Publisher: 25th Century Games
Player Count: 2-4 Players
Solo mode: No
Game Length: 20-30 Minutes
Experience Christmas morning in a box as you unwrap gifts, peek inside stockings and gather set collections of ornaments to earn the most points… Well, maybe it’s not exactly like Christmas morning, but you get the idea. In Holly Jolly, a festive, family-friendly game, players will take turns drafting decor and adorning the tree to earn your shot at toys and ornaments while avoiding the occasional coal in your stocking. Is Holly Jolly the next (first?) great Christmas game or should it be tossed out with the used wrapping paper? Read on to see what my family thought of this Christmas card game.
ON YOUR TURN
In my house, Christmas is the time of year we gather with family, eat, laugh and play board games. It’s a little strange that there aren’t many good Christmas-themed board games to play during the holiday. So while I was happy to welcome Holly Jolly, my expectations weren’t terribly high going in. It was cool to see the design team behind one of my favorite roll & writes (Fleet: The Dice Game) behind the steering wheel… Perhaps there is hope yet for this yuletide card game.
To begin, you form a Christmas tree (how thematic!) out of cards consisting of random tree ornaments and 3 cards from the tinsel and light deck. Under the tree, you randomly draw 4 cards from the presents and stocking deck.
Each ornament, stocking or gift has a specific point value and scoring value for that card. The aim of the game is to score the most points and you do so by drawing 1 of 3 face-up tinsel or light cards from an available reserve and placing it on top of 1 of the current tinsel or light cards already on the tree. It’s your choice where you play it since the point value of the placed card will combine with any remaining tinsel or light cards of that type. The total point sum of those cards will be used to “purchase” a card on or below the tree as long as you can match the desired card’s exact point value.
This may mean pulling an ornament card from the tree. Each ornament card carries with it specific scoring criteria such as building a set or having the most of a specific type of card. The other option is drawing a gift or stocking card from below the tree. These may have some sort of set value, but typically just carry a stand-alone scoring value.
This continues until one of the game’s decks (ornaments, tinsel/lights, or gifts/stockings) are depleted. At that point the players add up their score and determine the jolliest Christmas champion.
ARTWORK & COMPONENTS
Holly Jolly has a fun vintage vibe that throws back to Christmas of yester-year. The toys are toy trains, tin robots, stuffed animals and paddle balls among others. The ornaments also have a charming, old-fashioned look that made me feel warm and at ease. Overall, the game has a nice, thematic look.
PROS & CONS
➕ Really easy to learn & teach
➕ Fun theme
➕ Interesting & fun decisions
➕ Great for kids of all ages
➕ Plays quickly
➖ The game isn’t breaking any new ground
➖ Choices aren’t super complex, but they can lead to overthinking
WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THIS GAME?
If you’re looking for a light and charming Christmas game for the family, Holly Jolly might be your answer. It’s highly accessible and easy to teach—making it a winner for when the relatives are over for Christmas Day.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS GAME?
For me, the best thing about Holly Jolly is the artwork. It’s not over-the-top, but it provides a nice theme and backdrop for the game.
Holly Jolly is a simple, family-friendly card game that actually has a lot going for it.
While the game could have been “about” anything, the Christmas artwork is a nice touch that feels inviting. It also sets the table for a game that’s ripe for the holidays. I enjoyed spreading the cards out in the shape of a Christmas tree and plucking happy little ornaments off and into my collection. I also appreciated how the presents and stockings work. Gifts are turned face up, but the stockings are hidden (face down) giving you that little sense of wonder like in real life.
The truth is the game isn’t treading on any new territory, but there are still some interesting decisions as you attempt to draw the perfect tinsel or light strand card to match up earning you that ornament or gift you’ve been targeting. Holly Jolly plays great with kids and mine appreciated that moment when they had to think through their selection. It’s not super complicated, but it does provide just enough brain power for kids to think they’re doing something cool.
Like with any game where you’re choosing from a selection of cards corporately available, there is a little gamesmanship in which cards you target for yourself and which ones you grab to block an opponent. That’s all up to players, but just letting you know it’s an option if you’re feeling more naughty than nice.
It’s currently 2 weeks until Christmas and Holly Jolly has found a long-standing temporary home on our table waiting for the next quick game to start up. It’s incredibly easy to get a game going and it plays fast enough we can pretty much get in a game anytime. There is the potential to overthink your turns, but the choices don’t go on forever, and everything moves smoothly and quickly. I haven’t played a ton of Christmas-themed board/card games, but Holly Jolly is currently at the top. It’s the holidays and you’re likely going to have nieces, nephews, uncles, cousins and strays stopping by. It’s nice to know there is a fun, easy-to-teach, quick-to-play Christmas-themed card game that everyone can enjoy.