Christmas season is here again. If you are a family with children, games are a great gift idea. Yet sadly, many of the larger stores continue to fill their shelves with board games that may not hold your family's interest after a few plays. My advice remains that a $20-$40 game that will be played over and over again over the years is a far better value than a $10 game that gets played twice and then gathers dust on the shelf. Many of these gems will not be at your local big box store, but can be found at your local friendly game store, or available online if you don't have a dedicated boardgame store in your area.
Why is this list so short? Because the fun family games I recommended last year are just as fun now as they were a year ago. This is one of the reasons why games can be great family presents if you choose the right ones that your family will want to play throughout every season of the year. So please feel free to also look back at last year’s list for more recommendations.
Roll For It – This game comes in either a red box or a purple box. Both are identical, except that they have four different colors of dice. One box supports up to four players, while adding the second box expands the game to 5-8 players. Players roll their 6 dice to try to match combinations shown on 3 face-up cards. You may leave dice on cards from turn to turn, in the hopes that somebody else doesn’t win that card and its points before you.
(2-4 Players, 20 minutes, Ages 8 and up)
Battle Sheep- The sheep are out to rule the pasture. Your sheep checkers begin all stacked on top of each other in the same space. On your turn, move as many as you want in any one direction. But they must move as far as they can – either to the edge of the pasture, or until they run into other sheep. The goal is for your sheep to occupy the most pasture spaces. We added this game to our family collection after a publisher I was working with on one of my own designs recommended it as an example of how a light theme can add character to an abstract game. It’s a keeper.
(2-4 Players, 15 Minutes, Ages 7 and up)
Camel Up - This game comes out often on our family game table. You are betting on a camel race. You triumph if you can make the smartest bets to earn the most money. The 5 camels stack on top of each other – whenever a camel moves, any camels on top move with it. On your turn, you can bet on which camel will be leading at the end of the current leg, or bet on the final first and last place finishers. If you don’t feel like betting on your turn, you can roll the dice to move one of the camels, or try to manipulate the outcome with oasis/desert tiles that send any camels that land on them forwards or backwards a space.
2014 Spiel des Jahres Winner
(2-8 Players, 30 Minutes, Ages 8 and up)
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival - You are decorating a lake with floating lanterns of 7 different colors. Every turn you lay a tile to float more lanterns on the lake. Each new tile gives everyone new color lantern cards corresponding to the color facing each player. You earn points for collecting 4 of a kind, 3 pairs, or one of each 7 colors.
(2-4 Players, 30 Minutes, Ages 8 and up)
Casual Game Revolution’s list of recommended casual games is another great resource for fun family Christmas presents.