Who Goes First? Our Holiday Board Games Guide

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Parties, gatherings, and family get-togethers are on the way, what do you do after all the eating and gift-giving? Wrong!

No electronics! Put those phones away (unless you’re taking pictures) and pull out a game. These choices are perfect for whatever group you have — big, small, or solo — and they’re great for gift-giving. Board games and puzzles are gifts that truly keep on giving all year round: affordable, fun, memory-makers that force players tall and small to use their heads.

Mr. Lister’s Quiz Shootout

target.com • $19.99

Ages 14 and up • 5+ many players

One person serves as quizmaster Mister Lister, the rest split into two teams. Mister Lister reads off a question, such as: “There are nine common ways to prepare an egg. List ’em.” The teams take turns offering up answers, the first to three correct answers wins a drink card. If the teams tie, they do their best to answer an impossible question, for instance: “How many minutes does it take to boil an ostrich egg?” The closest to the correct answer wins the drink card. The first team to collect five different drink cards wins. Creator Big Potato Games offers a free app (available via the App Store or Google Play) that provides extra question cards and shootout sound effects for even more fun.

Engineering Ants is fantastic because it’s cooperative — players play with, not against, each other. This is perfect for kids who are, let’s say, not great when they lose a game. And, of course, it also teaches/bolsters the key skills of teamwork and joint problem solving. The game is also STEM-based: Players have to work together to help three blocked ants overcome threatening obstacles. They are given a series of materials to build the ants’ escape route, encouraging them to think outside the box and work together to free the insects.

Molecube & Skewb Xtreme

recenttoysusa.com • $19.99 & up

Ages 9 and up • 1 player

Symmetrical from all angles and sporting 10 colors, the Skewb Xtreme challenges gamers to solve the puzzle by twisting diagonally in any direction until they get a solid color on all 28 facings, putting their spatial reasoning, logic, and strategy skills to the test. The Molecube is a smooth, spinning, six-sided Sudoku puzzle that glides through your hands. Your mission: Get the nine unique colors on each side. These are challenging puzzles for those who have already mastered other famous cubes and will keep 3D puzzle fans entertained — and thinking — for quite some time.

Yamslam is a fast-moving game in which players roll dice three times and choose the chip that best matches their roll. After all the chips are claimed, the player with the most chip points wins. It’s easy to learn and start playing right away. The game comes in a tin, the bottom of which sports a built-in dice tray surrounded by the chip stacks. This makes Yamslam very portable and perfect to take to a friend’s or family member’s home. Thanks to the dice tray, Yamslam is also a good choice for those who like to roll dice, as well as little ones whose dice never stay on the table when rolled.

Sushi Go Party

gamewright.com • $19.95

Ages 8 and up • 2-8 players

Sushi Go Party is a deluxe edition of Gamewright’s earlier (and very popular) Sushi Go card game. It offers up the same

basic game, but now with a game board, wood tokens, and a variety of new cards that expand the number of players (previously 5, now 8) and gaming strategies. Gamewright calls Sushi Go (and Party) a “pick-and-pass” game. You receive the hand of the player to your right, keep the card that best enhances your hand/sushi platter, pass the rest of the cards to the player on your left, and once more receive the hand of the player on your right. Players keep picking and passing until there are no more cards to pass. Your object is to assemble the best sushi platter (i.e., the highest number of points). It’s easy to learn, and the new variety of cards in this Party edition offer more strategy and replay value. Each game lasts only three rounds, so it moves quickly. Sushi Go Party is a great intro to the genre of card-drafting games for kids and very fun for adults. Plus, the artwork is super cute.

Clue Master is a Suduko-like deductive reasoning and logic game that uses colors and symbols instead of numbers. Your mission: to help Tippy the dog unlock the door to his doghouse by placing the symbols (dog bone, bowl, and ball) in the correct grid order. The game provides clues that get you started, leaving players to use their brain to figure out the rest. The game board, directions, and challenges (ranging from beginner to expert) are spiral-bound into one book, and the nine symbols are magnets, so they stay put in this compact package. Clue Master is a unique way to develop the critical skill of deductive reasoning in kids — and adults!


blueorangegames.com • $14.99

Ages 7 and up • 2-4 players

Nada is a fun, fast-paced dice game. Roll all 36 dice at once and be the first to spot matching symbols between the 18 orange and 18 white dice. Spot them first, shout out the symbol (such as, “Ghost!”), and you get to grab all the Ghost dice. If there are no matches, shout “Nada!” and grab all the dice. However, if you shouted too soon and missed a match, you miss the next round. Whoever grabs the most dice over three rounds is the winner. Games move quickly and there are three different ways to play. The dice come with a travel bag for easy storage and on-the-go fun.

From creator Alan R. Moon and Days of Wonder, Ticket to Ride is one of the most popular titles in the board game world, with a multitude of expansions. First Journey is its latest edition, designed to introduce the game, at a slightly scaled-down level, to elementary-aged kids. Each player’s goal is to build train routes between major cities across the U.S. Build the most routes and you win. It’s a great introductory strategy game for kids, easy to learn and simple to play. Games move quickly and are a lot of fun for all ages. Even better, your kids will absorb some geography by constantly scanning the game board (a map of the U.S.) and locating cities on it.

Balance Beans

thinkfun.com • $17.99

Ages 5 and up • 1 player

Parents can sneakily introduce key skills to kids via this fun logic and math game. Pull a challenge card and set up the red beans on the seesaw as indicated. Gather the other colored beans specified on the card and add them — any way you can — until the seesaw balances. The 40 challenges increase in difficulty (from Easy to Super Hard), forcing kids to use more logic and reasoning and less trial and error. Kids will enjoy the challenge and have fun, not noticing they’re using elementary algebra to reach the desired balance. The game is also compact enough to fit in the included small bag, for easy storage and portability.

This edition of the popular card game features a redesigned board and card deck by comic artist Mike Luckas. Munchkin is a very popular tongue-in-cheek game that pokes fun at traditional Dungeon & Dragons players and games. Armed with nontraditional weapons like Spiky Elbows, a Magic Bassoon, or Bermuda Shorts of Invulnerability, players work to amass cards to become the most powerful, slay the most monsters, and be the first to reach Level 10 to win the game. However, the deck is stacked with myriad cards others can use to thwart you. Players can team up to help — or hurt — each other’s chances, making it a fun, unpredictable game. A good pick for tweens, teens, and adults.

Cardventures: Jump Ship / Stowaway 52

gamewright.com • $11.99 each

Ages 8 and up • 1 or more players

Jump Ship and Stowaway are the first two entries in Massachusetts-based Gamewright’s Cardventures series. Similar to the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” books of the ’80s, each game has a basic setup. In Jump Ship you’re a ship captain who’s looking for one last adventure before retiring. In Stowaway 52, you’re stuck on an alien ship trying to stop an attack on Earth. Draw a card and you’re given two choices, that choice leads to another card with two more choices, and so on. Your decisions develop the game/story and decide whether you retire/stop the alien attack, or meet a more stark fate. The games are super portable (a box of cards), fast-moving, and have a lot of replay value (it’s harder to win than you think). You can play solo or in a group in which you take turns making the decision. Either way, once the game is over you’ll be setting it up for another shot at winning.

Vikings on Board

blueorangegames.com • $36

Ages 8-adult • 2-4 players

Vikings on Board is a family strategy game in which you strive to have your clan control the most well-stocked ships (thus earning points) before they sail. Players take turns trying to control and stock ships, and in a new twist, they can bet on who will end up in control of each ship (whoever’s right earns more points). The game has a monkey wrench factor in which players can really disrupt each other’s strategy; you could be in control of a ship ready to sail, only to have another player come in and reconfigure it to their advantage. Designed by Charles Chevallier, the illustrations, game board, and pieces are gorgeous and top-quality, no flimsy plastic or ripping cards. A very fun strategy game for all ages, with a high replay factor.


Ages 8 and up • 3 or more players

Kids can enjoy some serious, overnight, old-fashioned slumber party fun with this slam-dunk from Endless Games. Players spin the wheel and pick a card from the area landed on: Work It! Party! Or Act It! Two hundred cards offers challenges from “Act like you go brain freeze from eating an ice cream cone too fast” to trying to lick your own elbow or making the funniest sound you can. Successful challenges win points and the first to 10 points wins.

Camera Roll

endlessgames.com • $21.99

Ages 12 and up  • 3 or more players

The winning answer is in the palm of your hand with Camera Roll. Pick a card and open your photo library: You have 30 seconds to present your picture that you think best matches the category on the card, from “Something Hot” and “Selfie” to “At The Zoo” or “Big Mistake.” Find a photo and you get a point, earn extra for being the first or being judged the best.

target.com • $19.79

Ages 10 and up  • 2-5 players

This Target exclusive is a dice-rolling, city-building card game in which players strive to be the first to build a series of required landmarks. You, the mayor of Machi Koro (Japanese for “Dice Town”), roll dice to earn coins, and use coins to build up your city. Think of it as a card-and-dice version of Monopoly (minus the board). It’s also like Monopoly in that you can earn money (or owe money) off other players’ rolls — or your own. The original Machi Koro was released in 2012 and quickly became an award-winning, very popular family game with multiple expansions. Bright Lights Big City is the newest release in the franchise and a own stand-alone game (you don’t need the original to play this). It’s a great addition for Machi Koro fans and a super introduction to the series for new players, with lots of replay value.