It’s November and many of us are planning for what is likely to be one of the most unusual Thanksgiving celebrations yet. For those of us that are lucky enough to have a large “bubble crew” to spend time with, we’re likely looking for anything to do that doesn’t involve talking about politics or COVID-19. For those of us whose “bubble crew” is our spouse, kids, and cats who we’ve been spending some more time with than usual, we just might be looking for something new to do that doesn’t involve staring at screens. How about a game?
These five games are our picks for the best cheap pick ups (ranging from $10-$19.99) for a larger group (an average of five players). They represent a diversity of different styles of play, themes, and player involvement levels but all have been selected because they are easy to teach, quick to start, and fun as heck to play. If you ask me, those are all qualities of a game that will go over well with a mixed group of family that includes weekly D&D-enthused kids as well as parents who “used to play a lot of Monopoly”.
We typically focus on two-player game experiences, however, we do have a lot of party and group games in our collection. Some of these work with a two-player variant but most do not.
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Release Date: 2016
Play Time: 15 minutes
Age Recommendation: 14+
The 2016 Spiel Des Jahres winner seems like a pretty predictable inclusion on a list like this one so it’s also a fitting place to start. Codenames is so simple in its concept that it can be explained in just seconds so getting a game going with a distracted, social, or rules-weary group is quite easy to do.
During a game of Codenames, each of two teams (which don’t necessarily need to have an equal amount of players) appoints one “Spymaster”. The Spymasters take turns to issue clues to their team to help them to locate secret agents hidden in a 5X5 grid of files (cards) marked by one-word codes. The clues feature one word that pertains to terms or concepts on the files that the Spymaster is aiming for their team to identify and a number which refers to the number of files that are related to that clue.
At this point, the team is left to figure out what in the heck that clue is supposed to mean and then take a guess by pointing to that file on the grid. If they guess correctly, they can keep going. If they guess wrong, they must end their turn, BUT if they’ve located the one and only assassin tile hidden somewhere in the board, the team loses immediately.
This game is hilariously fun to play and is always different depending on the crowd that is involved. Familiar groups can share in laughs over clues that reference inside jokes while new friends can break the ice as they realize commonalities between each other.
Publisher: Bezier Games
Release Date: 2017
Play Time: 10 minutes
Age Recommendation: 8+
Werewords puts a unique spin on the Werewolf or Mafia mechanic that you may remember from summer camp. This time, designer Ted Alspach mixes in elements of Twenty Questions in which the player assuming the role of the Mayor (a publicly known identity in the game) has the difficult job of trying to get the rest of the party to guess a secret word by answering only “yes” or “no” questions. The difficulty of this is that hidden amongst the Townsfolk, there are a number of Werewolves who will ask questions intended to distract and derail this process as well as one Seer who knows the word but risks losing the game if they help too much and are identified by the Werewolves.
All of this is hosted by a phone app which uses an audio track to directs players through each phase of the game and keeps track of the time in the round. The level of difficulty can be changed between rounds, ranging from “easy words” to “ridiculous words” depending on how adventurous your group is feeling. The words in the ridiculous category are truly…well, ridiculous…and ridiculously specific, too! This set always poses an interesting challenge, lots of laughs, and a lot of “maybe” answers.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Release Date: 2020
Play Time: 20 minutes
Age Recommendation: 10+
*We’ve previously reviewed The Crew from a two-player perspective (check that out here). Though the game is advertised as 3-5 players on the box, it has a fantastic two-player variant that earned it stellar placement on our All-Time Points Rank.
In The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, players embark on a series of 50 cooperative missions detailed in a mission log book included in the back side of the rule book. Each mission involves a round of a trick-taking (a la Hearts) during which, each player has different tasks to complete. These tasks, assigned at the start of each round, include winning tricks that involve specific cards in them and sometimes doing so in a particular orders determined by numeric game pieces that are placed on the associated task cards as they are dealt. If the team is unable to do that at any point, the mission is lost.
The challenge in The Crew is that while players are cooperating to complete these tasks, they are not allowed by the game rules to share information about the contents of their hands beyond the use of one communication chip each round. This can be used to tell other players if a card is the highest, the only, or the lowest of a suit left in a player’s hand and is usually vital to the team’s success.
While it’s unlikely that your team can complete all 50 missions in one night, the logbook allows the group to log their progress and return to the challenge at another date, or for more casual crowds, simply just select different missions from the book to play for fun without concern for the progress of the overall story. That said, the progress of this narrative and success in each mission is one of the most exciting parts of the game and it can make for a great cooperative experience that puts mom’s Hearts skills to good work without opening the ‘youngins’ up for any embarrassment at the hands of the Queen of Spades.
Publisher: Indie Boards & Cards
Release Date: 2009
Play Time: 30 minutes
Age Recommendation: 13+
Resistance is yet another social deduction game in which the goal is to identify the players amongst the group who have secretly been assigned the role of spy. In this version, rather than ousting them from the group, the non-spy players, known as The Resistance simply vote to deny them opportunities to sabotage group missions.
The game takes place over the course of five missions, each of which has two phases. After the active player on each turn appoints the proper number of group members to take part in the mission (based on the number on the game board), the group has a chance to voice their opinion on whether or not they think it is a good idea those players are involved. If the vote fails, the active player passes to the next in line and a new appointment is made.
If a majority vote passes, the appointed players merely submit either a “success” or “fail” card face down into a central pile to participate in the mission. These cards are shuffled together and revealed. If one or more fail cards are present in the bunch (unless the board indicates that two are needed for this particular mission), the mission is considered a fail and a fail marker is placed on that mission space on the board. Now the group knows that one of the members of this group is a spy as failing a mission is exclusively the goal of the spies. Keep that in mind for future missions as failing three of the five total missions means that the spies are victorious and The Resistance has failed!
While this game is thematically involved and uses game pieces that depict futuristic characters and weaponry, the mechanics of it are very simple and it is quite easy to teach and to learn. There is no dice rolling, meeple placement, or traditional card playing (aside from contributing votes and mission successes or any expansion components). It is almost exclusively played socially and will involve lots of communication between players and lots of bluffing and dissuasion if you’re a spy! Like the others on this list, The Resistance does a great job of straddling between levels of interest/experience and, though a game can be derailed by an inexperienced player who might be a little confused by their role, it’s a short enough game to consider that a learning moment and start a fresh one!
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Release Date: 2000
Play Time: 20-60 minutes
Age Recommendation: 14+
*Our pictures depict an older printing of Citadels, originally published by Fantasy Flight Games. The newer version is available as either Citadels Classic (Z-Man Games reprint of the original) or Citadels (2016 update).
Citadels is a fantastic set collection game for a large group that involves using action points to either take gold or spend gold to build district cards from your hand that will earn points at the end of the game. District cards have a cost (which is the same as their victory point value) as well as a color identity and a select few (purple cards) include some extra function. For example, the Smithy allows a player to pay gold during their turn to draw extra cards.
At the start of each round, players draft a role card with a unique ability and a printed turn order. Next, the player who currently holds the crown marker (active player) calls out “one” through “eight” in numerical order. Players reveal their roles when the number matching their role’s turn order is called and then play their turn. During their turn, players are allowed to either take two gold from the bank, draw two cards from the deck and choose one to keep, or build a new district. Once during a player’s turn, they may also use their special role ability. These abilities range from gaining bonus coins for having certain types of districts, destroying opposing districts, or skipping another role’s turn entirely.
This game is slightly more involved from a rules/mechanics perspective than the others on the list but still very accessible to a mixed group. It plays fantastically well with a large group of players and is one of few games that I can think of that is even capable of supporting a party of eight. The primary action-based moves in the game are very simple to understand and strategically approachable. The drafted roles with associated turn orders make this game special. Citadels is a great game with some really fun art, too!