At The Table – Party Games

So last time, I talked about quick games to play on lunch breaks ; quick, simple, inexpensive, and easy-to-carry, perfect for relaxing with your work buddies in the middle of a busy day. But what about at the end of the working day? What if it’s a Friday and you don’t have anything specific planned for the evening? Well, that’s when the party games come out.

I’m lucky enough to have a pretty great group of friends at work; some guys, some girls, we all get along and have a great time and like to blow off steam. For the past year, we typically arrange every month or every 6 weeks or so to go out for dinner after work on Friday, have a few drinks, yadda yadda. A few times we’ve done that, we’ve ended up back at mine (I live in town whereas the others typically live out in the suburbs) and we’ve had a hankering for a game; something a bit meatier than the quick lunchtime games, something that I wouldn’t really be able to easily transport into work, so that’s when a Party Game comes out.

What does a game need for me to consider it a Party Game? Well, it follows many of the rules I set for a Lunchtime Quickie. At the very least, it should…

  • Be easy for new players to pick up, with simple rules and a clear goal;
  • Allow for at least four players.

Other bonuses for a Party Game include…

  • Encourage player interaction. I know board games are inherently a social activity, but I think a good party game should go the extra mile. I’ll talk about this more as I look at each of the games below.
  • Not be too long to play. An hour at most really.
  • Not be too SRS BSNS. What do I mean? I mean that every player should go into the game with an equal chance to win; victory shouldn’t always go to someone who knows an obscure strategy, or who has read the rulebook back to front. This is why I typically don’t like trivia games; more often than not, at least one person will get every answer wrong (whether their level of general knowledge is just bad or they get legitimately tough questions), have a terrible game experience, and generally feel like they’re wasting their time.

So let’s kick off this list.

DIXIT

dixit

Holy hell, do I love this game.

Dixit is a game about creative interpretation and imagination. Each player has a hand of cards depicting very cool, unique, abstract art, and on their turn, a player picks a card in their hand and chooses a description for that card, which can be as literal or as vague as they want. Then, every other player picks a card in their hand that they think could match that description and passes it to the active player, who mixes them up and lays them down; the others players then each guess which card is the active player’s. “Oh, I’ll just give a really obvious clue, like girl playing a cello”, you may think. Well, here’s the thing; you don’t want everyone to guess which card is yours, otherwise you don’t get points and advance around the board. Of course, if no one guesses which card is yours, your clue was probably too vague and you don’t get points either, so you  have to strike this balance between obvious and abstract when giving your clue. It’s brilliant, and it’s interesting to see how some people’s minds work.

This game is also a great ice-breaker. Example; Emma and I went to a games evening thing a few years back that a mutual friend was hosting, but there were a few people that we didn’t really know too well. Conversation wasn’t flowing, things were awkward… and then we started playing Dixit, and then we’re all laughing and joking and having a good time.

There’s about a zillion variants of Dixit, with different art cards. I have a version called Dixit Journey, which has a separate board rather than having it built into the box itself, and astonishingly better art on the cards. I mean, look at these;

WP_20160128_007

That one with the woman appearing out of the tidal wave? Hnnngh.

 

CODENAMES

codenames

As with many of the games in my collection, I found out about this one from Joe, who advised me at the time that it was the hot new thing according to Boardgamegeek.com. Who am I to argue with those guys?

Codenames is a team game; two opposing teams of spies are trying to contact their undercover operatives based on the clues provided to them by their spymaster. The two spymasters (and only the spymasters) both look at a grid that correlates to the five-by-five grid of codename cards, showing them which of the cards are theirs, their opponent’s, innocent bystanders, or the dreaded assassin! The spymasters alternate giving a single word clue to their team. The word is a hint for one or more of their colour’s codename cards; for example, a spymaster could give the clue “food:2” if two of their colour’s codenames are beef and banana. The pressure comes from making sure that you don’t give a clue that helps out your rivals, or which may result in your team choosing the assassin and automatically losing. Sometimes your words have no obvious link and the spymaster takes a gamble with a cryptic clue and has to hope that his team is on the same wavelength as them.

This game scales up really nicely with big groups; the more people you have on a team debating what the spymaster’s clue meant, the better. It’s also got pretty much unlimited replay value; no layout of codenames and colour grid is ever going to be the same. It has a very “just one more” feeling to it. I haven’t had a chance to play it much since I only got my copy for my birthday in December, but it’s been met with approval so far.

FORBIDDEN DESERT / ISLAND

desert

I’ll lump these two in together, since they’re both very similar, but I’ll focus on Desert for the purpose of this summary, as it’s the one I own and have played more often.

Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game where it’s the group versus the game. The premise is that you’ve crash-landed in the desert, and you have to navigate the treacherous dunes to find the pieces of a flying machine and escape before you’re engulfed in a sandstorm or die of dehydration. On a player’s turn, they can move around, remove sand from tiles, and excavate cleared tiles to find useful items such as jet packs and sun shields, or to find clues that point to the location of one of the four flying machine pieces. Each player also has a role that gives them a unique ability, like the climber being able to move through blocked tiles, or the meteorologist being able to manipulate the sandstorm deck to try and lessen the damage. The sandstorm moves every turn, as dictated by the sandstorm deck, placing more sand on tiles. Occasionally, the sandstorm may increase in ferocity so that in future it moves around more, or the heat may cause everyone to drink some of their precious water.

It’s a game very reliant on communication and cooperation. If one person dies, everyone loses, so players really need to work together. It is very hard though, so don’t feel bad if you keep losing; I’ve only won a few times, and that was playing on the easiest difficulty setting! Oh, and the one house rule I’d suggest? Make sure at least one person is the water carrier. You’re fucked otherwise.

If you don’t like the “stranded in a desert/on an island” thing, you may want to give Pandemic a look, which is another cooperative game about running around the world, working together to wipe out diseases. I personally find Pandemic a little too stressful, but it’s still a great game.

CAMEL UP!

camel

From dying in the desert to racing in the desert! Camel Up!  is a very fun, very casual betting game involving – you guessed it – camels.

In Camel Up!, players take turns in taking bets on which position certain camels will end up in at the end of a round, and at the end of the game, which happens when a camel crosses the finish line. The fun part comes from how the camels interact. See, the camels move at random; there’s five different coloured camels, and a dice for each. The dice are placed inside the cool-as-fuck pyramid, and when a player chooses to roll, they move the camel that many spaces. When all the camels have moved, that’s the end of the round. Simple so far. But then you have the stacking. When a camel lands on the same space as another camel, it goes on top of that camel. When a camel moves, it takes all camels on top of it with it; this could mean that if there’s a stack of three camels, depending on what order the dice come out, the top camel could effectively get two lots of free movement, catapulting it into the lead! Or the top camel may move first, and wind up on the bottom of the pile as the others move next and end up on top of it. Nothing is certain, and everything can change because of what order the camels move. Players can also place Desert tiles (double-sided, showing an oasis or a mirage) to modify a camel’s movement, moving it forwards or backwards.

I love Camel Up! because it’s quite fast to play; again, it has a very “just one more” feel to it. It also helps that it looks more like a “traditional” game than some of the others, with a board and dice and pieces, etc, so it’s good to set a board gaming newbie – someone who might be a bit intimidated with all the cards and guesswork of the other games I’ve mentioned – at ease.

And then when their guard's down, that's when you hit them with Game of Thrones.
And then when you’ve lured them in, and their guard’s down and you’ve locked all the exits, that’s when you hit them with Game of Thrones.

Obviously there’s lots of other games that work well for a casual games night; I’ve talked about Palazzo before, a fun game about Renaissance architects (no, wait, come back!), and King of Tokyo for all your monster-fight needs, and there’s other stuff in my cupboard like Labyrinth, Indigo, Samurai, Escape From Atlantis… the list goes on.

Whatever you pick for your party, I hope you have fun!

– Gareth

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