What to Play Over the Holidays: The Best Games for Family Gatherings

When you’re worn out from holiday shopping, stuffing yourself with turkey, and watching “A Christmas Story” on loop, how are you going to entertain your family? May we suggest, perhaps… a board game? Nothing brings together the whole family like sitting around the table discussing strategy, arguing about the rules, and laughing at mom’s latent competitive streak. 


The words “board game” might fill you with trepidation brought on by years of Monopoly induced trauma, but tabletop gaming has exploded in the last five to ten years. Now, there are literally dozens of engaging, family-friendly games that you can have on hand to bring your family back to the table without starting a holiday spat.


Whether your family is into team games, strategy games, classics, or cards – Game Goblins has you covered. Peruse some of our favorites and let us help you figure out what to play over the holidays. 

Twists on the Classics

We promised you we wouldn’t make you play Monopoly (not that there’s anything wrong with Monopoly), but there are some great new versions of older games that will remind everyone of the games they played as kids. From charades to Pictionary to Scrabble – there are subtle variations that bring these old favorites back to life. 


We dare you to get through this game without laughing – it’s literally not possible! Telestrations is a combination of Pictionary and telephone – that game where a person whispers in another person’s ear and you pass the sentence through the group to see how badly it’s messed up by the end. 


In this version of the game, one person writes a phrase and the next person draws a picture of that phrase. Then it’s passed on and they write a phrase based on what they think the picture is about and the next person draws that phrase! But unlike telephone or Pictionary, there is no downtime – everyone is either drawing or writing a new phrase every turn until you receive your original phrase and present the results to the group!


The more people you have playing, the funnier this game becomes so it’s perfect if you have a large family! 

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is the Monopoly replacement we’ve all been dreaming of. Based on railroads and train stations, this is a strategy game but it is still simple enough that even younger kids will be able to grasp it and have a good time – especially if you have that kid (or adult) in your family who is obsessed with trains! 


At the beginning of the game, you draw “routes” based on real cities and laid out on a beautiful, stylized map. Then, you spend the rest of the game collecting cards and putting down plastic train cars to build up those routes. Whoever makes the most and highest-point routes wins! The game lasts about 45 minutes – depending on how many people are playing – so you have just enough time to get invested without losing focus. 

Updated Card Games

Card games used to mean Uno, Phase 10 and Gin Rummy – but now there are a whole host of games that you can play with a single set of specialized cards. Sometimes these are the best games for family gatherings because there are no bits and pieces to clean up afterward!


Codenames is one of our favorite party pleasers. The concept is simple, but it takes a lot of teamwork and creativity to play! You’ll break your family into two teams – Red and Blue. There will be a designated Spymaster for each team. The Spymasters lay out rows of cards with random words on them and try to get their teams to guess which words (or “codenames”) hide the identity of the other team’s spy – without revealing their own! 


This is a game of deduction, clues, and wordplay that will keep you completely enthralled from beginning to end. And the best part is you can play it over and over without ever coming up with the same results!

Spot It!

Spot It! is a card game that comes neatly packaged in its own little carrying tin – so if you’re traveling for the holidays, this may be the game for you. This game is all about visually based matching, so it’s great for kids of all ages. But it can still be surprisingly fun and challenging for the adults as well! 

Each player gets a stack of cards. The cards all have multiple, simple images of varying sizes printed on them (clouds, trees, ladybugs, eyes, etc.). 


To begin, you flip over your stack of cards and try to spot if you see any matches. If you spot a match between the images on your cards and the others face up you call it out (i.e. “Magnet!) and place your card face up in front of the matching holder. It sounds easy, but this is a fast-paced focus game and you’ll be surprised at how often your seven-year-old cousin will happily yell out a match before you’ve finished looking the cards over.

Strategy Games

If your family is already big on board games and you’re looking to impress with something a little more challenging, we have some suggestions for you. There are plenty of strategy tabletops to choose from but when you’re choosing what to play over the holidays you have to take a little extra into consideration – like how much time before the rolls are done or how many glasses of eggnog have been poured. We did the whittling down for you and found a few options that should please everyone. 

Betrayal At House On The Hill

Now “Betrayal” is not normally a word you throw around lightly at holiday family gatherings, but give us a chance to sell you on it. This (slightly) spooky board game is collaborative, which means that you and your family will work together to discover which of you is secretly the bad guy! This is a tile game that allows you to build your own haunted mansion room by room – so you can get a different experience every time you play. As you build new rooms, you meet spirits and encounter omens that foretell your future and help lead you to the betrayer!


This game builds excitement and suspense while allowing you to all work together and solve a mystery, making it (in our opinion) one of the best games for family gatherings. 

Small World

Small World is like playing five-person chess mixed with Stratego. Choose from 14 different fantasy-inspired races and 20 different special powers to create the best combination to take over the board! All players rush at once to conquer the Small World – but you also have to be thinking ahead to the civilization you’ll build next as your race inevitably declines throughout the game. 


This strategy game takes a little longer to set up, but the concept is relatively easy to understand and for the family that games, this may be the most fun you have this holiday season!


If you have any questions about these games or if you’d like some more recommendations, drop by Game Goblins and ask the staff! Between us we’ve played every game in the store – and more!