Category Archives: Top 10 Party Games

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.

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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!

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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.

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Fluxx

Many have played Fluxx (Looney Labs, 1997), and many more have heard of it, but if you haven’t played it yet then you won’t understand. I shall do my best to make you understand, though, but I encourage you to invest the $20 (0r less) and give it a try. Chances are you will be glad you did. You might even wish to go for one of the Fluxx variants that are now on the market, such as Zombie, Martian, Monty Python, Family, Stoner, Eco, Reduxx, Espanol, Christian, or Jewish Fluxx. One doesn’t need to know the basic game in order to appreciate the spin-offs; in fact, the opposite is true.

So what’s so interesting about Fluxx? Why do fans of the game get this other-worldly glaze over their eyes when it comes up in conversation? Because it is the first game in which the goal of the game, the mechanisms of the game, and the rules of the game are subject to change at any moment. Because of the constantly changing landscape of a game of Fluxx, it makes for a wonderfully chaotic experience.

The game starts off innocently enough – each player gets three cards, and the remainder become the draw deck, which is placed in the middle of the playing area. Alongside the draw deck, the “Basic Rules” card is placed face up (see below). The basic rules are simple enough: Draw one card, and play one card. But once cards are played, the rules change. Since there is no basic “goal” of the game, there is no way to win, until someone plays a “goal” card.

A goal card specifies winning conditions. The two visible cards below, for example, indicate that whichever player has two specific cards in front of them (the Sun and the Moon, or Dreams and Money) wins the game.

A player gets such cards in front of them by placing them there during the “play” part of their turn. Such cards are called “keepers,” and are so labeled:

The keepers are specific to the theme of the game, and in the original Fluxx game are simply iconic items (the Sun, the Moon, Chocolate, a Toaster, etc). In themed Fluxx games, they are significant aspects of that theme – in Monty Python Fluxx, one might, for example, have King Arthur, the Nude Organist, or the Knights who say “Ni!” A feature of more current editions that the original lacked are “Creeper” cards. These cards, once drawn, must be placed in front of the drawing player and prevent that player from winning the game until they are removed or destroyed, unless another rule supercedes the Creeper card’s function. Confused yet?

“Action” cards, once drawn, must be played immediately, and describe an action that must be taken:

Action cards have a significant impact on game play, and go hand in hand with “New Rule” cards. New Rule cards are self-explanatory, and simply dictate how many cards should be drawn, how many can be played, and various other actions that may be taken by the players (see below).

New rules will often contradict older rules, in which case the older rule is discarded. Action cards are discarded after they are followed, as well.

So that is Fluxx, not only in a nutshell, but pretty much completely. Players take turns drawing and playing cards until one of the players has met the conditions of whatever goal is currently featured. The specific rules of drawing and playing change constantly. This makes for a lot of frustration for players who love the planning and execution that goes along with strategy games, but for the most part Fluxx is so wildly unpredictable from draw to draw that just about everyone has a good time.

I definitely recommend this game to just about anybody 8 or older, or anybody who is a fan of one of the themed decks. Fluxx is easy to pick up and play, relatively inexpensive, small and easy to pack for travel, and it is definitely a great family game since the winner is just as likely to benefit from luck as any one else. Game lovers are not the only ones who like Fluxx – I know a lot of people who do not consider themselves game players who have played and enjoyed Fluxx, a few of them enough to own the game.

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Loaded Questions

loaded questions box

If you ever need an icebreaker for a party or a class or any other occasion, the cards in Loaded Questions (All Things Equal, Inc, 1997) are – pardon the pun – loaded with them. This game has been played and replayed among many groups of friends since its release in 1997, and a new “adult” version came out just two years ago.

The game itself is pretty straightforward, easy to learn, and engages every player during every turn. It consists of a Board with a scoring track, pawns, a die, a deck of Loaded Questions cards, answer sheets, and pencils. Players take turns as rollers who roll, move, then read a matching color question on the next card. All other players then write down truthful answers to the loaded question on their answer sheet. The previous roller gathers the sheets together, shuffles them, and reads the submitted answers aloud. The roller has to try to match the answers to each player!

loaded questions layout

“Is that it?” you say? How is that so fun? It’s fun because of the questions. It’s hard to draw a line between what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate, and the questions on these cards can really push the envelope or even occasionally stray over the line, but generally speaking they are simply great questions. The second card below, for example, asks to name one celebrity that doesn’t deserve to be a celebrity. That’s the sort of question people are making lists about on facebook and myspace, and arguing about and opining about around the water cooler or at the bar with friends. In Loaded Questions, you get to hear what your friends would say, and then try to figure out which friend said what.

loaded questions cards

Points are awarded based on the number identified correctly, but it’s not uncommon to lose track of where one is on the board because so much conversation, argumentation, and controversy is generated that the questions, and their answers, really take center stage.

I strongly recommend Loaded Questions to any group of fun-loving adults (or young adults – 16 and older) who are prepared to engage each other on controversial subjects, discover (perhaps) surprising things about each other, and laugh about them. The cards themselves are fun to read out loud in a group just to introduce a debate topic.

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Apples to Apples

apples to apples boxOnce a decade a game strikes just the right chord with the public and flies off the shelves. Apples to Apples (Out of the Box, 1999) is such a game. This game has been played and enjoyed by so many people, and their friends, and friends of those friends, and so on, that people all over the world who “don’t play games” have loved it. It defied all odds and sold a million copies in the US without ever having been on the shelf of WalMart (as of that point in time).

Apples to Apples is a social game; it stimulates conversation, elicits laughter, moves fast, and keeps every player constantly involved. It is comprised of two decks of cards. One deck is green; green cards each have an adjective listed, along with a few synonyms. The other deck is red; red cards each have a noun (person, place, or thing), along with a brief – and humorous – description. One player acts as judge each round, and turns over the green (adjective) card and reads it. Each other player must choose the red (noun) card from their hand of seven that he or she thinks is best described by the green card. The judge takes the submitted red cards without looking at them or knowing which player submitted which card, and then judges them; he or she will decide which of the red cards really is the best match to the green card (see pic). The player whose card is chosen wins the green card; The first player to seven green cards wins.

apples layout

In the example above, the foreground player needs to determine which of the seven red apple cards is most likely to be chosen as ‘expensive.’ One could argue for car crash, or even for hockey, because they are both expensive in their own way, but Paris, France is expensive in many, bigger ways, so it is an excellent choice – but will the judge think so?

apples judges choice

After all players have submitted their red cards, the judge has to choose one. The key is to submit a card, if you can, that will resonate with the judge. In the example above, even though they might agree that Paris, France is a very expensive city to visit, or build, or whatever, they might have had a recent emotional experience with a hospitalization so the cost of an operation is what they think of when they see the word ‘expensive.’ The judge could also be more impressed with the cost of lobster, or skiing, or even paying taxes. And so it goes. The judge chooses which red card they like the best, and the players who didn’t win usually let the judge know exactly why their cards were better choices…and the conversation continues. Arguments are defused by the cards being anonymously submitted, and by the explicit rule that the judge can use any way of determining what is the best card.

Apples to Apples is easy to learn, and everybody plays at once (which is typical of games by Out of the Box). Game play typically lasts about a half hour, but any number of rounds can be played. Rounds are so quick that you can get a few done in very little time. It is very common to simply play the game without regard to a winner; people just like to play for the fun of it.

There are a number of expansions and variations available. Expansions ($19.99) are basically the same game with all new cards, which is nice to have because they can be mixed together with the original cards. There are at least 12 stand-alone variations on the basic Apples to Apples game, including Apples to Apples Jr (Out of the Box, 2002), which will be reviewed elsewhere.

I absolutely recommend this game to just about anyone in the market for a game, especially if looking for a game to appeal to a mixed-age group. It’s great for families, groups of friends and coworkers, and is safe as a gift to just about anybody.

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