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These days call for....Taboo!

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These days call for....Taboo!

Here's how to keep the kids away from the TV
These days call for....Taboo!
Photographer: Mary Cirincione

With Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's just around the corner, you can expect a lot of togetherness, which is a blessing for the most part -- but also a challenge. How do you keep kids away from the television, teens from their cellphones and adult guests out of the kitchen and out of your way?

Why, a good old-fashioned game of course.

We rounded up a few top sellers that are sure bets for keeping your loved ones out of trouble this holiday season while inspiring some good, clean, competitive family fun. Whether you need to fill time between appetizers and Christmas dinner, or occupy everyone for an afternoon, these should do the trick. Some are tried-and-true favorites, while others you might never have heard of. Oh, and did we mention they make for excellent gifts for grandkids and hostesses alike?

Apples to Apples 

Designed for as few as four or as many as 10 players, this game is great for a crowd.

Each player is dealt seven red cards to start, and as they play a card, they pick up a fresh one. The role of judge moves around the circle, so each player takes a turn, choosing a green card and then leaving it face-up so the other players can see the word in play. Each player chooses one of their red cards which they feel best describes the word on the green card. The judge determines the winner, and awards that player the green card, equivalent to a point.

The key here is to know your audience. Is the judge sarcastic? A kid (or kid-at-heart)? Very literal? Does this person love opposites? Play to that person's sense of humor, and you up your chances of winning.

Taboo

This is a team-based, charades-style speed game -- so choose your players wisely.

A designated member from Team A will try to get his or her teammates to guess a word on their hidden card, without using a series of forbidden -- taboo -- words also written on the card. For example, if the word is "apple," you can't say red, fruit, pie, cider or core. But you could say "one of these keeps a doctor away," or a "gift teacher's love." The object is to get your team to guess multiple words right, one after the other, before time is up and the next team has its turn.

To keep things fair, one member from the opposite team always monitors things to make sure no forbidden words are used, buzzing their opponents as needed and forcing a missed point. Kids and adults really get into it, and you'd be surprised how many slip-ups happen after a few holiday beverages are added into the mix.

LCR (Left-Center-Right)

Pop this easy dice game in your purse before heading to your next holiday event, and everyone will love you for it. But don't forget to pack at least a few dollar bills, and maybe a few pennies -- there's gambling involved.

You need at least three players to play, but this game can easily accommodate a dozen or more. Just substitute pennies for extra chips if you run out. Have everyone buy in with a dollar bill, and the last man (or kid) standing wins the pot.

To start, each player gets three chips, and the game moves around the table as players take turns rolling three dice marked with L (left), C (center), R (right) and a dot. Then following the commands they receive. Get three L's, and you pass three chips to the person at your left. Get one R and two C's, pass one right and deposit two in the center. Get three dots and you get to keep them all.

As the game progresses, people lose chips and gain chips -- only rolling the number of dice, as chips in hand -- which makes for some exciting final moments at the end. The rules are so simple that kids as young as 5 can handle it, as can some inebriated adults.

Blokus

Best for four players, although two or three could work, this strategy game involves some real thought. The best players can plan two or three moves ahead.

Each player claims a color and 21 tetris-like pieces of varying shapes, all made up of little blocks. The board itself is 20 squares by 20 squares, and players move inward from a corner, placing their own pieces at a diagonal from each other. Pieces from different players can butt up against one another, and players are encouraged to win by encroaching on another player's space, but two pieces from the same player can only touch at the corners.

Sound challenging? It's fairly simple to understand once you get going, but knowing which pieces to play early takes some practice. Kids as young as 5 can play, but they may need some coaching at first.

Settlers of Catan

First designed in Germany for three to four players, this strategy game can hold more with the purchase of an expansion pack. It also works well for teams, especially if some players are on the younger side, and roughly resembles the classic game Risk.

Each player's aim is to establish a colony on a hexagonal board, spending resources -- brick, lumber, wool, grain and ore -- to build. At each turn, someone rolls a pair of dice to determine which of the hexes are producing resources at that time, which can result in a payout to those with colonies that border those resources. Robbers and penalties keep things interesting, and players can trade resources the way they might trade properties in Monopoly. The first to achieve 10 victory points, through the ownership of settlements (one point each) and cities (two points each), wins.

Warning: This game can last for hours. Set it up somewhere where you can pause the game and come back to it as needed.

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