The best Christmas board games

Board Game Scrabble

Whether you’re a hardcore tabletop strategist or looking for something to enjoy with the family, here are the best festive afternoon distractions

Nothing says “festive” quite like gathering round a board game, still the ideal gift to bring the family together for Christmas in loved ones’ company through the mediums of escapism and nonsensical arguments. And 2015 has been another superb year for interesting, quality tabletop gaming.

One of the best for stoking a little seasonal togetherness is the new Ghostbusters game (right), based on the original films. Here you’ll find a wealth of plastic ghouls and heroes, who are the stars of this cooperative, scenario-based game. That means an experience you tackle as a group, undertaking various chapters of a story in separate sessions around an hour in length. Ghostbusters: The Board Game deftly captures the theme and tone of its source material, and excels in keeping all players involved. Assuming the roles of different characters with various strengths, team-mates will have to work together to prosper, in an experience that stands as a highlight of recent cooperative releases, and is lively and light-hearted.

Another new cooperative title based on a classic IP’s golden era comes in the form of the excellent Thunderbirds. The gameplay is rather different from busting ghosts, though, presenting a chance to play as the eponymous emergency response unit with a bounty of disasters to cater for. Coming from designer Matt Leacock of Pandemic fame, while it is easy to learn and teach, the gameplay engenders more serious sessions of thoughtful strategising than Ghostbusters.

For those less inclined to work in unison, rerelease Nefarious comes from an equally renowned designer – in this case Donald X Vaccarino. A mechanically light, accessible card game that pitches mad scientist archetypes against one another in a race to concoct world dominating inventions, it is refreshingly easygoing, and bolstered by solid production values and striking artwork, providing a terrific distraction for those that favour a playful atmosphere over deep thought.

Lighter still is The Game of Things..., a family title conceived to foster silliness and creativity. Supporting up to 15 players, it may have the noses of hardcore tabletop players turning up, but as a modern spin on the parlour game it has a knack for inspiring plenty of laughter.

Utterly different is global phenomenon Magic: The Gathering. The rules are welcoming enough, but it’s an intricate, sometimes intensely competitive fantasy-themed battling card game, and it is tremendously good. As Magic grows, so do routes into the game. Almost infinitely expandable with small sets of extra cards, the Magic Origins Intro Packs provide an affordable stocking-sized single player’s starting deck, and serve as a smashing gateway to all that Magic: The Gathering is: rewarding, dramatic, social and – for those it enchants – a potentially pricey hobby. It might not be typical of Christmas Day gaming, but there’s certainly a great gift in Magic. And for those looking for something more substantial than a single card set, the Magic Origins Deck Builders Toolkit provides a comprehensive entry point for gaming fans eager to dip more than a toe into the deep, deep waters of this iconic game.

Finally, Game of Thrones Risk, storytelling game Batman Dice and the currently expanding Android Netrunner are all well worth a look for some festive fantasy play.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Will Freeman, for The Observer on Sunday 13th December 2015 08.00 Europe/London

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