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Christmas Gift Guide 2017: 25 geeky board and card games

25 great board and card games, 25 ways to fall out with your family this Christmas

Few festive traditions are as enduring as the Christmas Day board game.

Some time between the Queen’s speech and The Snowman, everyone shuffles in around the table, picks a playing piece and prepares to have a right good row.

In fact, the only thing as inevitable as soggy sprouts on the 25th is a huge family argument about the rules – an event which usually ends in cards on the floor, plastic artillery and more than a few broken baubles.

Of course, to do it properly you need some decent board or card games: standard edition Scrabble and Monopoly just won’t cut it. Below you’ll find 25 fantastic games, covering everything from quickfire word-play to geektastic, rule-heavy strategy titles.

More Christmas gift ideas

Looking for something different? Our full Christmas Gift Guide 2017 hub page has categories to suit every taste, budget and interest.

See more Christmas gift ideas here

Star Trek Ascendancy (£59)

Star Trek Ascendancy (£59)

Inspired by Trump’s absurd warmongering? Think outside the box, the world and the galaxy with this universe-spanning board game.

Expand the reaches of your space civilisation, choosing between peace and conflict as you build bases, direct ships and acquire new regions – all whilst fending off those pesky Klingons. The playing space grows as the game goes on, so be sure to leave enough table top spare.

Monopoly Gamer (£23)

Monopoly Gamer (£23)

You know Monopoly, right? Race your nearest and dearest to tycoon status, before raising the rents and watching the cash roll in.

In this version, though, there are no notes. You can’t even play as the boot. Instead, select your favourite Mario character, collect coins as you go and splash out on prime Ninty real estate. With Yoshi Hills in your portfolio, who needs a Switch?

Cosmic Encounter (£46)

Cosmic Encounter (£46)

One of the best games you’re ever likely to play, Cosmic Encounter is a romp of intergalactic double-dealing that’s different every time.

Before engaging in its simple card game, players pick an Alien to play as, each and every one of which breaks the game in some way. The Virus is a monster that must be stopped. The Loser wins if he loses. The Gambler can bet on the outcome of fights, and the Citadel can build impossible fortifications. It’s the dumbest smart game you’ll ever play.

Zombicide (£65)

Zombicide (£65)

Like a board game version of Left4Dead, this collaborative survive-’em-up requires that you blast the heck out of the zombie horde. You and your compatriots have to find weapons to take down the zombies, but the brainless throng is far more numerous than your rapidly depleting ammo stock – so strategy is also key.

Scythe (£64)

Scythe (£64)

An alternative history board game set in an imagined post-war Europe (or ‘Europa’) wouldn’t usually be top of the list for festive fun.

Once the Boxing Day blues have set in, though, Scythe has enough complexity in its dystopian mix of building, recruiting and conquering to keep you playing through ’til New Year. What’s more, with an upgrade element at its core and no player elimination, you’ll rarely be twiddling your thumbs between turns.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (£50)

Tales of the Arabian Nights (£50)

First published in 1985, this classic choose-your-own-adventure board game is now available in a beautiful, even more ambitious edition.

Will you find a magical sword and become the Sultan of some glittering city? Find your true love in the belly of a giant sea creature? Or just get arrested for trying to mug a wizard and spend the whole game in prison? All you can be sure of is that this game will make you laugh.

Star Wars: Rebellion (£77)

Star Wars: Rebellion (£77)

‘That was one in a million kid!’ you could legitimately shout before devoting your entire Christmas break to Rebellion: with two boards and more than 150 pieces, it’s no miniature campaign game.

Pick a side – Galactic Empire or Rebel Alliance – before commanding units towards goals appropriate to your cause. If you play as the evil empire, you’ll be looking to crush those pesky rebels by destroying their bases. As the Alliance, you’ll try to stir the people into a galaxy-wide uprising – just in time for the Queen’s speech: 2018 edition.

Human After All Cult Movie Cards (£20)

Human After All Cult Movie Cards (£20)

What’s better than cards at Christmas? Cinematic cards at Christmas, that’s what.

Take a standard 52-card deck, print each card with a subtly sublime design inspired by (in)famous movie characters. What do you have? This deck of cult movie cards.

Codenames (£12)

Codenames (£12)

An addicitvely smart party game, Codenames is simple but ludicrously tense. Twenty-five random words are laid out on the table, and two team leaders have to help their team guess their assigned words using single-word clues.

So, “furious, 5” would hint that 5 words on the grid have something to do with anger, or maybe the Fast And The Furious movies. Be careful, though! Guessing the board’s “assassin” word instantly ends the game.

Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game (£41)

Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game (£41)

Yes, that’s Portal as in the iconic and enduring puzzler (and its sequel) from Valve. The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game was made by several Valve employees together with board game company Cryptozoic, and features all your Portal favourites: there’s a Companion Cube, a GlaDOS, Turret guns and, of course, the portals themselves. And cake. Lots of cake.

It’s easy to pick up, great fun and playable in less than an hour. Should tide you over until Portal 3 finally arrives.

Diplomacy (£16)

Diplomacy (£16)

Imagine Risk without the dice and a lot more strategic backstabbing, and you have Diplomacy. A few of years ago, several members of the Stuff and What Hi-Fi? editorial teams decided it would be a good idea to play an online version of the game. Two months later, with the seven players no longer on speaking terms, it was decided that they’d never do it again.

Diplomacy is that kind of game. It doesn’t just allow you to screw each other over – it demands it. There’s literally no way to triumph without doing the dirty on someone at some point. And, of course, that’s what makes it so enjoyable.

Bananagrams (£10)

Bananagrams (£10)

Scrabble‘s great – but the need for a board and the length of time it takes to play means it’s not suitable for every occasion.

Bananagrams keeps the best thing about Scrabble – the opportunity to show how smart you are by being really wordy/writing a load of puerile rude words – but ditches the board and scoring system for a faster pace. Very much a ‘just one more game’ kind of vibe.

Monopoly: The Walking Dead (£19)

Monopoly: The Walking Dead (£19)

In this classic game of question and answer you… No, of course not. It’s Monopoly with a Walking Dead skin. Hotels are watchtowers, the various properties correspond to major locations in the comic/TV series (Woodbury, the Prison, Downtown Atlanta) and instead of money you collect supplies.

If you don’t already own Monopoly (maybe you’ve been in an undead state for the past 30 years), it’s a great place to start.

Dropmix (£120)

Dropmix (£120)

Christmas is a stressful affair at the best of times. Adding most board games into this mix is likely to have the same result as replacing the crackers with fireworks. Especially if the whisky’s run out.

Thankfully, Dropmix isn’t like most board games. Made by the creators of Rock Band, this card-based table topper has you remixing songs across a smorgasbord of genres to often hilarious effect. Run DMC meets Europe, anyone?

Doctor Who Trivial Pursuit (£10)

Doctor Who Trivial Pursuit (£10)

Not the full game, but with 600 questions covering most incarnations of the Doctor, there’s plenty here to keep Timelord groupies happy. Alternatively, use the questions with the standard board and counters and you’ll have a new game to argue over on Christmas Day.

Skull (£17)

Skull (£17)

Skull is an incredible card game first played by the Hells Angels. Think of it as poker without all the maths. Players secretly place either skull or rose cards face-down on the table to create something like a field of landmines, and then take bets on how many cards they can flip and reveal only roses.

The new edition’s absolutely gorgeous, too, with the classic version re-done in the colours of the Day of the Dead.

Exploding Kittens (£20)

Exploding Kittens (£20)

One of the most-funded Kickstarter projects ever, this card-based fun-fest comes straight from the mind of Matthew Inman – creator of The Oatmeal comics.

Inman describes it as a "highly strategic kitty-powered version of Russian roulette" for "people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats". You had us at ‘kitty-powered’, frankly.

In practice it’s wonderful fun for all the family: simple enough that young kids can pick it up but offering enough complexity to leave grown adults plotting dasterdly stitch-ups three moves in advance.

A Game Of Thrones – The Board Game Second Edition (£36)

A Game Of Thrones - The Board Game Second Edition (£36)

As you’d expect from any Game Of Thrones tie-in, the latest version of the strategic board game requires plenty of alliance forming, a fair bit of backstabbing and no small amount of excitement. All that, and it also looks great.

Pair it with this GOT-themed Monopoly set and you might just have enough to tide you over until the show’s final series hits screens in 2019.

Beasts of Balance (£69)

Beasts of Balance (£69)

Remember how your fetish for stacking tends to flare up around Christmas? Avoid a repeat of last year’s trifle tower incident by distracting your subconscious with this hybrid pile-em-up.

More than just a Jenga knock-off, every colourful critter added to your precarious table-top tower sees a digital world evolve on your tablet or smartphone – until it all comes tumbling down in an apocalyptic dramatisation of Newton’s law of universal gravitation.

Concept (£25)

Concept (£25)

Not since your thesis on the role of emojis in string theory has communicating complex concepts through a limited set of universal icons been so challenging. Unlike your academic ramblings, though, Concept’s brand of guesswork is actually enjoyable.

The basic premise is this: you have an object, character or title to explain. Except you can’t speak. Instead, with no time limit and very few rules, you have to illuminate your co-players using nothing but icon tiles. Puzzled face.

Secret Hitler (£18)

Secret Hitler (£18)

Family unit divided over Brexit? Distract from the domestic division with a friendly game of Secret Hitler. Within minutes, you’ll be readily accusing your loved ones of harbouring fascist sympathies.

Playing in two teams (with an elected President and Chancellor), only the fascists know who they truly are as they attempt to undermine their left-wing opponents and bring Hitler to power. Anything but a dull documentary, this neatly packaged game will have you distrusting everyone through secrecy, chance and deceit. Just like Brexit, then.

Pandemic Contagion (£25)

Pandemic Contagion (£25)

In the classic versions of the Pandemic board games you team up with other players to defeat a humanity-threatening virus. This spin-off turns the tables by making you play as the virus.

Simple enough to pick up in no time, strategic enough to spend ages mastering it, Pandemic Contagion is one infectious every-pathogen-for-itself battler. Just pray the real viruses aren’t taking notes.

Spaceteam (£25)

Spaceteam (£25)

Fast-paced cooperation might sound like the last thing you need on Christmas day, but worry not: Spaceteam’s cards are waterproof and tear resistant.

Prepare to scream and shout as you struggle together with up to 6 players to repair your disgruntled space craft, before it’s sucked into a black hole. Which is a little bit like what happened to the turkey last time everyone tried to work as a team…

Spectrangle (£24)

Spectrangle (£24)

Thought your annual Tetris-fest was the best way to throw shapes come Christmas time? Spectrangle is a compact challenge of technicolour tessellation that’ll have you puzzling for hours.

The aim is simple: place your tiny triangles beside other tiny triangles to match colours and score points, while strategically blocking your fellow players from laying their best polygons. It’s the most fun you can have without trigonometry.

Star Realms (£13)

Star Realms (£13)

"Great, another space combat game…" Well, yes. But wait: this one is all about the strength of your card deck. Starting with ten ships, realm-goers must trade and attack their way to glory by building up their fleet with ships and bases.

It’s simple to get started, with the basic aim of reducing your opponent’s authority to zero, and should be a good introduction for new strategicians.