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  • Andy Steele

Relaxing family board games

I have two soundbaths at Botley and Durley in December where I will be incorporating the theme of Hygge (pronounced hue-geh) into the experience. There is no literal translation from Danish into English for Hygge as it means multiple things, but it centres around withdrawing inwards to a special place with people that mean the most to you. It's about experiences and environments rather than "stuff", which is why I think it's such a perfect thing to remember as we head towards Christmas.

Family board games, especially ones which are relaxing and have an indirect form of competition are a great way to withdraw inwards with the ones we love most. We've always loved playing games at any time of year but especially Christmas and we've spent the last few years trying to find the ones that work best with kids, grandparents and everyone in between.

Here is my tried and tested shortlist on the most relaxing board games to help you have a very Hygge Christmas. :)

  1. Wingspan

This is top of my list because we've played it so much since getting it last Christmas, the poor birdbox which comes with the game is now held together with selotape. There is very little scope for arguments and the artwork is amazing! Wingspan is a game for 2-5 players aged 14 upwards. The objective is to place birds into your woodland, grassland and wetland habitats on your board. However, each bird can have a power which may grant you eggs or food (to lay other birds or to gain more points) or to collect more birds. The best combination of birds generally wins as the more effective combinations score more points. This is a game which just gets better and better the more you play it. Generally 2 player games seem to last 30 minutes or so, 3 player games 45-60 minutes and 4 or 5 player games 1-1.5 hours.

Like a few games on this shortlist, you're best off watching a tutorial like the one I found below and using the example instructions for a theoretical round one so you can it up. Play it once or twice and you'll bean expert though!

There are many beautiful things about Wingspan: the artwork, the way that everyone is focused on their own habitats, it's different every time you play it but the best thing is how indirectly competitive it is; you just build your habitat with some beautiful cards. Most points at the ends wins.


2. Dixit

Dixit is for 3 or more players (8 years upwards) but generally is better with more people playing. It's got a super-simple premise so is easy to learn and ideal for Christmas gatherings.

Each player has 6 cards with a picture on them. Players take turns to take the role of a storyteller who chooses a theme that summarises a card in their hand. They put the card face down in the middle of the table and other players place a card from their hand which they think closely matches the them the storyteller has given them. Players score 3 points if they guess correctly and if someone else guesses incorrectly. They also score a bonus point for each person that picks their card. If everyone guesses the Storyteller's card, everyone except the storyteller gets 2 points. If no one guesses the storyteller's card, everyone except the storyteller gets 2 points PLUS any bonus points which have arisen from other players picking their cards instead of the storyteller's. This means the theme should be abstract which is what makes this game so fun to play. You don't just have to look at the look at the cards; you have to think like the storyteller to work out which card is theirs. First to 30 points wins.

Expansion packs are available.

3. Takenoko

This fun game is for 2-4 players aged 8 upwards. Players take turns to complete 2-3 actions depending on the roll of a dice to complete task cards which relate to points. How many points depends on how many players. You might be building fields for your bamboo, growing bamboo or munching on it as a giant panda. No one knows what each other is working towards and the board changes every time you play it so it's relaxing to play and indirectly competitive like the others in this shortlist. It's just a well-crafted, beautifully designed family board game which doesn't last too long but at the same point lasts long enough to make it memorable.

4. Azul

There are multiple Azul games and we have 3 so here is an overview of the ones we have. All of them centre around collecting tokens from a central pile onto a board which makes a pattern. All are aged 8 years upwards. The only potential for conflict is where someone else takes the tokens that you're trying to collect, but we tend to find what goes around comes around on the next turn, so it's a good way to practice not getting too attached to the way you want to achieve something and just enjoy the process of making the patterns in front of you.

Azul: Classic

Collect tiles to make a patterned floor. Tiles laid next to each other score more points. Bonus points are received for rows, columns and sets of tiles at the end. Like the other Azul games, play it once and you'll get the hang of it for future plays.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

Collect pieces of glass to make windows in your board, scoring points when a window is completed. The game is comprised of 6 rounds with the choices of glass changing every time. This is my favourite, but that's mainly because the board and patterns change each time you play it and it's filled with shiny things, which is good for my inner magpie. :)

Azul: Summer Pavilion

This version sees you collect tiles in groups of 6. Again, you get more points based on how many tiles are next to each other and bonus points at the end of the game, which like Sintra, lasts 6 rounds.

5. Carcassonne

It's a classic but we still love it. Aged 13 upwards, our 10 year old has been playing it for a couple of years already. Carcassonne is all about building forts, roads, monasteries and fields which gain you points upon completion. Players take turns to add a tile to the board that they create together and claim an object on it as they go. Every family is different; some people might be deliberately awkward, but generally as everyone is looking at the same board, you all kind of want to see the picture unfold without gaps so end up working in a way which benefits yourself but which doesn't obstruct others. Games typically last 45-60 minutes when the tiles all run out. Again, you can buy expansion packs to bring more intrests and other kinds of bonuses.

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