In case you weren’t aware, my day job involves working with games – either at the local games store where I log a few hours a week, or doing freelance writing for companies within the game industry. As such, I present ten favorite games I’d like to recommend to help you pass the time at those holiday get-togethers. I mean, what’s more in the spirit of the Holidays than slaughtering each other at the game table?
First on the list is Zombie Dice from Steve Jackson Games. Talk about fast, stupid fun, Zombie Dice has the players pretending to be zombies and gathering brains. The brains are on the dice, which players roll three at a time to score that elusive grey matter. Watch out though; shotgun blasts will shut down a brain hunt very quickly! Number of players is flexible, and even a large group can play a game of Zombie Dice in under 20 minutes.
You probably wouldn’t think a game about bean farming is what one might call fun, but you’d be wrong. Bohnanza is a card game where players try to score the most coins by harvesting beans at the right time. The trick to this game is that you must keep your bean cards in the order they were dealt. You only have two fields to work with, which means you have to get rid of the beans you don’t want in order to find more of the beans you’ve already planted. Very fun and surprisingly strategic, Bohnanza is not a brain buster, but is a solid family card game for 2-7 players. Plays in about an hour.
Walk The Plank, from my friends and former co-workers at Green Ronin Publishing, is a basic trick-taking card game that’s designed to force people out. You have to capture a trick to stay alive, and each hand sees the survivors receiving fewer cards until only one player is left. A game, even with a full crew, plays in five to ten minutes, so no one will be sitting idle for long. Everyone will want in on the next game to take revenge on the scurvy dogs what sent them to see Davy Jones! For 3-9 players.
ROFL, designed by my buddy John Kovalic, is a terrific party game that riffs on clever abbreviations used in texting. One player is the judge, and is the only one who doesn’t know the phrase for that round. Players come up with the shortest abbreviation they can manage, and the player whose clue is guessed gets the points. Flexible number of players/teams; plays in about an hour.
Ingenious is a long-time favorite of mine, with colorful tiles that players try to match to score points. The trick to this game is to keep your lowest-scoring color higher than your opponent’s lowest score. The description doesn’t do the game justice: go out to Fantasy Flight Games’ website and look at the box cover for yourself.
Lost Cities is a favorite of my wife and I. For only two players, this game has players deciding which archaeological digs to explore based on which cards one has. You must score more than twenty points’ worth of cards for the dig to pay off; your opponent may be going for the same dig, so guard your secrets closely! Playing time is roughly 30 minutes per game.
One of my favorite big group games is Nanuk, another amusement by Steve Jackson Games. In Nanuk, the players take on the roles of Inuit hunters bragging about how successful tomorrow’s hunt will be. When the bragging gets too outrageous, their bluff is called, and the hunt is on. Players win by collecting the most sets of animal cards (one each of deer, seal bird and fish cards) and by avoiding Nanuk, the Great White Bear. You need a larger group for this one; 5-8 players are needed, though play only runs roughly an hour.
Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow is a variation on the classic convention game, Mafia. Players are assigned a secret role at the start of the game – either Werewolf or Villager – and must guess which other players are werewolves, then “execute” the most likely candidate before nightfall. At night, the werewolves come out and “eat” one of the villagers. Many players get knocked out of the game early, but it’s still fun watching people try to pin the werewolves tail on someone else – especially if they really ARE the werewolf! For 8 to 18 players who have 30-60 minutes to kill.
Recently highlighted on the YouTube series TableTop was Unspeakable Words. In this classic word game, two to six players must create words using the letter cards in hand. Then the player must roll equal to or higher than the score of the words on a twenty-sided die as a “sanity check”. If you fail, you lose one of your five Cthulhu tokens. The first player who stays sane and scores 100 or more points wins.
In Pandemic, players take on one of six roles at the CDC and attempt to control outbreaks of various infectious diseases. Each role has it’s own superpower, and the object is to find cures for all four diseases before you run out of cards. Plays in about an hour. For two to four players who can work together.
So where, you ask, can one find these gems of entertainment? Try your favorite local game store. Mine just happens to be Pegasus Games in Madison Wisconsin (see the link under the sidebar “Bill’s Friends” on the right-hand side of the page), but there are lots of good stores throughout the country, and pretty much all of them could get these for you if they don’t have them on hand.