Christmas Bingo

A long-standing holiday tradition in my family has been a variant of the White Elephant gift exchange, which we call Christmas Bingo. The game requires two decks of standard playing cards – one is dealt evenly to all players, and the other is shuffled. An announcer draws a card from the shuffled deck, and, well, announces it. The player holding that card may take one wrapped gift from the table and hide it under their seat. If there are no prizes left on the table, though, then the real game begins. At this point, a player can steal a prize from another player when their card is called, if they can remember who had it.

There’s a level of magic to Christmas Bingo – players are mystified to find that they’ve fought tooth and nail over mundane prizes, gag gifts, or the occasional genuinely useful gift. One part memory game, one part gift wrapping competition, and one part an inside joke generator (my D&D group can no longer refer to a gift bag as anything other than a “carry package”), the game lends itself well to a more casual gift exchange than most holiday traditions. Plus, unlike normal Christmas present exchanges, you’re under no obligation to like what you win – I fondly remember a year in which my 4-year-old sister mistook a package for a metal Thomas the Tank Engine train, only to unwrap a stapler. Gratitude gives way to competition and the same friendly hostility as a game of Mario Kart.

Every year, though, my game design brain forces me to tell myself that the next Bingo is going to get an overhaul – prizes for creative gift wrapping, new mechanics, you name it. Not necessarily with the intent to “fix” the game, but to bring a new experience to it.

What would I change after my D&D group’s Christmas Bingo last week? Instead of using jokers as regular cards, it might shake things up to mess with the usual memory game. Maybe when a joker is called, the holder can take a prize from someone without having to describe it, or the joker requires everyone to return one prize to the table, or allows a player to force a trade with another. Since there are only two jokers in the deck, I’d be more inclined to have them affect the whole table in some way.

As you can see, I’m trying a bit of a different format as of late. I was originally going to start writing on Substack, but recent developments on the platform left me uninterested in continuing on that platform. Instead, I’m hoping to incorporate more short-form blog posts and design journals here as well as the regular 5e content. Since it’s a little experimental, I’d love to hear your feedback – do you want to here more freeform musings like this, or something else between 5e content releases?

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