If you’re looking for tips on being the life of the party, look no further. Picture this scene. Everyone is happily chatting, looking relaxed, maybe some are inebriated. You, with your knack for reading the room, have a splendid idea. “Who wants to play a game!?” you inquire. It appears no one wants to speak over one another, so they all remain silent. Some bury their face in their drink, others turn away. They must think there can’t possibly be enough room for everyone to play. “Have no fear. I brought party games. Everyone can play!.” The crowd goes wild as partygoers rush to the table, eager to grab a spot. You are loved.
Here are my top 10 party games for when you have a willing and captive audience, which is sometimes, ironically, not at a party. Unless it’s your birthday party. Then you get to decide, and no one can complain. These are all easy to learn, highly engaging/interactive, and they work with large groups.
Honorable mentions: Detective Club, When I Dream, and Pictomania.
Top 10 Party Games
Pictionary is both my nostalgia pick and my drawing game pick. I’ve very much enjoyed newer games like Pictomania, Fake Artist, and Telestrations, but the real-time, team based race is still my favorite format. I love that the focus is more on relaying concepts efficiently rather than necessarily drawing well. If playing these days, I’ll forgo the board and the dice. Instead, I’ll choose a set number of cards and see which teams wins the most of them. With those, admittedly major changes, this game is super competitive and often laugh out loud funny. I’m not usually bringing this one out myself anymore, but I am always hoping in the back of my mind that someone will suggest it.
9. Codenames/Codenames Pictures
Codenames needs no introduction. It’s already a modern classic. Two teams and a grid of words. A codemaster on each team is trying to lead their team to guess only the words assigned to their team based on a hidden grid. It’s such an easy game to bring everyone into. With the right group, it gets super competitive and tense. So many games come down to that last clue that leads to victory or defeat. This game is ripe for clever plays and impressive stretches. My preference is the Pictures version as I find it to be more open-ended. However, I believe I’m in the minority with that preference. Across all of the versions, Codenames is easily my most played game ever.
8. Just One
Just One is a modern take on Taboo. In this cooperative party game, players will take turns trying to guess a word. Everyone else will write a one-word clue. Before revealing their clues to the guesser, the players compare their clues. Any duplicate clues cancel out. The guesser only gets to see the remaining clues and takes one guess at the word. The game is played in an attempt to beat a high score, but the scoring is usually ignored. It’s a great balancing act of trying to give a helpful and direct clue without overlapping with someone else’s clue. A tough challenge that I’d recommend especially at the higher player counts. Lots of tension before each reveal along. Clever, approachable, and always a great time.
7. Snake Oil
Snake Oil is simple. Each round, one player randomly draws a customer to act as (e.g., senior citizen, activist, dog owner). Every other player combines two word cards from their hand to create a product to sell to that customer with a quick sales pitch. The customer chooses their favorite product and awards them the customer card. Most cards at the end of the game wins. With the right group, this game is absurd and hilarious. There is a hint of roleplaying that, when leaned into, creates a delightful experience. I will never forget some of the products that have been pitched in my plays of Snake Oil.
Werewords is what you get when you cross 20 questions with Werewolf. Sounds silly, but it works great. Each round, players will be given a hidden role card, many of which are clueless villagers. There will be a mayor who knows the secret word and tries to facilitate the other players guessing that word before time runs out. There will also be at least one werewolf who knows the secret word as well but is hiding amongst the villagers. During a game, the players will ask the mayor yes or no questions to try to determine what the word is. The game ends when a player guesses the word correctly or the time runs out. Both the werewolf team and the villager team get a chance for redemption if things don’t go their way (via guessing the seeker or a werewolf, respectively) There are many different fun roles to mix in. Another cool twist is that the mayor will also have a secret role. So, there’s always a chance the mayor is a werewolf, trying to sabotage the whole game. This game is full of bluffing, laughter, and surprise endings.
Spyfall is an odd and underappreciated gem. In this game, all players except one will be given the same location. The uninformed player, known as the spy, needs to figure out what that location is before the other players realize they don’t know the location, or they just need to run out the clock. This is facilitated through a series of open-ended questions such as “What do you see? How did you get here? What are eating while you’re here?”, etc… Players need to balance both their questions and their answers in a way that tips the other players that they know the location, but without providing enough information for the spy to guess the location. If players get suspicious enough, they can request a vote. As long as everyone can agree on who they think the spy is, the game will end, and a reveal is made. If they guessed correctly, everyone but the spy wins. If not, the spy is the lone winner. What’s amazing about this game is that it’s loads of fun whether you are playing super seriously or casually. Some of the best moments are when a player gets frozen up and gives a ridiculous answer. It’s not always because they don’t know the location. The game produces a high-pressure feeling that you need to experience to understand. Nowadays, I only play this via the web app as the box version is a bit fiddlier to set up. Besides Codenames, Spyfall is my most played game ever. It’s a challenge not to play round after round after round and lose track of the night.
If you are looking for a conversation starter, Wavelength is the perfect tool. Two teams will switch off giving clues and making guesses. The clues will be based on a randomly drawn pair of binaries (e.g., hot-cold or round animal-pointy animal). The clue-giver is shown where on the spectrum the bullseye is, which is where they need their team to guess to gain points (2, 3, or 4, depending on how close they get). The clue given for hot-cold might be “The Sun” if trying to get your team to guess all the way on the hot side. However, it is rarely that straightforward. Most clues will be based on personal perceptions and opinions. That’s where the real fun comes in. Once any turn is over, there will be heated discussions and passionate arguments… about relatively benign topics. I haven’t seen anything else get people talking this much, and it’s a delight to experience or even just watch.
3. Word Slam Family
Word Slam combines the team clue-giving fun of Codenames with the raucous competitive race that I love in Pictionary. Both teams are given the same word or phrase and the clue giver needs to get their team to guess it first. However, they can only communicate by secretly playing word cards from four different categories (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions), animating them, and pointing at them. The words you are looking for are not all there, so to describe Fight Club, for instance, you might play NAME FILM CONFLICT UNDER PLACE NOT SPEAK. Players add, subtract, move, and point at words until someone guesses correctly or time runs out. Whichever team correctly guessed the most cards after 10 rounds wins the game. The game also has a fun aspect where hearing the other team’s guesses may help your team or throw them off the trail even further. I think Word Slam Family is painfully overlooked, and I’d highly recommend checking it out.
2. Tiefe Taschen
Tiefe Taschen is a modern marvel and the best negotiation/politicking game there is. The goal is to have the most money by the end of the game. One player is assigned the role of president at the start of the game. They are randomly dealt cards with varying dollar denominations on them based on player count and must split it any way they see fit (evenly, all to one player, or anywhere in between). Once the money is split, all players secretly play a card face down, which can approve the distribution, reject the distribution, blackmail, or skim money from the deck. Players can also bribe each other to vote a certain way. If the distribution gets as many or more approvals, the president stays in power and divides the next batch of money. If there are more rejects, then a new president is crowned and the former president loses voting power for the rest of that round. This game has constantly shifting alliances, bargaining, and betrayals throughout. It gives me feelings of a much shorter, easier to grasp Cosmic Encounter without the crazy powers. If you can find it, I highly recommend it. If not, I’ve heard good things about the reimplementation, Good Critters.
4-8 Players • Ages 12+ • 20-50 minutes
1. Deception Murder in Hong Kong
Deception takes the number one spot for being pure fun and interaction. It borrows from the classic hidden roles formula but cranks up the accusations and sneaky deflections. Players each have four means of murder cards and four evidence cards in front of them. The randomly assigned murderer must choose one of each of those and disclose it to the forensic scientist. Then, using only the questions on the clue cards laid out in front of them, the forensic scientist must guide all the other investigators to who the murderer is AND which cards they chose. Meanwhile, the murderer is acting as one of the investigators who each get one chance to turn in their guesses. Especially if the murderer chose their cards well, there will be multiple solidly suspicious players. The more the merrier as accomplices and other fun roles can be added to further the deception. I have to hold myself back from suggesting Deception Murder in Hong Kong at every party. It’s so much fun.