5 Gaming Tips for the Holidays

Hacking the Holidays Tabletop Games


Maybe not the best choice for a casual gaming session. Original photo by Flickr user nachof, user under Creative Commons License.

So the holidays are coming up, and for many of you that means spending a lot of time with family and friends — often with people who may not share the same beliefs and viewpoints as you. Well, I can’t help you avoid awkward dinner conversations about the election (try bringing up the picture book Roger Nix, President at Six), but here are a few tips to help you get your recommended daily allowance of gaming if you happen to be sharing a table with non-gamers.

1. Start short.

Not everyone is ready for a multi-hour game session right after a big holiday dinner. Post-prandial drowsiness doesn’t go well with a game that takes twenty minutes to set up and another fifteen to explain, so don’t lose your audience before you get to the good stuff. Pick something speedy that gets people into the game with little downtime. If possible, get them laughing — I hear it causes the release of endorphins, which makes them feel better, which will lead to more gaming. (We’ll work on the dopamine receptors later, when you get them hooked on learning new games.)

Games like Zombie Dice and Spot It! are easy to teach and can handle a pile of players. FlowerFall and Ca$h ‘n’ Gun$ are guaranteed to make people gravitate to the game table to see what’s going on.

Of course, if everyone you’re spending the holidays with is a hardcore gamer, then by all means break out Eclipse and game into the wee hours of the morning!

2. Start big.

Since the holidays often lead to large gatherings, a lot of people won’t want to break off into tiny groups to play games because they want to socialize with everyone else. So plan on a couple games that can accommodate large groups of players, and once people get used to the idea of playing games, then they can split off into smaller groups if desired. Having everyone in one group also makes it easier if you’re the designated game teacher, so that you still get to play instead of managing several ongoing games at once.

I’ve got just a few games that will handle 8 players easily and don’t break rule #1 above, but you just need a couple good ones. The Resistance is a great social game of deception and deduction; Incan Gold is one of my favorite press-your-luck games; and, of course, there’s always the various versions of Werewolf (but watch for player elimination there). Oh, and if you’ve got a really big group, Reverse Charades can be hilarious.

3. Be prepared.

A big family gathering with tons of kids running around and dishes to clear isn’t the most conducive environment to sitting down and hearing somebody read a rulebook out loud. Learn how to teach a game — part of that means learning it yourself beforehand so you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth in the rulebook. Growing Up Gamers has a great list of 10 Tips for Teaching Board Games. If you are playing a game that requires a bit of fiddly setup ahead of time, try to do that before you invite people to the table, rather than making them sit there and sort piles of little wooden cubes.

4. Know your audience.

Although some people are up for trying anything new, the more reluctant gamer will need some convincing. Pick a game that piques their interest. Football fans? Well, they’re probably watching TV after Thanksgiving dinner, but maybe you can convince them to give 1st & Goal a try. Do they like zombies? There are hordes of those available — my favorite is the Last Night on Earth series, but Zombies!!! is great if you want a shorter (and smaller) game. If you’ve got trivia buffs then pick something like Wits & Wagers.

5. Have fun!

Last, but not least, don’t forget the whole point of this endeavor: have fun! Enjoy the people you’re with, whether you chose to be there or not. Games should be about bringing people together, not driving them apart, so be conscious of that. If you look around the table and you’re the only one who’s enjoying the experience, then perhaps it’s time to pack up the games for the night.

Don’t be a game snob. If you’re introducing a new game and somebody asks if you’ve played [insert your least favorite mass-market board game here], rein in your monologue and just smile and nod. Of course, if they break out their copy of it and ask you to sit down and play, you’ll have to exercise your own discretion there.

May your holidays be filled with friends and family and fun!

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