My parents were cruel and heartless on Christmas Day.

Whilst friends bounded down the stairs to head straight for their under-tree booty, my brother and I made do with a tangerine, a bag of nuts and other stocking-fillers. Only once lunch was scoffed, we’d washed the dishes and buffed the roasting dish to a sheen, could we tear into the present mountain under the tree.

As a parent, I now see the genius of that delayed gratification. With grandma propped half-asleep in an armchair and dad half-drunk beside her, shameless bribery was the only hope mum had of any kitchen “volunteers”.

But even if you don’t share my family tradition of domestic child labour, here’s some help to make those stockings count with some compact, concentrated boxes of tabletop gaming joy.

1.) A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £11.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 15–30+ mins
Age: 14+

Winter is Coming, and with assistance from the ever-roaming Varys, you must secure support from the major families of Westeros to stand a chance of being appointed Hand of the King.

Quite why you’d want to land the role of The Most Likely To Be Murdered In All Of King’s Landing isn’t explained. You do apparently get a funky brooch.

With elegant mechanics, quick play time and gorgeously whimsical artwork, Hand of the King will have you coming back for more whether you’re a fan of the TV show and books or have never heard of the Starks of Winterfell.

2.) Skull (aka Skull & Roses)

Publisher: Asmodee
Price*: £14.99
No. of players: 3–6
Play time: 30mins
Age: 13+

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a box full of beer mats, but Skull is actually like Liar’s Dice, yet won’t annoy fellow patrons at the pub with noisy dice rattling and the inevitable piratical accents.

To win a round you make a call on how many mats on the table you think you can flip over without revealing a skull on the reverse side. Two successful rounds and you win the game. As with Liar’s Dice you’ll need a combination of bluff, reading your opponents and good, old-fashioned luck.

3.) Zombie Dice

Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Price*: £10.99
No. of players: 2+
Play time: 10 mins
Age: 10+

There’s nothing like the prospect of juicy brains to work up an appetite for Christmas lunch!

In this classic push-your-luck dice-roller, players assume the role of zombies with each of the thirteen dice representing a tasty human on the menu. Chase them down to get those lovely brains, but don’t get shotgunned!

4.) Age of War

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £9.99
No. of players: 2–6
Play time: 20 mins
Age: 10+

Muster your troops, polish your shiny red armour, shout “Banzai!” and overcome a string of fortresses in feudal Japan to secure support of the clans, and claim the title of Shogun.

Watch out though: without complete clan support your newly acquired castles will be retaken by the other Daimyos (Japanese for “thieving bastards”).

Age of War couldn’t be simpler to teach or learn. Yet despite its lightness, it can be surprisingly cutthroat as unclaimed fortresses start to dwindle and the players turn on each other to score big before time runs out.

5.) Dark Deeds

Publisher: Games & Gears
Price*: £39.99
No. of players: 2–5
Play time: 60 mins
Age: 12+

Expect plenty of back-stabbing, flagrant criminality and cockney accents turning the air blue.

Players assume the roles of a master villain’s evil minions, vying with each other for their dark patron’s favour. Waylay the city’s wealthy as they wander the streets, whilst trying to stay one step ahead of the City Watch.

It’s as expensive as many big box games, but you get what you pay for in terms of quality components, stunning artwork and delightfully wicked game play.

6.) Mr Jack: Pocket Edition

Publisher: Asmodee
Price*: £14.99
No. of players: 2
Play time: 15 mins
Age: 14+

Erm. Because nothing says Christmas like murdered prostitutes, eh?

In this two-player reworking of the board game of the same name, one player takes the role of the elusive Jack the Ripper, whilst the other tries to track him down using the detecting might of Holmes & Watson (and a helpful dog!)

For such a small box catering for just two, Mr Jack packs a big punch.

7.) Coup

Publisher: Indie Boards and Cards
Price*: £12.99
No. of players: 3–6
Play time: 15 mins
Age: 10+

Just fifteen cards make up this futuristic game of political intrigue and ludicrous fashion (if the red shoulder-tunnels on the box lid are anything to go by).

A good poker face is essential as you use your influence at court (or lie about influence you don’t have) to weaken your rivals, assassinate their minions, and procure enough funds to launch a coup to oust them.

Even with player elimination, games of Coup are short, and it’s actually fun to sit back and watch the last few protagonists bluff, back-stab and dominate their way to victory.

8.) Roll For It!

Publisher: Calliope Games
Price*: £11.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 30 mins
Age: 8+

Get the rare deluxe version if you can find it, with a funky embossed tin, gorgeous card art and up to eight players. Or just be a tight wad and get this 4-player peasant version.

Choose six dice of one colour, roll once per turn and try to match them to any of the cards on the table. Success means you win the card and however many points its worth. The first to forty points is the winner.

Sound simple? It would be, except chances are that another player will also be after the same cards, so it a race to see who has Lady Luck on their side.

9.) Bang! The Dice Game

Publisher: Abacus Spiele
Price*: £19.99
No. of players: 3–8
Play time: 15 mins
Age: 8+

Be the Sheriff or one of his Deputies, a dastardly Outlaw or a mercenary Renegade in this Wild West dice game. Each role comes with its own objectives, but you won’t know who your compadres are, so watch where you’re shooting or hurling that stick o’ dynamite!

Also available in a Walking Dead flavour if you don’t like the Western theme or are a fan of the TV series or comics.

10.) Tiny Epic Western

Publisher: Gamelyn Games
Price*: £25.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 30–45+ mins
Age: 13+

You’ll need more than just a fast gun hand and dynamite to come out on top here, hombre.

Utilise your posse and manage well your Law, Money and Force. Only then will you stand a chance of coming out on top as the most powerful tycoon in the Wild West.

Expensive, but the contents live up to the Epic name, and the game play isn’t as light as the box size might suggest either.

11.) Welcome to the Dungeon

Publisher: Iello
Price*: £9.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 30 mins
Age: 10+

Let’s see how tough you are without all that armour, shall we?

Push your luck with up to 4 other players as you dare each other to face a dungeon crawl with less and less gear, while the place is steadily packed out with more lethal foes.

Whether you triumph by winning two rounds or being the last player standing, this is a fun and colourful way to spend half an hour, although chances are the great artwork and engaging game play with keep you coming back for more.

12.) Hanabi

Publisher: R&R Games
Price*: £10.99
No. of players: 2–5
Play time: 25 mins
Age: 10+

Players will have to merge minds almost telepathically to score big in this, but there’s no denying that nothing else out there is quite like Hanabi.

Cooperate to lay cards in sequence creating a fantastic firework display. There’s only one catch: players can’t see what cards they hold, but everyone else can. However, only a limited amount of vague clues can be given to help each other play the right card at the right time.

13.) Love Letter

Publisher: AEG
Price*: £7.99
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 5+ mins
Age: 8+

Combine risk, deduction and luck to get your love letter to a royal trollop before your rivals. Don’t be fooled by the title as players will be as cutthroat as they can to outdo each other and win her favour.

If you fancy a different theme there are also Batman and Hobbit versions of the same game. Whichever you choose, the meager sixteen cards add up to a whole lot of fun.

14.) Pickomino (aka Heck Meck)

Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Price*: £19.99
No. of players: 2–7
Play time: 20 mins
Age: 10+

This is all about rolling dice and collecting worms for hungry chickens. I’m not even positive that chickens eat worms, but who cares when it’s this fun? Roll your dice, win some domino-style scoring tiles, steal them off other players and try not to upset the youngsters with your brazen thievery.

There’s a Junior version for your budding geeks aged 5+, which is perhaps the perfect gateway to addict them to tabletop games. Like they have any choice.

15.) Citadels

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Price*: £11.99
No. of players: 2–8
Play time: 20–60+ mins
Age: 10+

Fill your medieval city with architectural bling to outshine the other players, but be careful where you invest your wealth for the best return. Gold alone won’t bring you victory though— bluffing, intrigue and diplomacy will all be required to carry the day.

This hugely popular game has just been re-released in big box format, so there’s no better time to snap up the old version, which is cheaper and a far more convenient size for stocking stuffing.

*Quoted prices are recommended retail prices (RRP) only and do not represent the real world prices available in stores and online. Shop around for bargains!

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