I’ve loved boardgames ever since I was a little kid, though I was mostly stuck playing mass market games such as Monopoly, Risk, Clue, Life (which I always hated but for some reason still played) and one really disappointing game of Mouse Trap. For the past 10 years or longer when I was introduced to modern games I’ve tried to get my group of friends more into boardgames.
The thing is that while I am (mostly) open to learning a wide variety of games, many of my friends don’t have the time, energy or interest to devote as much time and energy as I do to boardgames. For many people a game night means playing party games, hanging out with friends and having a few drinks on a Saturday night. (Not everyone wants to play even light-weight Euro games, thankfully I have met many wonderful people in Toronto’s board gaming community to play all sorts of games with.)
As my group of friends and I aged out of going to clubs, I was excited to see many of my friends were interested in game nights and one of the reasons they were happening so often was…Cards Against Humanity. At first a few drinks and a few rounds of CAH was fine. We’d have some drinks, have some laughs and it was a cheap night in vs. going out to a bar/club. But then it kept going. If you were to poll board gamers about their feelings about CAH, there would be several different avenues of negativity spewed out. For me it was the fact that there seemed to be no end to the game. By that I mean, at the start of a game night we would crack open CAH with the intention of playing a few different games during the night. Inevitably, in part because there really isn’t a strict end point of CAH, it would be 3-4 hours later and we’d still be playing. This despite my constant reminders to switch to something, anything, else. Not wanting to totally abandon my friends, who trust me are great people other than their past desire to endlessly play CAH, I had to become my group of friends “game guy.” By this I mean I was discovering, buying and teaching games that would keep my party-game friends interested and not overwhelm them.
With all that being said, here are the five games (or types of games) that I have found work well with partygamers and mean I do not have to play Cards Against Humanity ever again.
After CAH the next big game that took the casual game world by storm was Codenames. It has since spawned several variations. The Pictures one might have the widest appeal, as it is less language/cultural dependent than the original. But there are plenty of pop culture themed versions that might work well with your group. Codenames isn’t a perfect party game and I’ve seen it fall flat on occasion, even leading to some near Pictionary-level couple fights. When Just One came out it mostly replaced Codenames in my rotation of party games. Since it’s a team game, it’s less likely to result in fights. If one person is really bad at Just One, it’s not as obvious or potentially embarrassing/frustrating as it is in Codenames. Also with Just One you don’t really have to keep score, you can end whenever you want. All that being said many of my friends still request Codenames and prefer it to Just One because they do like some competition in their party games, so both are worthy of inclusion on this list.
Yes, I know there are three games named here, right after I did a double entry. No I am not cheating, I swear. Essentially this is my Yahtzee game category. Nearly everyone has played Yahtzee and gets the basic idea behind it, which is why putting the mechanic in a light-weight or party game is a great idea. Personally for me Bang: The Dice Game is my choice because of its portability, higher player count. I find it’s a great backdoor into social-deduction games. I also prefer the Western theme over the Godzilla theme of King of Tokyo/New York. Either way though, all of these games are party/intro games that play quickly and aren’t overly complicated. KOT/KONY are also great intro level games to get people into more complex games.
Deception Murder in Hong Kong, similar to Bang: The Dice Game, is a great backdoor/introduction to social deduction games. I specifically left off my favourite social-deduction games off this list because they are not universally loved by my party game friends. They also generally don’t work well with people who are drinking and people who are half paying attention to the game, which happens with game nights. At first I wasn’t sure how Deception would work with casual gamers. I got a copy for my friend Russ and he loved it so much that it came out fairly often and to my surprise it has a 100% success rate. My main caveat is that for the first couple of rounds do not randomly deal out the Forensic Scientist role. Offer it out to people who have played the game before. Then when people are comfortable, offer it to everyone. For a game about murder Deception elicits a great deal of laughter, thanks to some silly murder weapons. It’s player count (4-12) and quick playing time have made it a party game staple.
Uh, oh I have returned to my evil multiple-game entries. But I have a VERY good reason this time, as both Monikers and Time’s Up (and all of its variations) are based on the same public-domain game – Celebrities. There are many different options out there for this sort of game, you could even just make your own with a pen and some paper. If you’ve never played these games, well you probably have seen them. It’s similar to Charades but more. The TV show Hollywood Game Night had segments that were comparable. Essentially there are a bunch of words/names/phrases and over three rounds people try to get their team to guess the correct answer. Depending on the variation one round you can say or do anything (other than say what is on the card), the second round is charades and the last round you can only say one word. (Sometimes round 2 and 3 are swapped.) This is definitely the most party of the party games I have on this list and in that way it might be the easiest transition game from CAH. (Monikers is made by the creators of CAH.) It’s pretty silly fun, and while I’m sure it can get overplayed, it’s a solid option for a game night. One major caveat: Do not randomly pick a set of cards. In Monikers the suggestion is that each player gets a stack of cards and picks a certain number to add to the game stack. This helps weed out some cards that might stump most people. (Although some of your friends may purposefully choose these cards.)
Yes, I realize this game does not quite fit the mold of the rest of the games on this list. It has a limited player count (3-5, though the expansion and the upcoming second edition is 3-6), plays a bit longer (60 minutes) and requires a bit longer of a teach, but surprisingly I found that it works with casual gamers. I never would have thought so myself, until I actually tried. While many of my non-gamer friends are more than happy to just play party games, some of them want to test out the waters of the board gaming world. A while back my friend Jarrett came out to a game meetup and someone brought out Sheriff of Nottingham. It was an instant hit with him. He loved the bluffing, the sneakiness and trying to read other players. Since I had a copy he kept asking me to bring it to game nights. While I was reluctant, he was really keen to play it again, even setting up a night when it would just be 5 people, all of whom had played at least Ticket to Ride-level games. Sheriff went over really well. The next time he asked me to bring it out the conditions weren’t as ideal. The other people were very much party gamers, who prefer a round or two of Codenames, to anything serious. And just as we got through one round, a sixth person showed (this was before I had the expansion). Yet, somehow it worked out. Two of my friends teamed up and they took glee in the fact that their husbands kept failing to read if they were bluffing or not. Sure some might say the two-person team might “break” the game, but in this case it really didn’t. It added a fun dynamic, while allowing everyone to play. Sheriff’s theme (everyone knows Robin Hood) and the bluffing mechanic were a big hit.
I’m sure there are dozens of other great party games out there and I’d love to hear which ones work are big hits on your game night.