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Top 10 Party Games for Game Night

Jeremy enjoys gaming when not working as a manager at the same college he graduated from.

Learn about some fun game ideas for your next party. (Clockwise from top: Trivial Pursuit, Poker, and Ticket to Ride.)

Learn about some fun game ideas for your next party. (Clockwise from top: Trivial Pursuit, Poker, and Ticket to Ride.)

Picking the Right Game

When you and your friends gather for a fun game night, picking the right people is half the battle, but engaging in a jubilant activity is just as important. With thousands of board, card, and other party games out there, sometimes it's challenging to know which titles are worth your time.

But don't fret. As any avid gamer, I've experienced games both good and bad and would love to share my thoughts on the best choices of each type. Based on my own experiences, those of my friends, and the general community consensus, here are the ten best party games to ensure you're never without a fun activity!

10 of the Best Party Games

  • Werewolf/Mafia
  • Poker
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Taboo
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity
  • Speechless/Charades
  • Scattergories
  • Avalon/The Resistance

10. Werewolf/Mafia

Pros: Fits large numbers of players, simple, interactive
Cons: Needs a moderator/narrator

Werewolf and Mafia are similar games that both rely on the concept of having villains hidden within a set of "good" characters who are trying to uncover the identities of the traitors before they're killed. Werewolves will secretly kill a player each night, while other characters scramble to use their powers to unmask the wolves among them. For instance, the Seer gets to guess once per round whether a person is a werewolf or not (which the moderator will confirm or deny), the doctor can grant one player immunity to being killed each round, and so on.

Tricking your friends into believing your innocence is as much fun as deducing who the other good players are, and other games have improved on Werewolf's already-impressive basis—but more on that later. Fun for any aspiring sleuth and easy to fit even on the smallest of tables, Werewolf is one of the cheaper options out there.

A Royal Flush in Poker

A Royal Flush in Poker

9. Poker

Pros: Fast, variable, inexpensive
Cons: Heavily luck-reliant, have fun getting schooled by toddlers

You'd be surprised how much fun you can have with a simple deck of cards. Poker comes in many varieties; some players prefer Texas Hold 'Em, while I'm partial to Five-Card Poker. Other variants involve holding a card to your head for your opponents (but not yourself) to see.

But regardless of which edition you pick, Poker is a fast, fun and relatively simple game. I find it extra satisfying when bluffing and gambling elements (of chips, not real money) are included. If you're on a tight budget or just need a quick game that doesn't require a huge time commitment, try a classic game of Poker. Several other card games, like Blackjack, Spoons, or Karma, will also please casual gamers.

Star Wars Trivial Pursuit

Star Wars Trivial Pursuit

8. Trivial Pursuit

Pros: Puts your random knowledge to use, different themes
Cons: I always get partnered with a 3.8 GPA girl who somehow doesn't know who played the Terminator. Get it together, Kirstin!

Ever wish your pop culture knowledge accounted for something? Trivial Pursuit, where you traverse a board by answering questions correctly, is the game for you. With a variety of different categories, usually there's something that gives everyone a fighting chance. I may not excel at the sports questions, but I'll hold my own in science and entertainment.

Trivial Pursuit also comes with a variety of different editions, like one designed for kids or the Star Wars theme shown above. You can even create your own questions or variants—for instance, my group combines trivia games with BeanBoozled, where if you get a question wrong, you spin the BeanBoozled spinner and have to eat a jelly bean with crazy flavors that could be either Strawberry Banana Smoothie or Dead Fish.

7. Ticket To Ride

Pros: Strategic yet simple, fun for all ages
Cons: Uh . . . choking hazards?

If you're in for something meatier than Werewolf or trivia, but not quite so much as lengthy war games like Risk, give this award-winning gem a try. Players compete to see who can assemble train routes across the map that give them the most points while also blocking opponents' paths. Trust me, this one's as much about thwarting your rivals as it is assembling your own route. Nothing beats that dastardly delicious feeling of completely obstructing your opponent's desired pathway.

A simple concept and quick rulebook helps endear this to casual gamers while a surprising amount of strategy attracts the hardcore crowd. Throw in some ever-beloved secret objectives, bonus cards, and expansions, and you've got one heck of a board game. The colorful components also make this easy to try with your children in place of boring old CandyLand, Sorry, or Monopoly.

6. Taboo

Pros: Fast, simple, not reliant on luck
Cons: When your team's losing, it's somehow always your fault

If you're familiar with the popular game Password, you have a good idea of Taboo's basis: in a limited timeframe, you frantically give clues to your partner(s) to have them guess specific words. However, Taboo introduces the mechanic of being unable to say a set of five words related to the keyword, meaning you'll have to craftily sneak around the obvious clues. For instance, I might not be able to hint "cold" or "dessert" for ice cream, but I could say "Blue Bunny."

Not only does this feature allow loads of laughter as players watch the clue-giver fumble around the forbidden words, it gives the opposing team something to do even when it's not their turn by ensuring none of the taboo clues are given. If one of the restricted clues are accidentally spoken, the game even includes an obnoxious squeaker that is oh-so-satisfying to squeeze in your opponent's greasy face, and they forfeit that card's point. As a final gift, the game comes with double-sided cards with two words on each side (four total per card), ensuring it'll be awhile before you run out of words.

5. Betrayal at House on the Hill

Pros: Strategic, variable, fun theme
Cons: Lengthy game times in which I somehow never acquire a gun. Just give me the revolver already, Wallace!

By far the most complex of today's entries, Betrayal at House on the Hill possesses a more complicated set of rules alongside a lengthier game time, but anyone willing to put in the effort will be rewarded with a rich and satisfying experience. Players cooperate to explore a haunted house and start preparing for the inevitable "Haunt", where one player turns traitor and assaults their former allies with a variety of horrific tricks.

The real treat here is that the base game comes with 50 different Haunt scenarios, meaning you should encounter a different endgame with each run. One game, Nancy might gain the powers of a Vampire, in the next Robert summons a demon to fight alongside him, and maybe next time there's a secret traitor who players have to unearth before they backstab their target. Throw in the enjoyable Widow's Walk expansion, an adjustable player count (3-6), plus surprisingly balanced gameplay and this one's a clear winner.

4. Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity

Pros: Simple, interactive
Cons: Don't play CaH in your church youth group

Here's a pair of famous ones you're probably already familiar with. Apples to Apples is the family-friendly game of judging the best carded answer for a specific category ("Batman" could be used for the category "Brave"); Cards Against Humanity does the same but with a raunchy, irreverent aesthetic for an edgier crowd. Players secretly put in a card from their hand that they think best fits the category, and the judge for the turn selects their favorite—even if it's more silly than accurate.

These are both great games, and while the debate between which card should win offers some fun back-and-forth between players, be careful not to play with sour apples who will fuss when their card "that obviously should have won" wasn't chosen. But again, remember, half the battle is finding the right people, and when you gather the bunch, you're in for a great time.

Speechless box

Speechless box

3. Speechless/Charades

Pros: Simple, interactive, quiet
Cons: Needs room to maneuver, not recommended for the elderly

Everyone's familiar with the classic game of Charades where players act out a clue. My favorite makeover comes in the form of Speechless, where players secretly write down what they think the acting player is trying to communicate. Players who guess correctly receive two points, but if multiple players guess the same wrong answer, they each get one point, meaning you might still have a chance even for incorrect guesses if other players are following your train of thought.

This also frees the acting player to focus on, well, the acting, since they aren't having multiple people yell out clues as happens in regular Charades. Games that actually get players to move around their environment are usually a big hit because of their physical comedic elements, and I definitely recommend giving Speechless a chance. Get those couch potatoes you call friends some exercise!

Scattergories components

Scattergories components

2. Scattergories

Pros: Simple, interactive, no luck involved
Cons: Your girlfriend gets mad if you beat her (trust me)

This 2- to 6-player game tests your knowledge and creative thinking. A random letter of the alphabet is rolled using the above die, and players must think of words fitting given categories with the chosen letter in a given time limit. For instance, for the letter C, your card might list thinks like Dessert, Celebrity, and Thing in a Barber Shop, and you might quickly jot down Custard, Calvin Coolidge, and Cut.

Then you (and possibly your partner if you're playing teams) compare your answers to other players. Half the fun here comes with the debate about what should and shouldn't count. For the example above, Custard and Coolidge are both great answers, but does "Cut" count? Is it a "thing" in a barber's shop? Persuading other players to let your iffy answers slide requires charismatic wit and leads to many hours of silly shenanigans.

1. Avalon/The Resistance

Pros: 10/10 fictional interviewees agree it's the best game ever
Cons: You'll never trust your filthy lying friends again

The Resistance takes the player-deception game of Werewolf and refines it into an overall-better package; my favorite take of the Resistance comes in the medieval form of Avalon (named after the island where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged). As much fun as Werewolf is, players who are killed early in the game have to sit out the rest, which just isn't as compelling. In Avalon, rather than kill the good guys, the evil team (Minions of Mordred) secretly fail missions, therefore keeping all players engaged throughout the course of the game.

Good players must try to decipher who other good players are and pick them to go on missions, while evil players must convince the good team of their innocence and secretly fail missions. Another advantage of Avalon is how you actually get solid clues: when a fail card shows up, you know at least one person on the chosen team is evil.

Throw in a heap of special characters with unique powers (Merlin knows who the evil players are, Percival knows who Merlin is, the evil Oberon doesn't know who his evil teammates are, etc.), and your experience will change consistently since you'll be playing as different characters. Plus, removing some of these cards lets you balance the game in case one side starts winning too much. I can't recommend this one enough, and you can learn how to play Avalon here or go ahead and grab it for yourself with the lowest prices I could find on Amazon (around fifteen dollars).

Future of Gaming

With so many awesome titles out there, narrowing the list to just ten was a daunting challenge, and hopefully some of these packages will bring your gaming group as much joy as they did mine. As culture has evolved and games have become more mainstream, I'm happy to see people realize being a game "nerd" or "geek" really just means being someone who enjoys a game with their friends—and who doesn't want that?

But for now, as we eagerly await more awesome games from the skilled developers and publishers out there, vote for your favorite cardboard box o' fun and I'll see you at our next countdown!

© 2018 Jeremy Gill