Party Games – Part 2

Pictomania

Party games are a fairly popular genre on the whole.  Pictionary is one of the top 10 best-selling games ever and Codenames was CoolStuffInc’s best-selling boardgame of 2016.

Last week we looked at parlour games, which are probably my favourite kind of party game.  However, there are many other types of party game and you may well prefer some of these to the old classics like Charades.

Let’s have a look at some more modern party games, although you would probably consider some of these to be quite old still!


Quiz Games

Ever since Trivial Pursuit dominated boardgame sales back in the 80s, quiz games have been popular.  While I think Trivial Pursuit has aged very badly, it has an interesting history.  The original version cost £48 to manufacture and was sold to shops for only £10!  They were making a £38 loss on every unit sold!

If you have the budget to sell at such a loss, you can certainly achieve market penetration with the right marketing (which they had).  Since its creation, Trivial Pursuit has sold over 100 million copies with total sales of over $2 billion.

You don’t get points for being close.

The problem with most quiz games is that if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s not much fun.  You don’t get points for being close.  This problem has been elegantly solved by the more-recent Terra, which requires players to place cubes on a map of the world or various scales (eg. length, weight) to answer questions.

If your cube is in exactly the right spot, you get points, but if you are close, you still get (fewer) points.  There’s a nice gambling aspect as well, where you can place several cubes down, but if you aren’t close enough, you lose the cubes (which reduces the number you can use for the next question).  I’d highly recommend Terra if you like quiz games.

Activity Games

Pictionary was probably the original driver for this one, whose sales weren’t far behind that of Trivial Pursuit.  There are a range of activity games that get you doing some kind of activity in teams against the clock.

Based around the original concept from Charades of trying to convey an idea by acting, Pictionary obviously requires you to do it by drawing.  Games like Taboo require you to do it by describing the idea without mentioning certain related words.  Rapidough used modelling clay.

If you’re looking for variety, Cranium has it in spades.

Cranium was a popular mashup of all of these and added quiz questions, humming tunes, backwards spelling and a whole host of variations on this theme.  If you’re looking for variety, Cranium has it in spades and it’s a game my family enjoyed over many Christmases.

For a modern take on these games, Pictomania, by the ever versatile Vlaada Chvátil, has players drawing and guessing each other’s drawings simultaneously.  It’s frantic, as you gain points for being the first to correctly guess other people’s drawings, but you’re also gaining points for people correctly guessing your drawing.  So you want to do a good drawing, but you need to get your guesses down too!

Finally, I’d like to recommend Concept, which is much calmer and requires players to convey an idea by placing tokens on a board full of pictures.  You’re attempting to communicate by connecting the ideas in lots of pictures to the key idea you’re trying to convey.  If it sounds difficult, it is!  It very much requires practice, but is worth the investment in time if you like a more puzzley approach.

Thinky Games

Speaking of puzzles, the next category is all about solving them.  If you need a break from flustered activity games and want to sit down and think carefully over a game, there are some excellent party games that fit the bill.

These games blur the line a bit as to whether they’re actually party games, but they are usually quick and play a lot of people.  Traditional games in this category would include Scattergories, where you have to think of items beginning with particular letters in different categories.

For example, you might have to think of something you would find at a beach beginning with the letter S.  You write your answers down in a grid, but you only get points if you write something that no one else writes.  So while ‘Spade’ might be obvious, you might be better thinking of something more unusual like ‘Seaweed’.

Most of the words have double meanings.

For something more modern, there is the excellent Codenames, by (you guessed it) Vlaada Chvátil.  If you’ve not tried it, you have to communicate particular codenames from a selection of words on the table by giving a single-word clue.  It’s tricky.  Particularly because most of the words have double meanings.

The game is played in teams and whichever team guesses all their codenames first wins.  There are also several different versions of Codenames, including a pictures version, a risqué version (!) and a two-player, co-op version.

Social Deduction

Social deduction games are a relatively recent phenomenon, but they have really taken off.  Werewolf was probably the first, but all social deduction games follow similar mechanisms.

Players are typically assigned secret roles (goodies and baddies, essentially) and the baddies get to see who each other are without any of the goodies knowing.  Much of the game after this consists in discussing who the baddies might be and voting to complete objectives or eliminate players.

You often have little solid information to go on, so much of the discussion revolves around making accusations and seeing how people respond (“That’s the kind of thing a Werewolf would say!”).  If the goodies complete enough objectives or eliminate enough baddies, they win.  If the baddies sabotage proceedings enough without revealing themselves, they win.  They can be very interesting social experiments!

They can be very interesting social experiments!

Some people love social deduction games and some people hate them.  They can be quite polarising, but in general they go down very well.  I’m not a huge fan myself, but with the right group, they are a lot of fun!

Favourites with my gaming group would include One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which is a streamlined version of Werewolf.  It is much quicker, has no player elimination and avoids the need for a moderator by employing a well-designed app.

Secret Hitler is another popular one, where fascists and liberals vote for leaders who will enact political policies.  There’s a clever card-selection mechanism that means a liberal may have to pick a fascist policy because they have no choice.

Everyone will of course suspect that they are a fascist at this point, but they can’t be sure – there are so few liberal policies that having to pick a fascist policy is surprisingly common.  One of the fascists is also secretly Hitler (hence the name) and if Hitler is ever elected as the leader, the fascists instantly win the game.

I’m not very keen on the theme, but for a couple of people I know, it’s their favourite social-deduction game.

Another one that’s worth mentioning is Deception: Murder in Hong Kong.  It involves players trying to expose a murderer and their accomplice.  Everyone has a set of murder weapons in front of them and the forensic scientist has to try to communicate to the good guys who the murderers are.

However, they can only communicate by placing clue tokens on a grid of possible motives, locations, times, etc.  The grid changes each time and it can require quite a bit of thought to communicate clearly.

It’s far more calm and considered than other social-deduction games.  You generally have more solid information to base your accusations off, but you can be led astray if you’re not on the same wavelength as the forensic scientist.  I really enjoy it.


Are you a fan of party games?  Which ones do you like the most?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn’t doing anything else, he designs games.

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