We’ve always been Party Game people. Some of my earliest memories of family gatherings are us playing Trivial Pursuit, Dingbats or Charades. I remember going to parties at friends’ houses and discovering new party games we didn’t have like Pictionary, Boggle or Balderdash.
To put together this list I first went to BGG and filtered my collection by Party Games, I then filtered by Trivia games and added in the ones the first filter missed. I then dropped it into Pub Meeple and began ranking how much I liked the games. I then told myself I would remove anything from the final rankings I wouldn’t actually play at a party, for example Letter Jam. But as it turns out, I didn’t need to because really good party games are also some of my favourite games to play!
10 Don't Mess with Cthulhu
Don’t Mess With Cthulhu is a really simple social deduction hidden role game with almost no rules overhead that plays anywhere up to 10 players (with the expansion). The game was originally released as Time Bomb with players being terrorists or government agents attempting to set off or defuse a bomb. It was rereleased with the more wholesome theme of cultists attempting to summon an Elder God to end time as we know it.
In Don’t Mess With Cthulhu players are divided into two teams, cultists and investigators. They are trying to find a certain number of Elder Sign cards to win the game. However if anyone finds the Cthulhu card the game immediately ends and the cultists win. The cards are dealt evenly amongst the players who can declare what they have, either truthfully or not. Players then take turns revealing cards in front of other plays looking for the cards they need to win the game. After a certain number of picks all the cards are shuffled up and redealt until one team or the other wins.
This particular edition is the one I have and I love the look of it, with the cute artwork and clear iconography. The game plays fast, you can teach the rules in less than 30 seconds and just start playing. It might not be ideal for all party situations as you need some kind of playing surface and the theme may be a little esoteric but it's a blast to play.
9 Ca$h 'n Guns (Second Edition)
A raucous game of bluffing and set collecting where you get to point fake foam guns at one another as you roleplay being in a Mexican standoff. What’s not to like? Obviously Cash n Guns is a divisive theme, however the light hearted gameplay mixed with the John Kovalic art distances the game from reality enough for me to really enjoy what it brings to the table.
At the beginning of the game each player is dealt 8 cards, 3 bangs and 5 clicks. A river of reward cards are then dealt and the game can begin. Each round the godfather counts down and all players must then point their gun at someone, having secretly played a bang or a click. Each player with a gun pointed at them then has 3 seconds to decide to withdraw. Any player with their guns still pointing at a player then reveals their card, if it's a bang the player takes a wound and drops out of the round, if it's a click nothing happens.
All players who have not dropped out of the round or have not been shot then get a share of the loot. Repeat for 7 more rounds and the player, still standing, with the most loot wins.
Cash n Guns is fairly rules light, with only the scoring being gamerfied. However the game has fantastic moments of bluffing and doublethink that make for really memorable experiences. It is possible for a player to be eliminated, but this will typically only happen towards the end of the game, and that player will likely have a fun story to tell afterwards.
For some, Codenames would be their number one party game and I get that, I love the game, but it’s not a party game, it’s a dinner party game. Unlike other games in the genre, Codenames isn’t laugh out loud frivolity or beer and pretzels merrymaking, it’s meaty, thinky, clever, but it’s also fun.
In Codenames players are split into two teams, the red team and the blue team and each player has a spymaster. There is a grid of 25 words on the table and the spymasters need to get their players to guess 7 or 8 of those words. They do this by giving single word clues followed by a number, this number is the number of words in the grid that relate to the clue.
Players need to be careful though as an incorrect guess can end their turn, give a point to the opponents or even end the game. This leads to clever word play and intense focus that makes Codenames probably the best in its class.
7 Half Truth
When Richard Garfield of Magic the Gathering fame designs a new game it’s always worthy of further investigation and when that game is a party trivia game, well, that is beyond intriguing. In Half Truth players are competing for points in a semi convoluted fashion that is actually incredibly satisfying.
The game is played over 3 rounds, with each round resulting in greater points being available. Each turn of a round a question card is revealed with six possible answers, exactly 3 of those will be right. A die is rolled and that is how many spaces forward a correct answer is worth on the score track. You only need 1 correct answer and you have a 50/50 chance. However, you can push your luck, you can go for all 3 correct answers, each additional correct answer is worth a bonus point, but if any of them are wrong you score nothing.
Play happens simultaneously, with players bidding to state exactly how many answers they will go for using some beautifully weighty poker chips. After all bids are in the chips are flipped to show which answers players chose and points are awarded accordingly.
If Half Truth falls down anywhere, it is in the questions, which are very America centric, with the occasional question on states or NFL teams but I’d still heartily recommend this one to any trivia fans.
6 Rhino Hero: Super Battle
Rhino Hero Super Battle is a great kids game, but it’s also a fantastic game to play with adults that are still young at heart. While it’s not strictly a party game with the base player count of four, you could combine multiple sets for more players or even have more than one game going at once and with its short playing time you can pit players against each other in a tourney to see who is the ultimate Super Battle Champion. Rhino Hero Super Battle has a fantastic table presence and a spectator factor that easily rivals the king of dexterity party games, Jenga.
In Super Battle players are competing to build a structure and get their super hero to the highest point of the tower. Whoever is at the top, when the tower comes down, is the winner, unless it is you that makes it fall!
Games of Rhino Hero Super Battle can easily exceed three feet in height, making it the most striking game on this list. It will also force players to get up on their feet and be involved. And I’ve yet to play a game of Super Battle that hasn’t ended in cheers and laughs and gasps. And that’s why it makes this list!
5 The Resistance
If you want to quickly lose your friends then The Resistance is a fantastic party game. This hidden role game of social deduction will generate friction and arguments in a tight knit group of friends like no other game I can think of.
In the Resistance you are either a member of the resistance or the corporation and each side is looking to score points, by either succeeding in sabotage missions or by tanking those missions from the inside. During missions players simply play a single card, showing success or failure, only a single failure is needed to tank a mission, but when to play those Fail cards is vitally important, tipping your hand too early could mean disaster later as players refuse to invite you on missions, but allowing the resistance early victories could spell your downfall too.
Resistance cements its place on this list as my social deduction game of choice for a few reasons. It has no player elimination, unlike Mafia or Werewolf so you are engaged at all times. And unlike other games that have iterated on the formula, Resistance is rules light, meaning there’s no complicated stuff to explain and the game gets out of the way and just lets the players create everything through social interaction.
That’s not to say that if you want more crunchy rules and complexity that Resistance doesn’t have some expansions to allow you to add that too!
4 Pictomania (Second Edition)
If you’ve ever played Pictionary at a party and wished for something with a bit more game to it then Pictomania is for you. I will say, right off the bat, that Pictomania has some rules complexity if played with the full rules, that might make it a harder sell at some parties, but that does not stop it from being my favourite drawing game in my collection.
As an artist, I like to draw, it's a fun pastime for me and I get that for others it is an anathema, but Pictomania is a speed game, so it doesn’t matter if you’re amazing at drawing, but also each round the difficulty of the things you’re drawing increases. So in round one you might have to draw an animal, like a bunny or a cat. But in round three you might have a card that asks for employees of a corporation, like the CEO, Board Member or HR Manager.
Each round players are secretly assigned a letter and number card to tell them which item they are drawing. Only one player will be drawing each number. Once you have finished your drawing you can start to guess other players drawings, scoring more points if you’re the first to guess correctly. This is done by playing your number cards to a facedown stack in front of the other players.
In this way you can score points not just for your own drawing but for correctly guessing other players drawings, but be careful if no one can correctly guess your drawing you’ll also lose points.
Pictomania is a frantic game that is a delight to teach, as just as players think they have a handle on the game, they see those round four cards that ask them to draw intangible concepts or emotions. There is also enough game there though to actually provide some tactics, rather than simply trying to please a judge. If you enjoy speed and drawing and zaniness, then you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.
3 Time's Up!
I love Time’s Up… It comes in at number 3 only because I had to rate these top three somehow and this one is the least gamery, but it's a ton of fun. Times Up or Monikers or Celebrities or whatever version you are familiar with, has a three round structure. Players are put into teams and are attempting to score the most points over three rounds.
The cards in the game are the names of famous people, real or fictional. In round 1 you can say whatever you want except the words on the cards and you can’t pass. In round 2 the same cards are used but you can only say one word. In round 3 only miming and sound effects are permitted.
As each round goes by conventions are created, short hand is established and hilarity ensues. Each team only gets 15 seconds to get through as many cards as they can, but in the later rounds this can be a pretty impressive stack of cards.
Times Up Title Recall also allows you to play the game with Film Titles and other pop culture references instead of famous people, which I think is a little easier but also leads to players attempting to mime Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type or Take This Job and Shove It, which can lead to some excellent moments.
2 So Clover!
The newest title on this list and one of the most satisfying is So Clover. This one differs from most in that it is a cooperative party game. In So Clover you have a board constructed from 4 square cards, each card has a word written on each edge. The cards are laid out in a two by two grid, forming 4 pairs of two words. Players must then write down a word that links each of their word pairs. The cards are then shuffled with one extra random card and the other players at the table must then attempt to work out where the cards go in the grid and in which orientation.
So Clover fits my playstyle so well that it earns its place in the top half of the list despite being one of the newest party games out there. It’s cooperative, clever and uses word association as it’s primary driving mechanism, that’s like an Unboxed hat trick! The game is also cheap and portable and plays well with large groups as everyone writes their clues at the same time and then everyone is involved in the discussion part, so there is very little downtime.
The only reason So Clover doesn’t take the top spot is that it is a little difficult to teach, once you’ve got a round in everyone will understand but the cold teach is tricky.
1 Just One
So then, my number one party game is the other co-operative party game from Repos, Just One. I went back and forth with Just One and So Clover. I like So Clover more, but Just One is easier to teach and play for most people.
In Just One a player is chosen to be the guesser, they close their eyes and a word is chosen from a card by the other players. Each player then secretly writes a word down that they can link to the chosen word. Those words are revealed and any duplicates removed before the guesser then gets to look at the remaining words and tries to work out what the word was that everyone saw.
It’s such a simple concept but because all the players are working together and trying not to crossover with each other's clues it leads to a great sense of camaraderie which is a pleasant change of pace in a party game where competition is almost always the driving force.
A round of Just One is scored out of 13, with our high score standing at 11 at the time of writing, but we can never stop at just one round. Of course you can play without the scoring if you want and just turn the game into a fun activity, although it might remove some of the turn angst. If Just One has a downside, it is that the guesser can be “doing nothing” for a significant time while clues are written down. However this downtime can be used for toilet breaks and getting drinks so it's usually perfect for a party atmosphere.
Honourable Mention - Absolute Balderdash
How can I talk about Party Games without talking about my favourite Party Game growing up, Absolute Balderdash. Many people love Cards Against Humanity, a game where players are voting on the funniest or rudest or most inappropriate answer. I detest the game, but Balderdash is my solution.
Every round of Balderdash players choose a topic with an impossible to know answer and write down an answer, the answers are then read out and voted on as to which is the correct one. This format, like CAH, has players trying to think creatively to solve a “blank” but while CAH supplies the funny answers, Balderdash allows players to create their own.
Absolute Balderdash expands on the original concept, which just had the players defining words, similar to Call My Bluff, and instead added Laws, Dates and Film Titles, where players must supply the plot synopsis. The Film Titles in particular have led to some of my most memorable Balderdash moments, where one player convinced the whole room that the film was a 45 minute piece of surrealist cinema where a black dot moves across a white screen from corner to corner once... for the entire film. Genius and we all fell for it!
And while my original copy is now lost to time, Balderdash is always a game I think about reacquiring, it is that good!
What are your favourite games for large social gatherings? Let us know down in the comments.