The already-ongoing holiday season means plenty of reasons (or obligations) to see family. Regardless of your feelings about relatives and in-laws, you will no doubt encounter a stretch of time where boredom sets in, and you start daydreaming about some alone time with your console or PC. Luckily, we have a solution for both those problems: family-friendly video games.
Okay, wait! Hear us out! This list will attempt to cut out the boring options like a Switch port of Monopoly or Jeopardy streamed to the living room TV. Any and all of the included titles will ensure you and your family laugh – perhaps in triumph – without you trying to disappear into the couch cushions.
A note: all of the best Thanksgiving games can be played remotely online, giving you even more reason to cancel travel plans and celebrate responsibly in self-isolation. Discord calls might not be the same as hugs, but we want you and yours to make it to 2021 in good health.
Jackbox Party Pack
Alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The Jackbox Party Pack game collections continue to be one of the go-to choices for any gathering of four or more people looking for cheap laughs. If you haven’t heard of these games, here’s the skinny: the Jackbox Party Packs are collections of multiplayer games usually involving wordplay, drawing or some other social skill. The rules may differ, but each player uses their phone to join the game run on a console or PC. This means the barrier for entry is low, not requiring everyone to own a copy of the game.
We can honestly recommend any of the seven available packs (which often go on steep sales around the holidays), but the seventh and latest is one of the strongest collections of games in recent years. The new Quiplash 3 excises the weakest portions of past versions, leaving a game good enough for your entire evening, alone. Luckily, the other four new games are no slouches, either.
Jackbox Party Packs are available on nearly every device known to man (sorry, PSP).
If your group is small and doesn’t mind an injection of reflex-based adrenaline, then Overcooked 2 could be the perfect item off this menu. Between two and four players work collaboratively – or against each other in teams – to prep and cook and clean and deliver and do it all over again until the clock winds down and the score is tallied.
Labor division is the order du jure, meaning some communication will help you not burn the place to the ground. Then again, what are the holidays without cracking open a fire extinguisher? Whether you grab the base game or all of the DLC, this kitchen nightmare simulator will keep you and your friends screaming “PLATES PLATES PLATES!” at each other well into the night.
Overcooked 2 is available on PC, and all major consoles—local and online multiplayer supports up to four players.
Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia
Okay, so perhaps we lied to you. Maybe we will be talking about a game wherein one could theoretically play Monopoly. But when you purchase Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia, your options will extend so far past the walled garden of Milton Bradley you will have no reason to again ask your family, “Okay, who wants to be the banker?”
Both platforms allow you to access an expansive library of board games, but each approaches the process a little differently. Tabletop Simulator runs a one-time nominal cost and then provides access to a range of free games, both from developer Berserk as well as from users. Board game designers do offer premium licenses to their games for another cost, but most popular entries – like Wingspan, Catan, Gloomhaven, etc. – will have been recreated by enterprising users and made free to access.
Will it look pretty without all the official art? Well, no. Does the interface simulate moving pieces one by one a little too clunk? Sure. But Tabletop Simulator is one of the best ways to play games that would normally run you $50+ (£38+) without the ability to connect with friends online.
Tabletopia is more akin to a game streaming service. It offers a subscription service with access to different tiers of games restricted depending on your level. Without paying a dime, you will be able to open a table and play over 1,000 well-crafted digital versions of classic, if not popular games. Those wanting to try something new and likely still on store shelves will need to subscribe.
Here’s the upside: only one person needs a premium subscription to open a table and invite the rest of the family. This reduces the cost of entry significantly, allowing an apartment or home to split the cost between them.
Tabletop Simulator is available on PC, and Tabletopia is available on PC and mobile devices.
If someone younger than 25 will join the celebrations this year, chances are good they will already be playing Among Us. Heck, you probably at least know about Among Us. The sleeper hit that exploded on social media a few months ago is still going strong, offering a social space for sci-fi hijinks via a hidden role game much like One Night Werewolf or Assassin.
Among Us earns a place on this list by being easy to access on mobile devices, consoles or PCs, while also boasting a devastatingly easy learning curve. You will understand the flow of phases by the end of your first game, though we cannot promise you will ever be skilful at it. Some folks just don’t have a deceitful bone in their entire body. And even if you do, your teenage cousin will do it much better and post your corpse on Tiktok.
Tetris Effect: Connected
Tetris fans, some of the longest-suffering individuals in any game community were offered a feast when Tetris Effect released this year. From the graphics to the music and the pristine gameplay, lovers of falling blocks ate well. Now, an update for the game introduces new modes for cooperative and competitive play.
Available on the last and current generation Xbox and Playstation consoles, along with PC, Tetris Effect: Connected is the perfect offering for smaller groups wanting an experience that rewards your senses. Not feeling like fighting? The Connected mode lets three players join together and help each other survive the onslaught of Tetrominos, even merging everyone’s matrices for an experience that feels as satisfying as it sounds.
But feel free to throw the gauntlet down on that one aunt who crows about her video game heyday in the ‘80s.
Untitled Goose Game
Did you forget about 2019’s honking devil? We sure didn’t. Untitled Goose Game puts you in the webbed feet of an avian troublemaker determined to hassle every member of a quiet English village until they are completely satisfied.
This might seem an odd inclusion, but we add it here because the cooperative mode is worth returning to if you never experienced it the first time around. Scheming together with another goose, feels unfair in the best way, allowing you to rule each and every one of the game’s many interactive vignettes. Plus, non-gamer friends and family members will love the casual hijinks and good-natured villainy enacted by The Goose.
It fully supports local multiplayer, and online can be accomplished via Steam Remote Play Together and PlayStation’s Share Play.
Yeah, Minecraft. That game that still throws up incredible active user numbers and evolves faster than a goo-drenched animal in a ‘90s comic book. And for good reason: Minecraft continues to hinge its core gameplay loop on discovery and personal industry, rewarding players for almost every action. Like Among Us, you likely have a younger family member who knows loads more about the active scene than we do and will be happy to show you their server.
Inviting your friends and family for an evening of hitting blocks and falling in lava could be a nostalgic trip back to the beginning of the last decade, or it could finally give everyone a reason to see who this Steve is and why nobody wants him in Smash Bros.
Regardless, Minecraft’s online multiplayer tools are robust enough to facilitate whatever style of play your group wants, and I promise you will find some adventure to distract you for several hours, at least.
Spelunky 1 & 2
We’re splurging on this last one and allowing the author’s bias to peek through just a little bit. Spelunky 2 had the misfortune of dropping close enough to Hades that any fanfare or excitement was completely swallowed by memes about extremely sexy Greek gods and what your Pantheon crush said about your quarantine habits.
But Spelunky 2 turned about to be one of those incredible sequels that just took everything from the original and did it more. Without feeling like a retread! It supports up to four players in local or online multiplayer and will delight a group looking for a challenge or chance at mayhem. Those who felt intrigued by the description of Overcooked 2 should add Spelunky to the list.
It’s a roguelike dungeon delver where you attempt to explore as deep as possible using limited resources and dodging almost constant danger. Dying sends you back to the start and randomizes everything; memorizing the layout will not help you here. Even if nobody else wants to play, watching someone absolutely beef it in Spelunky 2 is one of the quickest hits of schadenfreude currently available without logging into Twitter.