10 Games For Your Non-Gamer Game Night
If you’re a fan of modern board and card games, there’s a feeling you’ve probably experienced at least once. It’s when you know you’re going to be in a social gathering where people might want to play games, but – SHOCK! HORROR! – they aren’t gamers! I know, I know, it’s hard to believe such people exist, but they do.
This is your chance though. As the guru of all things games, this is your chance to open peoples’ eyes to the wonderful world of modern games. All of which begs the anxiety-inducing question: which games do you take? You have a collection of maybe ten games, maybe fifty, maybe hundreds – and you’re meant to pick a few?! The agony of choice.
I was recently faced with exactly this dilemma, so I thought I would share the fruits of my frantic choosing, and let you know which ten games I think are sure-fire hits in most situations. I set myself some constraints though. They need to be easy to teach, easy to buy, and not cost more than £30. The closer to £15, the better. I’ve also indicated whether each game is competitive, co-operative, or a bit of both, so you can match to your target group. Enough chatter, on with the games.
1. 6 Nimmt! (1994) ~£10
I’ve sung the praises of 6 Nimmt! here before, and with good reason. It’s a fantastic, competitive card game that works with any number of players between two and ten (although four to six is the sweet spot). The gameplay is so simple. Players have a hand of cards, each of which is numbered somewhere between 1 and 104. Play your cards face-down, flip them over, then add them to one of four rows, placed next to the next-lowest card on the table, lowest card first. If you’re the player whose card takes the sixth place in a row, you pick up the five previous cards.
The aim of 6 Nimmt! is to have the lowest number of bull head symbols on the cards you’ve picked up. Everyone I’ve taught how to play this game has picked it up in a few turns, and it gets so competitive. The genius comes in the fact that you can’t directly affect other players, but you can get a good idea of which cards might force someone else to play the sixth of a row and do the pick-up of shame. When you get it right, it’s so good.
I’ve never met someone who doesn’t like 6 Nimmt!, from the most hardcore Euro gamer to my parents. It’s universally loved, and a fantastic game to bring people to the table.
2. Codenames (2015) ~£15
(Co-operative & competitive, teams)
Vlaada Chvátil is responsible for some of the best heavyweight Euro games ever made. Through the Ages, Dungeon Lords, Mage Knight – he’s board game design royalty. The game he’s most famous for though, is the super lightweight party game, Codenames. Players split into two teams, and in each team there’s a ‘spymaster’. Only they know which of the 25 cards on the table, each with a random word on, they want their teammates to guess. They’ll give one-word clues which they hope will make their teammates choose the cards they have in mind, and not the others.
It’s a brilliant game for a group, because it’s so quick and easy to explain, and so satisfying when someone gets your obscure clues. When someone gets inside your head and correctly guesses which three cards you meant when you said “Kneecaps. Three”, it makes people want to give high-fives around the table. Or if you’re British, like me, a firm handshake and a subtle nod of recognition.
In all honesty though, the most fun comes from the debriefing the spymasters give at the end of the game, especially for those on the losing side. It’s almost impossible not to laugh when someone’s trying to explain why they think ‘Brian’ is a good clue for Cat, because they had a cat called Brian when they were six-years-old. The box says it’s for two to eight players, but I wouldn’t play with less than four. If you have to play with two, get the spin-off – Codenames: Duet. Codenames is genius, and a surefire party hit.
3. The Resistance (2009) ~£17
Whether you go for the original sci-fi stylings of The Resistance, or the Arthurian remake, The Resistance: Avalon, you’re in for a fantastic game. Players are given a hidden role, and only the bad guys know who the other bad guys are. Over a series of rounds, the bad guys are trying to sabotage missions, while the good guys are trying to weed out the bad actors.
If the sound of going on missions sounds like it’ll turn people off, don’t worry. Players who are picked to go on a mission just turn in a pass or fail card. If a single fail card comes out, the mission is failed, and the accusations start flying. It’s such a brilliant game for getting conversations going around the table, and the logic and reasoning that people come out with is just hilarious. Especially with couples involved. We jokingly refer to The Resistance as divorce fuel.
A word of warning though, as The Resistance isn’t for everyone. Some people cannot stand lying, even in a game, and others hate confrontation. While everything that happens is just a game, it can still make some people feel uncomfortable. With the right group though, it’s just brilliant. With a group of old friends who know each other really well, it’s perfect. Or maybe Christmas with the family. If you’re prone to have arguments over the festive season, you might as well have a reason, and what better reason than calling your mum a lying spy?
If you don’t like confrontation though, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!
4. Love Letter (2012) ~£12
You won’t find more game in a small package than in Love Letter. The entire game comprises of just 16 cards, but you will play it a lot of times. It’s only for two to four players, but it’s best with three or four. The theme is really thin: you’re trying to get your love letter into the Princess’s hands by deflecting the other suitors. The way it works in reality, is with every player being dealt one of eight different cards. The person holding the highest value card at the end of the round, wins that round.
Where it gets clever is the way the cards interact with one another. The lowest value card, the guard, isn’t going to win you anything. But if you play its ability, and guess the card another player is holding, they’re out of the round. Another card lets you swap hands with another player, while yet another forces someone to discard their hand. One rule says if you discard the Princess ever, you lose. So by playing with cunning, and trying to guess what the others are holding, you can come up with some nice strategy.
Love Letter is awesome. Even if the romantic, renaissance theme doesn’t do it for you, give it a chance. The setting is so abstracted from what’s going on that even the staunchest of dyed-in-the-wool, bear-wrestling, muscle-car-eating, alpha males will enjoy it. There are some re-themed versions out, like Batman, Lord of the Rings, and even Cthulhu, but you’ll often pay through the nose for them, so don’t bother. Terrific hidden role fun with no confrontation.
5. Anomia (2010) ~£15
Would you believe me if I said I was a wizard? No? Okay, how about I prove it to you. If I ask you to think of a breed of dog, I bet you can do that pretty easily. What if I tell you I can suddenly make you forget every breed of dog that’s ever existed? Along with every colour, book, food, and probably even your own name? The secret to my magic – Anomia!
Anomia is another of those super-simple games that takes a minute to explain and learn. Draw a card and flip it over. If the symbol on your card matches the symbol on the card in front of someone else, you have to name an example of the word written on their card. That word could be something like ‘Dog’, which sounds really easy, but the pressure of racing to be first somehow inhibits your ability to remember anything. That’s where the name of the game comes from. Anomia is the inability to recall words.
It plays between two and six players, but it’s best with four or five. Anomia is just hysterical, it’s absolutely brilliant. Watching your friends and family trying to wrestle their brains into working is so funny, and I’ve never met someone who didn’t enjoy playing. It works well with all ages too, but there might be the occasional word which younger players struggle with, like ‘Playwright’ for example. I’ll never not have a copy of Anomia with me when I go to a social gathering now, just in case.
Head to the next page for the next five games!