Very few things bring the whole family together like a good board game. The fun and laughter and gentle competitive nuances of rolling the dice, moving the counters, wracking the old grey cells for that “tip of your tongue” answer and generously allowing less capable members to take another turn, or choose another question. Board games have delivered limitless enjoyment to social gatherings for generations.
We’re not really interested in all that though – we’re ramping things up a notch with a rather more edgy list of modern classics to deliver 15 essentials that are guaranteed to push your competitive streak to the limit, have the neighbours banging on the walls to complain about the noise and garner the inevitable series of post-tantrum apologies.
We have mix of card-centric games and traditional board-based entries for your perusal, so strap yourself in – things could get messy.
Them & Us
We’ll kick off with what should be a recurring theme in this list – gender stereotyping. And what better way to discover who knows who better than Them & Us? This simple yet entertaining game provides you with two decks of cards – one pink, and one blue. Each card has a stereotypical topic of interest – for example, “fast cars” or “brands of make-up”, and ten possible answers.
The team in control gets until the timer runs out to brainstorm as many of the ten answers listed on the card as possible by simply shouting them out at random – so speed is of the essence. For an added twist, teams feeling uber-confident (or who are way behind in the scoring) can opt to choose a card from the opposing gender and score double points.
Fun in a large group but equally at home with just two people, expect plenty of arguments over who got the easier subjects, and whether or not someone really did shout out one of the answers during the mayhem of the round.
Cards Against Humanity
Described as a “party game for horrible people”, there must be a lot of horrible people around because this game has been getting rave reviews since its relatively recent release. Put simply, there are two decks of cards – one white, one black. Each round, one players asks a question from a black card, and everyone else chooses their funniest white card to complement it as an answer.
Who “wins” isn’t so clear, but is largely determined by who is the most creative with their answers and/or gets the biggest laughs. The game itself is actually available for free to download from this link, and people can get their own set printed for just $10, so if you find the supplied answers a little offensive, or not offensive enough, you can come up with your very own selection of hilarious combinations.
After Dinner Arguments
The clue’s definitely in the title with this one. A simple enough concept, After Dinner Arguments is based on the sort of subjects you’re always told never to talk about on a first date – think religion, sex, politics and work and you’ll be in the right area. There’s a question or topic that might represent a typical point for debate in this area on each card and that’s about it – go nuts.
It’s essentially a “game” for opinionated people who like arguing – or, we should say “discussing”, but does have the potential to stir up some genuinely interesting and thought-provoking material. In an attempt to shoe-horn in some rules so somebody can “win”, it suggests that the person who manages to sway the most people towards their way of thinking by the end of the argument is the victor.
Without a few fence-sitters and attempts to keep the peace we can easily see this being renamed to “After Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Arguments”.
If, after the last few entries, you’re all argued out and would prefer something a little less controversial to talk about, Sussed could fit the bill nicely. It’s less about opinions and “winning” and more about getting to know each other. Isn’t that nice? The aim of the game is to guess what other players would answer to a question with multiple possible responses. For example:
“What would I agree to have surgically removed in exchange for not getting ill for the rest of my life?”
- A toe
- A finger
Or “What type of people upset me the most?”
- Those who leave the toilet unflushed
- Those who sneeze without covering their faces
- Those who belch after they have eaten
Ok, so perhaps this game isn’t quite as innocent as it first appears – there certainly is the potential for an argument when you find out that the habit you thought was cute has been irritating the hell out of the other half for the last three years, but onwards and upwards – confession is good for the soul, as they say.
Now available in various guises and expansions, Time’s Up’s core concept remains the same, and it is still seen by many as one of the most fun party games around. Newer versions add subjects such as books, films and songs, but the original focuses on famous people. Cards are divided evenly among players, who get a chance to take a look at each one. Then the same cards are shuffled together and placed face down and selected as needed.
There are three timed rounds during which players must get others on their team to guess the person they are describing. In the first round, you can talk as much as you want, and at the end of the round when all cards have been “guessed”, each player reads out all the names on their own cards.
In the second round, only one word can be spoken to describe the famous person, and in a third round, only gestures and silent actions can be used. Since everyone has now heard all of the names on the cards, these last two rounds should be easy, right? Not quite so, as it happens, and frustration can boil over when what you consider to be a great clue goes right over everyone’s heads.
Boxers or Briefs
Boxers or Briefs is the “adult” version of the more family-oriented and award-winning game, Apples to Apples. As such they are essentially the same, with the former a little more risqué in its choice of content and therefore, in theory, more fun. It really is rather simple, and takes a similar approach to word matching as Cards Against Humanity.
Two piles of cards contain either adjectives or nouns, and once a player nominated as a “judge” turns over an adjective card, the other players must choose a noun card from their hand that best fits with the word that’s on the table. The judge then decides which he or she believes to be the best match, and the player who placed that noun scores a point.
Judges rotate around, and can choose whatever criteria they wish to establish what is “best”, so there’s plenty of scope for hilarious disagreement, which usually comes from either the judge justifying a tenuous choice or a player desperately explaining their thought process. Both the original and grown-up version remain hugely popular and highly rated, despite being around for almost a decade.
A bit of a classic, and one that has undergone a series of revisions and extensions, but the original remains the simplest and the best. Taboo redefined the concept of frantic party games and is guaranteed to get your blood pumping, particularly in a competitive group. Quick-thinking is the key here, as players attempt to describe a word without using any part of that word, or a series of listed words that are clearly linked to it.
If you think fast, you can come up with an ingenious “round the houses” way to describe a word without breaking the rules, but all of this will be for naught if your team-mates aren’t on the same wavelength. Various tiles on the game-board tweak the process to offer bonuses such as double-time, or force you to choose only one team-mate to guess, and opposing team members can keep a watchful eye on your card to make sure you don’t cheat or, ahem, “accidently” say one of the forbidden words.
And if all of this doesn’t guarantee a frenetic hour of fun, the infamous “squeeker”, used to indicate that time is up or a player has spoken out of turn, will crank the tension up to 11.
With a name like “Smart Ass” it’s not difficult to predict that this particular party crasher may not be too popular with the people in your group who aren’t that smart, or that much of an ass. If there are plenty of these sorts involved then hilarity ensues, but considering this is a game with very few rules, where players can yell out answers even when it’s not their turn, there’s a good chance it could be consigned to the bottom of the games cupboard, or the bin, before too long.
Four card categories cover general knowledge, “who”, “what” and “where” questions, with a set of statements gradually narrowing down the possible answers. The disadvantage to being a smart ass who isn’t actually that smart is answering too early, which forfeits your effort and potentially opens it up for others, so there are opportunities for revenge.
A game-board with a handful of special squares adds a few twists to the process, such as sending you back a few spaces or being forced to skip a turn, and the “anyone can answer” approach makes it a great alternative to games that can get boring if one team dominates.
5 Second Rule
Like the rule that says food is fine to eat if it is retrieved from a dirty floor in less than five seconds, 5 Second Rule does require quick thinking, but that’s where the similarity ends. Players get five seconds to name three things that fit a certain category, for example “Name three things you can paint”, or “Name three yellow foods”.
Failure passes the turn to the next player, who must make an attempt without repeating any previous correct answers. A simple but effective idea, anyone prone to mental blocks will also be prone to entirely sucking at this game, and the inevitable distractions that competitive team-mates come up with to eat into your precious seconds can become an ingeniously creative game in itself.
It has the added advantage of being easily turned into a drinking game or something you can play pretty much anywhere, so while it does suffer a little from “bulking up a pack of cards with useless accessories to inflate the price” syndrome, with its fancy spiral timer and largely redundant board, you’ll still get more than your money’s worth of fun.
Another one that fits the “getting to know you” category, Loaded Questions is probably the best game on this list for that very purpose, and probably the least likely to actually cause any arguments. Players move around a game-board landing on specific categories. These include “Hypotheticals”, such as “If you could ‘dis-invent’ one thing, what would it be?”, “Anything Goes”, such as “What would be a good name for a new celebrity perfume?”, “No-brainers”, such as “What is your best advice on how to make a million dollars” and “Personals” such as “What is your greatest hidden talent?”.
When the dice-roller lands on a space they read out a question, and everyone else must write down their own answer. They then read the answers and try to guess who wrote each one, scoring a point for every correct effort. Though it fits squarely into the sort of “team building” exercise you see quirky cheapskate bosses utilising it’s still capable of revealing the hidden secrets of your nearest and dearest, and can be a lot of fun.
Wits and Wagers
A game that’s part gambling, part trivia (and therefore part luck and part judgement, and therefore open to hissy-fits and complaining), Wits and Wagers has won over 20 awards since the first edition was released in 2005. Played over seven rounds, each round involves writing down a numerical answer to a question (for example: “In inches, how tall is the Oscar statuette?”), placing it on the game-board and placing a bet on the answer believed to be closest, but not above the correct number.
Bets are paid based on the odds marked on the board, and after the seventh and final question the player with the most money wins. Of course the real fun starts when you decide that winning hordes of little plastic chips isn’t the most rewarding prize in the world, and everyone agrees to start playing for cold hard cash.
The Logo Game
Having gone viral and done the rounds in the Smartphone app and social networking markets, The Logo Game is now available in board variety. If you haven’t experienced it yet you’ve missed out. The idea is simple. Take a whole bunch of recognisable logos from all manner of companies around the world advertising popular products, slogans and symbols, split them into categories – confectionery, petroleum, cars, fast food, groceries, transport etc. and see how many you can guess.
It’s clearly an idea that’s been rather shoehorned into a board game format, but is actually very effective at being as fun and challenging (and almost as addictive) as its original form. There’s a mix of current and long since gone (but hopefully not forgotten) company logos to choose from, so a healthy dose of nostalgia adds to the enjoyment, and though it’s not really controversial or particularly stomach-churning in the competitiveness of the challenge, is deserving of a place in your essential games collection if only to calm things down.
Pass The Bomb
“Pass the Parcel” was a classic kids game that involved filling a bunch of over-energetic pre-pubescents with sugar, handing them a parcel and telling them to pass it amongst themselves until the music stops (the music being controlled by an adult who is supposed to remain impartial in the face of their child’s impending misery). When it does stop, whoever is holding the parcel either got to open it or in crueller/poorer families had to sit out until only one person was left.
Pass the Bomb is similar but has injected a slightly more competitive edge by introducing A) the threat of being blown up by a “bomb” and B) some wordplay that will test your powers of vocabularability to their limit. Cards reveal between two and four letters, a die is rolled to determine whether these letters must be at the start or end of a word and then the player must say a word that fits before the bomb explodes, which then gives them the right to pass/throw/drop the bomb down the pants of the person next to them.
Speed Stacker Cups
Ok, this isn’t technically a board game. In fact it’s debateable as to whether it’s a “game” at all. But it does require a great deal of skill, there’s plenty of potential for healthy competition and it’s about as frantic as frantic can be. Cup stacking could be fairly described as a “craze” in modern terms because there are hundreds of YouTube videos of people trying to beat other people’s records. The concept is simple and at the same time, infuriatingly complex.
Take 12 cups – any old identical plastic or paper cups will do, though if you want to take it vaguely seriously you’ll do well to pick up some “professional standard” speed stacker cups like the ones pictured. Learn a pattern of stacking allowed within the rules and practice until walking around waving your hands in front of you like some sort of deranged marionette becomes second nature. Then time yourself, and give up because you know you’ll never get close to anything like this:
The Cube is a classic example of a TV gameshow that everyone watches and claims they can do better than the person involved. Unfortunately The Cube is too big to fit in most people’s homes so they can prove it, so if you’re a fan you may have to make do with this miniaturised alternative. There are seven rounds of physical and electronics challenges to complete with 50 different games to choose from, which involve doing things like flicking a ball into a plastic box, balancing a tube on the end of your finger, counting dots on a screen and various other shenanigans.
You have the option to simplify or do a trial run, and can’t progress to the next challenge until you have succeeded or used up each of your nine lives. Will your nerve hold out for long enough to win the imaginary £250,000 jackpot?