A good board game can be the perfect ice breaker at your next party (lockdown rules permitting), turning it from an painful exercise in awkward small talk into a joyous night of fun had by all.
There are certain topics that should never come up at parties, and you probably already know what they are: religion, politics, fashion and whether pineapple belongs on pizza. The usual stuff. However, the question “shall we play a board game?” is suitable for just about any party, possibly excluding those where folks might not have their clothes on.
If you’re a board game enthusiast, you’ve probably got teeming shelves of very complex, incredibly fun and rewarding board games. I certainly do, and I’m starting to wonder if I might not have to kick out one of my kids to make space for more.
But unless you’re specifically hosting a board game party – which is in itself a great idea, you can thank me later for it – it’s not the best idea to get out a board game that involves lots of tiny fiddly pieces or complex rules. Small pieces are easily lost when people bump and jostle around the table or when they’re soaked in that fabulous mulled wine that Dave accidentally spills.
Curse you, Dave.
What you want from a good party board game is a concept that’s easily grasped, plus the ability for everyone to have fun, not just those playing. People tend to come and go from a party, and it’s often fun just watching the wheeling and dealing and banter that goes hand-in-hand with a good board or card game.
That doesn’t mean that you’re just stuck with the old standards like Cluedo and Twister, either. Look, they’re not terrible in the way that Monopoly actually is, and Twister could be a good fit if you do fancy one of those clothes-optional-consent-absolutely-required-style parties.
In any case, here are some tasters to get you started.
Just One is a simple party game where a player must correctly guess a word, using only one-word clues from teammates. In a competitive setting you’ve got to be careful, because identical clues get eliminated. It’s a good game to get the group laughing together while the creative juices are flowing.
A game where you’re not meant to talk might not sound like the best party icebreaker, but what makes The Mind work is that sense of elation – or despair – when you get it either right or wrong. It’s a simple enough concept – everyone gets random cards and has to lay them down in numerical order without breaking that order… and without speaking. Expect cheers when it works and laughter – and maybe a little outrage – when it doesn’t.
The Oatmeal’s wildly successful Kickstarter is now a widely available card game (also in NSFW form if you prefer) where the objective is to avoid the exploding kittens for as long as possible in a fast-paced and funny version of what is basically Russian Roulette. It’s a good party pick because it’s very easy to explain to anyone who can grasp the basics of, say, UNO.
Smartphones have changed the party game, because they can create huge social walls if everyone spends all their time staring at a glowing screen rather than each other. Game of Phones flips that assumption around, because each player’s smartphone is absolutely a playing piece, used to accomplish a generally silly request which is then judged round by round, whether it’s the stupidest selfie, oddest search result or whatever. It’s also a game that scales nicely, so you can pretty much have as many players as you do smartphones.
Pass The Bomb is not a complicated game – come up with the words to match the letters without repetition before chucking the physical bomb to the next player – but the random timer on the bomb makes it a great icebreaker game for players of any age, and pretty much any time in a party, whether it’s to get conversation flowing at the start, or to pick up the energy later in the night when everyone’s had a few drinks.
Social deduction games – where the gameplay is really all about knowing your opponents, bluffing and chatty interaction – can be great party icebreakers, although they do take a bit of explanation so that everyone understands the rules and in some cases the concepts.
Secret Hitler is one of the best known. Do I really have to explain that the idea here is that one of you is secretly Hitler with a group of fascist chums seeking to enshrine you in power?
If Hitler’s not your style (and beyond boardgames, NO!), consider The Resistance, a game that splits your party players between government loyalists and secret plotters trying to overthrow the established order.
If you prefer more of a fantasy setting, consider Avalon which switches the setting to the time of King Arthur. Lances are not supplied in the box, mind.
Good food is a staple of any successful party, and while Sushi Go Party! doesn’t include any actual sashimi in the box, what you do get is a fast-paced game of strategically picking the best sushi from the train before your opponents can. It’s a good pick for parties where there’s an all-ages crowd, because it’s pretty easy to understand and scales well to a larger group.
Video games can be good party ice breakers in their own right, but if you’re trying to get the gamers away from their glowing screens, bust out Boss Monster, a game that’s effectively EA’s old Dungeon Master in card game form, by way of some gloriously realised 16-bit graphics. Instead of rescuing yet another princess from yet another castle she’s not in, you’re instead the final boss, looking to off more heroes than your fellow players can before your dungeon falls.
There comes a time in any party where people start wanting to talk to the dead. Or maybe that’s just my parties, but in any case, Mysterium is best described as what would happen if you replaced the standard cards in Cluedo with a séance. It’s a great fit for smaller parties where you’re looking for a game with lots of chatter, just a dab of spiritual guidance, a mystery and plenty of moody gothic art.
Even if your party group doesn’t include lots of Jane Austen fans, Marrying Mr Darcy is a great party choice for breaking the ice, because it’s all about relationships. Your goal is to secure the most advantageous marriage, which naturally means that those other suitable young ladies have to be thwarted in their own romantic goals.
Note: The box does not contain an actual Colin Firth, but there is an undead expansion if you preferred Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.
There comes a time in every party where, frankly, you just want everyone to leave and go home.
That’s a time – frankly the only time – when it’s appropriate to suggest a game of Monopoly.
Hey, Monopoly has to be good for something.
If anyone insanely takes you up on the suggestion of actually playing, they’re clearly far too drunk to think clearly and you’ve got clear assent to call them an Uber to take them home.