Whether it’s Christmas dinner with your family, a homecoming with out-of-town friends or a week cooped up inside over break, t’is the season for finding a group activity at a good value.
Party games (and board games in general) are a good value. A game may cost you $40, but it will likely entertain at least four people for at least an hour—on par with going to a movie. If you play it multiple times, that value just keeps increasing.
Here are a few party games worth getting to the table as the days get colder.
Wits and Wagers. The side of the “Wits and Wagers” box is absolutely gaudy with all of its various gaming awards. They’re there for a reason. It’s fast, easy to pick up and/or explain and it handles large groups with absolute ease (if you play in teams, it technically has no upper limit).
Players guess the answers to trivia questions on erasable boards, then those answers are arranged on a field and players bet on the one they think is closest. That’s it. A simple concept and a fun, fun game for nearly any group, including older kids. (Wits and Wagers | BGG)
Codenames. “Codenames” was a no-brainer winner of last year’s Spiel des Jahres, which is sort of the Academy Awards for board games. It was a well-deserved win.
“Codenames” pits two teams against each other (you should have at least four to play), each on different teams of spies. One person on each team acts as a spymaster and knows the location of their team’s agents, represented by 25 tiles. The spymaster uses one-word clues to try to steer their teammates toward their team’s agents. It’s a simple concept but tricky to pull off. You don’t need to love words or word games to play it, but that definitely helps. (Codenames | BGG)
Camel Up. Speaking of the Spiel des Jahres, this game won it in 2014, and that raised a lot of eyebrows. The steady buzz was on “Splendor” to take it that year (and I’d be inclined to agree), but that dustup distracts from a really fun, simple game.
On their turn, each player either secures a bet on the outcome of a camel race or enacts a dice mechanic that moves the camels forward. As the camels race, they invariably occupy the same space. When they do, they stack (ingeniously) on top of each other. This makes for some fun component manipulation and some wild swings in the race, which in turn makes each decision by each player interesting and significant. And, it’s perfect for young kids (my seven-year-old loved it) and groups of up to eight. (Camel Up | BGG)
Captain Sonar. Ever wondered what it would be like to help run a submarine? “Captain Sonar” delivers the closest thing to it that you can set up on a table.
Two teams with up to four players apiece each pilot a rival submarine with the goal of knocking the other out of the water. Each player gets a different role (Captain, First Mate, Engineer or Radio Operator), and the team works together to keep their sub working, power up abilities and shoot at the enemy sub. It doesn’t work well with young kids, but it’s a noisy, chaotic blast. (Captain Sonar | BGG)
Flick ‘Em Up! I’m relatively new to the dexterity game genre, but after getting a crokinole board a few months ago, I’m beginning to see the appeal. They’re easy games to explain (“try to flick this disc here”) and are perfect for all ages, plus they exemplify the greatest attributes of tabletop games: their tangibility and power to get people to interact.
In the case of “Flick ‘Em Up!”, we have a fun Western-y theme and lots of variable setup, but the core of the game is “try to flick this disc here.” Players (up to 10 of them) flick discs to move their cowboys around obstacles and into buildings, and they flick discs to shoot their guns at each other. Obviously, this will be loads of fun for the kids, but the adults will probably love it too. (Flick ‘Em Up! | BGG)
Secret Hitler. You’re not escaping an article about fun games for groups of people without hearing a bit about “Secret Hitler,” which I reviewed a few months ago.
In a nutshell, “Secret Hitler” is part of the “social deduction” class of games, which pits players (up to 10) with hidden roles or identities against each other and their objectives. With little in the way of components or setup and much in the way of interaction, these games are perfect for entertaining a group without a lot of fuss. “Secret Hitler” uses that interaction to devilishly bring out the worst in people, particularly lying and deception. You’ll probably get mad at each other until you get used to it, when riling up your opponents just becomes another tactic in manipulating the table’s opinion of you. It’s downright ruthless and incredibly fun. (Secret Hitler | BGG)