The holidays are less than a week away, and if you’re anything like me, you don’t want to see your family. You can now crush this holiday discomfort with one swift stroke. Over the last five years I’ve perfected a holiday regimen that saves everyone from the awkwardness of holidays with family. If you have any sway over the structure of your gathering, I have three tips that will save you from an evening of emotional scarring and a trip to the therapist.
STEP 1: Eliminate all conversation… with board games.
This probably sounds like hooey and you’d rather have a good blaster at your side, but trust me, it works. The trick is to supply the family with the right kind of board game so they’re too busy to talk about anything else.
Family members usually say whatever bizarre thing comes to mind. No taboo subjects. As soon as you walk through the door you’re caught between the faction that loves the Empire and longs for the days of Palpatine and the one that wants the Rebels to destroy everything and take over. Meanwhile, your mother or your aunt drops hints that your cousins really made something of themselves — Luke became a powerful Jedi and your cousin Leia became a Senator. And why you haven’t settled down with a nice Twi’lek and had Younglings?
Therefore, you want cooperative games only. Avoid competitive games. Cooperative games keep the conversation focused on the game, nothing else. Make no time for conversation other than team strategy. They have to play nice in order to win. Remember: competitive games will lead your holiday to the Dark Side.
Seriously, board games have saved me at many family gatherings. Except once, when we took a five minute break and left Dad unsupervised. He went off on a tangent about how the Hutts should be in charge.
There’s one in every family.
STEP 2: Eliminate the formal, sit-down dinner.
I just told you how to eliminate awkward family conversations! Don’t go and ruin it by having a formal sit-down dinner where everyone has to sit facing each other with nothing to do but eat and talk about the very things we’re trying to avoid.
Formal dinners also lead to the Dark Side, and you know someone’s gonna end up frozen in carbonite by the time dessert is served. Maybe you. So eliminate the formal dinner.
This change has been really successful for my family holidays. Not only does it eliminate forced awkwardness, it helps maintain a party atmosphere because people can mingle (as in, you can run away and return to a board game as soon as you’ve loaded up your plate with deviled eggs).
Appetizers are less stressful to prepare. Why slave away over a hot stove when you can bring sliders? How about stuffing that’s baked in mini muffin tins? They take less than an hour. We have better things to do than cook all day or be forced to eat someone else’s terrible food.
But Jen, you’re saying, my family insists on a traditional family dinner. Well I say to you that families need to start new traditions! Why have uncomfortable family dinners if everyone prefers the party vibe? Serve small bites. They’re also easier to take as leftovers.
STEP 3: Keep a three-hour rule.
Your family is expecting you. But for how long? If you go for an hour, that’s a clear offense. But if you stay all day, you’ll want to throw yourself into a Sarlacc pit.
Stay for three hours. No more, no less.
Three hours is just the right level of commitment. Three hours says you care and respect your family but, at the same time, you have boundaries. Yes, I know your family may not be happy if you leave after three hours, but the first time is the hardest. Set the precedent, and this holiday, when your silent alarm goes off after three hours, punch the hyperdrive.
If you’re bringing board games to the party, you’ll be able to get three or four games completed, plus food, before your time is up. That’s a decent itinerary right there, and you can have the rest of your holiday in the comfort of your own home.
- Eliminate conversations by filling the space with cooperative board games.
- Eliminate the formal sit-down dinner and make it appetizers only.
- Stay for three hours and then punch the hyperdrive.
Those are my three tips! If you’re looking for suggestions on great cooperative board games that are simple and quick to learn, my recommendations are:
Players must work together to get off of an island that’s sinking. Fast. Each player has a unique job or skill and a limited number of turns. As pieces of the island sink, players must work together to get back to the helicopter and evacuate. If anyone is left behind, everyone fails.
Forbidden Island is a great game that encourages everyone to work together, as opposed to Force Choking annoying family members. Games last ~30 minutes each.
The downside to this game is that it’s only for 2 – 4 players. If you need a game that accommodates a bit more, I also recommend Forbidden Desert, made by the same company and accommodating up to 5 players.
Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert happen so fast and require so much teamwork that no one has time to talk about anything except for strategy.
My other cooperative game suggestion is Concept.
In Concept, teams can be more fluid, so don’t worry about how many people you have.
There’s a board with a bunch of icons, where each icon can represent different words or ideas. A team draws a card and picks a word, title, or phrase from a list of options, then tries to convey it by marking icons on the board. The concepts can be as simple as “television” to more complicated phrases like “Luke, I am your father.” Seriously, that quote appeared on one of our cards!
And not to be a nerd about it, but that quote is incorrect. It’s “NO, I am your Father!”
But whatever. My mom still guessed it because the Force is strong with that one.
With this game, the team who guesses the correct word or phrase gets points, and the team who successfully conveyed the concept also gets points. So it’s friendlier than most games.
With all that said, my favorite party game, hands down, is Telestrations.
If you combine Pictionary and Telephone, you get Telestrations. Each person in the group gets a little notebook with a pen, and everyone gets a different word or phrase. Each person draws their unique word, flips the page, and passes their book.
The next person tries to guess what the person drew. They write down the word or phrase, flip the next page, and pass.
The third person can only see what was written before. They draw what the previous person wrote down.
And so on, and so forth, until the books have all been around the circle, and each person sees if their original word or phrase was correctly translated to the end. So everyone in the circle is always drawing or trying to figure out what a picture meant — which means everyone is QUIET while playing the game.
No conversation. At the end, each person takes time to reveal what happened in their notebooks, but the conversation is just about the game. I’ve played this with friends a few times and it’s an amazing game. It accommodates groups of 4 to 12, but I’d recommend at least 6.
Finally, for the record, I don’t get paid for the above recommendations, and no one asked me to feature them. In fact, I included Amazon links, but they all go to Smile.Amazon. If you want to buy one of these games and have a charity listed on Smile.Amazon, some of the money goes to your charity.
Because it’s the year for giving. Just no talking.
I wish you all a very happy holiday! Please let me know if you try any of the above suggestions and how they worked for you. Or if you have a surefire trick of your own, please share it in the comments section. I’m always looking for suggestions.