11 best family board games for Christmas

From the grandkids to the grandparents, get the whole family together for some table-based tomfoolery

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The Independent Online

Some families love them, some dread them, but board games at Christmas are a tradition few dare ignore. We’ve come up with the best family games for the festive season.

1. Sherlock Cluedo: £25, John Lewis

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There is probably a high correlation between the kind of person who likes Cluedo and the kind of person who likes Sherlock, so combining the two really is a stroke of genius – or elementary, as Sherlock would have it. It’s the same format as the original Cluedo but the possible perpetrators are all your favourite characters, the locations are landmarks across London and the victim is, of course, Moriarty.

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2. Obama Llama: £20, Amazon

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Always judge a game by its name, that’s my (often losing) strategy. In this case it’s a good strategy, though. Obama Llama is created by Radio One’s Matt Edmondson. Recommended for age 14 and up, you are given a celebrity and have to describe the rhyming thing they may do. Score points by guessing correctly. Now who wants to Thump Trump?

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3. Smart Games Penguins Pool Party: £12.99, Amazon

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Not strictly a family game, in that it is designed to be played by one player at a time, Penguins Pool Party contains sixty challenges in which the player must work out how to fit the tiles of ice around penguins arranged in a particular way. But if you buy two and race against the clock, take turns, or help each other out, the whole family can enjoy this at once. 

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4. Blockbusters: £10, Marks and Spencer

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It’s hard to explain the appeal of Blockbusters to a generation that did not grow up with Bob Holness and the mirth that asking him for a P or and E can bring, but this board game is a good place to start. For ages 14 and above, it follows the format of the classic show. 

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5. Orchard Toys What a Performance!: £9.40, Tesco

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If acting things out is your thing but you’re younger than the intended audience for Obama Llama, check out What a Performance! from Orchard Toys. Ideal for over-fives, and only requiring a minimum of two players, the aim is to be the first to the finish “star”, which you get to by performing noises and mimes against the clock. To make things even more exciting, some of the actions have to be performed within a set time, using the sand timer. Additionally, players having to carry out a forfeit won't know what they have to do until they have used the magic decoder to reveal their secret task...

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6. Roll Up Backgammon Set: £59.99, The Present Finder

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One of those games that looks complicated but really isn’t once you’ve learnt it, backgammon is great to pick up young as it will make you friends all over the world if you produce a set when travelling. This roll-up set is brilliant for a family on the move this Christmas – take it with you for use while travelling and once you arrive.

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7. Monopoly: Ultimate Banking Edition: £29.99, The Entertainer

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We know plenty of families who banned Monopoly for its nasty capitalist ways. And we have absolutely no doubt that their children are the ones who will now rebel by buying this Ultimate Banking version of the game. This iteration does away with paper money altogether – instead, you get a contactless bankcard and an electronic device to keep track of all your spending, saving and borrowing. 

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8. Monopoly: The National Gallery Special Edition: £29.95, The National Gallery

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Of course if you like Monopoly but balk at the rampant money grabbing of the Ultimate Banking version, you might like to try this rather more genteel and cultured National Gallery version. You still have to amass a fortune of course, but in this version you do it by being an art dealer and buying art. 

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9. Scrabble Junior Board Game: £16.99, Argos

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This is two games in one. The first uses pictures to encourage players to spell out words, and the second gives players the chance to think of their own words. A great introduction to Scrabble which should see children progress onto the adult version in due course, and a lifetime of looking for two and three letter words with a Q or Z in it.

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10. Who Do You Think You Are? Game: £20, John Lewis

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Inspired by the TV series of the same name, this game sees players following flight paths around the world searching for clues about their fictional celebrity’s life, piecing together their story to get the whole picture. Suitable for two to six players aged nine and up, each game should take no more than an hour. 

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11. Bananagrams: £14.99, Argos

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Fans of Scrabble, unless they are purists, will love Bananagrams, so called for the banana-shaped yellow pouch the game comes in. Take 21 letter tiles (fewer tiles if more players) and the first player to use all of their letters in a grid is the winner. (There are other rules regarding changing letters, but you can adapt them to suit the age, vocabulary and confidence of your players). A board game without a board, it’s surprisingly addictive. 

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The Verdict: Board games

Get it right and you’ll make wonderful family memories. Get it wrong and you’ll make memories too, but of cheating, crying and experiences never to be repeated. We think these are your best bet for getting it right, and our favourite of the lot is Sherlock Cluedo, ideal for fans of the show and fans of the original game, too.

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