It was 4 years ago, in June of 2017, that I was invited over a friend’s house to play a game. My friends Dan and Kevin love table-top games. That first night was a Game of Thrones table top game and it sounded fun. I thought I’d hang out, have a few beers, and play for an hour or two. The game lasted 6 hours. It was intense. I was not prepared. My wife was texting me asking if I’d been kidnapped. I survived that first night, although I’ve never played the Game of Thrones game since. Instead, that night turned into a D&D campaign where this same group of friends gets together once a month to role-play and Roll Initiative. That night has also led to more friendly gatherings with us and our wives and many more table-top games, all of which have been introduced to me by Dan or Kevin. I thought it’d be worth sharing the games I have really liked and look forward to playing now that all my friends are vaccinated and we are hanging out again. I also asked my favorite “Game Masters” Dan and Kevin (Kevin insisted they be called this) to weigh in on my choices.
1. Codenames: This is a team game where the Team Leader gives their teammates one-word clues to try and figure out all the words that correspond to their team color: red or blue. My wife, Sarah, and I are terrible teammates because after 18 years we still don’t understand how the other thinks. It’s a fun game to start the night off and get everyone interacting.
Dan: “A great party game for large numbers. Easy to teach for any level of gamer.”
Kevin: “First party game I purchased after watching it played on YouTube (TableTop/Wil Wheaton, which I can’t remember if I found myself or was recommended by Dan). It’s a perfect blend of Password meets Battleship. Once everyone gets it, it’s fun. Sometimes, it sucks when people aren’t on the same page, but that’s why it’s a game.”
2. Times Up! Title Recall!: This is a fantastic game that combines elements of $100,000 Pyramid, Codenames, and Charades. It’s perfect for a large number of people to split into teams. Players try to get their teammates to guess the same set of titles over 3 rounds. In round 1, you can give different clues. In round 2, you can only use one-word clues. In round 3, you cannot use words. I’m still bitter about the time my team didn’t guess “Born to Run” in round 3.
Dan: “Another great party game. Guaranteed to give everyone a good belly laugh.”
Kevin: “The perfect party game with people who know each other’s quirks and stuff. Charades, password, plus “guess what I’m trying to get you to guess without saying it”. Plus trying to just remember everything beforehand. Love it. But I think it depends on the crowd.”
3. Love Letters: This is described as a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2-4 players. It’s a card game and the deck only has a total of 16 cards. Each player starts with one card and on their turn has to draw a new card and discard one. The cards contain actions the players can use to try and knock other players out of the game. This has been my recent favorite card game. It’s fast and has elements that allow you to guess another’s player card.
Dan: “Draw a card, play a card. Simple mechanics and lots of fun. Great time filler game.”
Kevin: “Love it and all its variations. Perfect “filler” game, as they say. My wife hates it. I don’t know why. I think it’s just because there is no specific “point structure in place.” Fun to just kill some time in between “heavier” games.”
4. Secret Hitler: There are liberals and fascists and someone is secretly Hitler. The fascists do what fascists do and the liberals try and stop them. The game is set prior to World War 2. It’s good for 5-10 players.
Dan: “A great social deduction game. May take a few rounds for everyone to get the hang of it. You won’t ever trust anyone again.”
5. Wingspan: When Kevin described this game to me, I thought it sounded insane. Sarah and I played with Kevin and his wife, Kristen. I won, so of course, I had to include this game on this list. I can’t even describe fully all of the elements of this game or how to play it, but it’s brilliant. It’s described as a card-driven, engine-building board game. There are beautiful illustrations of so many different birds, and there are eggs, and food tokens. Just get it. You’ll like it.
Dan: “A step up in weight and strategy. A beautiful game that brings in heavier board game mechanics.”
Kevin: “When I really got into the hobby, this was a game that just looked beautiful and had an odd theme. It’s one of the more intermediate games I’m into but everything about it just works out to a perfect “t”. The theme plays great. It’s just fun to play with people once they get the hang of it. Also, it’s one of the more complicated games that I actually was able to explain to people (Which doesn’t happen that often). I have nothing but great things to say about this game about birds. I don’t even care if I win or lose.”
6. Carcassone: This is a tile placement game set in southern France that’s good for 2-5 players. I’ve played a few times and I’m still not great at the strategy of road/city building. Kevin really likes this game (and is great at it) so we’ll start the night with this one if he’s grumpy.
Dan: “A good gateway game to introduce the general board gamer to modern board games. Easy to learn and a great strategy game.”
Kevin: “Wingspan and Carcassone are close in terms of my favorites. Carcassone was the first game I remember really enjoying with its simple gameplay. Each game is different. I like tile/worker placement games. I didn’t realize there was actual strategy involved until playing online. I’ve played this game hundreds of times either on line or at a table. The artwork is great. Each game reveals a different “board.” This is my favorite game.”
7. Potion Explosion: I like that this game uses marbles. You take an ingredient marble and if that causes marbles of the same color to connect, you can take them. You use the ingredient marbles to build your potions, set out on cool-looking potion game pieces. Once a potion is finished, you can use it to unleash the abilities on the game piece.
Dan: “It’s a phone app in the form of a board game.”
Kevin: “It’s fun. Kind of like “Real life” Candy Crush but with other people. It’s solid.”
8. Bang the Dice: The players are either Sheriff, deputy, outlaw or renegade determined by card draw. It’s an easy game to get the hang of fairly quickly, and the dice element is different than the other games we typically play (other than D&D).
Dan: “A fun, quick-hit dice game.”
Kevin: “My first dice game that I’ve purchased. I think I’ve played this and King of Tokyo. This is better. It’s easy to play and easy to explain. I just wish I could play it with more people more often.”
9. One Night Ultimate Werewolf: This is an app-driven game that can have up to 10 players. Each player is given a character with an ability and the goal is to either kill the werewolf, if you’re a villager or if you’re the werewolf: survive. It’s great fun and I am absolutely terrible at it.
Dan: “A shorter social deduction game than Secret Hitler, but just as fun. Multiple player roles add variability.”
Kevin: “I’m indifferent on Werewolf. It’s fine. I don’t necessarily feel a need to play it again.”
10. Dixit: Whenever anyone suggests playing this game, I always have to be reminded what this game is about, but once reminded, I always want to play. The players are dealt 6 cards. Each player takes turn being the storyteller and makes up a sentence about one of their cards. The other players select one of their cards that matches the story. After the cards are shuffled and set out, the players try and guess which card was the storyteller’s card and points are given out accordingly. It’s good for 3-6 players, but I think 5-6 players works best.
Dan: “Another great gateway game to introduce the general board gamer to modern board games. Invest in expansion packs though.”
Kevin: “Just a beautiful easy to understand game that works for all involved. Once you go through enough cards though, it could get repetitive without having to buy expansion packs. If you’re not “close” with the group you’re with, this would be a safer bet than Time’s Up! Title Recall!”
11. Century: Spice Road: Have you ever wanted to learn about the spice trade? I put this game into the category of games like Wingspan. There seems to be a lot of components to it, but I was able to figure things out fairly quickly and enjoyed playing. It’s good for 2-5 players. There are various and sundry cards that you can use to establish a trade route and trade spices. Do not be intimated by this game. It’s fun.
Dan: “Another game that is a quick and easy teach. Good components.”
Kevin: “A solid game that seems complicated at first but isn’t. I could play it any time. I also had fun making up my own “player board.” I have nothing bad to say about it. Nothing particularly great though either. It’s just a fun game.”
12. JAWS: I love JAWS. It’s one of my favorite movies and I was happy to play this game. One team is Brody, Hooper, and Quint, while the other sole player is the shark. Each turn allows the players to accomplish certain tasks to either kill the shark or to eat swimmers, if you’re the shark. Quint is not allowed to eat swimmers no matter how many times I suggested it. I worry about the re-playability of this game.
Dan: “Fun game for one of my favorite movies. Make sure each person plays as both crew and the shark.”
Kevin: “As movie fans, it was fun to play. I don’t really know about re-playability though. It might just be fun to go through it the one time. Maybe a second? I don’t know. It was fine. It’s worth it to play just for quotes and stuff from the movie.”
13. Pandemic: I know. Believe me, I know. It’s a really fun game though and the first time Dan, Kevin, and I played (a year into the current pandemic) we won. It’s a cooperative game so the players all work together to stop the pandemic. What a concept!
Dan: “Another great game to introduce to new gamers about modern gaming. Co-ops are great games but need to make sure that one person doesn’t just take over and tell everyone what to do. It’s a fine line between team strategy and alpha gaming.”
Kevin: “It’s fun and really good but more experienced gamers have a tendency to “alpha game” it so it’s like you’re just playing along with the alpha. It’s a good game though.”
14. Downforce: This is a card-driven game where you bid, race, and bet. It comes with little cars that you move around the game board.
Kevin: “Very fun game. Betting and racing. It’s fun to kind of think you’re young again and playing with hot wheels/matchbox cars but with some strategy involved. I will play this game anytime and also play for additional laps (not just one).”
15. Exploding Kittens: This is a card game involving exploding kittens in which the goal is to cause another player to draw the exploding kitten card.
Dan: “Another quick and fun game. Get the kids involved.”
Kevin: “Another perfect “filler game.” Kids (who can understand) and adults just enjoy it. It’s just fun. Maybe the Ted Lasso of games.”