The holidays are a time of family. Awkward family you haven’t seen in foreves. I mean, sure, you follow them on Facebook, but once you’ve covered the catching-up phase, what do you do?

My suggestion: make the holidays a time of family gaming. I think you can, and I think it’s easy. But it’s not a one-size fits all approach. There are plenty of great board games, card games and video games out for folks of all ages – and with a little forethought, you can be the hero that emcees the whole thing.

Here are some suggestions of games you can break out once family starts showing up, and there’s bound to be something for everyone.

Game: Dominoes

Who Should Play? Parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, anyone old enough to count


Then we played bones, and I’m yellin’ “domino!” (pic via me)

Why? Dominoes is classic. It’s a game celebrated both in old folk’s homes and rap videos. But make sure you’ve got your rules set first, since rule sets vary by region and community. I prefer a simple game of Straight Dominoes where everyone gets seven dominoes to start and you score by making multiples of five. You can pick up a basic “double six” dominoes set anywhere toys are sold and it’ll only set you back about $15, or you can get a more impressive set in the depths of the internet. Or, if you have a spare $3,995 burning a hole in your wallet, you can get this wood and alligator leather dominoes set from Burberry. Seems legit.


Game: LEGO Board Games

Who Should Play? Your middle-school-aged children, your nieces and nephews (and you)

Why? You might have to do a little digging and eBay bidding, but if you’re able to find any of LEGO’s board games out there, they’re worth a play. More than 20 LEGO board games were made between 2009 and 2013, including buildable, dice-roll-based versions featuring Batman, The Hobbit, Lord of the RingsHarry Potter, and even Star Wars (good luck scoring this one online for under $100 though). You can have tons of fun with some of the other sets though, especially Magma Monster, which essentially has you dice-rolling to move quickly over lava to defeat a monster, and the more RPG-lite Heroica games, where you collect keys, find potions and treasure, and attack monsters. You can still find the Heroica series on eBay for fairly cheap. Games are easily taught, only last 10-20 minutes (once you build the board and items) and usually accommodate up to 4 players. And they’re fun.

Lego Star Wars Board Game

The golden goose of Lego board games: Lego Star Wars – Battle of Hoth (pic via Flickr user Bo Jørgensen)

If you want a taste of what gameplay is like without having to set up and build a set, you can play a digital version of LEGO Heroica Fortaan on the Cartoon Network website.


Game: Cards Against Humanity

Who Should Play? Your brothers- and sisters-in-law, your friends, and maybe even your parents?

Cards Against Humanity

Try and play this combination around Aunt Linda and see how it goes. (pic via Flickr user Adam J. Manley)

Why? Our generation is already playing Cards Against Humanity, and it’s glorious. The game of (mis)matching offensive questions and answers is an awkward ice breaker, but a fun way to figure out what gross bedroom stuff your family knows about. Also, don’t shy away from playing this with your parents and maybe even your aunts and uncles, though you might want to prep them for the fact that Cards Against Humanity is, as you know, filthy. But so is your uncle, which is why you call him Filthy Uncle Alan, so that’s that. Make sure you pick up a couple of expansion packs, which come with blank cards you can fill in with disgusting stuff about your own family members. Zing!


Game: Tsuro

Who Should Play? Your children, nieces and nephews, anyone over 6

Why? Tsuro is easy to learn, can accommodate up to 8 players, and games take about 15 minutes: you and other players place path tiles on the board and move across them in-turn. Paths might cross or send you off the board. So, your goal is to be the last dragon on the board. It’s a simple enough game for kids, and it gets you away from playing Go Fish or Connect Four. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but c’mon. The strategy scales with age; younger kids will fly off the sides of the board quickly, while older players will create strategic paths to cut off other players.


Tsuro also looks classy, which helps after you made your ultra-religious mom play Cards Against Humanity (pic via Calliope Games site).


Game: WiiU Games: Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. & Super Mario Maker

Who Should Play? Your young children, your young nieces and nephews (and you)

Why? Obviously, we’re a video game generation. And our kids get to share that love of video games with us. So why these games specifically? Because you’ve been playing the Mario Kart franchise since the SNES and it’s still incredible. Just go easy on your 6 year old nephew that doesn’t yet know how to snake-drift a track in order to keep the red sparks going and maximize speed.

Super Smash Bros. is another game you’ve been playing, since — lemme guess — your buddy’s dormroom in college. The organized-chaos rules are still more or less the same, and it’s still a ton of fun. Bonus: on the WiiU, up to 8 players can play at once if you’ve got the right gear.

Super Mario Maker is bat-poop crazy for all of the right reasons (see below). My suggestion is to have your little ‘uns make levels for the adults to beat. They might need your help making sure their levels are beatable, but let them go crazy, then watch your dad, mom, uncles and aunts (who used to play Super Mario Bros. 1 with you at holiday get-togethers when you were little) try and beat your nieces’ and nephews’ levels. I mean, c’mon: