Liars, Cheats and Pain: Why I Love Xmas Games

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Amy Dawson on the family fun (and fights) to be had with dice, counter and cards…

The last pig in blanket has been consumed, the closing ‘doof-doof-doof’ of the EastEnders Christmas special has sounded – it’s time to slump around a board game. Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Articulate… all these coloured cardboard boxes contain special, fairylit memories for me; of being allowed to stay up, trying just a sip of someone older’s Baileys while perched on a sofa cushion on the floor.

And I still love board games now, despite them being banned from our house for a while after someone in my large and competitive family burst an ocular blood vessel during Trivial Pursuit. They were probably riled because convention demands that anyone who does well is accused of having snuck down in the night to memorise all the question cards, which date from an edition from the late-1980s so can be fairly baffling.

Nobody believes the accusations for a second, of course, but board games aren’t really about the game. They’re about spending rare time with people you love but so rarely get to see properly, getting gently tipsy and being mean to each other without meaning it. What better bonding experience could you ask for?

Unfortunately, I am usually the one who least understands the rules while conversely caring the most about winning. ‘I won that!’ I’ll announce delightedly, snapping the board shut and ignoring all the side-eyes taking place around me. During a particularly animated round of Articulate last year I caught Dad sniffing at my glass of water, clearly worried I’d filled it with something stronger.

It seems we are seeing something of a renaissance in board game sales, with Mattell, the people behind Scrabble and Pictionary, reporting a ten per cent rise in business this January to October compared to last year. In an era when even toddlers spend hours swiping at an iPad screen, we seem to be relishing the unifying magic of a square of cardboard and a few plastic counters more than ever.

And you can play almost anything nowadays, from the Game Of Thrones board game to the endearingly silly looking Seagull Splat. But, with the exception of Monopoly – I’d rather staple my eyelids to the curtains – I prefer the classics.

However the past few years have seen a couple of new games enter the arena that are rapidly achieving ‘classic’ status – notably the ultra-rude Cards Against Humanity (do NOT play this with your nan) and the all-conquering Bananagrams, as featured on Channel 4’s Catastrophe. Like a faff-free version of Scrabble for people who can’t be bothered with the maths part, the latter is my favourite game – I even play it when it’s not Christmas.

So these are your instructions this festive season: eat, drink and be merry, put down the remote for a bit, and get ready for some good old-fashioned fun and squabbling. But please, no cheating.