Sick of Monopoly ruining your family get together during the holidays? Time to look at some different board games that are far more fun, far less teeth-grinding and way more enjoyable in every way.

This guide will offer you a variety of different board games for a variety of age groups, so you can play with your little brothers and sisters or your ninety year-old-gran. There’s going to be something for everyone!

Pandemic – A board gaming classic

Pandemic Review Full Set Up Angled

Pandemic is a staple in board gaming. It’s simple and easily accessible for veteran board gamers and newbies alike, which is why I want to get it out of the way first. I’ll always recommend it, but by now most of us know of it. To those who don’t, however, here’s a quick run down. The original Pandemic game consists of a team trying to stop a deadly virus spreading across the globe and killing every inhabitant. You work co-operatively to try and save the world, with different characters which each have different abilities to support the team effort.

There are numerous variations of the game too, however, which offer something different every time. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a variant of the original game where instead of stopping a world killing virus, your team instead battle against evil cultists to prevent the summoning of tentacle monstrosity Cthulhu.

There are also a series of Pandemic games called ‘Survival’, offering a historic twist on the Pandemic mechanics that introduce new features such as road building and flood prevention. Pandemic: Iberia and Pandemic: Rising Tide were the first two to hit shelves. However, the latest game Pandemic: Fall of Rome was released only recently, and would make for the perfect Christmas gift for board game fans!

The Pandemic games are recommended for 2-4 players aged 10 and above.

Mysterium – A creative and conceptual investigation into the murder of a ghost

Mysterium is a game of interpretation. A group of paranormal investigators go to find out who killed the ghost who haunts an old mansion. The ghost has been lurking in the halls for so long however, that their ability to communicate is limited and must send visions to the investigators to assist them in their journey. It’s a creative take on Cluedo, where you each race against each other to find out who the culprit of the  murder is.

Mysterium tabletop game setup

Your team will be split; with one person acting as the ghost and the rest playing as investigators. The ghost will assign a scenario of how they died to each investigator in secret, before a series of suspects, murder weapons and location cards are laid on the table.

The investigators are then set against the clock, to solve the murder before dawn. The ghost must now give the investigators visions through artistic and very conceptual vision cards, to try and give clues on which suspect, murder weapon and location is relevant to them. Investigators can score points by placing tokens on cards, judging whether they think another investigator has made the right or wrong decision. The ghost can only confirm their decisions through nodding or shaking their head.

Mysterium is excellent fun if you’re in the mood to interpret the beautiful but sometimes oddly obscure vision cards. There’s also an expansion available, Mysterium: Hidden Signs.

Mysterium is recommended for 2-7 players aged 10 and above.

Dinosaur Island – Neon 90s dinosaur goodness

This colourful Jurassic Park-inspired game sees players face off as rival companies trying to create the most successful dinosaur theme park. There’s absolutely no shame in the oblique references to the Spielberg movies, especially as dinosaurs are also recreated using DNA samples from amber and fossils. It’s a big ol‘ beast however, so make sure you’ve got a good sized table to play it on! 

Each player will pick one of four companies who will go head to head in who creates the best park. They have no additional perks, outside of amusing titles and logos. You then get straight down to business in spending those hard earned dollars and building your very own dinosaur theme park.

You can synthesise your dino DNA to create the dinosaurs you most want to see, and each new dino will bring bigger thrills to your park and help towards your endgame scores. You can also visit the market to buy new fossils, other resources and hire new employees to help the process along.

This game is one of the more item heavy ones on the list, so it takes some setting up, but once you get going it’s a hoot watching the maniacal expressions people get when they create their first T. Rex. Be careful what you create however, as the more dangerous a dinosaur you bring into the park, the bigger threat it will become to security.

Dinosaur Island also has a two player variant called Duelosaur Island. Kickstarter copies have started shipping out to backers, which means that it should be hitting retail pretty soon and hopefully in time for Christmas! You can play Dinosaur Island as it is with two players also, to bear in mind.

Dinosaur Island is recommended for 1-4 players aged 8 and above.

Sub Terra – Spooky spelunking with friends

As the name suggests, Sub Terra is a survival horror game takes place in subterranean cave systems that are generated as the game goes.

Sub Terra Board game layout

Everyone starts by selecting a character. These characters will have their own stats and unique ability. For example, playing The Engineer will grant you three charges of dynamite which you can use to blast through a cave wall and forge a new path and The Bodyguard will take damage for other characters occupying the same tile. Part of the challenge is figuring out what combination of characters would make the best team to get through the caves.

On each player’s turn, they have two actions. At the start, the only two options you have are to explore or reveal. Exploring means you move from the starting tile and straight into the next, you pull a tile from the stack and place yourself on it adjacent to the starting tile. Revealing is much the same, only you don’t go on to that tile. Both take one of the two actions you have per turn, which means you can potentially explore twice and grow the cave more. However, as more tiles go down, the more hazards will start to appear. From areas that are prone to cave ins, to areas that flood. There are challenge tiles too, where you will need to roll the dice and succeed in a skill check to progress.

When all the players finish their turn, someone will flip an event tile. This can cause those hazard tiles I mentioned to trigger. If your character is in a cave in tile when a cave in hits? Your character will be stuck under rocks until someone comes to your rescue and digs you out. Some hazards last a turn, others will remain on the board for the whole game.

And then there are the horrors. As if the natural hazards weren’t problem enough, the horror in this survival horror comes from tiles that spawn monsters. Only three can be in the game at any one time, and they will hunt you down. Only The Bodyguard can kill them, everyone else has to run away. The only exception is The Scout, who is invisible to the horrors.

Eventually, someone will place the cave exit tile – then it’s a race to the finish before the horrors or hazards take you out! Only one player needs to make it back to win the game, but you get Gold if everyone survives.

Sub Terra is recommended for 1-6 players aged 10 and above. There are also three expansions available that add new characters and features: Investigation, Extraction and Annihilation.

Takenoko – Feed the panda!

Takenoko Board Game Layout

This cute little game sees players go against each other to earn favour of the Emperor by feeding his prized panda the finest of bamboo. Takenoko is an agricultural based game requires players to place tiles that will grow different types of bamboo and feed the greedy panda, with the assistance of the gardener. 

The mechanics are nice and simple. Players will each have to manage plots of land to grow their bamboo and achieve the goals given by the objective cards they select. You have three different types of objective card; gardener, panda or plot. The gardener cards will challenge you to grow certain types of bamboo, the panda cards challenge you to feed the panda certain types of bamboo, and the plot cards challenge you to lay out plots in a certain way. The weather will also determine what happens in certain rounds, for example whether you can take an extra action, or it can help bamboo grow faster.

You can easily sabotage other players in their efforts, sending the panda to gobble up their precious bamboo. Or you can be kind and send the gardener to help grow a plot, or simply use him to help grow your own. The little bricks of bamboo and the miniatures of the panda and gardener are also adorable, giving it the cute ‘chibi’ factor.

Takenoko is a great game for players who aren’t as familiar with board gaming, as it’s light on rules and very easy to follow once you get going.

Takenono is recommended for 2-4 players aged 8 and above.

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So there you have it! Five board games that should happily suit any family and group of friends this Christmas. I myself will definitely be whipping out Takenoko and Dinosaur Island. What are your board game staples for the holidays? Anything you would want to add?

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