Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to contemplate what I’ll be doing on Christmas day. After all, my family lives 1,300 miles away and my wife’s is even farther, so family get-togethers are few and far between. Before you begin to pity me, understand that I am more than happy to sit in front of a game and dawdle the day away. If you’re looking for the right one — be it board, electronic or other format — here’s a handy guide for some family-mingling alternatives to pass the time.

Fiasco
Bully Pulpit Games, $5-25.
Three to six players

Imagine a scenario wherein you’re an English mob boss and you’ve been presented with a business opportunity. Your bastard son living in New York has an “in” with the local chicken fighting promoter and wants to cut you in. It’s too bad that your abandoned son wants revenge for a lifetime of neglect and is hell-bent on destruction. This isn’t the plot to Fiasco, but it could be, as it’s a game of improvisation with a very loose set of rules. Grab a few sheets of paper and create a reason for your relation with the other players — we found up to five to be the ideal number. The goal is to progress the story through improvisation and, in the end, come to a fitting conclusion. The game comes with a multitude of scenarios and is a real bang-for-the-buck idea for a party, too. A similar alternative is Dread, which puts players in a campy horror setting.

Pandemic
Z-Man Games, $39.99.
Two to four players

Nothing says ’tis the season like racing to corral a virus that’s determined to plant itself firmly up Santa Claus Lane. Released in 2007, the virus-bashing board game has spawned a slew of expansions and a cult following for its turn-based cooperative game play plus splashy playing pieces and artwork. Players race to contain four viruses that have various traits (waterborne, airborne, vomiting, hemorrhaging, death, etc.) and varying degrees of lethality. Each player takes up a different role and tries to find a cure or to contain it, with each role having its own specific pair of dice. This country-hopping race against time is fun with a little bit of eggnog and a bottle of Purell at your side.

Star Wars Battlefront
Electronic Arts, $59.99 
Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC

Look, tonight (Thursday, Dec. 17) a bunch of people are going to be lined up in front of movie theaters across the country itching for that sweet, sweet fix they call Star Wars with the latest installment’s release. If you’re not one to brave the lines, stay in and play Star Wars Battlefront in front of the safety and comfort of your television’s glowing warmth. Take on the role of the Jedi Luke Skywalker, who has come a long way from his nerf herding roots, and plow your way through hordes of Stormtroopers and other characters with odd names like Boba Fett, Han Solo and Jar Jar Binks. This is a fast-paced, primarily multiplayer experience pitting  light against dark in the film’s many iconic locales. There’s also a single-player mode, but doing battle against Star Wars nerds the world over is a lot of fun, as is battling friends or significant others on the couch beside you. You may have to use the force to break away from it and enjoy Christmas dinner with your family.

This holiday season make room for the turkey and the games. Start a family tradition around the kitchen table and try not to throw the dice too hard; Santa’s watching and ready to spank you, as is tradition!


Chris O’Neal is an airborne virus. Follow him on Instagram @atchrisoneal.