Social games are great for large groups, or when people feel like talking and interacting on a more personal level. Be warned, there is a lot of silliness to be had, and occassional lying and betrayal. These games tend to be all about communication, for better or worse. Our picks…
Mafia de Cuba : Our review : Amazon link
Hidden identity games are all the rage. Whether it’s The Resistance, One Night Werewolf, or 2 Rooms and a Boom, they are a staple at any gamer’s party. Mafia de Cuba is the new kid in town and it’s got some muscle to flex. From the onset, Mafia de Cuba initially sells itself with its cigar box, appropriate 50’s era artwork, and hefty role poker chips but there’s more to appreciate than its dashing presentation.
In most hidden role games you are dealt a hidden role at the beginning of the game and you have to figure out how to pull it off. Mafia de Cuba flips the script. The most meaningful decision you have to make is which role to inhabit as the cigar box full of diamonds is passed around. This let’s players who don’t want to be in the spotlight and can’t handle the stress of lying to take one of the honest roles (if a henchman can be considered honest). It gives you some control over your fate from the outset. Queue up some classic mafioso music, put on your best Cuban accent and enjoy of an evening of double-crossing fun.
Telestrations : Amazon link
Beyond doubt the most fun barely-even-a-game I own. It’s a packaged version of a party game, eat poop cat [Ed. Note – over here, we call it Caveman Telephone], wherein one player writes a phrase or word, the next person draws it, the next person writes what they think it is, etcetera etcetera. At the end, you go through the pages with the group which is almost always wonderful. There are scoring mechanics but honestly I don’t know why you would bother using them. This is simply the funniest game I own and likely will ever own. It’s even better with people who are terrible at drawing. Wrong answers are always better than correct ones, so there’ s not pressure for anyone to be any good. People who are put off by pictionary and charades because of the pressure to perform will respond really well to this. The game is easy to find, cheap to buy and has these wonderful dry-erase flip books and pens. The party pack also plays up to 12 people which is excellent. Warning, if you play Telestrations with a group of drunk adults, the art might get a little cheeky.
Citadels : Amazon link
One of my Old School recommendations, Citadels is a quintessential social game of bluffing, deduction and mischievous interaction. Its only shortcoming is it can create some downtime, but that’s not too terrible a characteristic for a social gathering. This classic design tasks players with building city districts for points, but it’s really all about drafting roles – each with unique abilities – and using them to attack or outfox your adversaries. To survive and win, you must read your opponents, work with them and then twist the screws when they least expect it. While boiling the extreme tension of Machiavellian realpolitik down to a micro level, it also manages to be exciting and sometimes funny – that is, if you don’t mind lying face down in the street with a knife in your back every now and then! If the gamer on your list thrives in more casual and relaxed circles, this classic will be a hit for his/her stocking.
Spyfall : Our review : Amazon link
Spyfall is a social deduction game without the pressure of lying. Each round all players receive a card. All players receive a card showing the same location–except one player, who receives the spy card and thus doesn’t know where the group is. Players ask questions of one another, trying to discover who doesn’t know where they are. The spy, on the other hand, is trying to blend in just long enough to guess the location. Spyfall is one of the simplest social deduction games on the market because players can always ask stock questions if they get stumped, and there’s always room for creativity. 2015 was the year of social games, and Spyfall is the best of the crop.
Mysterium : Our review : Amazon link
There are no hidden roles in this crazy card game. It’s Dixit meets Clue; one player is the ghost of an innocent person convicted of a murder, trying to tell the other investigators who the true murderer was. Unfortunately, the ghost can only communicate through dreams. Investigators must figure out weapons, locations, and suspects based on the ghost’s clues – which are all abstract paintings with a wide possible variety of meanings. While some might not consider this a social game, I’ve had the most fun with this in large groups with people arguing over the meaning of clues, helping each other out, and shedding tears as they guess it wrong for the 5th time in a row. The rules are simple, but the challenge is quite high, and it’s a lot of fun. Some families might want to gloss over the “seance” aspects of the rules, but the mechanics of the game allow the whole family to participate.