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Great games to play with your family and friends on Thanksgiving

Play games instead of talking politics!

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family playing video games ESB Professional/
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

There are all kinds of wonderful sentiments behind Thanksgiving, and for most people, family is at the heart of the holiday — or at least, it’s in second place behind the feast. But reuniting with relatives for a few days can also be fraught with tension, especially considering contentious topics of discussion like, say, everything in the news these days.

Talking things out with the people you love is always a good idea, no matter how much your viewpoints differ. Failing that — or even if you can manage to do it — you’re still going to be stuck with those folks for a while, whether it’s Thanksgiving or another end-of-year holiday. Why not pass the time with something everybody can agree on: video games that are fun for the whole family?

We’ve put together a varied list of options from the 1980s to the present that are guaranteed to bring your family closer ... as long as nobody’s a sore loser.

NES Classic photos Samit Sarkar/Polygon

Basically everything on the NES Classic

OK, so it’s probably unlikely that you were able to snag an NES Classic Edition when it launched earlier this month, since the console sold out immediately. And even if you did, you might be saving it for a holiday present.

But if you did manage to get your hands on the diminutive $60 system, Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion for the 30 old-school games it contains. Whether you’re playing head-to-head games of Tecmo Bowl or passing off the controller between sessions of Pac-Man, these relics of the ’80s will keep you busy for hours upon hours.

The Jackbox Party Pack 2 (Amazon Fire TV, Android, Mac, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One)

Yes, Jackbox Games released its third Party Pack this year, but we’re going with The Jackbox Party Pack 2 for one big reason: It contains both Fibbage 2 and Quiplash XL. Both of them will bring out the witty members of the family, but Quiplash is particularly fun in these settings because it’s all about playing to the room. And unlike for everything else on this list, all you need to play The Jackbox Party Pack 2 is a smartphone.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

Mario Kart 8 - Mario / Yoshi Nintendo EAD/Nintendo

Nintendo characters are so ubiquitous that even your grandma has surely heard of Mario, Luigi & co. — if not their “Wa” compatriots — and nothing brings out the competitive streak in a family like a racing game with power-ups. Nintendo may have essentially killed off the Wii U, but until the Nintendo Switch is out and there’s a Mario Kart game on the console, Mario Kart 8 alone makes it worth keeping the system around.

Nintendo Land (Wii U)

The great thing about minigame collections like Nintendo Land — a pack-in with the Wii U at launch — is that they always offer at least one activity that’s a blast. Highlights of this package include Mario Chase, which makes great use of the Wii U GamePad and its front-facing camera. So does Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, which can be a surprisingly spooky game. The more, the merrier.

Overcooked (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

If you really want to test your family’s level of Thanksgiving togetherness, try playing Overcooked. Your attempts to divvy up responsibilities like chopping vegetables, washing dishes and cooking meals will likely end in a food-burning blaze fit for an industrial-grade kitchen — with all of you shouting at each other about your failures to organize the process.

Rock Band (PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)

Trotting out Rock Band remains a great way to find out how many of your relatives are low-key great singers.

Rocket League blue explosion Psyonix

Rocket League (Linux, Mac, PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Who knew that soccer with cars could be so much fun? Rocket League is making waves in the esports world, and it definitely has a high skill ceiling. (We still haven’t mastered the art of boosting our car upward for aerial shots.) It also supports split-screen action for up to four local players, so everybody — regardless of their familiarity with the game — can team up against the AI for some rocket-fueled fun.

SingStar (PlayStation 2, PS3, PS4)

Why go out to a karaoke bar when you have everything you need at home — songs, music videos and plenty of alcohol?

Sportsfriends (Linux, Mac, PC, PS3, PS4)

Maybe you just picked up a PlayStation VR headset and some PlayStation Move wands. If trying VR after eating is making your relatives queasy, put the headset down and pick up the Move controllers for some Johann Sebastian Joust — assuming you’ve got the space, of course. Even if you only have standard DualShock gamepads for Sportsfriends, the seesaw experience that is Super Pole Riders is always guaranteed to be a good time, especially with a crowd cheering on the players.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)

smash wii u yoshi Sora Ltd./Nintendo

Sure, the frenetic pace of a Super Smash Bros. match may be too much for the old folks to handle, even if they know of characters like Wario and Waluigi. But as long as there are a few kids around, they can jump in with a controller — or a Nintendo 3DS — and enjoy playing an item-free match on Final Destination, just like the pros. At the very least, it’s the fairest way to determine who gets the last slice of pumpkin pie.

Tricky Towers (Linux, Mac, PC, PS4)

Tetris meets Jenga in Tricky Towers, a game in which up to four players compete to see who can build the highest, most stable tower of tetrominoes. It’s OK when played solo, but it really shines when you’re all in the room yelling at each other. What could be more appropriate for family time during the holidays?

Ultimate Chicken Horse (Linux, Mac, PC)

It’s always fun when you can get ahead by screwing over your friends, which is exactly what Ultimate Chicken Horse is about. In this platformer, all the players build the level as they go, with each person looking to place obstacles in a way that they can reach the end but others fail. Oh, and the playable characters are farm animals like a horse, a chicken and a sheep.

Warlords (Atari 2600)

Take a trip through time to the dawn of video games with this bona fide classic. Warlords pits four players against each other, with each player trying to protect their own fort from a ricocheting ball that destroys structures à la Breakout. If you don’t have an Atari 2600 and an old TV lying around, you might consider one of the Atari Flashback consoles.

The Witness (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

We admit that The Witness isn’t the first video game you might think of as being a hit at parties. But hear us out on this one. The Witness is a difficult, often obtuse game. Why not unleash your family’s collective brainpower on its confounding line-based puzzles, or pass the controller around to see who can get through them more quickly?

Those are just a few great party games you can bring out at Thanksgiving, no matter how you celebrate this most American of holidays. If you’ve got favorites of your own, let us know in the comments!

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