I’ve been regularly playing board games for more than a decade but only recently really understood how great they can be in a social setting. After moving to Washington, D.C., in 2013 for work in my late 20s, I found myself in a city where I didn’t know anyone. Making friends was challenging, but I finally found my social sanctuary through a Friday night board gaming group in the bowels of an underground mall in nearby Crystal City (which might ring a bell as one of the cities where Amazon decided to plop down its second headquarters). It was through that group that I evolved into an actual group of friends, sending me into social circles ranging from monthly dinner club socialites to improvisers and later rugby players.
All that to say: I know the power of the party game intimately and have stocked up on some favorites to have when folks are over or as the very reason to have them by. Important is the ease with which anyone can learn the game, the fun of playing it (obviously), and the social interaction inherent in the game itself. The more a game has you talk to the people around you, whether in a friendly or competitive sense, the more you’ll get to know them. If you want to take your boardgame pantry to a new level or just want to get started playing around with social games that are perfect for friends, I put together a few of my favorites for you to look through. Importantly, you won’t find any of the humdrum, forever-lasting boardgames of yore in this list, like Monopoly (which has a Game of Thrones edition, in case you were curious) or Risk* (which, sigh, also has a Game of Thrones edition).
Catan, $43 on Amazon: The mother of contemporary social board games, everyone’s heard (or should’ve heard) about the ubiquity of this game. It’s easy, colorful, and fun — pitting you against your friends or family in a race to dominate a randomly put together universe. You do your best to cultivate widely spread resources — like wood and wheat — in order to build roads, towns, and cities. Cooperation and competition work in tandem here, allowing you to forge, break, and negotiate allegiances and blockades. For fun, time how long it takes before the first time someone unwittingly asks the groups who’s got wood and everyone inevitably giggles. My favorite expansions include Seafarers, Cities & Knights, and Explorers & Pirates. I also just find out minutes ago about a standalone Game of Thrones Catan edition, which is now in my buy list.
Betrayal At House On The Hill, $30 on Amazon: This mostly cooperative game pits you in a haunted house whose door slams shut behind you, forcing you to explore. You actually draw rooms from a deck and lay them down, slowly building a three-story house full of traps and hidden items. Around each corner could lay a haunt, which triggers a die roll that eventually triggers the second phase of the game, by which one of the dozens and dozens of storylines turns one of the players into a monster, ghoul, or plain old bad person, who betrays the rest of the group and tries to beat them. This game delivers again and again with new storylines so you can bring it out on any evening, and the game explains everything simply and with lots of flair and lore. Some of the storylines are duds, but it’s an overall hit whenever I’ve played it. The Widow’s Walk expansion is a must and fans of Baldur’s Gate have their own edition.
Dixit, $32 on Amazon: This game will forever be closest to my heart since it was one of the first I ever played in that Crystal City basement and because I befriended one of my closest friends over it. It’s also a strange game. In order, each player chooses one of the abstract and imaginative drawings in their hand — each card is nothing but a unique drawing — and announce a clue for it in whatever form they want, be it a phrase, a dance, or a limerick. Then things get stranger. For the whimsy of the personal touch, this game wins my undying adoration, and expansions are really just extra sets of drawings, like Daydreams, Journey, and Harmonies.
Seasons, $38 on Amazon: One of my long-time favorites, you spend the hour or so it takes to play this game flying through three years of seasons, the cycling of each increasing and reducing respective abundances of resources. You use said resources, like water and earth, to gather energy and win the game — but action cards let you both enhance your own progress and inhibit the others’ endeavors. While competitive, the cartoonish, light, and earthy game is great for unwinding — and great for wine. The Enchanted Kingdom expansion is great for some extra versatility and artwork.
*I have played many editions of Risk and enjoyed them greatly — my favorite, in order, are the 2210 A.D. edition, the Star Wars edition, and the Legacy edition. I don’t think these make for good party games and some of them have a pretty steep learning curve.
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