Your music playlist is sorted, the nibbles are in colourful bowls, there’s streamers draped over every surface and pet. Your party is almost complete. What’s the one thing missing? The best party board games, of course! (Oh, and people, we guess.)
For this week’s Ask Dicebreaker, we invited you to grill us like delicious finger food about party board games. Whether you’re looking to throw a bash for a close circle of friends or a gathering that’ll spill out onto the streets, party games can make for the ideal way to get friends, strangers and random gatecrashers to all come together in the name of having a good time.
So, chuck that copy of Cards Against Humanity in the bin (honestly, it’s rubbish), break out the cheese and pineapple hedgehog, and read on for the Dicebreaker team’s pick of the party favourites that’ll have you laughing into the wee small hours.
As usual let us know your own recommendations in the comments - and tell us what board game dilemma you’d like us to solve when Ask Dicebreaker returns!
David M: I’m hoping to get my friends in grad school more interested in board games. The problem is most of the games I’m familiar with take a long time to pick up. What are fun party games with relatively simple rules for newcomers?
Lolies: Depending on your player count, some of my favourite games to teach to newcomers to the hobby are Cash ‘n’ Guns and Camel Up - both are super easy to pick up and the kind of games that people usually want to play again straight after the first time so it’s bound to get them hooked. They both have silly gimmicks like stacking camels and foam guns so that usually sells people right from the get go. They also go up to eight players so it’s a great one for bigger group sizes!
Wheels: Tsuro is one of the easiest games you can pick up! You’re represented by a little coloured stone, travelling across winding paths. On your turn you place down a tile from your hand that would make your stone move and you lose if you fall off the board or crash into another player. It’s very pretty and soothing but can seat up to eight players which can end up in a fun and chaotic dance around your opponents! It’s essentially a Tron board game with East Asian dragon art, what’s not to love?
Meehan: Skull is a really easy game to get inexperienced players into - its rules are unbelievably simple and the rounds are super quick, so people are unlikely to get bored as well. The art style is also really pretty, it’s cheap and available from a huge number of retailers: I know I don’t regret buying my copy. Mafia de Cuba is also a really great party game, but it may be a good one to introduce after you’ve made the first few steps with something simpler.
Matt: A game I didn’t expect to enjoy so much is Five Finger Showdown - it’s similar to other games like Cash ‘n’ Guns (which is fab), but has the benefit of letting you pretend your fingers are pistols, lassos, dynamite (by rocking devil horns!) and more. It’s super simple to learn, because once you know the different hand shapes all you do is count and then read the sheet to find out what happens - making it dead easy to teach to newcomers. Love Letter is another all-time favourite that’s beyond quick to play and learn. Start with one card, draw another card each turn, choose one to play - do what the card says, highest number wins if anyone survives to the end. You can learn it in 30 seconds, and play all night.
Sara: I’ve really enjoyed introducing new players to Cube Quest, a simple dexterity game that’s a bit like fantasy battle tiddlywinks. It’s easy to set up and endlessly expandable. If you’ve got less space, I’d also recommend simple card games like Dungeon Mayhem, in which you play adventurers, or Bargain Quest, in which you play merchants trying to rip off adventurers.
Lulu: I have a group of friends with arty backgrounds. Can you recommend some creative games they might enjoy? - I already have Scrawl on my list after watching the team play it in the Christmas Party Games video.
Lolies: You should have a look at A Fake Artist Goes to New York by Oink Games. Oink famously make games that come in teeny boxes so it’s a great one to just always carry around with you for any potential ad-hoc gaming. In this game you are all collaboratively drawing the same picture by drawing a line each (with your own coloured pens); the trick is that one of you doesn’t know what you’re supposed to be drawing and also has to contribute a line to the drawing. You have to figure out who the person is who has no idea or the fake artist! It’s essentially a drawing social deduction game.
Meehan: TELESTRATIONS. Please try Telestrations, it’s a fantastic party game and it directly involves drawing. It’s a little like Scrawl, in the sense that you pass round a board for people to draw on, but it has a really neat set of flip whiteboards and allows for a lot of creative freedom in very little amount of time. A Fake Artist is also a great shout (thanks Lolies!), as is Spontuneous - which involves players singing songs in an attempt to get the other players to guess, and really enables players to get into the act of performing, even if they’re not necessarily good.
Matt: Honestly, between Telestrations/Scrawl and Fake Artist, you have the cream of the crop when it comes to drawing games. If you’re looking to get creative in other ways, the card game Blank is interesting - it’s basically a game like Uno, but all the players get to write and draw cards which get added to the game and can introduce new rules along the way.
Sara: So, may I suggest something a little different. Mysterium is a spooky board game that’s kind of like Cluedo, but with more psychedelic imagery and doom. You work together to try and read visual cues on the cards and unveil clues before a big clock counts down. It’s easy to pick up and play, as one person plays a ghost that’s guiding the players, plus it’s a lot of fun interpreting the pictures.
Daniel Trigg: I'm using lots of party games in office team meetings as an icebreaker before the meeting proper - so we only have about 10 minutes. Are there any simple games you can recommend?
Wheels: A single round of Dead Last would be a great (D)icebreaker. You’re all secretly selecting another player around the room to try and oust from the group by using non verbal communication. If you’re not in the majority when it comes to picking a target, you’ll get axed too! And the most fun thing is that if the player who’s getting singled out cottons on, they can instead play an ambush card to reverse it and choose one of the attackers to get eliminated instead. A really fun and simple to learn game that can be played in a very small time in large groups.
Meehan: I’d recommend 5-Minute Dungeon because each game must be played in five minutes or less, with players either moving onto the next boss or having to redo the current boss if they’ve lost - but you can stop at any moment, meaning that your office meetings shouldn’t run late. 5-Minute Dungeon is also just incredibly fun and silly, with frantic card playing and a really bright art-style. I’d also suggest you try playing Spyfall as, once again, rounds are timed and you can stop at any point. It’s a deduction game where one person is a spy and everyone has to ask or answer questions relating to a secret location the spy doesn’t know. It’s easy to learn and fun to play, so definitely give Spyfall a shot.
Matt: Happy Salmon is utter joy in a small fish-shaped pouch, and you could probably learn it AND play it 20 times in the space of 10 minutes. (Obligatory note to maybe find a way around the physical touching elements of the game during the current health situation.) The recent Stay Cool is another snappy winner, and involves people asking other questions and interacting, so I’d say it’d break the ice nicely.
Michael McCarrick: Are movie/ tv/ other media based versions of classic board games any good? I loved Lord of The Rings Risk but felt skeptical about Game of Thrones Risk, probably because of the TV show.
Lolies: I’m always super cautious when it comes to licensed games because label-slapping happens all too often, meaning a lot of them are literally just about the licence and have no depth. Having said that, there are plenty of licensed games that are great - it’s just a matter of finding them. Some of my personal favourites include Jaws, Love Letter Hobbit or Archer, and one of the older Lord of the Rings board games that Reiner Knizia designed. I’ve also heard good things about Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle but have never played it myself so can’t actually speak to its merits myself.
Meehan: I don’t actually play a huge amount of licensed board games to be honest, because they’re often so hit and miss. If it’s a licensed version of an already good game - such as Codenames for example - then you’re probably in the clear because it’s incredibly unlikely that it’ll be very different from the original. However, I would recommend you try some licensed board games that aren’t necessarily just versions of existing games because they can surprise you - Lolies’ suggestion of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a good shout, as is Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, and there have been several recently released movie board games that have proven to be pretty good: such as Jaws and Disney: Villainous.
Matt: I’m also a fan of Lord of the Rings Risk! Generally, the issue with reskins of classic board games is they don’t address the fact that the underlying gameplay is horrendously dated and poorly designed - and often feels like a shallow copy-paste job when it doesn’t capture any of the atmosphere or character of the movie, TV show, book or whatever it may be that you love. I think Lord of the Rings Risk works because it’s close enough to the battles of the books/films to feel like more than a lazy cash-in - whereas buying property in Lord of the Rings Monopoly would just feel a bit strange. (I’ll add that War of the Ring is a fantastic next step up, if you love Lord of the Rings and want an even more epic Risk-a-like.) There are exceptions, depending on what you count as a classic - the Dungeons & Dragons version of Betrayal at House on the Hill, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, is pretty fantastic, for instance. Generally, I’d say that the bigger pop culture creations out there have much better games designed specifically based on their worlds, stories and characters, so they’re worth seeking out over redecorated versions of the games you already know. It’ll take a little more work to learn new rules, but it’ll absolutely be worth it in the end. - Matt
Sara: I certainly agree the world of licensed tie-ins can be a bit shady. There are some genuine gems out there though. For a smaller group, a game like Jaws can be a lot of fun, while TV adaptation Firefly is surprisingly accessible, once you get a few rounds of it in.