In series Big dozen years I'm continuing to analyze popularity of games in 2004-2016 years, using data about total number of BGG players for every year. After Children games and War games, Party games are the next ones (with total number of BGG players in all these years):
"Party game" is too often said with a sneer by gamers: you can sense the phrase "filthy casuals" is waiting in the wings. But there's decent coherence to the classification: games that are easy to teach, games that can be easily played by "casuals", games that accommodate a large number of players, games that emphasis "fun" (entertainment) over "game" (tactics). As someone who plays boardgames chiefly for relaxation, I'm fairly disposed towards party games. They should be judged for how well they fulfil that criteria and not the deep emergent strategy / multiple paths to victory dingo dung.
Huh, not a single Munchkin game on the list.
Zombie Fluxx Monty Python Fluxx: In principle, Fluxx should be good or at least interesting, being as it is based upon the profoundly interesting Nomic and its idiom of a changing landscape of rules, where the battle is over the rules rather than what the rules allow. I remember hearing about Fluxx and immediately filing it under I Must Play This Game. In reality, it isn't even a luckfest so much as a stream of events that just happen. I might be more tolerant if (a) the events were actually interesting and (b) the game was was much much shorter. As it is, you may as well play Eat Poop You Cat.
Perhaps overthinking it, but I suspect the main fault in Fluxx over Nomic is that rules are simply imposed rather than negotiated. Perhaps a lot more rule-cancelling / negation cards might fix the game.
Exploding Kittens: Not nearly as bad as the hive mind would have you believe, EK is a simple game but it is a game with a modest amount of player-reading and strategy, i.e. something that fits fine with the party genre and non-hardcore gamers. That is came from outside the gaming community and is more-or-less a media tie-in is neither here nor there.
The Big Idea: A good opportunity for me to declare my admiration for James Ernest of Cheapass Games and his lofi, stripped back design philosophy. We could use more like him.
The Great Dalmuti: One that's fallen by the way and more the shame because it's an absolutely ace game that positively encourages you to be cruel to other players and carry grudges (in the most humorous way possible). It's one failing is that it really needs to be played as several rounds, but I've got many memories of playing "just one more hand" all night. I prefer the Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle implementation, with its suggestions that the winners get to choose the most comfortable seats while the loser has to shuffle the card deck.
Note: we once tried to play the game without rearranging the order of players (no one wanted to get up and move) and the thing broke down utterly. Be warned.
Tumblin-Dice: Another example of simplicity leading to a marvellous game. And it's a party game that gamers tend to accept, perhaps because of the ruthlessly competitive edge to it.
BANG! BANG! The Dice Game: Had the dice game been first, it could very easily have found its place as a pleasant time-filler. Unfortunately, it carries the Stygian whiff of its predecessor, along with memories of interminable games where there never seemed to be any interesting choices. Bang, you have condemned your child with your own reputation.
There's time fillers and games that just fill your time.
Concept: After the initial interest, this fell sharply out of favour round these parts. I had a more favourable response, but but there's a few issues here with players having to develop on common understandings and shorthands. Without them, the game will grind to a frustrating crawl. With them: it's not really a party game any more.
Dungeon Fighter: If I throw this dice with my left hand through my legs while facing away from the board into the target, I'll kill that dragon. How can you not love this game?
(Arguably a bit long and a bit too rules-heavy for a real party game. Possible material for a streamlining?)
Apples to Apples Cards Against Humanity: Once again I bemoan the lack of a formal name for the "outrageous / humorous concept juxtaposition" genre. Again, there's a tendency of gamers to sneer at both of these, but I'd got a look at the other side (i.e. normal people) over Xmas when someone set up a game of CaH at a party. A dozen people new to the game were at first perplexed and then enthralled by it. They played for hours and it's a good example of the way you can get people to play for hours if every "game" is very short and you can end at any time.
I admit a preference for the more evolved instances of the genre (e.g. Snake Oil, UnNatural Selection) but the cleverness they grant is won at the cost of increased complexity and play time.
Sheriff of Nottingham: I'm surprised to see this one the list as (1) while it had its moment in the sun, it seemed to rapidly fall out of favour. And I don't think of it as a party game because there's a fair amount of overhead and calculation going on. But even beyond that, there feels like there's something off with the play, something a little imbalanced. Perhaps winning is too reliant on multiple chancy wins.
And those bags you hide the loot in are just disgusting.
Click Clack Lumberjack: One of those game you can enjoy being incompetent at. Seriously, is anyone consistently good at this?
Codenames: Another perfect distillation of a gaming idiom.
Dixit: Harking back to previous and ancient games again, Dixit initially delighted by streamlining the idea behind Eleusis: set a series of clues that some (but not all) players will get. (Zendo does a more pure version of this.) Gone are the problems of choosing and coding and judging a problem correctly, the game moves faster, there's less ambiguity. But I've cooled slightly on the game. It's still quite long and the references other players set and see in the Dixit pictures is a somewhat frightening look into the turmoil of another mind.
It seems worth mentioning the derived Mysterium, which I at first adored as a clever way to theme the game. However, the extra complications lift it out of the "party" category, encourages players to treat it more like a (competitive) game and some tediously long games made me wish for more streamlining again. Sometime theme is the enemy of fun.
Spot it!: I once spent a day trying to work out how Spot It managed to get all pairs of cards to have only one symbol in common. But apart from that cleverness, it's a cool game and I'm amazed and how it brings out the competitive, aggressive side in people. (Seriously, I've seen people having a tug of war over a card.)
The Resistance The Resistance: Avalon: 7 years on and I still don't "get" The Resistance as my few plays made it to be all about people screaming at each other on the basis of no evidence. Sure, you could argue that it's about reading people (although I didn't see a lot of that) or deduction (except there was negligible evidence to work with and no one seemed concerned with it anyway). And that didn't stop the game becoming wildly popular, with people showing up to meetings just to play Resistance. Friends tell me that Avalon has tweaked the formula so there's actually some tactics there, but this is a model lesson that the lack of a game doesn't stop something from being a game. I totally understand the idea of a game as "social lubricant" but in this case, to invoke Chris Marling, I'd rather spend the time talking without the pretence of a game.
Spyfall: I've spoken elsewhere about games that perfect a formulae and Spyfall nearly does this for the "hidden imposter" game (another genre that really needs a formal name). I say "nearly" because I've come to feel like the game needs a bit of tuning: there's an irritating dependence on looking at the location cards (to understand what it's like and how to answer questions) and some of the roles/characters suggested seem a bit misjudged. (Alien at the Moon Base, I'm looking.) Maybe I'm over-analysing it - does it work as a party game? it mostly does - but I've come to prefer A Fake Artist Goes to New York.
PARTY GAMES PROPER
What are "party games"? Depends who you ask. Probably originated from parlour games, but geeks find anything from fillers to lighter fare to be a "party game". Too much socialization, not enough winning? Anyhow, for me proper party games are very social, quite loud and who cares who wins. And often originated as public domain games, or are created by smashing couple of them together (some charades, some trivia, some pictionary, some word games (like taboo) - just put in a blender and press the button)
Time's Up! 1999 / Celebrities (public domain)
My favorite party game (I have a homebrew version of it). I love that it's a partnership game and it utilizes a rare skill of listening to your partner. By 'listening' I mean interpreting them and understanding where they're coming from. And you use words, less words (frustrates some women I know, heh) and no words, just gibberish and body movements. And this speaks "party" to me. Not to mention the laughter generated by cretivity, stupidity and in-the-know jokes which are unique to each game played.
Wits & Wagers 2005
I've played Gambit 7 version of it which isn't as much about wagering (pity), but fun nonetheless. Trivia game where the point isn't in knowing the trivia, but outguessing the groupthink of other players (and betting big in those rounds). A quiz game - relaxed, for big groups, loud. Hence: party. Would love to actually play W&W version, but until recently it was hard to get these games in continental Europe.
Say Anything 2008
I've never played Apples to Apples (or CAH for that matter), but from what I understand this is the better version. People can answer whatever they want and also has some wagering involved (yay!). More player input also means the experience will be as fun as the group will make it. Once happened to me that eurogamer asked me "why did you write this answer, it's not true." Because it's FUN, duh. (that was one boring game of this). As above I'd wish this would be more easily available on the continent.
Telestrations 2009 / Eat Poop You Cat a.k.a. Telephone Pictionary (public domain)
Never played Telestration, but have played EPYC. I'm not a huge fan (because Fake Artist), but probably one of the better pen and paper public domain games. And it's all about the journey and stupidity.
5 O'CLOCK TEA GAMES (not really a party, is it?)
Or "geeks think these are the best party games", because they're the least social, dynamic and loud. And they're thinky. Sorta, kinda. I find these to be decent family games of deduction type. I like them, I just don't get the craze.
Dixit 2008 / Dixit Odyssey 2011
Not a bad game. Firstly I disagree it has nice illustrations - these aren't illustrating anything (not in relation of representation), the visuals ARE the game. Which is why I would definitely list Marie Cardouat as a co-designer. In fact, the sets which weren't painted by her (like Dixit Odyssey) just don't work for me. These are just weird pictures, but Marie's in the original Dixit and first expansion are also open to multiple interpretation and pop culture references - it's this openness that makes the game.
Secondly, yes it's a game of pacts and rebuses and in-the-know jokes (some users spoke against this) which is why it works great with people who know one another, or are from similar social background. Saying this, I've enjoyed the game with kids, but it's something totally different with them (I just don't get how they think. Which is intriguing). As for myself, argh, my mind is so fast at making connection several layers deep that my clues are usually too hard to figure out, or way too easy when I try to tone it down.
It's basically a game about shared cultural knowledge.
I like this better than Dixit, but it's a similar type game, namely silent deduction game that gamers think it's a party game. And I have similar issues with it - unlike Time's up which is about listening to your partner, this one is again in figuring out the shared knowledge of people on your team (when you're the spymaster). And I suck at it as for me it's really really really easy to make connection between anything really. But now, who else will get it? Err. Yeah. Other than that, I like the team base gameplay, I like the game being played in a more social (i.e. less serious way) and it's probably my favourite deduction game. Just not crazy about it, and don't see it as a party game. More like 5 o'clock pondering with a cuppa.
Uhm, I just call this subgenre "mafia/werewolf and co." I'm not really sure this is a genre. But if workerplacements are (all basically the same game), then I guess this can be as well. And I'm not really sure these are "party games" in the same way charades or pictionary is. These are more like causal gamer games, stundents games - meant for a younger demographics as they have a certain tension which arises from hidden roles. It's not just laughter. (though it should be, if you play this right)
Werewolf/Mafia 1986 / The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow 2001
This is the game I'm still sticking to. Not Resistance and certainly not "one night" derivatives, because these were invented for people who lack imagination and creativity (namely: geeks). And for people who can't find a decent Game Master. The way I play Werewolf is:
- I run the game. Period. And I run the game the way I run the game. (It's fun. Really!)
- I run a particular variant, which is based on rules found on this bgg file page, but then I've changed it a bit over the years. By streamlining things and adding some roles (both inspired by The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow).
- The way I run it is to promote light roleplaying. Setting is always remote Slovene Alpine villages (that my players know) right after the WW1 which happened nearby. It was a time Slovenes entered a new era - Yugoslavia - and thus progress was in the air. Or on the ground, bleeding. Namely I, the narrator, are an electrician technician found dead at the start of every tale/game. Roleplaying is promoted by every player introducing their character at the start of a game (milkmaid, local priest, butcher, ...) and every accusation of somebody being a werewolf must be backed by at least one sentence (which can be game related or story related - "she milks cows in the moonlight")
- there's no player elimination. The way this is done is by having no character reveal when players die. Instead they still participate in public discussions as ghosts, but have no voting power (or any powers for that matter, they have to sleep during the night phase). And it works great with my friends at my birthday parties. Doesn't work that well with gamers, becuase it's not balanced, whine, whine (sigh). "How am I supposed to work my way around this?" "Well, by lying through your teeth and social manipulation, geeze."
The Resistance 2009, The Resistance: Avalon 2012
Social deduction with all the story removed. Blah. We tried putting it back in and it worked somewhat* till we added The Plot Thickens expansion (included in base game) which turned the game into pure logic deduction, working around game's rules instead of people. Idiotic. After that I've never bothered much with this game. Did teach me how to lie through my teeth though, so, that's good. Hey any new skill learnt is good. As for Avalon - I think the mechanics/dynamics make for a more interesting game, but the theme, what? What?! Who cares?
*We were roleplaying 'Allo 'Allo french resistance - which should totally be the theme. I mean who cares about future emo goths? Or Merlin for that matter? 20th and 21st century is full of clandestine groups, use those! Call them freedom fighters, resistance, terrorists or mafia (depends who you ask), people know who these are.
The Castle of the Devil 2010
I have this somewhere. Bombed when tried, but we didn't play it completely correctly, because the rules are a mess. Maybe will try again someday. Doesn't seem like a winner though.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf 2014
I-d1-0-TIC 2000. Maybe I've played it with wrong people, namely geeks turning everything into a tedious, long, logical deduction. And as far as I care publishers can stuff app-driven boardgames somewhere as well. (can't even hear the damn thing) Just get a decent moderator! Or get better at moderating - exercise creativity! and social skills! And if you do this, you basic Mafia/Werewolf will be enough. Won't need to buy a game, even, just use some playing cards.
Basically traitor games - be it "party games" (light) or "proper games" (rules heavy - like BSG) are for me best when they're somewhere in the middle between being story driven and social dynamics driven. BSG and SoC are bloated messes, waaay too much rules overhead. Resistance and ONUW are too skinny, no meat on these skeletons. So far Werewolf (the way I run it) works best for me. Maybe Secret Hitler is a step in the right direction (theme though... not sure, would need a right group for this). I liked Panic Station as well, but it was unfinished mess with plot holes the size of a Death Star (the new one).
NEW BREED OF PARTY GAMES
Take some ideas from parlour games, some from social deduction and voila. Best with causal gamers.
A Fake Artist Goes to New York 2012
Both games share a similar idea: everybody is in the know except for one person. The intruder tries to figure out what everybody else knows - while everybody else try to figure out who doesn't know the shared information. Spyfall works with talking, Fake Artist with drawing (pictionary style).
And it's a similar result - namely one of modernism. Instead of words and pictures representing something, they also try to hide it, so the material of the exchange (the language or the drawing) comes to the fore. In Spyfall this turns into a dry Beckettian dialogue ("where you've been before you came here?" "at home" "who you've been with?" "alone", etc.). Which is... kind of dull, to be honest. But in Fake Artist there's cubism - colours! odd shapes!
Fake Artist is also a much more streamlined design: time frame is shorter, resolution simpler and creativity potentially unlimited (because of a rule of a rule master, setting the task, but being on the side of the intruder). Spyfall has complicated procedures, takes longer and the usage of cards could be made easier (in absence of player aids it takes time for all the players to internalize all the possible locations - the shared hidden information).
So, yeah, Fake Artist, hands down.
SPEED REACTION GAMES
A genre I love. But are they really party games? Some are very thinky actually. And destroy all AP players as they force them to think on their feet. Mwahaha!
Jungle Speed 1997
A deserved classic. And my go to replacement for Uno.
The game is best with the same group that will play it over and over and over again. And maybe add in expansion which isn't as much as add-on as it's a tool box for fine tuning your set to your number of players and desired difficulty. It's also good for newbies as unlike in most other speed reaction games you don't face the best player all the time, so you get a sense of getting better (if you do). From experience teens are the target group and will fight for the bloody totem (and boys will end up scratched by their ruthless female co-players).
I do rate it higher with the expansion as you can set up you level of brainmelting.
The only thing that bothers me with this game is that many local groups will play it completely wrong, mostly turning the game into a wrestling match with no thinking or recognition required. Geeze people, get a room, will ya.
Spot It!/Dobble 2009
Another classic - does everything completely differently to Jungle Speed. Where Jungle Speed is about differences and similarities and some exceptions (like many speed games) and thus about slowly internalizing the patters, Dobble has a completely flat structure and you can't really get better at it (unless you manage to focus a bit better than you usually do). Which is why it's a perfect game to play here and there with any group as no learning curve exists. Which also makes it great for kids. However you will always face the strongest opponents.
While there's couple of "games" in this game we just play "grab the top card of the pile", because it's the simplest to set up. We added a rule that you have to cover the pile with your hand as you say your match, because we can't have kids tearing cards apart and whining who was faster.
I use it as a coffee substitute in between the longer games if some players' attention drops.
Speed deduction, not just reaction. Brilliant idea. Has a classic structure (like Jungle Speed) with some exception that either reward players faster in deduction or reaction. And scares the eurogamers away from the fun gaming tables. Ha! It is however a game where players who have internalize the game's structure will wipe the floor with newbies, so best to play it with a core group. For an extra amusement add Geitesblitz 2.0 for twice the confusion! (Which is fun. I mean, speed games are fun when things go wrong.). I did find
Geistesblitz 5 vor 12 to be too hard though - 3 items per card, 2 wooden items of same colour. Just for true fans I guess.
Pick-A-Pig/-Dog/-Seal/-Polar Bear 2012
Another staple at kids workshops. It's just so cute! The thing it does is that everybody is simultaneously creating their own stack of cards from those laid down on the table. Each neighbouring cards in your stack can only have zero or one difference. Simulatanoues gameplay makes the game less agressive, I guess, but it can be challenging for new players, nontheless (and adults being beaten by their own kids, haha! "oh isn't this game too childish?"). We always play with "storytelling" rule - when you show your stack is correct, you tell a story, mostly involving pigs going to a cinema, getting fat, tanned and their hands falling off.
My favourite of the bunch. Because it's kinda stupid and kinda chaotic and still kinda challenging. The trick is that each round there will be 2-4 correct answers (out of 7 items), so different people can grab different ones. This makes the game again seem "nicer", but also makes for fun on the spot, hands changing direction midair, thinking. This shift of gears is what I find the most exciting. And funny. And of course there are some exceptions and sometimes you have to grab only 1 or all the 7 items. Goofy. And then there's the Megagloob, who should be the sole ruler of the Earth.
As with speed games... are these really party games? Maybe some are closer to being pub games?
Played once. Whatever. Too unforgiving. Nothing really amusing. But, but, need to borrow it sometime for a Dread RPG session (a one-session RPG with a horror theme that is based around Jenga. When the tower falls, somebody dies! (or "we only later find out they died/went mad then").
Dungeon Fighter 2011
Overcomplicated fiddly, illegible mess.
now to the good ones
Flicking game classic - flicking "formula 1" disks along the wooden racetrack. What's not to like? Well, actually it needs 5+ players to shine and is kinda odd in that, I own the game, but ever only play it at public events, never at home. Which probably makes it a kind of a party game. And if you buy expansions and just craft some ideas, the sky is the limit (actually 16 waking hours to play a game is the limit...).
Animal upon Animal 2005
Classic kids stacking game which isn't as simple and cute as it looks. There are evil ways in placing the critters. Pity many people are turn off by "childish" appearance. I swear, if HABA had the guts and the business sense in making a kama-sutra version it would sell like hotcakes.
Catch a Falling Star 2011
Pick up sticks in reverse. By some clever use of magnets. It's an odd game in that some people and kids really love it, and some find nothing appealing about it. Unlike other kids stacking games this one really doesn't look especially cute or appealing, yet it has an engineering type of attitude - very open ended and inviting all sorts of stupid ideas and just cramming something in there "it will hold, trust me, err, likely..."
Rhino Hero 2011
Currently my go to stacking game of choice. It's odd as the game isn't as demanding or competitive as Animals upon Animals, but it's far easier to get adults playing it. (sheesh). But the game taps into an unfulfilled dream of any human - building tall towers out of cards (with as little trouble as possible). Oh boy is it engaging. Nobody really cares who wins, just as long as that tower rises high. Add on top some Uno like card power (everybody knows) and Super Rhino meeple and voila.
FAMILY GAMES, FILLERS AND OTHER CREATURES NOTREALLYPARTYGAMES
And odd mix of social deduction and take that and hard to learn symbols for such a light game. There are three hidden teams, only the Sheriff role is public. Outlaws want to kill the Sheriff, Sheriff and Deputies want to kill the outlaws and the Renegade, the Renegade wants to stay alive (i.e. kill everyone but the Sheriff and then the Sheriff). The idea is kinda cute and kinda goofy with all sorts of stupid cards. The good thing is that it's casual gamer friendly for being less pychological that proper social deduction games. On the bad side the game is looong and people will leave the table once eliminated. Luckly the best bits of the game were scrapped, distilled and repachaged in the dice game version. So no real reason to play this.
Cockroach Poker 2004
A game of lying through your teeth. Best one as far as I'm concerned. I usually describe it as "slovenian game": you try to pass critters to your neighbours and there's no winner, only one loser. Rules are quite simple, best thing is that it grows with the group as with repeated plays layers and layers of bluff, counter bluff and acting are added.
I own the Royal version, because (more layers of doublethink)
Ca$h 'n Gun$ 2005, Ca$h 'n Guns (second edition) 2014
A bluffing game. At least used to be in 1st edition - a game of visceral fun of pointing foam pistols at the heads of your friends (or kids at our gaming workshops, yup got killed instantly all the time, because I was the rules explaining adult, figures). My favorite way to play was to reserve a whole evening and add the Yakuza expansion, because: a) teamplay!, b) secret team meetings with signals and strategy talk, c) you can add more crazy items which cause utter massacre.
2nd ed. though is one of them cases of eurogamers developing an older game and not getting it. Okay some bits were streamlined, but tension is removed. Most of all the idiocy of making the game now about set collection and optimising around the game instead of playing the psychology of opponents. Utterly idiotic as what makes this game still fun isn't what wins you the game. Not to mention bland illustrations of the 2nd ed. 1st edition is inspired by Reservoir Dogs, 2nd by Tiny Toons Adventures. Sheesh.
Hart an der Grenze 2006, Sheriff of Nottingham 2014
The Tom Vasel game. Actually I liked this one in my only play of it, a lot. (Sheriff of Nottingham) But. Firstly the theme is boring (why not smuggling what people are smuggling nowadays, I live on the Balkan route from Middle East to EU, stuff moves here). Secondly the cover illustration. Ugh. Who likes this baroque brown nonsense. Thirdly it's a bit rules heavy for a game of lying and negotiation (which is a great combo btw.). But mostly I'm not sure how fun this game would be with random players - I was lucky enough to play it with a great group, but I could see people not lying and then, what's the point? The contraband should be more valuable to push people into risking it.
A gamers game of lying through your teeth. With player elimination added. While this is shorter than Kakerlakenpoker, it's also gamier. Basically you have to lie around the strucure - opposed to lie around the history of game experience created together. Again, futuristic "Resistance" theme is bollocks. Polish version with Putin seemed interesting.
Bang! The Dice Game 2013
Or Bang! done right. Unlike the parent game which is a day or a week in the Wild Wild West, this one is just 10 minute showdown at noon. Unlike in parent game here is no confusion and giggles as players slowly figure out who is who. It's just guns blazing from the get go. Probably the most accessible and fun of the dice games and it's good for our kids gaming workshops as it teaches working in teams (not just sticking to your friends from school).
Best Faidutti's game, because it's chaos in the box with minimal rules and zero engine building or optimisation. Reading BGG comments it seems a bit fragile - the game is great if you push for chaos and shuffle the cards often and keep players utterly confused. Not if you try to deduce and just play your game. Mess everybody else's! Which with 7+ players is easier to do than with fewer. Franky we always had great fun with this at public gaming events - but it helped seasoned players pushing the first game along so everybody got it. Silly multiplayer fun. What's not to like? (Fun, right? I heard some of you people hate fun.)
THE GAME SAMO SHOULD PLAY, BUT STILL DIDN'T
I'm sure I'd love this. (Nobody imports the damn thing!)
Log your plays!