imaginative and creative family games. Completely devoid of language, the game uses art cards and voting tokens to play. And this year they released a new Disney version with some truly stunning pieces of Disney-inspired artwork.

Players take turns being the role of storyteller to describe one of their cards and places it face down, then all other players also submit a card from their hand – a card that could also meet the description. They are shuffled, then revealed. Players score by guessing correctly which card was the storyteller’s card, and also for each other player tricked into choosing the card they submitted. The game rewards creativity coming up with the clues, and lets you re-enjoy those Disney moments.

3. Sheriff of Nottingham – 3-6 players, age 10+, 2014, £39.99

If your favourite part of Monopoly is the bartering, trading and deal making, while the bankrupting, housing costs and random ‘roll and move’ are unpleasant to you, then Sheriff of Nottingham is the perfect choice.

Players take turns being the role of the sheriff while the others are merchants. Merchants will load their bags with “goods” cards and declare a number of legal “goods” they have inside. The sheriff then needs to decide for each bag which ones they let through and which ones they inspect. The sheriff gets paid if they catch and confiscate illegal goods or have to pay the merchant when they inspect an honest bag. The thing that makes this game so special is the free form deals you can make: you can bribe the sheriff to let your bag through, you can make future promises that are not binding, you can let the sheriff take an item from your bag if they agree to let the rest through. The creativity you get in to making these deals is amazing and allows for great moments.

4. Mind Bug - 2 players, 20 minutes, age 8+, 2023, £17.99

For a self-contained duelling card game, this game is super fun and replayable. The premise is easy: eliminate your opponent by summoning a monster and attacking to deal damage. But what makes this game fantastic is from the 10 cards your random deck is built from, both players have the ability to steal the other player’s play, making a wonderful game of bait and bluff because you won’t know the card you should have stole until it might be too late.

5. Forest Shuffle - 2-5 players, 30-45 minutes, age 10+, 2023, £26.99

Turns are simple draw cards or play a card. But to play a card there is often a cost of discarding other cards to do so. And the cards you discard go to the “clearing area” which others can draw from – and you might have just given up exactly what they were looking for. So you constantly need to figure out what you keep and what you give away to progress your own forest.

6. Ticket to Ride London – 2-4 players, age 6+, 20-30 minutes, 2019, £19.99 / Ticket to Ride Europe – 2-5 players, age 8+, 60-90 minutes, 2008, £44.99

Ticket to Ride is a route-building game, where you play out matching cards to make connections on a map. Your aim is to score your ticket cards by connecting two locations. However, as players make their routes, they block yours and you may be forced to go a longer way, while seeing the end game come closer when someone runs out of pieces to place. This is a must-have/try, and is a fantastic representation of how modern tabletop game design has moved on from the traditionals.

7. Hanabi – 3-5 players, age 10+, 30 minutes, 2010, £10.99

Waterstones top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell
Waterstones top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell

Hanabi takes the co-operative game slot on this list and was the Spiel des Jahres award winner in 2013. It is a card game about making a fireworks display with number cards in five different colours, but also about communication and deduction.

Players need to play number cards one through five in order across five different colours but with the challenge that you hold your cards outwards - you don’t know what cards you are holding. As a team you lose a life/fuse if you play a card out of order, and so you need to spend time tokens wisely to give clues to what others have in their hands for the best success. It is an excellent game of co-operation and deduction. I highly recommend this small tiny stocking filler.

8. Linkee, 3+ Players, 60 minutes, age 8+, 2012, £24.99

Waterstones top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell
Waterstones top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell

If you are looking for a game that you can just sit on a couch with a drink in hand, no table, no dice… then might I interest you in a fun trivia game called Linkee? I tend to run this game like a games show, reading out the questions in an announcer voice and players in their teams are racing to be the first to buzz in the correct answer.

However, the twist is that each question card has four questions and to win that card you need to shout Linkee when you can guess the link between the four answers. The reason this is my favourite trivia game is that you don’t need to know the answer to all four questions, you might be able to guess the link just knowing two or three of the answers. One person might be better at knowledge, another person might be better at reasoning coming up with the link. There is also a Dinkee version which will more inclusive to younger players too.

9. My Gold Mine, 2-6 players, 15-20 minutes, age 5+, 2023, £14.99

Waterstones top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell
Waterstones top 10 Christmas board games . Picture: Keith Heppell

Maybe you just want an easy, small game. This will fill out anyone’s game collection very well. My Gold Mine is a ‘push your luck’ game of collecting as much gold as can without being burned/eaten by the dragon inside the cave. Turns are super quick with the choice of grabbing treasure or running away, but can easily punish or reward greed at any time.

The treasure deck is stacked face up, so you can see what you will collect if choose to. However, if at any point the newly-revealed card is a “dragon” card then the dragon advances one space towards the exit and if lands on a player’s miner they are eliminated that round. Sometimes the dragon cards are spread out in the deck, sometimes there might be two or more dragon cards in a row. Making an uncalculated jump can cause your demise and funny moments. It is a delightfully simple game but timeless in the gambling feel throughout.

10. White Castle, 2-4 players, age 12+, 90-120 minutes, 2023, £34.99

This is easily the most complex game on this list, and likely outside the recommendation of a good family game for Christmas. But it deserves a mention as perhaps the perfect gift for the game enthusiast. It’s new, it’s crunchy with strategy of resource management and actions that chain into bonuses, and at a very reasonable price point as well.

White Castle is a dice placement game. You take turns moving a dice from a garden bridge location to one of the action spaces. Playing a high value dice gives you money, playing a low value dice cost you money but often grants you additional benefits. You want actions that deploy your workers to locations for bonuses and to reveal increasing rewards on your personal board. I have enjoyed my plays of this. You only take nine turns the entire game, but it packs a lot more game than you would expect out of those.

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