Top 10 Small Games – Part 1


I went boating with my extended family last week to the Norfolk Broads – a particularly attractive part of the country with lots of wildlife and a thriving thatch industry.  We had no computers, no TV and the only internet was a sporadic mobile connection.  How on Earth were we going to spend our time?

Well, we did some sailing of course and moored in various locations to go for walks, but in the evening (and frequently during the day as well) we played games!  The trouble is, although we had a table on the boat, it wasn’t very big, so we needed games that wouldn’t take up a lot of space.

The size of the box was also an issue as there wasn’t a lot of space on the boat full stop.  So before we left, I gave a bit of thought to what games I should bring.  Which games are best when they need to have a small footprint and a small box?  Here’s my list…

10. Liar's DiceLiar’s Dice (aka Perudo)

Made famous by Pirates of the Caribbean, this is a simple bluffing game, with more strategy than you might imagine.  Everyone rolls a few dice under their cup and secretly looks at them.  Players then take turns to bid on the total number of dice under all the cups of one particular number.

So you might bid “five 3s” and the next person would either make a higher bid (eg. “six 3s”) or call you out.  In that case everyone lifts their cups and you count the dice.  If the bid was too high, you would lose a die.  If it wasn’t, the person who called you out would lose a die.

There’s a bit more to it, including wilds and changing the number being called, but in the later stages as people get knocked out, it’s as much about reading the other people as it is calculating probabilities.  I’ve always loved this one, but I do seem to love it more than most!

Mascarade9. Mascarade

This saw a lot of play on the boat.  Everyone takes a role that usually involves gaining money in some way.  The King takes money from the bank, the Bishop takes money from the richest player, the Witch exchanges all of their money with all the money of another player, the Widow always takes enough money to bring them up to 10 coins, etc.

The roles are face down on the table and on your turn you can either look at your card (to find out who you are), swap your card with someone else’s, or activate your character’s power.  You may not be who you say you are though and the other players can call you out.

Whoever is right gets to active the power, and whoever is wrong has to pay a coin as a penalty.  The first player to 13 coins wins.  It’s another bluffing game that has more strategy to it than first appears.  The kids particularly enjoy this one.

Codenames8. Codenames / Codenames: Duet

Most people will be familiar with Codenames by now.  If you’re looking for small games for two players, I would pick Codenames: Duet.  Otherwise, I think the original Codenames is still great – we played several games on the boat.

In case you’re not familiar with it, players take turns giving clues for the rest of their team to guess that link to only some of the words laid out on cards on the table.  Your clue has to be a single word and the difficulty lies in linking your clue to more than one word without linking to the other team’s words (or even worse, the assassin word, which causes you to lose instantly).

It’s a really thinky word puzzle, but the team element makes it a lot of fun.  You need to make judicious use of the timer though, as it can be rather prone to AP (Analysis Paralysis).  With the right group, I really enjoy it.


CrossTalk7. CrossTalk

CrossTalk is very similar to Codenames in some ways, but I slightly prefer CrossTalk.  A clue giver on each team is attempting to give one-word clues again, but both teams are trying to guess the same word/phrase.

The twist is that the opposite team gets to guess after you give a clue, so you musn’t make it too clear.  To help your team get on the right track, you give them one private clue at the start.  Careful use of this clue is critical to success.

The other nice addition is the clue board, which can be handed to your team only once during the various guessing rounds.  On it, you can (by the use of various symbols) indicate which clues to connect together, which to ignore, which are actually the opposite of what they should mean, etc.  It adds a great extra layer of strategy to the game.  My family are very keen on this one.

6. Agricola ACBASAgricola: All Creatures Big And Small

This is the two-player version of Agricola, the much more complex worker-placement game about farming in the Middle Ages.  It’s a great two-player game that doesn’t take up too much space and yet gives you a microcosm of the Agricola experience in a short period of time.

You place your family members (workers) to obtain farm animals and building materials, and then fence off areas of your farm and build buildings to hold the animals.  Like its big brother, it’s tight and you never seem to quite have enough actions to do everything you want.

There’s also a stronger spatial element to it than the original, which I really like.  You have to think very carefully about how you fill up your board to maximise the number of animals you can fit it in.  This has gone down really well with everyone I’ve played it with.


So that’s my first five.  We’ll continue with the top half of the list later this week.  What would your favourite small game be?

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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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