If you’re looking for a fun game to break out with your family over the holidays, 12 Days may be your answer. It’s a card game by designers James Ernest and Mike Selinker with illustrations (based on the Christmas carol) by Echo Chernik. It works with three to five players ages 8 and up, and eight can play with two boxes.
Published by Calliope Games, 12 Days has a suggested price of $12 but can be found online for less than $8.
In 12 Days, players try to win each of the days, 12 rounds’ worth, but are also trying to have the majority of cards of a particular number to get points.
How it works:
The day cards are stacked from 1 to 12, with one being on top.
The rest of the cards are shuffled. There is one card with the No. 1, two with No. 2, and so on up to 12. There are also two 0 cards with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Players are dealt 12 cards. They simultaneously choose one card to pass to the left. Then they play one card.
The player who played the lowest card wins the day, but a tie means the card goes to the next lowest. If a tie can’t be broken, that day’s card is held over to the next day.
At the end of the game, the day cards will count as points, so early rounds are worth fewer points than later ones.
If a player plays a 0 card, he chooses which player to give the day card to, provided both 0 cards weren’t played.
Players draw one new card and play continues until the 12th day card has been won.
Players count their day cards, but they also get points for each set for which they have a majority. So if a player has the most 11 cards, she adds 11 to her score.
Why you might buy 12 Days:
The game presents interesting dilemmas on every turn. You have to pass a card, so you don’t want to keep passing the same number in case the person to your left holds onto it. Low cards are good late in the game, but too many too early will muck up your hand so you don’t know which higher cards to try to collect.
The number of players changes the game quite a bit. If the deck runs out, all the played cards are shuffled and become the new draw deck. In a three-player game, you won’t see those cards again. But in a five-player game, they’ll come around twice.
The game is simple, so anyone can be playing quickly, and I think the 8-year-old recommendation is just right.
The art looks like stained glass and includes people of multiple cultures. It’s lovely and makes the game nice for family Christmas gatherings.
There is an 8 Days variant, where you don’t play with the Santa cards or any numbers past eight. Don’t expect it to feel less like Christmas, though, since Santa and a Christmas tree are on the day cards.
The social dimension is what makes the game — trying to figure out what your opponents are holding onto while trying to keep them guessing about what you need. There are highs when someone hands you a card that is perfect for your set, and lows when you have to get rid of something you wanted to keep. The revelation of cards at the end is appropriately dramatic.
The price is great, and since everyone is playing at the same time, buying two decks so eight people can play won’t lengthen the game.
Why you might not buy 12 Days:
Other than the name and the art, there’s nothing particularly Christmas-like about the game. It’s a good card game that could have any theme attached.
This is a simple game. The hand you’re dealt at the beginning of the game will affect the whole game, since you’re only losing — and gaining — two cards at a time. That said, it offers plenty of strategy, so you can dig yourself out of a whole if you’re savvy.
If you don’t like card games, skip 12 Days.
I’m not fond of buying holiday-themed games because I like to play games all year. But the price of 12 Days, the beautiful art, and the plain fun make this a good investment. It’s the perfect game to bring out with the family, even those in mine who are hearing-impaired, since after the initial instructions, they’ll be able to play.
While the art is definitely Christmas-y, the game isn’t, which means if I were in the mood, it wouldn’t be too strange to bring this out at other times of the year. But I’ll probably save it the same way I do my Christmas music, which I appreciate even more because I only listen to it during December.
The price and small box also makes 12 Days a great stocking stuffer for any card game fan on my list.
Full disclosure: I got a review copy of 12 Days from Calliope Games. I wasn’t required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.