It’s December, the holidays are upon us, and with it the most common time for family gatherings in America. Years ago, the only way to deal with Grandpa Michael and Uncle James screaming at each other in the dining room was to hide in the back of the house (kids) or create a state of mind where everything was funny and you wouldn’t remember it tomorrow (adults).
These days, we have healthier forms of entertainment to enjoy: party games! Built for those large family gatherings where half of you play and the other half look on, wondering what they’re watching—and then want to play because they realize how much fun you’re having—you can bust these out anywhere you have the players and leave your grandpa and uncle to their seething rage. (And, for some, you’ll need to leave the kids in the back.)
1. Cards Against Humanity: Everyone’s favorite filthy card game is still drawing attention, both because no one’s come close to improving on the formula, and because they’re back at it with another holiday stunt. This year: selling a pack of cards designed by their writers, and a pack designed by the computer. The writers earn a $5,000 bonus if their pack sells more, and they get fired if the computer wins! (They won’t really get fired. Probably.)
But that’s just the newest expansion. Cards Against Humanity’s core set and myriad other expansion packs are still around and readily available. Although you may have to search online for their more niche card packs, the base game and its core expansions can be found anywhere your favorite board games are sold. (Assuming your favorite board game isn’t Life. I mean, Life? Really?)
2. Monikers: I said no one’s beaten Cards Against Humanity in the filthy card game space, and that’s true, but Monikers is close. It’s structured more like a game; there are three rounds with rules for how each round runs, as opposed to Cards Against Humanity , where there may be more people who don’t even realize there are rules than there are people who have read them. All the cards have something which needs to be guessed and a description of that thing. One person on a team gives clues, and everyone else tries to guess what they’re describing. The first round is easy; all the clue-giver has to avoid is saying any part of the name of the thing they’re describing. They can read the descriptive text on the card verbatim if they want. In the second round, though, clue-givers are limited to a single word, and in the third it’s down to charades. The cards used are the same, though, so if the players can remember the possibilities, it should make things a lot easier… right?
3. Codenames: The quick-classic word-guessing game. For the uninitiated, the original Codenames puts words in a 5×5 square, with a grid assigning some of the words to each team (red and blue), some to a neutral beige color, and one to an assassin. The codemasters need to guide their teams to the words matching their color while avoiding the other team’s words and definitely avoiding the assassin—hit that one and you lose immediately.
If you’re familiar with it, though, keep in mind that several versions of Codenames exist now, including variants for Harry Potter, Marvel, Disney, The Simpsons, and more. Picture-based versions are also common; they work the same way as the base game, except the codemaster guides her team towards a certain picture rather than a word. Regardless of your family, if you have a good number of people (six or more at least, but eight or more preferably), there’s a version of Codenames you can get everyone to enjoy.
4. One Night Games: Although One Night games are a little easier to understand if you’ve played the full size version of Werewolf or similar, breaking out Ultimate Werewolf can be a bit much for a family of relative non-gamers. By all means, bring it along, but show them One Night Werewolf first to see if they’re interested in the concept.
On the other hand, if you know you’ve got some One Night fans in attendance, the series has expanded a fair bit in the last few years. Between the various One Night Werewolf expansions, One Night Alien, One Night Vampire, and even One Night Revolution, there’s more than enough out there to sate the One Night appetites, or to introduce your family and friends to different variants to find out which one they like best.
5. The Resistance: Set in an altogether too real near-future dystopia, The Resistance pits a small group of government spies working together against a larger gang of Resistance operatives who know the spies are around but don’t know who they are. Through deduction based on which players support which other players partaking in missions against the government, and who does or does not sabotage those missions, the Resistance needs to suss out the spies and stop them from bringing down the whole operation.
If that sounds a little heavy for a holiday gathering, it isn’t once the game gets started. The setting lives in the aesthetic of the game, but for the players it’s all, “You’re a spy!” and “No, she’s a spy!” until someone gets figured out, or fools the table, the game ends, and one team gets to laugh and laugh while the other team isn’t all that mad because they lost but they had a lot of fun. The fact this isn’t as readily available as most other popular party games is a crime against gaming, so if you have trouble finding it…
6. Coup: Coup exists in the same universe as The Resistance. Rather than working in teams, every player is out for themselves. There are six roles in the game, and three cards for each role; each player receives two role cards in secret. Each turn, players take actions based on their roles… or at least, the roles they claim to have. The entire game revolves around figuring out when players are bluffing, pulling off your own bluffs at the right times and relying on your roles otherwise, and staying alive until you can knock off everyone else and claim familial victory.
Unlike the other games on the list, which support double-digit players, Coup maxes out at six. Nonetheless, the game goes so quickly (twenty minutes) that players can cycle in and out relatively often, and if you know enough people will be interested, it’s cheap enough that two people owning and bringing copies isn’t unreasonable.
And finally, because everyone knows bringing politics around the holiday table is a terrible, terrible idea…
7. Secret Hitler: What do you do when you have a solid bluffing game on your hands, but there are far too many on the market and you need a way to stand out? Add a dash of Hitler and watch the sales roll in!
Much like The Resistance and many other bluffing games, Secret Hitler is played in teams. Also like the Resistance, the bad guys—that’s the fascists, if there was any confusion on the matter—get to know each other’s identities, but the other team (the liberals) don’t. In this case, the goal is to enact policies for your team, but each side has a secondary win condition once you’re about halfway through: the fascists want to elect Hitler chancellor, and the liberals want to act like time travellers and assassinate him.
Secret plans, lying to your family, and shooting Hitler in the face. What else is Christmas for?