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My 2011 in Review: Party Games

This is the fifth installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. Party Games isn't a category that is the first preference for most gamers, but I'm sure nearly all of us find ourselves in a party context with non-gamers at some point, so then we may as well try to make sure that if we are going to play a party game it's a good one. Fortunately for us, there are some fantastic ones out there, as is evident from the great choices highlighted on this list.

Are there more? I'm sure there are, because I certainly haven't played all the party games that have emerged in the last year or two, so if there are candidates that are at least as good as the ones on the list, let's hear about them!

Crappy Birthday

Crappy Birthday is a very simple but incredibly fun new party game released in late 2011, and features cards picturing all kinds of wild and crazy gifts (e.g. a year's supply of used soap, a 150-pound hamburger, or a monster truck weekend). Everyone chooses a card from their hand and gives it to the player whose turn it is as a birthday gift. He then chooses which one he thinks is the `crappiest' or `worst' to receive, and the giver of that particular gift earns a point. First to three points wins!

The key mechanic is familiar from Apples to Apples, and the theme/concept is familiar from GiftTRAP, but the whole idea works really well here, and is so simple you could introduce it to a group in less than 30 seconds and be playing right out of the box. The crazy gifts are sometimes more cool than crappy, and will generate good discussion and laughs. I strongly recommend the publisher's official variant, which has players choose a crappy and a cool gift on their turn - this makes it even more entertaining!

The simple rules and cool gifts combine well for a highly interactive and social game experience. The only down side is that the gifts are most fun the first time you see them, so the game can lose some of its initial charm after several plays with the same group. But it wouldn't be fair to criticize the game for that, because it's intended to be used much like a disposable camera or a bottle of wine: take it to a party, give it as a gift and enjoy it there and then. For its price point it's still good value, and we've thoroughly enjoyed playing it multiple times in different groups already. Recommended!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A not-so-crappy birthday!

The Resistance

The Resistance is a social deduction game designed by Don Eskridge, in the style of the ever-popular Werewolf. I was first introduced to it at the end of last year, and it's been a source of entertainment on many occasions ever since throughout the past twelve months.

In the game, players assume the role of either a Resistance freedom fighter, or a spy for a repressive government that is trying to thwart the efforts of the Resistance rebels. The fun part is that these roles are assigned secretly. Players must then together vote on which of them goes on a mission, which will either pass or fail - the outcome depends on the secret votes cast by those who go on the mission. But this is where the heart of the game kicks in: players will use discussion, deception and intuition in an attempt to identify the members of the opposing force and ensure victory for their team.

It comes in a small pocket-sized box and consists largely of cards, but if ever there was potential to pack an incredible social game experience in a small box, this is it! This social party game may prove to become one of the most popular and one of the best. It's very similar in feel to the well-known Mafia or Werewolf - but arguably better, because there's no player elimination. There's also room for more deduction, because players have more data to work with, based on how players vote and the outcome of various missions. It also handles smaller groups, from as few as five or six players. If you enjoy social games with hidden roles and are a fan of Werewolf in particular, The Resistance is essential!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Potential winner of the next Golden Geek Award for Best Party Game

Say Anything Family Edition

Since its release in 2008, the award-winning Say Anything has proved to be a big party game hit from North Star Games. This successful game has now made the transition to the family crowd with the new 2011 release, Say Anything Family Edition.

In the game, players write answers to a question asked by another player, and score points by trying to guess which of the answers they think he'll pick. Think: Apples to Apples meets Balderdash meets Wits & Wagers. Questions are ones like these: "What would be the weirdest thing to collect?" "What's the most important quality a person can have?" Now comes the fun part: Write down an answer that the person whose turn it is might pick as the best one. When everyone has written their answers, you can guess which one you think he'll pick from the available choices. This bidding/guessing mechanic keeps everyone in the game, and is what makes the game fun for gamers and non-gamers alike, because you can earn points even if you didn't come up with the best answer yourself.

Say Anything Family has more kid-centric questions (which work fine for adults in a group too) than the original game, and also introduces family-friendly meeples on the reverse of the answer boards. One down side is that it only caters up to 6 players instead of 8, but overall the successful formula that made Say Anything fun is retained. It's a flexible, very interactive, highly social, and very fun game, and makes an ideal choice for families and groups with children.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A brand new party game for families from the guy who brought us Wits & Wagers

Wits & Wagers

I know I'm quite late to the party, since Wits & Wagers came out already in 2005. But I only got to play it for the first time in the past year, and I've quickly jumped on the bandwagon with many other enthusiastic fans! Arguably the biggest success yet for publisher North Star Games, this game put a whole new spin on the trivia genre by not making the trivia element play a lead role. How does it work? After all teams have submitted their answer to a particular trivia question, you may bid on an answer that another player/team guessed. This is a great concept, because it means that you stand a chance of earning points even if you don't much idea about the real answer. Is Aunt Joan a history buff? Then let's see what her answer was to this question about the date of this battle, because she's the one most likely to get it right.

Skill and knowledge is still rewarded, but the questions have been designed with just the right level of difficulty to keep the playing field more level, and inject an element of tension and excitement that is not present in most trivia games. Being able to bid chips can increase the risk as well as the rewards, so there's room for both high risk and low risk players to have a great time - and perhaps eek out a win! This bidding/betting mechanic that really makes the game shine, and gives it a game-show feel. As a result, Wits & Wagers rises beyond the mundane that we have come to expect from a trivia game.

It's also ideal for large groups, because players can team up. The essence of gameplay is so easy to explain, making it ideal for getting new players on board and helping them enjoy themselves from the get-go. It's quick to play (under 30 minutes), and perhaps best of all, it's buckets full of fun! "Fun" isn't usually the adjective of choice that most people associate with trivia, but it certainly is true of Wits & Wagers! For a version more suited to families, consider Wits & Wagers Family.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: The Most Award Winning Party Game in History - not just a trivia game, but a game show in a box!

Reverse Charades

I've always enjoyed games where teams of players try to guess words that one team member is acting out, such as Charades and Guesstures. But now along comes a party game that turns this idea somewhat on its head. Instead of one person acting and the rest of the team guessing, the entire team acts and one person guesses! That's the simple but successful concept behind Reverse Charades. Bryce and Scott Porter came up with the idea during a holiday weekend in 2008, and it proved to be such a big hit that they decided to bring it to the masses by getting it published. Reverse Charades is also available in a family edition (Reverse Charades Junior Edition), and has been released for iOS and as an Android app.

And Reverse Charades really works, because this small twist to the classic game somehow successfully turns a good game into an even better one! It's funnier than traditional Charades, because it's much more entertaining to have an entire group acting out something like "changing a diaper" or "mouse-trap" than just one person! It's also more user-friendly, because it doesn't put one person on the spot to do all the acting, which means that even those who are more self-conscious will find it easier to join in the fun.

It's true that the success of games like this often depend a lot on the group you're with. But the simple rule change to regular Charades is a good one, and in my estimation helps make it an enormous amount of fun, and perhaps more importantly it also makes it more likely to succeed even with less extrovert personalities. Recommended!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: An award-winning party game - why have just one person look silly, when it can be the whole group?

Why Did the Chicken...?

You've probably all heard the cliched "Why did the chicken cross the road?" joke. It's an old classic that has spawned all kinds of imitations, and if you like that kind of humor, Why Did the Chicken...? is for you.

The basic concept is that cards with random nouns will determine an unusual riddle, e.g. "What do a turkey and an electric guitar have in common?" or "Why is a marshmallow better than a barber?" Players are then given time to come up with witty answers, which are then voted on. Think Balderdash - but with a good sense of humour added.

This is not going to work with everyone, but we love it, and when played with the right people, it can be a real blast! You need some creativity plus a good dash of humour, perhaps even to the point of zaniness, but if you can find a group like that, Why Did the Chicken...? is going to bring out their very best. If you and your friends or family find this kind of wacky humor appealing, then you definitely need to consider whether this is the kind of party game that might be for you.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: What happens when you cross Balderdash with Apples-to-Apples, and actually make it funny?

Bunny Bunny Moose Moose

It's hard to take a game seriously if it has a title like Bunny Bunny Moose Moose. This zany party game from versatile designer Vlaada Chvatil is indeed full of silliness, and if ever you wondered whether the guy who designed the civilization heavy-weight Through the Ages had a lighter side to his personality, this game sure proves it.

Basically the concept is that a changing set of cards is on the table, which earn points when players match the pictures on the cards with actions like making antlers or rabbit ears, or poking out their tongue. Yes it's that crazy, and can make for some incredibly hilarious scenes. One player reads a poem and turns over cards as he does so, forcing other players to adapt their chosen hand signals in an effort to earn as many points as possible. When he stops, you score points according to how many matches you have.

There's certainly room for clever play, and the person who can think quickly and adjust their actions accordingly is going to have the best chance of winning. The real challenge with Bunny Bunny Moose Moose is the entry point needed to understand the rules and enjoy it, although fortunately there are ways to simplify the game for new players by eliminating certain cards or adjusting some rules. There’s no doubt that Bunny Bunny Moose Moose is a fun game, and you only have to look at title of the game, the artwork on the components, and the diagrams in the rulebook to see that! Watching others play the game can be particularly hilarious.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Rabbit-eeples, moose-eeples, and more silliness for smart people!

Join the discussion: What is the best new party game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?

Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games
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