The Holidays are for Parties, and Parties are for Party Games!

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?

Spooky Board Games for Spooky Season!

Without further ado, let’s dive into five of the season’s spooky specials.

#1: Mysterium—It's hard to get more Halloween-spirited than diving into 
the mystery
of an unsolved murder as a psychic detective on Halloween
itself, and that's where
you land with Mysterium. Years ago, the Count
of Warwick's manservant was found
dead at a party, and the trauma of
the event led the family to leave the region
forever. Now it's your
job to figure out what happened and free the ghost once and
for all.

Like most good spooky-themed games, Mysterium is cooperative. 
It's much
creepier working together in the face of an unseen force
than being able to look
at your opponent across the table. Unlike
most spooky games, the ghost isn't your
enemy here; in fact, the
reason your psychic team is investigating on Halloween is
that it's
the day when the mortal and spirit realms touch, and the ghost can
to you through visions. Work together with up to five other
detectives and the
trouble ghost to suss out the possibilities
and conclude, once and for all, the cast
of the Warwick Manor Murder.

#2: Obscurio—If psychic ability isn't enough, and you're angling for
real magical
power, Obscurio might put the spark into your table.
There's still a mystery afoot,
but it's one you and your friends have
walked into unwittingly—but that's what
happens when you try to steal
magical grimoires from mighty sorcerers, kids.

There's a big similarity to Mysterium here, in that the clues you need
to escape
the Sorcerer's illusions are handed out in image form by the
Grimoire, which is
trying to free itself from the Sorcerer's clutches
just as much as you want to
free it (or, you know, "free" it). One major
departure, however, is the presence
of a traitor who's fallen to the
Sorcerer's power. It's not enough to share
information and make your way out
with the great book; you need to be careful
not to let the turncoat ruin your
group's cohesion and leave you lost in the
illusory maze forever!

#3: Until Daylight—If you're still not tired of zombies, Until Daylight is 
to leap into your loving arms and gnaw on your face. Even if you are
tired of zombies,
Until Daylight might be the thing to win you back. Ten waves
of monstrous hordes are
coming for your camp when the sun goes down, and if you
want to make it through this
nightmarish apocalypse, you can't afford
to lose anyone on your team before dawn.

Apparently based on the notion that Five Minute Dungeon was too relaxed,
Daylight gives you varying (let's call them random) timers you use
to search for
helpful items before the horde comes. Winning isn't just a
matter of bashing monsters,
either; terrible human raiders come for you as
well, and survivors are mixed into
the whole mess as well. You have to pull
at least one survivor out of the horde and
keep them alive until the end of
the game to win. And if you have more than one?
Meat shield!

If you don't mind getting overrun by zombies a few times until you figure out 
exactly what it takes to beat them, and you like having a Die of Fate to roll,
Until Daylight awaits you with rigor-mortis extended hands.

#4: Villainous—Our only non-cooperative suggestion, Villainous is less about
that go bump in the night and more about the greatest nemeses of Disney
lore wanting
to go bump on your head. Captain Hook, Jafar, Maleficent, Prince
John, the Queen of
Hearts, and Ursula are all on deck (advantage: Hook) to battle
not only each other,
but the forces of good that won't leave them alone.

The cleverness of Villainous lies in its different style of gameplay for 
each of the
characters. You can look at their boards and see similar symbols,
but each villain
has their own method of winning, their own set of mechanics,
their own deck of cards,
and their own heroes waiting to foil their plans.
Better yet, part of your task is
to use the enemies of the other villains against
drawing a bunch of
goody-two-shoes out of their personal hero decks to thwart
their neverending schemes.

In the end, sure, you still have to beat a bunch of terrible villains. But if you
ever wanted to hit Peter Pan with a stick while doing it, Villainous might be
type of game.

#5: Creepy Classic Co-ops—What, you thought we could keep this list down 
to five
actual games? Impossible! We stashed the perennial favorites together
in order to
shine the spotlight on newer games that deserve your attention,
but we can't let
Halloween pass without a mention.

If these game series are new to you, give them a look. If you're familiar
with them,
remember, there's always something new coming out for you to see.

Werewolf: From Ultimate to One-Week to Werewords, the Werewolf series has
in one form or another for over thirty years. It's co-op… mostly;
the villagers
are definitely cooperating to ferret out the handful of
werewolves that literally
take them apart night after night, and the
werewolves are doing their best to make
sure there's no village left by the
end of the game.

Ultimate is the classic game gone big, with dozens of roles to shake 
up the strategy
game after game. One Night is the quick version; find
the werewolf now before he gets
away! Werewords is a Twenty Questions
version of the game, but the werewolf and her
eternal nemesis, the Seer,
still have to figure each other out by the end. And 2018's

Werewolf Legacy will help you answer the question, what happens
to this village if
we take more than one night of gaming to learn its fate?

Betrayal: One of the first storybook games on the market, Betrayal at House
on the
Hill gives you a haunted house, some creepy surroundings, and the ticking
time bomb
of knowing one of you will be driven against the others by the powers
at work around
you. With dozens of outcomes available, if you ever see the same
story play out
twice, you will have gotten your money out of the game multiple
times over.

More recently, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate was released for those of a D&D-friendly
persuasion, with characters much more in tune with Dungeons & Dragons lore but
keeping the same core gameplay. Like Werewolf, Betrayal also has a Legacy version
now—who's to say how powerful the evil in the house can become when you watch it
evolve over decades?

Cthulhu: Yep, it's Granddaddy Tentacle ready to sweep you into the ocean and 
the town of Arkham into pieces for the eighty-seven millionth time. If you
like the
Cthulhu mythos, there's almost no end to the options available. Want to
battle the
Elder Gods in Arkham? Arkham Horror. Prefer traveling the world?
Eldritch Horror.
Dice-based? Elder Sign. Small (four-max) card game? Arkham
Horror, The Card Game.
Sherlock-style mystery solving? Mythos Tales.

This is not an exhaustive list, either, but it's enough to get any fan 
of Lovecraft's
work, or anyone even a little interested, into the
game-based use of his lore.
Your friendly local game store can help you dig
further into the possibilities if
these aren't enough, or if you're a big fan
who already owns all the games on
this list.

That'll do it for our Halloween Spooky Special games run down. Take a trip down
to pick up the game that strikes your fancy today, because sales are…

...wait for it…!



It’s a bird party! And I am super late to it!

Wingspan is a game about birds, birds, and more birds. Birds in the forest, birds on the plains, and birds near the water. Birds that are smol, and birds that eat the birds that are smol. Feed your birds, play your birds, and watch your birds barely survive in the wild, because “take flight” is both too cliche and too positive for what nature does to things living in it.

It’s simple to play. You have a hand of bird cards and a pile of food. Feed the birds and play their cards. Except… do you have the right food? What kind of nests do the birds make? Can some of your birds help other birds with the same nests? Do your birds want to eat other birds? Can your birds find more food for your other birds to eat? Do your birds do something right now and then just sit there like lazy buggers, or do they keep working as long as you pay attention to their habitat? How many eggs can they take care of? Who wants to eat the eggs? Should you—


The pieces of the game make sense. They’re not hard to learn or use. Making them work together, though, takes some knowledge of what cards you might see, how much food you might need, and so on, and that makes it a trip for first-timers to learn. If everyone’s new, it works out fine. If some people are and some aren’t, the noobs better learn quickly. There is time to suss out a strategy, thankfully, so you aren’t stuck finishing out a game that you’ve started to understand but need a second play to make that understanding work for you. But the learning curve exists.

The actions don’t take much explaining. You can play a bird to any of the areas in which it can live, if you have the food. If you can’t or don’t want to play a bird, you can use an action in a given habitat. Taking an action in the forest gives you food. The plains give you eggs, and the water gives you cards. The more birds you have in the habitat, the more of each of those things you have access to with a single action. Playing towards your specific goal(s)—you start with one and can get more during the game—and the competitive goals for each round (ie. have eggs on the most different birds when the round ends) is important for winning, but if you can find a point combo that doesn’t require those things, it could still be enough. Understanding the game, and not the “meta” strategies or the few things that will actually work amongst knowledgeable players, is how you do well, which is excellent.

Really, it’s so good. It’s hard for a game to make someone (ie. me) go from grouchy and lost to realizing what’s possible to almost winning in a single playthrough, but this one did. It’s very smoothly designed, with a lot of detail about the birds that technically weren’t needed but make the game more engaging for their presence. I usually always want to play something new, but I won’t mind a second go at this one.

4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)



Corinth is a roll-and-write game about ancient-world trading with people who look friendlier and much, much cleaner than their probable real-world counterparts. Yay washing!

Corinth’s twist on the roll-and-write style of game is this: Each turn, the active player rolls the dice and puts them on a board of goods. There’s a set method to this; the player does not choose where the dice go. Instead, all dice of the highest number rolled go into the gold section at the top, and all dice of the lowest number rolled go into goats, at the bottom. The rest of the dice are likewise sorted by number rolled and placed in ascending order in each of the four goods districts. Each player, starting with the active one, picks a set and marks off a number of goods equal to the number of dice in that section.

This has a couple of effects that go against gamer (or math) reflexes.

  1. Although goats get the lowest dice and gold the highest, goats are not inherently less valuable, because you can as easily have fewer goats available during the course of the game than gold. It’s just a matter of how many dice end up in those sections each turn.
  2. It takes substantially fewer items to collect all the sets of goods in the higher districts, but it’s easy to underestimate how few shots you’ll get at them. To have any dice available in the highest district, all six numbers must be rolled on the nine dice (though up to three extra dice can be unlocked, which increases the odds a bit). This means that not only will it be fairly unusual to hit the highest district, there will rarely be more than two dice available, and if it’s not your turn it’s quite likely someone else will grab them first.

It creates, not a whole new road of thought, but more of an off-ramp on to a highway that leans a little bit away from strategy as we tend to think of it. You roll dice for the whole game, decide what to do with those dice, and the value of the dice never matter. It’s not complicated—once you understand that aspect, the game becomes much clearer—but it requires something different from the player, and that’s pretty cool.

As for the game itself, it plays in a pretty straightforward fashion. You get your goods, or spend your gold and goats on buildings, or move your steward around to get you bonuses. Each section has its own way to score; you also get bonus points if you’re the first to fill all the goods slots in a district, and the game is otherwise balanced enough that someone who locks up multiple bonuses stands a very good chance of winning. In four-player games, it forces people to decide if they’re all going to race for the easier districts or take a shot at picking up the more difficult ones and hope they finish their bonuses by the end of the game.

It’s a clever little game with good artwork and a requirement to think, if not totally outside the box, then over the open flap. 

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

Tiny Towns

Tiny Towns

I wanted to like this game. I did. I really, really did. It’s adorable city building on a small board with a bunch of cubes and a plethora of building choices with synergy bonuses all over the map. It should be something I would enjoy.

I think I tried to enjoy it with too many people. Which is a fine way to enjoy lots of things, just not this.

Tiny Towns has a simple premise: small critters have started a town, and they need to build it up as much as possible without wasting their resources. Like most small critters, they have no background in urban development, so they haven’t learned how to stockpile everything in one spot and move it from place to place as necessary. They just dump something in each location and stop when the town is full.

The basic mechanic is simple enough. The active player chooses one of the five types of resources. Everyone takes one and puts it on their board. Each type of building has a resource pattern associated with it; once you have that resource pattern laid out on your board, you may construct that building in any of the spaces where those resources were put. This forces you to be extremely careful where you place each cube, since you can’t take anything off the board once it’s placed.

Now imagine playing this with six people, where you only control the selected resource once every six turns. Yeah.

I have not played Tiny Towns with only two (or three) people. I imagine it’s quite a bit like Downforce, in that it has a set of mechanics which work considerably better with a small group. This makes the choice to sell it as a 1-6 player game extremely irritating. The game demands a high degree of intelligent choice in how you place your resources. It’s fine to make you look at your opponents and take their probable choices into account, but when there are too many of them it’s impossible to account for everything that’s going to happen between your current turn and your next one.

That, in turn, makes certain monuments (special structures unique to each person) extremely powerful in large games. Namely, anything that lets you get around the strict placement and building rules is wildly OP. There’s a variant for new players that lets you set two resources aside until you get used to the game; I recommend bigger games be played with that in effect no matter how experienced everyone is.

The rule holds, however: games are judged on how they are out of the box, not fixed by the players.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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