It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and you’re staring down the barrel of TV marathons, Black Friday line-standing, or conversation about Great Uncle Rob’s chronic [REDACTED] with family. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: mobilize your family into playing games while you’re all together instead of all that boring junk!

But a careful touch is key: If you introduce the wrong game in the wrong way, Aunt Linda could be flipping tables and throwing meeples faster than you can say “roll to see who goes first”. This is going to take the work of a professional. It’s time to deploy Mission…


(Friday After Thanksgiving Family Round of Gaming)


What to have in your toolkit

  • Luck-based games: Ideal for a blend of ages and skill levels, some good dice-rolling games are nice when the food coma sets in.
    Recommendations: Zombie Dice, Las Vegas, Qwixx
  • Party games: A party game typically thrives in a group who know each other well. Almost as well as family! Chatty family can socialize over them without interrupting any deep strategy. If you’ve got a group that’s around the same age, trivia like Scene It? or word games like Bananagrams can be good, but there are great options for getting around generational/educational disparity.
    Recommendations: Telestrations, Apples to Apples, Dixit
  • Player elimination: Can be a double-edged sword, but entertain my theory here. A quick player elimination game eases the sting of not doing so well by letting you bow out of a game early and have other people in the same boat as you.

    Losers People who do not happen to win a particular round also get to observe the game and learn from other players. If they found the game intriguing, they may continue to watch and root for their spouse/sibling who’s still in the game, keeping them engaged.
    Recommendations: Tsuro, King of Tokyo, Bang!
  • Deduction games: Also kind of a double-edged sword. They’re great for a group who know each other well, but can be prone to “us versus them” personal vendettas sneaking in. Keep them short, and keep an eye on how they are received.
    Recommendations: Saboteur, The Resistance


Match the game to the audience

  • Abstract games: Abstract games are easier to understand and may be more familiar to older crowds. But because they don’t have a thematic layer of a fictional role, the narrative of the game rides close to home, which may be touchy for families that squabble more than usual.
  • Theme-heavy games:Highly thematic games might alienate older non-geek crowds, but they do make things less personal for very competitive people. Every family is different here, so find your balance.
  • Two player games: Have some good two-player games on hand. They’re perfect for people who are overwhelmed in a group teaching atmosphere. (Or for the one other person who couldn’t care less about Black Friday bargain hunting and just wants a quiet morning at home.)
  • Short games: Give people the opportunity to leave after a few rounds if they’re not into it. Never make someone who’s new to gaming feel trapped, and always allow opportunities for someone who’s interested to hop in.


A careful execution makes all the difference

  • Look for allies: Teenagers or folks who aren’t into family small talk are often your greatest champions if you can make them experts at your game, because that gives them a way to participate socially that has set rules and a limited amount of time, unlike never-ending discussions about politics.
  • Be a good host: Be enthusiastic. Play with an open hand as a “practice” round. Be non-competitive. Be knowledgeable and share your strategies. Be kind. Mike Domeny wrote on the topic of the best sequence for introducing games, and Jasmine Davis has a lot of great tips on how to host a game night over at Play Unplugged.
  • Let it go: Some family members, no matter what you do, are just not going to have the headspace for learning new games in a big get-together atmosphere, especially if they’re cooking a big dinner or their football team is playing. Make a note to follow up with them at Christmas and let them do their thing.

Or hey, if you and your gaming buddies are seasoned veterams and can play more than one round, then go for a FATDOG instead!

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Christina Major

Artist/Designer at Whirling Derby

Christina does freelance graphic design for board game publishers with her husband Mark Major, is the wig-wearing half of Whirling Derby, and draws/authors a webcomic over at sombulus.com

6 Readers Commented

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  1. Royce Banuelos on November 19, 2014

    Great ideas! Always a good time to get in some gaming.

    • Christina Major Author on November 19, 2014

      Thanks Royce! Indeed, there’s always a way to sneak in some gaming. =D

  2. Jasmine on November 19, 2014

    I like the concept, but I think the focus should be on “friendly” gaming rather than “family” gaming. I don’t live anywhere near my family and haven’t for several years. On holidays like Thanksgiving, it’s kind of a bummer for everything to revolve around family when I won’t be seeing mine.

    So, rather than feeling bad about the fact that people are piling on the family stuff around an already family-focused holiday, I’m going to adapt this to a “Friday After Thanksgiving FRIENDLY Round Of Gaming” and go on my merry way.

    • Christina Major Author on November 19, 2014

      Absolutely; it’s meant to be adapted to your circumstances! And I do want to clarify that “family” in this context can really be any group, and any time of the year: friends, co-workers, neighbors, bible study groups, volunteers, Girl Scouts, roommates, whatever you got! (maybe even cats, if you can train them!)

      The point I’m really trying to make is that there are fascinating challenges when you gather together people of different ages and different backgrounds for the day when they DON’T hang out in a friendly context otherwise, like many people will soon find themselves. You can’t break out Cards Against Humanity and call it a night. So it’s about looking at who’s around you and making good choices. I’m just hoping to bring up some options that folks might not have considered!

  3. Matthew T Bivens on November 26, 2014

    I am spreading the good vibes of FAT FROG to my students and mentioning your comic too. The have a happy turkey and good FAT FROG has brought some goodbyes into a good conversation.

    • Peter Vaughan on November 28, 2014

      Thanks Matthew – that’s so awesome to hear! I hope you and your students all had great turkey days and enjoy FATFROG to the fullest today!

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