25 Board Games Tailored To Your Holiday Crowd, from the Rowdiest to All Ages

December 12, 2016

When you're home for the holidays—or hosting others—what's your tactic for convincing the troops to put down their phones, back away from the TV, and interact with each other? Me, I'm a true believer in the humble board game (with a side of wine). Whether the political conversations are making you batty or the kids are hyped up and you need to just direct their energy somewhere, the board game is here for you.

But which game is right for your group? Here's your game, based on who's around. (And if you don't have the one that's right for you, maybe it's time to upgrade?):

For The Rowdy Bunch


Cards Against Humanity
The self-proclaimed "party game for horrible people." Break this out after the bourbon's on the table and the little ones have retired for the evening.

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Make sure the teen artist who can draw is on your team.

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Top Comment:
“Then there's the bourgeoning class of "but people won't put down their phones" party games like Ellen's Heads Up or the entire Jackbox Party Pack embracing everyone's personal device for some interesting gameplay options.”
— PhillipBrandon

In my house, when you knocked someone off the board you did so in a flamboyant fashion while yelling "SORRY"! We didn't really raise our voices all that often, so it was invigorating. I suggest you try it.

Everyone should have their own signature dice shake, because even if you come in second, you'll look cool doing it.

Somewhat macabre in title, but pretty harmless in practice. You line up a bunch of characters from the French revolution and collect them with action cards—gather the most points (i.e. the most valuable characters), and you win.

For The Readers and Wordsmiths

Moby Dick, The Card Game

Don't say it, don't say it! Until someone guesses it, that is.

But you already own this one, right? Right?

A personal favorite! Roll the alphabetical dice and then race against opponents to scribble out as many words as possible that relate to a list of categories before time is up.

Moby Dick
A new card game for the literature lover, described by the creators as such:

Experience the thrill, the awe and the terror of The White Whale in this card-driven narrative adventure game based on the classic book by Herman Melville. Set sail with 2 to 4 players, and follow Ahab and the crew of the Pequod to their inevitable, fated destruction. Roll custom engraved dice, collect beautiful raw wood oil tokens, and assemble a crew of hardy sailors ready to take on the boundless adventure of the open ocean.

Be your own best Will Shortz, but do it quickly and use up all those tiles!

For The Competitive Set

Trivial Pursuit Master Edition

But only the version with paper money!! Do not even reach for the one with a credit card reader. (P.S. There is also a Star Wars version, my fellow nerds.)

This classic game pits you against each other to find out who committed the perfect—or not so perfect—crime. (Mr. Mustard is usually my alias.)

Trivial Pursuit
Even if you can't complete your pie before someone else does, you can impress your family members with obscure sports facts.

Lots of trash talk until the tower topples right into your beer.

For The Group In It For The Long Haul

The Game of Life
Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan
Never rely on the longest road—it gets you nowhere. And plan for about 3 hours for this one.

Only click on this if you plan to have 5 free hours somehow during the holidays, and you're cool with masquerading as a reptile, bird, or insect.

To be honest, looking at the Risk board gives me anxiety, but it's good for occupying competitive siblings who want you to know just how strategic they are.

The Game of Life
Spinning the wheel is the best part because, at least in my childhood version, it sounds like what I imagine the Wheel of Fortune does.

For All Ages

Chinese Checkers

You're gonna need stretch pants for this one.

One of the easiest card games to grasp right from the beginning—and also one of the easiest to annoy everyone by reversing the order 4 times!

We always put real candy to be won at each new location—good incentive to occupy kiddos while you drink wine in the other room.

Portable enough for distraction in the car and to go right to the table when you arrive.

That buzzer when you hit someone's abs while trying to remove a rib stays with you, even after the game's over.

Get all your pieces to home base before the others do. Or else!

Chinese Checkers
Contrary to what the name suggests, this game is German in origin. Race across the board by hopping other players and making single-space moves to take the other corner. You got this.

You look like you might need some snacks handy with all that playing...

Let's hear it: What is your favorite board game to rally family around? Tell us in the comments below!

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I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


Josh J. December 16, 2016
Here is a list of highly rated games with low to medium complexity. You're welcome.
Josh J. December 16, 2016
Stephanie December 14, 2016
Our family always liked Balderdash. Of course, if you don't want to buy the game, just look up a long, obscure word and have everyone make up a definition. Always induces laughter.
Antoine J. December 13, 2016
For all of you complainers. While I agree there are MUCH better bard games than these. This list mentions holiday crowd which generally consist of family. While I just got into games like Betrayal on House on the Hill, Codenames etc etc a few months ago. Those games are far too advanced and "complex" to the casual board gamer. My parents or grandparents wouldnt be able to keep up while they could handle things like Candyland, Monopoly, Sorry and Scrabble just fine. Which are generally the kinda people youre gonna be like during the holidays which would make up 90% of your audience, so yes the games on this list are 100% fine for THAT crowd. This list isnt meant for board game enthusaist or people who have the capacity (or want) to learn a board game that requires a bit more than the brains and ability to roll dice and count spaces. For example we have an older couple in our boadr game group while they keep up somewhat even the higher stuff is "too much" for them. Like when he played Betrayal on House of the Hill one of them became he traitor (was doing fine up til that point) but wanted to pass it off to someone else (which I gladly excepted cause I like kicking butt) bcause that job/role required quote "too much reading". Im like too much reading? its only 1 page.. 2 tops.... I pray you never have to see a novel, newspaper or magazine if 1-2 pages or words intimidates you lol.
Karen K. December 13, 2016
Thank you- last time i checked this was a food site, not a gaming site! Thank you Samantha, for starting the conversation with your article!!

Oh, and to get back to food- I made the Double-Corn Corn Bread with Fresh Thyme ( on this site recently and it was delicious :-)
Eric H. December 13, 2016
The reason people take exception to this list is that most of these games are aggressively bad with broken mechanics, or in CandyLand's case, there is no game at all. Twister hasn't been a thing since the mid 1960s. Risk is a good choice if you hate your family. It's like telling your guests that you are playing video games and bringing out an Atari 2600. Fine for 1980, but there are thousands of better options if you bothered to look at all. There are at least a hundred games that are light, fast and easy to play that are readily available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon or Target. Candy Land is particularly insulting. Even as a kid, you knew that wasn't even a game, just colored cardboard. It doesn't take much money or time to get a good game.
Replace all of the games mentioned with Charades (free) and card games and you'd be better off. This list is an excellent list of games you should throw away as soon as possible, not something to bring out at parties.
List of games and much better replacements that are cheap and easy to find::
Trivial Pursuit --> Wits and Wagers (doesn't penalize you for not knowing trivia)
Yahtzee --> King of Tokyo ( like Yahtzee but with monsters and is actually fun)
Sorry, Monopoly --> Ticket to Ride ( easy, set driven fun with the ability to screw your neighbor)
Parchisi, Chinese Checkers --> Literally any other game. These games have been replaced by better options since the turn of the 20th century.
Candy Land --> Why do you hate your kids? Can be replaced with a Full frontal lobotomy but might be easier to replace with Animal upon Animal or any kids game made since 2000.
Settlers of Catan is the best game on the list, but even that is outdated and it has been around only 10-ish years. (Now just called Catan btw) Also, not an easy game to teach. Codenames is easy , cheap and can be found everywhere and was last year's game of the year. A lot of fun that people can come and go from the game without ruining it.

It may be a food site, but it's a game article and I feel sorry for you if you are still playing those games listed in it.
Marty W. December 13, 2016
@Karen K -- No excuse for bad journalism. Even if it's a food site, these recommendations are SO BAD, the author clearly spent ZERO time doing any research on the topic. There are a TON of great party and family oriented games out there that have been published in the last 10 years (as Eric has already noted).
David L. December 14, 2016
Code names is not advanced or complex. Played it with the inlaws who aren't gamers and they quickly picked it up and wanted to play it again, and the mother in law is nearly 80. Ticket to ride is also no more complex than monopoly. Unfortunately articles like this reinforce the idea that there is nothing than the old tired options out there
M December 14, 2016
@Eric Hansen Your reasoning is not mine, for one. People like what they like. Your tastes are not everyone's. I will happily play Yahtzee just as much as Zombie dice.

The problem *I* have with the list is that it's the gaming equivalent of suggesting beers you should try and offering up Budweiser, PBR, and Coors, instead offering any of the many microbrews and international options that people DO NOT know about. These options are, for the most part, known and established, and they completely ignore the prevalent and accessible industry that is currently popular and needing of guides to break the holiday gaming monotony.
Stephanie December 14, 2016
I'd bite (or click) on a list of card game recommendations for various groups (mixed ages, drinking adults, 4 or fewer people). "1 deck, 3 parties, endless games"
M December 16, 2016
@Stephanie Many options below, many for smaller numbers, most suitable for many ages. Would also suggest browsing Wil Wheaton's Tabletop, as he has showcased a bunch.

Phase 10 - Uno meets rummy.
Perpetual Commotion - speed solitaire w/ ppl
Sushi Go - pick a card and pass it on, trying to get best matches for points
Hanabi - solitaire w/ ppl, except everyone but you can see your cards and give hints
Fluxx - tons of themes, all rules come from the cards and a basic draw-play structure
Love Letter - quick & simple game for a few, drawing & playing to try to get to highest point card
Haggis - newish game, old-school mechanic in line with rummy/bridge/euchre/others
Dixit - has a board, but is basically a creative guess-who card game for any # of ppl
Gloom - creative storyteller game with cool, see-through overlay cards
Once Upon a Time - storyteller but less gloomy
Munchkin - many themes to arm and search cards, bit more challenge, groups
Chrononauts - a little more involved time travel
Jaipur - 2-player card collecting/swapping
Noueni - match cards to design on board
Resistance - figure out the spy, interactive

And many, many more. See also: card building games like Dominion for a bit more challenge
Anna G. December 13, 2016
These are in no particular order, but are games I have had success with non gamers.

Qwirkle a tile laying game that is 6+. It can be as simple or more complex depending on the players. Easy to learn and teach.

Sheriff of Nottingham is a bluffing game where you try to get goods past the sheriff. It can get loud, but a good loud.

Resistance another loud game for 5 + players. Uncover the spies among you before they sabotage the missions.

Joking Hazard is a comic based cards against humanity. Lot less duds, and while crude it isnt as gross. Much easier to play with the inlaws.

Ticket to Ride with the 1910 expansion. I like this game because it keeps everyone in until the end. Your goal is to complete train routes and there is a lot of player interaction if it is desired.

Smallwood is a risk like game that doesn't take forever, has a good theme, and is easy to play.

Codewords a word game that people who like games like mad gabs should like.

Potion Explosion is one of myour new favorites. You try to complete potions but using a mechanic kind of like bejeweled or candy crush.

Betrayal at house on the hill is a cooperative game where you explore a haunted house together until the haunting happens. One person turns traitor.

Five Tribes has a mancola mechanic that makes it different. My grandparents in law loved this game.

The tortoise and the hare is a racing game that is fun for a large variety of ages. You have bets on the winners but don't want those bets to be discovered but others either.

There is at least a few.
Anna G. December 13, 2016
I forgot King of Tokyo.
David L. December 13, 2016
If you were suggesting a car to hire to drive to your family do would you suggest a Model T Ford? No well Monopoly is the same age and games have advanced as much as cars in the same period of time. For a quick idea look at the winners of Speil de Jahrr over the last decade or two. Even Catan is dated by modern standards (and only takes an hour to play). Try Thurn and Taxis or Codenames or if you want give one of the latest hot models a spin try Great Western Trail, Terraforming Mars or Feast for Odin although these are only for those who want their little grey cells challenged
Nando December 13, 2016
This woman is clueless about board game. It is a shame that posts like this give a terrible name to the hobby.. by the way, Evolution for 5 hours? LOL
someonewhobakes December 13, 2016
Oh wow, did you create a Food52 profile just so you could rag on someone's article? At least provide a constructive comment so we can all benefit from your expertise. This is a positive, cooperative community of people trying to be helpful to one another. There is no place in the world for more negativity right now, so please find something more productive to do with your time.
Amanda W. December 13, 2016
Also the description of evolution is misleading. It looks like one written from looking at a promo picture for it.

Evolution is a game where you each manage one or more species to eat as much good as possible (mark of evolutionary success). You do this by playing various trait cards to make your animal smarter/more resistant to predator species/more lethal predators.

Card against Humanity is a non-member these days, but some people enjoy it. Punchline Mad Libs. Joking Hazard shows promise, but I haven't cracked it open with a group yet.
Anna G. December 13, 2016
I had a good time with my nongaming gamer inlaws with Joking Hazard. Honestly it is a lot better than cards againist humanity, imho. There were a lot less duds. I haven't played evolution, but am pretty sure it doesn't take 5 hours. ;) This list frustrated me because there are a ton of go games that are easy to find that are great. Even things like qwirkle, or ticket to ride are great intro games.
Amanda W. December 13, 2016
Huh, it deleted my previous reply.

Nice to hear about joking hazard, my friends love the webcomic it's based off of, so maybe we'll finally be able to play with it soon~
Anna G. December 13, 2016
This is the worst list for games I have seen. The person who compiled this has no interest in this hobby or idea about the many many great games out there.
Saphari December 13, 2016
This list is positively abysmal and could not have been compiled except by someone who knows absolutely nothing about games. Evolution is literally the only decent game on the list, except that compared to the rest of what's available to gamers today, it's aggressively mediocre, and only takes five hours to play if everyone at the table are in persistent vegetative states.

Do yourselves a favor, pop over to and educate yourselves.
J December 12, 2016
Terrible list
sexyLAMBCHOPx December 12, 2016
My favorite game to play is right,left, center? Anyone heard of the dice game? It's great for after dinner, drinking wine and fast-moving.
Stephanie December 14, 2016
Yes! It's my boyfriend's family's favorite. We play with quarters - and with 14 people, that pocket change adds up! Also, good for a mixed ages crowd.
sexyLAMBCHOPx December 14, 2016
We play with dollars, 3 each. We have a huge family so the winner really wins big!
Simon L. December 12, 2016
Sam, nice article but Evolution takes under 50 minutes not 5 hrs. First games maybe 150 minutes. Second game a
60 minutes. 3rd game, ordered a pint before and pint after and the time difference on the receipts was 48 mins
M December 12, 2016
Are the likes of Clue, Monopoly, Uno, et al the types of boardgames people need tips for tailoring to their guests? After decades as the boardgame mainstays, I'd say not.

With the rise of boardgames, there's no shortage of better, more modern, less expected options out there.

Food fiends can play Sushi Go, Takenoko, or (food in name only) Haggis... Drinkers can play Red Dragon Inn. Creative types who hate a lot of rules can play Dixit. People who want to have fun even if they lose can play Flick Em Up or Colt Express. Guests who hate playing against other people can try a cooperative game like Forbidden Island or Desert, or Castle Panic. Speedy people could play Perpetual Commotion. All ages can try to Survive. Those with good memories can try Hanabi. People itching for a bit more challenge, or are geekier, could try Dominion or Lords of Waterdeep. And on and on.....
Karen K. December 12, 2016
We also played Sushi Go recently- it was fun, but I preferred exploding kittens for mixed groups of younger and older, as there is a lot more strategy involved in Sushi Go.
Amanda W. December 13, 2016
Maybe you should write a list and submit it so we can have a better sharable list :D
Thiago J. December 12, 2016
The editor must have some really competitive friends to take such a long time playing Catan or evolution! The box says they can both be played between 60-90mins and I find that pretty accurate...

I love the suggestion of boardgames for the holidays! They have become so accessible and fun nowadays that I would encourage anyone reading to venture a bit further and get ticket to ride, Carcassonne, sushi Go, Coup or Pandemic at a nearby target or Barnes and Noble.
Samantha W. December 12, 2016
You know it Thiago! We try to make the Catan board very difficult for a good challenge. Your additions are great! Thanks for the suggestions.
Sam1148 December 12, 2016
If you're having a evening with just yourself and your SO, try some of card game that work well with just two people The Monopoly card game and Milles Bornes work well for two.

hardlikearmour December 12, 2016
Codenames is pretty fun -- we've played with family and friends a few times since Thanksgiving. It's pretty easy to learn, fairly quick to play, and good for up to 8 players.
Samantha W. December 12, 2016
Oh I'm gonna have to look that one up! Thanks for the suggestion!
hardlikearmour December 12, 2016
Check out The Resistance: Avalon and Telestrations while you're at it. They're both fun games for multiple players.
Karen K. December 12, 2016
This thanksgiving, We played exploding kittens with grown children, grandkids and grandparents and had a blast- simple game of luck and (if you are lucky) strategy. Brings out the best in sibling, parent/child rivalry and lots of laughs -
Samantha W. December 12, 2016
What a name!! I like kittens and strategy so maybe it's time to invest in this one.
Olivia B. December 12, 2016
I love that game! It's easy to learn and fast and hilarious.
Simon L. December 12, 2016
Buy the expansions for code names :) plus the same for Kittens, called nsfw version, then Imploding kittens and now my wife bought the cat (cone) collar as well :0)
Karen K. December 12, 2016
Yes, Simon- I bought the expansion kit after we played it over Thanksgiving, so we can play again (6 people vs 5) over Christmas!
PhillipBrandon December 12, 2016
Two schools of thought here: Do you grab the easy-entry "party" games, because there's all sorts coming over, and you just want to orchestrate some structured interaction? Grab Apples to Apples if there's kid,s and Cards against Humanity if there's college students.

On the other hand, is this the only time you get to meet up with some of your family who share fondness for some particular higher-learning-curve? Maybe Pandemic or Powergrid make an appearance.

Pass the Pigs can be scaled just about infinitely, while in a small group, I'm fond of Mille Borne, which is simple to understand but esoteric enough to be a little interesting.

Then there's the bourgeoning class of "but people won't put down their phones" party games like Ellen's Heads Up or the entire Jackbox Party Pack embracing everyone's personal device for some interesting gameplay options.
Samantha W. December 12, 2016
Love these suggestions, PhillipBrandon! I LOVE Pass the Pigs -- perfect for just about any type of person.