Playing board games at holiday gatherings, parties, or anywhere else should be fun. It usually isn’t, because the most popular party games are awful.
Apples to Apples? Repetitive, uncreative, uninteresting. Cards Against Humanity? A “transgressive” Apples to Apples knock-off that’s only popular because it’s a safe space for white people to say bad things. Trivial Pursuit? Takes so long nobody actually plays by the rules, and is only fun for the one or two people who actually know trivia. Monopoly? Please. Bridge? More suitable for retirement homes.
So here are six party games—defined loosely as games that have simple rules, fast play times, and can accommodate a number of players—that you’ll actually want to play again and again.
Described as a “social word game,” Codenames is sort of like an updated version of the old game show Password. But instead of trying to convey just one word to your partner(s) through a clue, you are trying to convey a whole bunch, while also avoiding your opponents’ words and the word that makes you automatically lose. There is room for the clue-giver to come up with incredibly clever clues for their partner(s), and the dynamics of the game change in interesting ways depending upon who partners up, and how well they know each others’ thought processes.
Dixit takes the basic structure created by Apples to Apples, but twists the scoring system to create a far superior game. Each player has a hand full of cards with gorgeous, dreamlike, surreal artwork. The storyteller uses a phrase (or sentence or single word) to describe one of his or her cards, and places it face down. Each other player chooses a card from their hand that best matches that phrase, and places it face down too. The cards are mixed up, and flipped over.
Each player then tries to guess which card is the storyteller’s. If everybody guesses the storyteller’s card (his or her phrase was obvious) the storyteller gets no points, and if nobody guesses the storyteller’s card (his or her phrase was obtuse) the storyteller gets no points. Thus the storyteller has the challenge of choosing a phrase that both hints at his or her card but doesn’t totally give it away. And did I mention the artwork is absolutely gorgeous?
The Resistance borrows several elements from games you may have played like Werewolf and Mafia, except it doesn’t take hours and players aren’t eliminated. Each player is given a secret role, either as a member of the resistance fighting a corrupt government, or a government spy trying to take down the resistance from the inside. There are some hard clues to each player’s secret identity, but most of the game involves logic, guesswork, bluffing, and parsing of motivations. Accusations very quickly begin to fly around the table.
Wits & Wagers
The problem with trivia games is they exclude people who don’t know or like trivia. Wits & Wagers solves this problem, while remaining challenging for those that do actually know a lot of trivia.
Every question—e.g. “In days, what was the shortest term of any U.S. president?”—has a numeric answer. Players each write down their best guess, which are then arranged on a number line from smallest to largest. They then bet on which answer they believe to be closest to the true answer—it doesn’t have to be their own. Players earn points if the answer they bet on was the closest to correct, and the player who supplied that answer earns bonus points for actually having known something.
If you’ve ever played the drinking game Asshole (also known as Presidents or President and Asshole) you basically understand Tichu. It looks like a trick taking traditional card game, but is actually defined as a climbing game. Two sets of partners—it can only be played with exactly four people, so it’s more of a refined couples dinner party sort of game—work together to take cards with the most points. But this basic structure is spiced up by the big bets that can be made before the hand begins, and the special cards—the mah jong, dog, phoenix, and dragon—that alter play.
You have never played a game like Hanabi, and no game has sucked up more of my time in the last year. A cooperative game for 2–5 players that works well at all player counts, Hanabi is similar to a team game of solitaire, but much more exciting than that sounds.
Each player is dealt a hand of cards, but instead of looking at them, they face the cards outwards. Thus, you can see everybody’s cards except your own. The game then proceeds with players either playing (somewhat blindly) cards from their hand, or giving limited clues like the color or numbers of cards to their teammates. But the clues quickly run out, meaning the best clues serve multiple purposes, and you sometimes have to play relying on hints and innuendo. Hanabi is difficult, extraordinarily frustrating, and the most addicting game I’ve ever played.