Picks

Games and Puzzles to Keep Everyone Happy This Holiday Season

Rummikub, Sushi Go Party!, and Half Truth
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Sushi Go Party!, Rummikub, and Half Truth.

In search of the perfect gift? Read more of Slate’s holiday gift guides here.

In this seemingly never-ending year, it doesn’t hurt to have a seemingly never-ending array of games and puzzles to provide some screen-free at-home entertainment, especially during the holidays. To help, we’ve culled our archives to bring forth some of our favorite previously recommended games, puzzles, and puzzle books.

Slate readers can’t get enough of Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza. Every time we mention it in a Picks piece, it’s the top-selling gift. As former Care and Feeding columnist Nicole Cliffe put it when she first recommended the game, “This game is the only card-based game I like, and it will transform gatherings.”

Our readers’ second-favorite? Codenames. “Board-game snobs and newbies love it; 8-year-olds and grandparents love it; word-puzzle people and strategy buffs love it. I really, really love it. You will, too,” wrote Ruth Graham.

Codenames

For ages 14 years and up

Noel Murray recently sang the praises of Wingspan, a board game where players must successfully create bird habitats, calling it “one of my new all-time favorites.” He loves it for its ingenuity and how beautifully the game is crafted, but also because “collecting these rare birds sparks a special kind of joy. …You have to plan carefully and think everything through, or else you won’t be able to get all of these lovely creatures into a good nest. It feels good to get them settled, whether or not you ultimately win.”

Wingspan

For ages 14 years and up

In her ode to Sushi Go Party!, Dawnthea Price Lisco wrote, “in the past year you’ve catapulted into the ranks of my top five favorite board games. Your colorful smiling case is usually the first box cracked open when my friends and I gather to play, and you never disappoint.”

Trivia buffs may enjoy Richard Garfield and Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings’ game Half Truth. Murray called it a “clever and unusually egalitarian variation on a trivia game, in which knowing things is helpful but not essential. …The questions are fun; the gameplay is fast-paced.”

Half Truth

For ages 12 years and up

In her conversation on Slate’s parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, game aficionado Jessica Waldock provided recommendations for good family games. “One of our absolute favorite games—and I love it because it appeals to a very wide range of ages and people—is Dragonwood,” she said. It’s often her daughter’s pick for family game night. Her husband, however, “will pick Yahtzee every single day of the week, no matter what. He loves that you can play in that kind of a quick way, and that there is a little bit of strategy.”

Rummikub is another intergenerational game worth adding to your game closet. Allison Benedikt called it “the greatest family game on earth (after Taboo),” noting that when she played as a child, it “was a game that required a certain amount of skill, that my grandparents loved, and that I could actually participate in without needing an adult to help me.”

Rummikub

For ages 8 years and up

Parents sick of the mind-numbing tedium of Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land would benefit from adding Guess Who? to their game arsenal. Dan Kois played it regularly with his children: “From ages 3–6 or so, my kids loved Guess Who?, and I loved playing it with them. It’s hard to make a game that adults love to play with kids. … But Guess Who? really pulls it off.”

Guess Who?

For ages 6 years and up

Another great game for the toddler set is Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Murray said players will appreciate Scarry’s illustrations, which are “so pleasing to the eye and nourishing to the imagination.” But you’ll also love it because “Best of all: The game is cooperative, not competitive—everyone has to make it to the finish line together—which makes this the game least likely to provoke arguments among tots still learning sportsmanship.”

If you’re counting the days until your child can spell well enough to play Scrabble, you’ll enjoy Qwirkle, which Murray called “the most attractively designed of a subset of games that rely on the basic tile-laying and points-scoring mechanics of Scrabble, but which eliminate the need to have any kind of advanced vocabulary.”

Qwirkle

For ages 6 months and up

“In a world that feels like it’s falling apart, I’ve found it uniquely calming to work through a puzzle,” wrote Charlotte Arneson. “There’s solace in all these little pieces fitting together just as they should.” You might enjoy 500- to 1,000-piece puzzles, which Arneson said “are typically challenging enough to be engaging, and doable enough that you don’t want to flip the table in frustration. I’ve had a great time with these, watching their fanciful and imaginative pictures take form.”

If you’re looking for something for its visual appeal, you might try puzzles with “whimsical pieces, interestingly shaped borders, puzzles within puzzles, or unique themes,” wrote Arneson.

Piecing together a work of art is fun, too. As Arneson noted, “Most museums and galleries are closed to the public for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage with art from the comfort of your home.”

KenKen, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and other word games can also soothe the soul. Arneson recommended Puzzles for Mindfulness, calling puzzle books like it “perfect for lounging by the fire, a mug of hot cocoa in one hand and a pencil (or pen!) in the other.”

Looking to branch out beyond crosswords? “From bunches of Bananagrams-themed puzzles to a collection of Sherlock Holmes–inspired brain teasers, there is nothing typical about these books,” wrote Arneson. “Between their pages you’ll find enough anagrams to unscramble, codes to crack, and wordplay riddles to resolve to satisfy the most discerning of puzzle aficionados.”

If you’ve got kids to occupy, Arneson recommended Bananagrams for Kids. Children may also love Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book! featuring Mo Willems’ beloved storybook character.

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