10 Fun and Innovative Board Games You Can Play With Your Family on the Holidays

10 Fun and Innovative Board Games You Can Play With Your Family on the Holidays
Courtesy of Utter Nonsense!

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for those whose relatives spend the entire year glomming onto every political talking point just so they can bring it up at the most awkward times during the holidays. Thanks to the presidential election, they've been given a conversation-stopping, fork-dropping gift to make things feel more awkward than wearing a pair of Crocs to a funeral.

Instead of prepping for a fight or learning to go to your happy place where beer flows out of faucets, unicorns are real and people don't wear their politics on their sleeves, head off the entire conversation with a board game. Games in a box are not only more fun and engaging than pretending to be interested in dull and somewhat racist conversations; they also can also stimulate your mind and create some genuinely funny interactions that don't make you wish you weren't related to these people.

Despite the rise of the home video game console and other entertainment tech, board games are still a booming industry thanks to some clever and creative board-based challenges. Your local game store has a wide variety of game genres and styles to choose from that go beyond monotonous classics like Risk, Clue and (shiver) Monopoly.

Codenames (For families with good to somewhat acceptable communication skills)
Word games don't have to be as dull and dry as the packet gravy your aunt chooses to serve with the turkey. There are many more stimulating options than Scrabble on the board game shelves that don't require you to remember words you'd only know if you read the dictionary like it was a novel.

Czech Games' Codenames takes the simple concept of a word guessing game and gives it a spy spin. Players split off into two teams and one person from each is given the title of the Codemaster. Each team must find their correct code words from a grid of cards assigned by a secret color on a randomly chosen grid card. The Codemaster may only give a one-word clue and a number to refer to the total number of words that apply to each clue. Their teammates must decipher the meaning to identify the code words without accidentally revealing their opposing team's words, unearthing an "innocent bystander" or running into the deadly assassin that will give the win to the other team.

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7 Wonders (For families with a scary need to dominate one another)
Games aren't just an easy way to avoid boring conversations or help make eye contact. They can also get quite competitive if someone who's known for running the board on their opponents suddenly falters and gives the weaker ones a chance to strike.

This quick but engaging civilization-building strategy game puts players in the role of constructing some of history's most famous empires as they also try to tear down or deflect attacks from their opponents. Players collect money and resources depending on which way they think their society should thrive whether it's having a strong scientific foundation or building a massive monument. Resources are collected from hands of cards and borrowed from neighboring civilizations. Building up a strong military can also earn extra points and take some away from your opponents during the final tally. It's like Risk if the classic game of world conquest was interesting and didn't require the use of company vacation time to finish it.

10 Fun and Innovative Board Games You Can Play With Your Family on the Holidays
Courtesy of North Star Games

Wits & Wagers Party Edition (For families with relatives who think they know everything but don't)
Trivia games can be a drag if you don't know anything or are playing with people who don't know enough information to offer a challenge.

North Star Games' signature party game takes the punishing guesswork out of playing a trivia game by adding a fun guessing element to its core game play. The questions require players to estimate a number closest to the correct answer Price is Right-style — like the number of different species in a box of Animal Crackers or the year that saw the invention of the toothpaste tube. Each player writes their answer on a dry erase card and lines them up in order from smallest to largest. Then they bet on the number that they think is closest to the correct number and win points for guessing and betting on the closest number. The Party edition adds a Las Vegas gambling style and game play element minus the part where you lose your kids' college savings because you had a good feeling about betting it all on red.

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Photo by Danny Gallagher

The Great Debate (For families who constantly fight)
Do your relatives constantly find reasons to fight with each other around the dinner table? Does the permanent cranberry sauce stain in your mom's good curtains remind you not to mention certain buzzwords in basic conversations? Then put your family's natural talent for creating a debate to work in this funny card game.

Dallas-based Castle Productions produced this debating and voting party game that pits players against each other in a mix of thought-provoking and insane debate topics. Each player takes a turn by picking a card to start a debate using criteria such as the "tallest person" at the table or the "last person to eat a salad." The card gives them a topic to debate with two opposing viewpoints. They range from deep, philosophical questions like "Parents are not as involved in their child's lives as they once were" and "Should the US legalize marijuana completely?" to pop culture brawls such as "Who is the better Star Trek captain?" and "Are zombies overdone?" The chosen player chooses a side to debate and picks another player to take the opposing side. Both present their case to the group and everyone votes on the winner of each debate.

Pandemic (For families who can actually work together)
Competition can sometimes bring out the worst in people. There are parents who are legally forbidden by a court of law from playing Candy Land with their child because their trash talking is considered psychological abuse.

Some families are more interested in doing something that builds them up and brings them closer together as a team rather that compete to see who can best the other in a battle of wits and strategy. The insanely popular Pandemic franchise not only puts a group of players together to compete against the actual game but the game mechanics offer some of the tensest moments you'll ever experience with a flat, foldable piece of cardboard. The game challenges players to stop a worldwide plague from engulfing the whole of humanity by making them various members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who have to work together to come up with cures and quell the spread of diseases in different parts of the world. The strategy and game play style are deep and complex but it's very easy to learn. The game also never stops throwing obstacles in your way, so the odds are against you and this only makes Pandemic more thrilling and immersive every time you play it.

Sheriff of Nottingham (For families who already lie to each other)
All families lie to each other. It's just a fact. Some do it to spare loved ones' feelings. Others do it for more devious reasons. So if you couldn't come up with a lie to get out of going to a relative's house for Thanksgiving, you can work on your bluffing skills in this lie-detecting game.

Arcane Wonders located in Sachse created this lying and point smuggling game in which players try to amass goods for points by sneaking them past their inquisitive opponents. Each player is trying to collect two types of items: basic necessities such as bread and corn and illegal contraband such as booze and weapons. Players take turns as the sheriff and must interrogate their opponents to catch them in a lie as they hide cards displaying these items in small, cloth sacks. If players are caught lying to the sheriff, they must pay the sheriff a fine but if they are telling the truth and the sheriff roots through their satchel anyway, the sheriff must pay them a pittance to keep them from squealing. Players can also bribe the sheriff with money if they think they are about to get caught or just to throw them off the trail.

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Photo by Danny Gallagher

One Night: Ultimate Werewolf (For families who are already suspicious of each other)
Remember that time your mom was convinced that your aunt didn't give her grandma's "entire" recipe for baked macaroni because she didn't want anyone to think that they could make it better than her? This is the perfect person to play with for this twist on the classic team-building and bluffing game.

Regular Werewolf consists of a group of "villagers" who go to sleep each night while the "werewolves" among them sneak off to kill one of their less hairy neighbors. As each person is picked off, the group tries to determine who are the werewolves before the pesky lycanthropes wipe out the entire village. This new twist on Werewolf from Beizer Games offers a much quicker round that takes place on a single night and adds roles to each player in the game. The various villagers in One Night: Ultimate Werewolf tinker with their players' roles as they sleep, such as the robber who can steal a person's identity and the seer who can look at another player's card. Others like the minion work with the werewolves to try to throw the team off their hairy boss's trail.

10 Fun and Innovative Board Games You Can Play With Your Family on the Holidays
Courtesy of Utter Nonsense!

Utter Nonsense! (For families who speak in voices except their own all the time)
Some families can't just tell a simple story without trying to put on a show. They mimic the people they are talking about AS they talking about them as though they are auditioning for some one-man, off-Broadway show.

Utter Nonsense!: The Inappropriate Accent Game takes this annoying habit and turns it into a skill that's actually useful. The game offers a new twist on the un-PC comedy card game concept pioneered by Cards Against Humanity. Each round features one player as the judge who draws an accent card that lists voices such as pirate, Chicagoan and drag queen. The other players choose a phrase card from their hand and read the phrase aloud in the assigned accent. The goal is to find the funniest voice and scripting combo to earn a point from the judge and amass enough to win the game. The phrases range from strange to downright salty so only play this with family members who have a strong sense of humor or a semi-functional hearing aid.

Speaking of offensive humor ...

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Photo by Danny Gallagher

Joking Hazard (For families who go out of their way to offend each other)
The comic strip and animated series Cyanide and Happiness, produced by Explosm Entertainment of Richardson, isn't afraid to use death, wanton sex acts and bodily fluids to make someone laugh. So don't leave this card game sitting on the kid's table during dinner.

The comic strip generating card game uses the same rotating judge mechanic as players attempt to create the funniest punchline to a three-panel comic strip. The creators of the cartoon and the game came up with the concept while playing with the random comic generator on C&H's website and the card game works pretty much the same way. Each card features two of the cartoon's familiar stick figures interacting with each other in various interesting ways. An opening panel card is drawn from the deck and the middle panel is played from the judge's handful of cards. Each player then has to play a card that creates the funniest ending to the strip. The options include simple quips and interjections to profane and disgusting actions like stabbings, vomiting in the other person's mouth or popping a boner.

Kill Doctor Lucky (For families who are sick and tired of playing Clue)
Families have been playing some of the world's most popular board games since their creation at the start of the last century, such as Monopoly, The Game of Life and Clue. But why? If we can stop using children as industrial labor, why can't we stop playing these boring board games?

If you've ever wished that you could just snap Mr. Boddy's neck instead of finding the lucky son of a bitch who beat you to it, Cheapass Games offers a great alternative. In Kill Doctor Lucky, your goal is to be the first to (wait for it) kill Doctor Lucky. Players take on Clue-esque roles as they roam around a massive mansion and try to bump off the doctor presumably so a group of more boring players can take on the task of solving his murder. Cards determine each move and action throughout the game such as using weapons with "murder values" that activate characters' murder gland and "failure" cards that can foil opposing characters' attempts to whack the good doctor. The player who successfully kills the doctor without an opposing challenge wins the game and everyone feels the sweet rush of joy from not having to sit through another insufferable round of Clue at a family gathering.


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