Large-Group Games

Mail call!

Hey Matthew,

I'm a looong time reader of your blog, since before anyone but web nerds even knew what a "blog" was. I've never been much of a gamer, but I just started a programming job back in the summer, working with a group of guys that likes to play games at lunch. We're getting burned out on our current game assortment, and I'd like to donate a game or two to the stash for Christmas. The size of our group varies from day to day, anywhere from 4-10 people. We need to stick to games that we can fit within the lunch hour. The quicker the setup, the better. Complexity isn't a big concern, half of the fun is arguing about the rules.

Now then, do you have any recommendations? They would be much appreciated!

Thanks,

Seth Kelly

Hiya, Seth. Large-player games (which I would define as game that accommodate 7 or more people at a time) are largely plagued by three problems: (a) excessive downtime (i.e., sitting around and waiting for your turn to roll around), (b) long playing times (i.e., games that go. on. for. ever.), and (c) chaos (i.e., so many other people are doing so many things it becomes nigh impossible to formulate a strategy).

One way that many successful large-player games address all three issues is with simultaneous action: that is, allowing all the players to do things at the same time. Take the classic large-group favorite Pit, for example. Because players are franticly trading cards with one another in real time, everyone remains engaged at all times.

Many such games are mentioned in my Great Two-Minute Card Games list. Specifically, Slide 5 (3-10 players), Incan Gold (3-8), The Great Dalmuti (5-7), and Apples to Apples (3-10) are great with for seven or more.

Here are some others that work well in the large-group setting.

Bohnanza (3-7): A longtime favorite of mine for four and five players, I was totally amazed the first time I played this game with seven and discovered that it not only worked, but worked well. Players are farmers, working to raise and sell 10 types of beans (yes, you heard me). Because trading with opponents is an essential element of gameplay, everyone is involved all the time. And though the playing time creeps up with six or seven people, you should still be able to complete a game in an hour or so.

Formula De (2-10): A car racing game with a very clever gimmick: every time you upshift into a higher gear, you roll a bigger die to determine movement. That’s great for the straightaway, but may cause you grief when you go into the turns and find yourself unable to decelerate enough to handle the curves.

Werewolf, a.k.a. “Mafia” (7+ players): No purchase required for this one–all you need are the rules and something to secretly assign identities to the players (a regular deck of cards works fine). Two players are werewolves; the rest are villagers, and have no idea who the werewolves are. The game is played over alternating night and day phases. At night, the two werewolves conspire to slaughter one of the villagers; in the morning, the villagers awake to find a corpse, and then must decide who to lynch in retaliation. The game ends when both werewolves are killed, or when the population of true villagers drops too low. Short, simple, and amazingly fun, Werewolf is as much psychological experiment as it is game. Works best with really large groups–like, nine or more people.

Bang (4-7 players): Built on the Werewolf template, Bang cast the fighters as gunslingers in the old west. One player is the sheriff, two are outlaws, two are deputies, and no one knows who anyone else is–at least until the bullets start flying. Bang maxes out at seven players, but is best with that number.

Take It Easy (2-8, but any number, really): Like a cross between bingo and jigsaw puzzle, it would take less time for you to go here and play a few games than for me to explain how it works. Currently out of print, I believe, but the game’s sequel, Take It To The Limit, was just released last month.

Ricochet Robot (2-10 or more): Every round is a spatial puzzle, and players race to solve it. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of game, so go here and play a few rounds of the java implementation to see which category you fall into. I’m a “love it” guy–at least until the headache kicks in.

Shadows Over Camelot (4-7): It might miss the “quick setup” criterion, but hits every other one: works for seven, typically plays around an hour, and has plenty of rules to quibble over. See me full review here.

Finally, there are no shortage of good party games that were specifically designed with large groups in mind. Wits & Wagers works with seven (read my review), I’ve long been a fan of 25 Words or Less, and Time’s Up might be just about perfect for your group.

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20 comments.

  1. And then there’s Arkham Horror, a game that can only be WON if you have 7 or players…

    (and also fails miserably on most of the large-player game points you brought up…)

  2. In this category I also recommend Who’s the Ass.
    Can be played with up to 12 players or so.

  3. And for people who watch movies, Cineplexity.

  4. A couple of things:

    Bang! is a game I gradually learned to despise. Findings will vary, but I found it to get worse with time instead of better.

    Ca$h N Gun$ regrettably only plays up to 6, but those 6 players will have 10x the fun that the Bang players are having.

    Robo Rally is another game that can provide fun/frustration for multiple people. In fact, the more people there are, the more chaotic (and thus fun) things get.

    Ricochet Robots can be played by multiple players, but since all you do in it is stare at a board together, I wouldn’t exactly call it “fun”. Imagine giving 8 people the same Sudoku puzzle and declaring the winner to be the first that finishes it: that’s Ricochet Robots.

    Liar’s Dice is a lot of fun and can be played with just about any number. All you need is a bidding track (easily made), cups, and 5 dice per player.

    Citadels maxes out at 7 but again, provides a much more satisfying “hidden role” game than Bang!

  5. We play a game called Hobin’s Dice which hits its stride around 10 players. It’s free though. No game to buy.

  6. Did you ever play Killer Bunnies?
    It is a fun game for 3 to infinity players that could be finished in an hour.
    http://www.killerbunnies.com/game/index.html

  7. I’d have to recommend Nertz – a card game played with traditional 52-card decks (one for each player). You can find the rules online. It’s great for groups of 4-8 players. Very fast and competetive – though, be careful – once you start playing this your group will be hooked.

    This is a game we played with our church’s Campus / Singles group. It was a huge hit and almost everyone who played it became a huge fan. It got to the point that everyone was carrying a deck with them because of all the impromptu Nertz sessions that would pop up. Lots of fun.

  8. I recommend Attribute. It’s often described as “Apples to Apples for Gamers.” I think it’s far superior. It handles 3-8 players, but I don’t think I’d want to play with less than 4.

  9. At my old company, we used to play Guillotine with 4-10 people at lunch. It’s light enough that you don’t have to care if you’ve been paying more attention to your lunch than the game, but fun enough to keep everyone engaged anyway.

  10. Werewolf is a short game? Oh, man. When this became popular in the National Puzzlers’ League (as Mafia), we had games that lasted hours. The daytime discussion phases sometimes lasted as long as actual daytime.

    I’ve played in groups that quickly conclude, “I don’t know who the bad guy is, so screw it. Let’s kill [name].” In the NPL, however, people wanted to be right, and that meant long, intensive discussions in hopes that someone would do something psychologically revealing.

    It was a lot of fun for a while — I was quite addicted to it — but the fad ran its course.

  11. Werewolf is a short game? Oh, man. When this became popular in the National Puzzlers’ League (as Mafia), we had games that lasted hours. The daytime discussion phases sometimes lasted as long as actual daytime.

    I’ve played in groups that quickly conclude, “I don’t know who the bad guy is, so screw it. Let’s kill [name].” In the NPL, however, people wanted to be right, and that meant long, intensive discussions in hopes that someone would do something psychologically revealing.

    It was a lot of fun for a while — I was quite addicted to it — but the fad ran its course.

  12. I bought a used (possible from the 70s) game of Pit at a thrift store for 50 cents. I have still never played it, as I only bought it for the cool orange metal “slap” bell.

  13. I only played Formula De once. We played with 9 or 10 players and with that many players it has significant downtime issues.

    If I ever played a game of Werewolf that lasted many hours, I think I would do something ‘psychologically revealing’, even if I was a villager, so I could be lynched and out of the game.

  14. I’m a big fan of Werewolf, but whenever I got enough people together to play a decent game of it, I got stuck Narrating. So I made up a version that plays well with 5 or more players and doesn’t need a narrator. It’s called Office Gossip. You can download it for free from http://www.invisible-city.com/play/435/. It’s fairly quick-playing too, so it should suit your lunchtime needs.

  15. “Who? What? Where?” and “What Were You Thinking?” are also great games that scale well for any number of players 4 and up.

  16. I, personally, love Bang! A friend from high school introduced me to it a few years back, I found a copy in a games store a year and a half ago, and since then it’s become our number one “we’d like to game but without rulebooks, dice, boards or tokens” game. Part of the fun is all the house rules we’ve created and just plain ridiculousness we’ve added to it — most of which were inspired by the effects of our first house rule: if you don’t have a beer card in the game to get a hit point back, drink a real beer! And there was much rejoicing.

    As a quibbling side note, I think just the Sheriff plays with his role exposed in Bang! — the Deputies are hidden too. But maybe that’s just another of our house rules.

    If he and/or his fellow programmers are any variety of nerd, I’ve always had fun with the Munchkin line of games, and that’s definitely a “the more the merrier” series. The Munchin Cthulhu game is especially funny and fun, IMO.

  17. Disregard my quibble! I misread that sentence.

  18. Bang and Mafia were going to be my suggestions, but your list is just too exhaustive for me to add anything.

    I’ve also had great success with team versions of Cranium, Trivial Pursuit, Scene It, and This v. That. They’re versatile because you can play with two or three or ten people.

    Scattergories is also usually a fun one.

  19. Waay after the fact – Telephone Pictionary can be stupidly fun.

    1. Everyone takes a piece of paper and writes some sort of phrase on it.

    2. Papers passed to (left|right|etc) and everyone draws a picture of the phrase they just received. When finished, the phrase is folded under and only the drawing is showing.

    3. Papers passed to (left|right|etc) and everyone writes a phrase that describes the picture they just received. When finished, the picture is folded under and only the phrase is showing.

    4. Repeat until papers make one circuit of table.

    No scoring, no points, just lots of laughing and fun.

  20. Waay after the fact – Telephone Pictionary can be stupidly fun.

    1. Everyone takes a piece of paper and writes some sort of phrase on it.

    2. Papers passed to (left|right|etc) and everyone draws a picture of the phrase they just received. When finished, the phrase is folded under and only the drawing is showing.

    3. Papers passed to (left|right|etc) and everyone writes a phrase that describes the picture they just received. When finished, the picture is folded under and only the phrase is showing.

    4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until papers make one circuit of table.

    No scoring, no points, just lots of laughing and fun.