Category Archives: Party Games

Pit

If your favorite kind of game night is loud, fast, rambunctious, and full of laughs, then Pit (1904, Parker Brothers and others; $12; 3 to 8 players) is a must have. Read that year again: 1904. Pit has been around for over 100 years, and has changed only in the slightest ways – it is essentially the same game that was played by Americans when Teddy Roosevelt was President, and it is just raucous fun.

                          

The premise of the game is that players act as commodities traders on the floor of the commodities market, and actively trade cards in order to “corner” the market in one of the commodities. In actuality, each player starts each round holding 9 (or 10) cards. The cards consist of 8 different suits, which are currently corn, coffee, oats, soybeans, wheat, sugar, oranges, and barley. There are 9 cards of each suit in the deck, and the goal of each player is to trade cards in order to obtain the 9 cards of a chosen commodity. Trading is accomplished (and this is the fun part) by choosing one, two, or three cards of a single type of commodity, showing them face down, and shouting out the number of cards to trade – in the hopes that another player will want to trade for that same number of cards. The swap is made face-down by the two players, who each then look to see if they have gotten the cards they were hoping for. After a short while, one player will manage to trade for all 9 of a certain commodity, at which time they yell “Corner (commodity)”, and the round ends. In the standard game, there is a “Corner” card that is claimed by the winner. In the deluxe version, there is a hand bell that is rung to signal the end of the round. Each commodity is worth a different number of points, so the winner of the round gains the points listed on that commodity. Play is supposed to continue to 500, which is more difficult when there are a lot of players.

 

There are two cards that are NOT commodity cards, but represent the market itself: the Bull card, and the Bear card. The Bull represents a strong market, and can be used by any player to substitute for any single commodity card (thus it would take 8 commodity cards plus the Bull to corner the market). The Bear represents a weak market, and it is an obstacle to cornering a market because the holder of the Bear card may NOT claim a cornered commodity; they must instead trade away the Bear card, even if the other 9 cards they hold are the same. When the Bear and Bull cards are used, each round two players will receive 10 cards. As noted, the Bear prevents a corner, but the Bull allows a corner with 8 cards. However, if a player manages to get all 9 cards of a commodity as well as the Bull, they get double points. But if a player is holding either or both of the Bear and Bull cards when someone else corners the market, then they count against that player. These cards can be traded singly or in combination with another single commodity.

Pit is simple and fun, and as such it’s perfect for either family or friends. Wherever people get together and have no problem letting their hair down and laughing and shouting at each other, Pit is a perfect choice. It’s a good icebreaker game as well, as it immediately lowers inhibitions and demands engagement, but always in a positive way. If I had to guess I’d say I expect to see it around in the year 2104.

Cornerstone

If there is a person in the house who claims “I’m not a game person” (and every house seems to have at least one and often several), watch how they react when they witness a game of Cornerstone or Cornerstone Essential (Good Company Games, 2010). Cornerstone looks like a toy – and it probably could be considered a toy, except it comes with rules for up to four players and victory conditions, which means it’s really a game.

But this game has broader appeal precisely because of its toy-like qualities: it involves building with blocks and then using little people (meeples!) to climb on the resulting tower. How is that not fun?! The whole point of the game is essentially to be the king of the structure by the time it’s completed, or else to be at the highest point when the structure falls down. So it’s building blocks mixed with king-of-the-hill, and I challenge any fuddy-duddy daddy out there who thinks he’s too cool to play a game to ignore this while it’s going on. It can’t happen!

It isn’t a block-building free-for-all, however. Each player takes one of the four colors and two special wooden rings. The four-block neutral starter piece is laid on the table, and players start playing on it – and this is where it gets interesting. Each player has twelve building blocks with which to add to the structure, but the building blocks vary in terms of how many unit blocks they are composed of, and there are two of each. For example, there are two building blocks that consist of one unit block, two that consist of two unit blocks, and so on up to the two that consist of six unit blocks. On each turn the player must roll two dice, and the resulting roll of the two dice give the player two options for which building blocks to choose (doubles allow you to choose any block). If a player rolls a two and a four, for example, that player may choose to build with the 2-block building block or the 4-block building block.

The placement rules are such that, when adding to the structure, one full face of a block must be in contact with at least one other full face of the existing structure, such that the resulting structure retains a checkerboard pattern. In other words, a solid face must go against a clear face, and vice-versa; neither clear faces nor solid faces may touch each other. Once a block is added successfully, the player may (and should, if everything is going well) move his/her meeple to any spot perceived to be advantageous through the upcoming opponent turns. Meeples may move only one block at a time, any distance, but they may only move vertically if there is a single step with which to do it or horizontally if they are adjacent to that block. They may not jump up two or more blocks, and they must be directly below the vacant space they want to occupy (they may not move diagonally across and up in one turn). Meeples also may not move through a block that is occupied by another player.

That is the essence of Cornerstone! The “Essential” version is pretty new on the market (as I write this), and it contains the wooden rings, two of which are held by each player. They each represent a special move: when played, a ring allows a player to either jump two vertical levels instead of one, or else it allows a player to move through another player who may be blocking the path. These do alleviate the occasional problem of being totally sealed off on a ledge, or worse, a cave, thanks to other people’s blocks, but there are only two that each player can use throughout the game.

Although it doesn’t appear to be a game heavy in strategy, some players are extremely deliberate about which die roll they use, and precisely where to put the block they have chosen. If the tower is knocked down, the offending player has lost the game, and, of the other players, the one with the highest meeple at the time wins.

I like this game, and have listed it among my top ten family games because it is fun for members of every demographic. It can be played by kids alone, by teens alone, by adults alone, or else by the whole family at once. And it can be just as fun for each group alone. It’s a safe bet for ANYONE in the family!

 

 
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Imaginiff

For a while, when Facebook was really becoming more well-known, it offered a series of very popular quizzes, such as “What animal are you?”, or “What 80’s band are you?” In these quizzes you would answer a series of questions and then be given an answer that supposedly had something to do with your core identity (Oh please let them say I’m a bear and not a shrew!).

Imaginiff (Buffalo Games, 1998) is the same game, but it was around first and it allows players to lay those assessments on each other instead of wading through a questionnaire. The beauty of Imaginiff, which it shares with certain other great games (Scattergories, Balderdash), is that it has taken a game that people have played for years, given it a definite form and definite rules, and put it in a box for everyone to enjoy.

The key component of the game is the deck of cards that provide a list of six items within a particular category:

The basic mechanism involves players identifying the item on each list that applies to other players. To demonstrate, consider a friend, and answer the question: “If your friend were a cable channel, which one would s/he be?” The options are: Comedy Central, The Playboy Channel, CNN, The Discovery Channel, ESPN, or The Sci-Fi Channel. It’s fun enough to try to place our friends and family members in these categories, but it’s even more fun to talk about our choices, or consider out loud why one is better than the other.

Being able to involve people who aren’t there is one feature that makes this game more interesting, because if there are only 3 or 4 present for a game it provides a satisfyingly easy excuse to talk about other people. And that’s something that already comes naturally to just about everybody.

Points are awarded based on matching answers; each round, one person is chosen, a card is read (in reference to that person), and other players choose the best match. Those players who have the most matching answers are awarded points, and move on the board. The fun, of course, is in considering the answers and then defending them. In my experience it is just as fun to grab the cards and read them aloud, then enjoy the debate. But since the board gives structure and an endpoint to the game, it is still useful.

I consider Imaginiff one of my top 10 family games, because it offers such a playful way to interact with people we know well. It has a nice blend of tension and release, it is (mostly) playable by younger people (as long as you ignore the more difficult categories), and it is conducive to inter-generational play – but it’s also good to get parties started. With the exception of the hardcore strategy gamers, I can’t think of too many game shelves where this game would be out of place.

Buy iMAgiNiff at Amazon!

Scene-It

Scene it? (ScreenLife, 2002) is, in the US at least, everywhere. Shortly after it was brought on the market, it was snatched up by Mattel and has been mass distributed ever since. The market has responded very favorably: I counted 36 different editions currently available.

The funny thing is, my little sister had this idea about 10 years ago, and I told her it would be a nightmare to deal with all the copyright issues but that otherwise it would be a great game. Well, apparently ScreenLife found it worthwhile to deal with the copyright issues, and they have found incredible success.

Scene it? is a dvd-platform trivia game. In other words, it is a basic trivia game, but instead of relying simply on trivia questions read from cards, it comes with a dvd that shows video clips. That’s what’s different – and that is all that’s different. But that makes all the difference. Speaking as a long-standing trivia lover (My love for Trivial Pursuit got me into games BIG TIME when I was young), I am very impressed with the Scene it? family of games – and the family is getting bigger all the time.

The basic play of Scene it? is pretty straight forward – on your turn you roll, and you either get an individual or all-play trivia question to answer. One die indicates how far you move, and the other indicates what category of question you must answer: Trivia Card or DVD Challenge. The trivia cards simply ask a trivia question consistent with the game’s theme, but the DVD Challenge directs you to the tv screen. Players launch the next question and the dvd shows one of several types of questions based on a video clip. In Music Scene it? – for example – there might be an actual music video clip, followed by a question like “Who replaced the drummer shortly after this video was released?” Some questions are based on album covers, some are music-themed word puzzles (anagrams, fill-in-the-blanks, etc), and some are identifying a tune set to “elevator” style. There are several more types as well.

One feature that really makes the game more appealing is its flexibility. Trivial Pursuit gives you one way to play, but Scene it? gives you three. The board (referred to as a “flex-time” board) opens up to reveal a long racetrack, but it also folds in on itself and becomes a racetrack half the size – for much shorter games. There is also a “Party Time” option, that allows you to constantly cycle through the dvd questions. This is a great feature, because it allows a large group of people to participate at once and allows people to come and go as they wish – not to mention the intensity of people trying to beat each other to the punch by answering quickly and loudly.

I’m no fan of mass-market products, but I will give credit where it’s due – and the makers of Scene it? have done a good job of using an underused medium in a way that is easy to use, and makes sense. I recommend Scene it? to families or groups of people who have an interest in any of the versions that are currently available. I have Music Scene it?, tv Scene it?, and Harry Potter Scene it? – and each of them have proven popular with friends. It’s a nice ice breaker game, and increases the energy in the room, and that is a great way to kick off a fun games night!

Buy Scene It – The DVD Game: Movie Edition with bonus on Amazon!

Encore

Who hasn’t played this game at one time or another, without the help of actual cards, or a board? My brothers and I, and now my wife and I, routinely try to stump each other with lyrical trivia.  Any music lover would like Encore (Endless Games, 1989). This is the kind of party game that nobody really wants to start playing – who wants to show off their own tone-deafness, after all? – but ends up getting everybody gathered around, laughing, and contributing a song or two from their own repertoire.

The game very simply requires each team to identify and sing lyrics from a song, at least six words in length, that include one target word that is drawn randomly from the deck. Teams alternate on the same word until one team fails to come up with an original answer, at which point the other team wins the right to move closer to the end.

There is a newer version of Encore out (first picture), but we played the older version (pic number 2), and because the old tunes are still around, it was still full of relevant words. Unfortunately, I can’t offer an opinion on the cards available in the current edition – but I honestly have no doubt the target words are a decent sample of easy, difficult, and in between. In addition to the word cards, the game comes with a board,  a die, pawns, and a marker.

The target cards are shown below – each listing five everyday words. On one team’s turn, the die is rolled and their pawn moved; the color of the space they land on refers to the colored word on the card they must play. That team them must come up with a song including that word, and sing at least six lyrics that include it. Once they do, the other team must come up with a different song. Turns alternate until one team appears stuck. At that point the other team can impose a time limit (20 second sand timer), but if that first team comes up with a song, the other team then has a time limit as well. Once a team fails to come up with an appropriate answer, they lose control of the dice.

The yellow spaces on the board correspond to “category” questions, and are self explanatory. Otherwise there is nothing special about the color categories on the cards.

Encore is billed as a game for music lovers, but it really is a democratic game, with musical elements for the whole family. As bad as people might consider their singing to be, once among friends all bets are off, inhibitions are cast aside, and it’s all about laughing and enjoying the company.

This is an easy game to recommend to just about any group. The fact that players are matching their own repertoires against the word in question makes it appropriate for any age group (over 8, that is) and any English-speaking country. It is definitely a nice family game, because it can bring people together across generational lines.

Buy Encore from Amazon!

Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow

I finished my last game of The Werewolves of Millers Hollow (999 Games, 2001) less than 10 hours ago, and I can’t really wait to tell you about it! This is such a unique game, and the interaction is so interesting, that I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed that I waited so long to play it! (And I call myself a game lover – bah!)

In this game, players (except for the “Moderator”) play the part of simple townsfolk – but some of them are werewolves and wake up at night to kill an innocent victim, and then arise in the morning among the rest of the townsfolk. The townsfolk then all try to decide who among them might be a werewolf, and the player chosen is lynched! Of course, that player may end up being a werewolf, or an innocent victim. Eventually, there are only werewolves or townsfolk left, and they have won the game.

The key to The Werewolves of Millers Hollow is that players do not know the actual identity of any of the other players (per cards, above), and when nighttime falls, all players close their eyes as if asleep, only “waking” when they have a role to play. There are only a few werewolves – up to four – per game, but they are the only ones who know who they are, and when they mingle with the rest of the townsfolk during they day they must avoid being found out.

So the game starts when the moderator, whose job it is to run the game and communicate decisions among the players without giving away identities, deals a card to each player. That card becomes that player’s identity (see below). Ordinary Townsfolk simply close their eyes during the night phase, and open them when night is over, and then help try to determine who might be a werewolf during the day. The Werewolves act like townsfolk, but during the night phase they, at the moderator’s cue, open their eyes and communicate silently to decide on a victim. The moderator then silently taps the victim to let them know they were killed by the werewolves, and the werewolves close their eyes again. When the moderator announces morning time, everyone except the victim opens their eyes, and the victim’s identity is revealed.

When the day begins, all players (including the werewolves, who are acting like regular townsfolk) debate and choose by vote which other player is a werewolf. That unlucky player is “lynched” and then their identity is revealed (By the way, when players are “killed” they are out of the game, and may not participate…but it is still a lot of fun to watch!). The (optional) sheriff card can go to any player, by vote of all players at the beginning of the game, and that role confers on them two votes when deciding who is a werewolf. That can be particularly bad if a werewolf ends up becoming elected sheriff, because as the number of players dwindle, those two votes are increasingly powerful!

If a player is not a werewolf, they are a townsfolk (but the sheriff can be either). The townsfolk may be ordinary, or they may have a special role. The Fortune Teller (above) wakes up first after all the town has gone to sleep, and they get to “peek” at another player’s identity. It is up to them, after that, how to use the information.

More special townsfolk cards are below. The Little Girl has the option of opening her eyes while the werewolves are awake, to peek at them – however, if she is caught peeking at them then she will automatically become the next victim! The witch has two potions, one for healing (bringing back one dead person) and one poison (for eliminating one person); the witch wakes up after the werewolves have killed and gone back to sleep, and she determines whether to use her healing or poison potion that night, or not. She may use each only once, and they may be used on herself.

At the beginning of the game, the Thief may opt to remain a regular townsfolk, or they may choose one of two remaining cards from the deal. The Hunter, when killed, gets one shot at one player, taking that player with him. Cupido gets to play matchmaker – any two players of Cupido’s choice become instantly in love and MUST protect the interests of their loved one. If one of the lovers dies, the other must follow (by taking their own life!).

And so goes The Werewolves of Millers Hollow. The game is so exquisitely interesting because each person has information to share and an identity to hide at the same time, and they do not know who is who. It’s a game of guesses (usually wrong on my part – lol!), suspicion, hunches, and luck. It takes about 20 minutes or so (depending on how many are playing) to play a single game, but as I said earlier it is very easy to play many games in a row. In fact it’s hard not to.

I absolutely recommend this game to any group of people gathering just about anywhere. It would even be great for more formal gatherings where there is a need for an ice breaker or a team-building type exercise. I can envision modifications to make it even better for something along those lines. That said, it is also perfect for later nights, when the more raucous games, or the more serious games, are over and there are enough people left behind to make it work.

There is an expansion of The Werewolves of Millers Hollow called “New Moon,” and a re-implementation called The Village (that is, it’s a newer version of the original with added features); see pictures below. I have yet to try these, but you know they are high on my list!

Buy The Werewolves Of Millers Hollow at Amazon!

Guesstures

There’s a reason charades has been enjoyed for the better part of the past 400 years; both King Louis XIV and Catherine the Great were apparently fond of them, and it was being played by Scrooge’s nephew Fred at his party in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Charades can be played with a group of friends as well as a group of strangers, no props are required, everyone is always involved, and laughter generally ensues.

So it is no surprise that games involving the “guessing game” mechanism of charades are still popular today. Guesstures (Parker Brothers, 1990) has been in game closets now for 20 years because it introduced a clever time limit mechanism to the classic game. The time limit takes the frantic suspense of ordinary charades and “kicks it up a notch.”

There are only a few components in Guesstures (older edition, above), and it’s a very simple game to learn and to play. Players split into two teams and, on their turn, one person from their team will be the reader, while all others are guessers. The readers have to try to get their teammates to guess the words on each of four cards in order to score the points associated with those words. But there is a timer involved….

The picture above shows the Timer/Dropper, which is the interesting innovation in Guesstures. There is a spring-loaded timer on the right of the unit (out of sight) that is wound, like an old-fashioned clock, each turn, and it is locked in place until the reader is ready. The cards are put in place as shown above, and when the timer is activated, the reader must get his or her team to guess each word, in order. If the team guesses the word, the reader must physically retrieve that card and pull it out of the unit – before it falls. Yes, before it falls. The timer is connected to a platform that is supporting each card. After a short while, the platform allows the first card to fall, then the second, then the third, and finally the fourth. If the team can’t guess the word, or the reader can’t grab them fast enough, the card is lost to them and earns zero points.

The cards come in two colors, and each card offers a choice of two words – one is more difficult than the other and earns more points, and the two different colors also represent difficulty levels. The reader gets to choose which word will be facing up for his or her team to guess that round, and stands to win whatever the point value is.

Guesstures is one of those games that is an absolutely safe bet for a party. It stands a good chance at being what it takes to really get things going, or it might not, but it won’t bomb. I recommend it to just about any group of people who want to have fun together; hard core gamers can take a break from the intensity of the strategy games and have some lighthearted fun, and casual acquaintances can break the ice and laugh without fear of sounding ridiculous, or at least more ridiculous than anyone else.

Buy Guesstures at Amazon!