It’s nearly the festive season, a time of year well-known for inducing tension in the happiest of families. Here, I explain why some traditional games encourage arguments but that help is at hand in the form of newer games on the market.

Why do we play board games at Christmas?

Games are powerful things. They can bring people together, create shared memories, spark conversation and develop social skills, and we love them because often we’re not even aware of the benefits; we just get caught up in the playing. So it’s not surprising that so many of us play board games at Christmas, when the focus is on spending quality time with loved ones.

If you only play them on special occasions though, the temptation is to go to mainstream publishers, to find the games you recognise or others made by the same company. By sticking with what you know, you can miss out on the enormous range of hobby games out there, many of which offer benefits that some traditional ones don’t.

What’s wrong with nostalgic games, like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit?

Some traditional board games have been around a very long time; Monopoly came out in 1935 and was a rebrand of the Landlord’s Game from 1905, for example. But thousands of more interesting and challenging games have been developed since, many of which won’t lead to the traditional family arguments either.

A lot of the older, well-known mainstream games use a ‘roll and move’ mechanic (roll the dice and move round the board). These often rely on luck and the opportunities to make choices can be limited. Games lacking challenge and agency can lead to boredom and we all know what happens when young people get bored…

What’s the difference between traditional family board games and modern hobby games?

Boredom isn’t the only potential problem with some of the more traditional games. Many involve player elimination and – in Monopoly for instance – you may be out of the game hours before it finishes. This isn’t what I want from a family game. Some modern hobby board games use player elimination too, but usually these games are quick, so nobody is sitting around twiddling their thumbs for long. And some, like Trivial Pursuit, require prior knowledge on particular subjects, so different generations of families can’t even begin on a level playing field. 

Many hobby games, on the other hand, give players more choice and agency over their destiny in the game. These games involve strategic and tactical play, and don’t require vast prior knowledge. These factors mean play can be challenging, engaging and fair.

What do Dark Imp games offer families?

When I was a teacher and head of an education company, I used board games all the time with students, teachers, and my children. People frequently wanted to know how to get their children to play board games with them and, crucially, how to do so without it leading to arguments.

Having played and enhanced games myself since childhood, it was a natural decision for me to develop and publish board games, and I’ve focused on creating ones that adults and children can equally enjoy.  In The Dark Imp games, there are no mechanisms which put children off such as long turns and elimination and the complexity levels are manageable whatever the players’ ages and abilities.

As well as this, Dark Imp games are available in a range of formats – from coasters and tins to big variety boxes – and at a range of prices to suit everyone’s budgets, from £1.99 – £49.99. Several games have also won awards.

If you’ve never played a hobby game, where should you start?

Start with a hobby game that doesn’t break the bank! Then you can get a taste of how they work without feeling the pressure to get your money’s worth. Gamers can pay upwards of £100 for a deluxe game but that doesn’t mean you have to.

There are low-priced and easily transportable ones; The Dark Imp’s downloadable Print and Play Games cost less than £3 and are a lovely last minute gift to email, and the Coaster Games can even be sent as a present in a Christmas card. Games like these are also great for avid board gamers to give as presents, to introduce family and friends to the world of games which await them.

Whichever one you choose, put that dusty game of Monopoly to one side and give a hobby game a go this Christmas. It might be the most stress-free game you’ve played and open up a whole new world of quality time for your family.