What tabletop games are good for 2-6 people in their 20s?
December 6, 2013 9:04 AM   Subscribe

In our house, we frequently spend evenings hanging out and doing low-key group activities, like playing video games (or D&D), watching TV, or just talking and listening to music. Frequently, we find ourselves at a lull, seeking something new to do when we don't feel like putting on Netflix. I'm looking for games that we can set up, teach people, and play quickly with a varying number of people at varying levels of sobriety. (more inside)

I'm planning already on buying Suspend, a fun "reverse-Jenga" sort of building and balancing game. It's very visually appealing in play, can get intense, and can be played in a few different ways. And it's $15.

What other games would be fun to have around and bust out once a week? Speed of play, learning curve, price, and visual appeal are all worth considering, but I'd buy a really fun game that was ugly or expensive.
posted by 4th number to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (69 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Settlers of Catan
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 9:05 AM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Cards Against Humanity is a blast. I play it with my friends on Saturday nights before we go out.
posted by nickhb at 9:05 AM on December 6, 2013 [23 favorites]

Apples to Apples can be fun to play esp. while drunk
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:07 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seven wonders works well. The element of luck means it works even with veterans vs. novices (unlike Catan, which is really hard for novices against experienced players). Great looking game, too.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cheapass Games. Even better, their print for free section!

I especially recommend Witch Trial, followed by 'Witch Trial While Drinking and Roleplaying'
posted by cobaltnine at 9:11 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you all have smartphones and/or tablets, there is literally nothing funner than Spaceteam.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ticket to Ride
posted by BurntHombre at 9:14 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ticket to Ride is a good go-to for people who aren't hardcore gamers, and definitely still fun for more serious ones.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:14 AM on December 6, 2013

Lunch Money is hella fun, and more casual than a lot of other games. I've played it with drunken grown-ups and squirmy kids and BOTH groups loved it (although it is weird hearing one's kid exclaim, "Yay, I've got the Pimp Slap card!").
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 20-something kids love playing good old Clue, for some inexplicable reason. Though, it definitely not a fun game for just two people.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2013

The big ones are going to be:

Ticket to Ride
Puerto Rico
Apples to Apples
Cards against Humanity

Any of those will be fine and fit within your parameters. I would add in EVO and my personal made game which is like a cross of settlers and risk.
posted by koolkat at 9:16 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cooperative games are good for this kind of situation
Pandemic, Forbidden Island, or Forbidden Desert (all fairly similar)

Also, Tsuro. It's quick, it's easy to learn, yet you can have some sort of strategy.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:17 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Settlers is a good 'intro' game, and it's a deep, deep hole beyond that. That "kind" of game for groups of 2-6 hanging out is becoming super popular. BoardGameGeek has a huge listing of well rated games within each genre.

For the record, we are probably a slightly 'more advanced' gaming group, in that we all like more complicated games and have gotten bored of stuff like Munchkin and Catan.

We like the new Pathfinder Card Game, Betrayal at House on a Hill, MtG Commander (For those who like magic cards but hate the 'rat race' playing at a store can be, it's a derpy multiplayer format), Ascension (the ipad app is a great way to try it out), Lords of Waterdeep, Level 7: Omega Protocol, Quarriors, and more. We may have a "type" that our group gravitates to. Cards Against Humanity is our 'bar game'. Love Letter is a super fast, super cheap game that's good for pubs and stuff.

Super Dungeon Explore is fun, but it's expensive and takes quite a long time to play for a big group. The "D&D board games" (e.g. Wrath of Ashardalon) are neat, but challenging and not 'that' low-key. There are some risk clones we own that are fun, but require concentration. I personally dislike Dominion and find it dreadfully boring, but YMMV.

Out of all of those, I really do like the Pathfinder Card Game as the "well, we want something a bit more active than watching TV but I also just want to chat and drink beers while fighting dragons". It's very easy to grasp once you've played a game or two, and has a 'storyline' and expansions that follow it. It's neat!
posted by aggyface at 9:17 AM on December 6, 2013

King of Tokyo. Lots of die-rolling and monster-punching.
posted by BrashTech at 9:19 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, any game that has been played on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop web series would work. What you're describing is pretty much the format.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:21 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

How about Story War?
posted by bcwinters at 9:24 AM on December 6, 2013

Puerto Rico

I have a love for this game that is probably unusually high even among avid board gamers. But my experience is that it's not a game that someone can set up, teach people, and play quickly with a varying number of people at varying levels of sobriety.
posted by weston at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

We loooove Lords of Waterdeep (D&D related but no knowledge needed to play), though you need the expansion to play six (base game plays five).
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2013

Illuminati from Steve Jackson. It's easy to learn because most of the rules are on the cards. It's a game about conspiracy theories.

Each player chooses one Illuminati, such as "The Gnomes of Zurich", "The UFOs", "The Discordian Society", "Servants of Cthulhu" and so on, which represent the true powers that control the world. Each Illuminati has a unique capability and each has his own victory condition. Players compete to create power structures out of groups like "Boy Sprouts", "Convenience Stores", "Libertarians", "Trekkies", and so on. Players can attack each other's power structures to impede them.

It's a legitimate game (it's Jackson, after all), but it's also hilarious.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:32 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is going to be released soon and it's like traditional werewolf, but can be played in five minutes with 3-10 players. I don't know how to make it sound as fun as it is, but it truly is way more fun that it seems like it should be.
posted by shesbookish at 9:32 AM on December 6, 2013

At Thanksgiving, we had a good time playing Phase 10 (card game) and Dominoes (specifically, Mexican Train).
posted by Ms Vegetable at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Gneisskate at 9:37 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fluxx. Polarizing tho.
posted by PMdixon at 9:38 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Munchkin is one of my favorites.
posted by DireCareBear at 9:38 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Qwirkle is another really fun one and works with 2 people or more people both with no problem.
posted by DireCareBear at 9:39 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The big ones are going to be:

Ticket to Ride
Puerto Rico
Apples to Apples
Cards against Humanity

Any of those will be fine and fit within your parameters.
posted by koolkat at 12:16 PM

I support this list, and would also add:

* Smash-Up
* Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (like Battleship for adults)
* Kill Doctor Lucky: The Board Game
* Fluxx: The Board Game
posted by magstheaxe at 9:39 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tenzi is a dice game that meets all of your criteria, and is super fast and simple. Perhaps too simple, but then again, it is ridiculously fun to play with drunk people.

Nthing Settlers of Catan
and Cards Against Humanity (buy the extension packs, too).
posted by hush at 9:56 AM on December 6, 2013

I love Settlers, Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity. And you must play 1000 Blank White Cards!
posted by Specklet at 9:59 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of good suggestions upthread.

nthing Settlers of Catan; I like that game because it's simple enough that once you get the hang of it, you can sort of zone out and be pretty social...it's not so hard and all-consuming that you can only focus on the game. It's a really nice social game, once you get used to the basic rules (When we play with new people, we usually do 2 play throughs with all the cards visible, and we discuss what everyone should do. It goes a bit slower than a normal game, but then everyone's up to speed really fast, and you'll be set for some fun times). It's lightly adversarial, and quite friendly, and again, super social.

Once you get bored of that, I'd suggest Agricola. This game is similar to settlers in the way you're more playing against the clock and yourself than other players per se. The 'winner' gets the most points, but you typically don't interact with other players as much as in Settlers. It is a bit more difficult to learn, and quite a bit more complex. I think it took both my wife and I a solid 3 play-throughs to really get it and do well. The game is pretty complex, but the structure stays the same each time. On the fly strategy is key here. If you have a group of 5-6 people that want do get into it, it's really choice. (and in terms of aesthetic, spring for the 'special' pieces, they're easier to recognize and they're just pretty). This game is kind of like settlers on steroids. We REALLY enjoy it, and it's alot of fun once you get into the swing of the game.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:04 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The go-to games in our house are Powergrid and Guillotine.

Guillotine is for shorter play, less than and hour. Powergrid takes an hour + to play, and has a steeper learning curve, but is worth it.

My nerdy to crew has recently become obsessed with Eclipse but the learning curve is steep and it is more of an all day game. But just in case you ever get there :)
posted by Hopeful and Cynical at 10:06 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Settlers is good, but can be difficult to explain to new people. It's actually pretty complicated to try to explain, but almost self-evident once you start playing. Also, the base version only allows up to 4 players, but there is an expansion module with slightly different rules that will allow you to play with up to 6. There are various rules for playing with 2, including official ones from the gamemakers.

Ticket to Ride would also be good, but if you look into that, you'll probably want to get the US version first, and maybe the 1910 expansion (the base version features tiny little cards that are a pain in the ass, 1910 has regular size cards and a lot more variation in the game). There's a Europe version that's also pretty fun, but it's more complicated than the US one and I don't think the mechanics work as well - certain outcomes are practically pre-ordained at the start of the game. Only goes to 5 players though.

Qwirkle is good - kind of like a cross between scrabble and rummikub (also good!) but with shapes and colors instead of words and numbers. I don't know if there's an effective player maximum.

Carcassonne hits a pretty good sweet spot for ease of learning, but with a deeper strategy than might seem apparent at first. Max 5 players.

And, Fluxx, although it's polarizing as mentioned by PMDixon. It's likely someone in your group will love it, and someone else will want to burn the house down if you decide to play it.

My group plays Bang! quite frequently, and it goes up to 7 players. Only difficulties are that the directions are translated from Italian (it's basically a spaghetti Western card game) and unlike many of the games being mentioned here, players can be eliminated, sometimes fairly early in what can be a lengthy game. It's fun for drinking though.
posted by LionIndex at 10:07 AM on December 6, 2013

I will just reiterate BoardGameGeek as the place to go to find tabletop games. There's a whole subculture here as you may have noticed.

Two important things to keep in mind as you're picking your next game: how many players does the game support, and how long does it take to play the game. There are some very cool games that only support, say, 4 players. There are other very cool games that will take 2, 6, or 10 hours to play, which might be more than you want just yet.

Welcome aboard. :)
posted by mattu at 10:11 AM on December 6, 2013

Betrayal at the House on the Hill is freaking awesome if you can find it.

It's great because, ultimately, it continually changes so no one knows what the rules will end up being.

Also, everything through Looney Labs is great, specifically Fluxx and Chrononauts.
posted by zizzle at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wits and Wagers is a trivia game, but the twist is you're betting on who knows the answer.

The Resistance Avalon is good for a big group and gives everyone a hidden role. You must figure out who the traitors are before they sabotage the group. Most people prefer Avalon over "vanilla" Resistance listed above. Good for 6-10 players, ideally lots of people.

Another good hidden role / bluffing game is Coup good

You might also like No Thanks, a quick card game good for 4 or 5.

Carcassonne is a good start for a traditional gateway Euro.

7 Wonders is a gateway drafting game and handles various amounts of players well.

For 2 player games Jaipur is a fun set collecting card game, and Battle Line uses a poker mechanic in a unique way.

All of these play very quickly. There are tons of choices on board game geek of varying complexity and for different size groups. I've suggested some that are easy to get started with, play quickly and support various size groups (many games are 3-5 players).

It can be overwhelming to find what you'd like. Reviews that list pros and cons of games (as opposed to just gushing about every game) are rare. I find Starlight Citadel and Shut Up and Sit Down both give balanced reviews.
posted by ridogi at 10:29 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would just point out that neither Carcassonne nor Settlers is a game you can "teach people and play quickly" because they are annoying to learn.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:41 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found Gloom quite easy to learn, funny as hell, and it had a great ability to do that "screw over other players" thing without it feeling nearly as bad as, like, getting skipped in Uno, because there's a shared storytelling thing going on as well as the actual points. It's very sociable.
posted by Sequence at 10:45 AM on December 6, 2013

Seconding the Munchkin family - as long as one person has a good understanding of the way the game works, teaching the others the basics is simple. (AKA, don't let the four-page rulesheet deter you... it's about half guts and half humor.)

Best part is, there's always more variations possible - add some sets together, or play Epic, or whatever appeals to your group.

It's fun and playable with two, but imo, Munchkin really excels in the 3-6 player range... and we've played with groups as large as ten or so. (Hardest part with that is seeing what cards other people have on the table... so we tend to use a house rule of "read stuff out loud" for the near-sighted folks like me.)

The "how young can someone play Munchkin", in our experience, has more to do with whether or not they can read the cards at least somewhat independently - because not being able to read the cards 1) slows down the game, and 2) makes it not as much fun for that player. We've successfully played with as young as 7, but that was a fluent reader. (As for the occasional off-color humor - if they're young enough to not get it, they're not going to even notice it themselves. What will tip them off is the adults that "get it" laughing. The art depicts the "clean" version of double entendres.
posted by stormyteal at 10:57 AM on December 6, 2013

How about a game of Zoom Schwartz Profigliano? You just need dice and adult beverages.
posted by Rob Rockets at 11:00 AM on December 6, 2013

It's not a strategy game, but if you have five or six people, Funglish is good. http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/62709/funglish

Really quick to pick up--people can jump in within thirty seconds--and especially if you don't care about keeping score, people can jump in and out of the game, play at varying levels of intensity or sobriety, etc. I'm planning on buying it for family get-togethers this Christmas.

You can also sub in other games' word-cards, like from Taboo or Pictionary, if you go through the included cards too many times.
posted by Hypatia at 11:02 AM on December 6, 2013

I played No Thanks! recently over a lunch hour with some co-workers and it was super fun. Very easy to learn - the person that knew the game taught 3 newbies and we were able to get in a few rounds over the course of one lunch hour.

Added difficulty note: remove the 10, 20, and 30 cards and/or remove 6 random cards from the deck.
posted by Cyrie at 11:13 AM on December 6, 2013

Memoir '44 offers miniatures, a simple rule set, quick scenarios, flexible player configurations, modifiability, replayability and intense competition. The martial aspect is fairly abstract, like chess.
posted by No Robots at 11:21 AM on December 6, 2013

I love Loaded Questions. It's supposed to be I think for 3-6 players but my friends and I have modified it for 12 before. It's difficult if you're completely wasted. (But I suppose any game is.)
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Betrayal at House on the Hill is simple to play, generally doesn't take more than an hour and a half, and gameplay changes with each playthrough. All players begin on the same team until, at a certain point in the game, one of the players becomes the betrayer, is given a randomly selected scenario, and the other players have to attempt to stop her/him.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative card game in which each player is a different superhero (each with a unique deck of cards) working together with the other players to defeat a villain. The base game comes with a number of superheroes to play/villains to defeat, and the rules are easy to learn and very simple. Most games I've played last 45mins or so.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:35 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you play D&D, you must play Munchkin. Concur that Fluxx can be fun, but that some people really don't like it.

I also have to put in a plug for Bad Neighbors, a card game in which you try to kill off your neighbors with vampires, zombies, aliens, and/or demons, and defend your "family" from the same. Sweet spot is four players, IME. The art is weird and delightful, and the game play is simple and fun.

"BAD NEIGHBORS was created, designed, engineered, and illustrated in Olympia WA, where every stinking neighbor has a band and a drumset in a daylight basement." The game's creators used to live a couple of blocks away from my house; she's also the main instigator of the knitting group I belong to.
posted by epersonae at 11:46 AM on December 6, 2013

I would just point out that neither Carcassonne nor Settlers is a game you can "teach people and play quickly" because they are annoying to learn.

Carcassonne has pretty accessible rules for casual players: "Draw a tile, play a tile, make sure the edges match, maybe put a guy down, see if you get any points. The more you play, the more you'll understand scoring and maybe try to build a strategy."

The Hunters and Gatherers version might be a little easier to learn (and is definitely better with 2 players, IME).
If my 5-year-old can legitimately beat me at this game, it couldn't be too hard for a group of drunk 20-somethings to pick up.
posted by jozxyqk at 11:50 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Citadels is a great game that's easy to teach but has depth. Bonus points in that it can easily fit into a purse for a jaunt down to the local pub.

I would also check out one-shot rpgs and story games. Fiasco is my recommended starting spot. Wil Wheaton has a complete playthrough on Tabletop but you only need to watch a bit of the first video to get a sense of it.

Since you're a fan of D&D, I would also recommend Dungeon World, which is inspired by D&D but can be used for one shots. Character creation takes 15 minutes.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:53 AM on December 6, 2013

Munchkin is not a slam-dunk, even if you like DnD. The gameplay is mechanically shallow, and a LOT of the cards are very simple negation effects, which aren't fun for a lot of people. By "negation effect," I mean where one player will play a card that lets them Jump Real High (or whatever) and another person immediately plays a card that says "no you don't!" I and most of my friends find munchkin dull and tiresome, but obviously SJ makes boatloads of money with it, so it may be your thing.

I think King of Tokyo is a must-buy - it plays in 10-25 minutes and especially with the expansion, there's tons of room for smart, interesting plays.

If your group likes games with a degree of tension and dexterity, Escape! Curse of the Temple is unbelievable fun. I think that especially if you think your group would like Suspend, this is a GREAT option. This and KoT are my two top recommendations for you, based on what's in your question.

Resistance: Avalon is fantastic and plays fairly quickly, but can be mentally and emotionally draining.

If you and your friends group like very thinky, mathy "accumulate a shitload of points by being clever" sorts of things, I would classify Tzolk'in the Mayan Calendar very near the top of the list, but it is a complicated game.

Literally my favorite boardgame in the world is Cyclades, but it does take some learning and the typical game is 60-90 minutes, so it's not necessarily for your group. It has some war game trappings but isn't really a war game - most of the gameplay occurs in the auction/bidding phase, and for example my fiance won our last game in part because me and the 3rd player got into combat over an island while he just pacifistically built cities and won.

7 wonders is great.

Have fun!
posted by kavasa at 12:05 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Because you mentioned D&D, I'm going to suggest Fantasy Flight Games' line of Talisman board games. Easy to set up and play and I remember them being a lot of fun, although to be fair I played them back in their first edition days 20-someodd years ago.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:10 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Slide 5 is quick and fun for a larger group.
posted by expialidocious at 12:35 PM on December 6, 2013

Myself and my friends at Uni used to do exactly this, so I'm going to list the games we played so you can try them out :)

Previously mentioned:
Settlers of Catan

New to this thread:
Risk Legacy - the only game I've ever played that involves permanently changing the rules for future times you play the game
Gloom (designed for 4 players, will stretch to 5)
Scotland Yard - my all time favourite board game
posted by fearnothing at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Never underestimate the power of dominos!
posted by Dr. Zachary Smith at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2013

I saw this and immediately thought of Tsuro, or as it's known in my gaming circle, 'Swoosh' (it's the noise we make as pieces are being moved).

It's a very simple game, and the graphical design is quite nice. I don't own it yet, but I've definitely got my eye on it.
posted by mikurski at 2:20 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to add to my earlier answer by adding 1812 or 1775. Both are very light war games and are super accessible, certainly more so than they appear at first glance.

I'd also like to discourage Dominion despite it's popularity. It suffers too much from "multiplayer solitaire" where you build up your own engine, but you aren't interacting with the other players. Also, Munchkin is just bad...
posted by ridogi at 2:21 PM on December 6, 2013

I think Citadels is pretty strategic and fun but the "play for fun" sort of player might not like it much.

Parchisi is easy to learn but more strategic than you would think. I have no idea why it's so low rated.

Talisman is not easy nor short. As much as I love it, no-one will play it with me anymore because it takes 3+ hrs to play.

Anyone can play Carcassonne as long as one player knows how to score. That's really where the difficulty lies.

Personally, we super love Tokaido, or as it's also called, Candy land for grownups. It's easy to learn, fast but not too fast, pretty, well designed and not very cutthroat. I can't even imagine what cutthroat Tokaido would be like.
posted by fiercekitten at 2:49 PM on December 6, 2013

Nthing Settlers of Catan and Cards Against Humanity. Both great fun; both quick to learn.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:56 PM on December 6, 2013

Very easy to learn, easy to play, does involve some strategy, and hilarious: Hungry, Hungry Hipsters.
posted by latkes at 5:29 PM on December 6, 2013

I wouldn't necessarily play this every week because it's not a particularly deep game, but Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre (sic) is funny, quick, fairly learnable, and definitely supports varying sobriety levels. It can be a good "we want to play this other long game but we're waiting for someone to get back from the grocery store, let's hit each other with silly spells until they show up" option to have around. And the art is fantastic in an over-the-top Nickelodeon kind of way.
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:59 PM on December 6, 2013

One night at tabletop gaming when nobody was really in a roleplaying mood our hosts pulled out Dixit (mentioned above). It's a great low-key, minimally competitive game with storytelling and psychological components to it (depending on how you play).
posted by bettafish at 6:14 AM on December 7, 2013

I'm surprised nobody mentioned Bananagrams. With a group of 4 to 6 it's easy to get sucked into competition and play round after round for a couple hours, but it's also possible to play a single round and then do something else. Despite its physical semblance to Scrabble, it's surprisingly tense and nerve-wracking because it's your turn the entire game and you're essentially racing to get rid of your letters.
posted by Defenestrator at 12:13 PM on December 8, 2013

I would just point out that neither Carcassonne nor Settlers is a game you can "teach people and play quickly" because they are annoying to learn.

I strongly disagree with this, at least for Settlers. The pattern of events for every turn is almost the same. Just start playing and teach as you go. I've had most new players pick up the game after a dozen or so turns.
posted by laptolain at 12:31 PM on December 8, 2013

I'm... 4thing Betrayal at House on the Hill.
I know a lot of people who like it, despite not liking traditional board games.
Some scenarios are way hard, some way easy, which somehow takes the pressure off because in some, everybody is going to die anyway, you're not competing against each other, but cooperating in the hopes SOMEONE survives, and most can be played pretty tipsy.

Especially if the participants have a basic horror movie knowledge (seriously, watch Cabin in the Woods back to back with Betrayal at House on the Hill, it's basically the boardgame for the movie, before the movie came out).
posted by Elysum at 5:50 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Settlers of Catan" was my gateway game, so I'm nthing that recommendation. One recommendation that I haven't seen so far is Cosmic Encounter. It's quick to setup and easy to teach. Most players I've taught the game to pick it up in 1-2 turns. Light strategy, still playable at low to medium levels of inebriation.

Quick rules breakdown, you're the leader of an alien race and the goal of the game is to establish 5 colonies (get your ships on other player planets). During a player turn, the main player (offense) will draw a card from the destiny deck which determines who they're attacking (defense). The players then ask for allies, who can contribute ships. Both players will then pick a card secretly and reveal them, then resolve the encounter depending on which cards they picked. Glossed over a lot, but that's the basic turn structure. Easy.

What complicates and makes the game fun are the alien powers. The base game ships with 50 aliens, all with different abilities that make the game interesting. For example, one alien's ships may never die in encounters, while another alien wins the game when all their ships are dead. Another alien can bring back ships from the dead, allies included. One alien is authorized to physically steal cards, etc etc. Games can get pretty wild depending on which aliens are in play.

(Unfortunately, it looks like the game is out of stock everywhere. It'll probably be reprinted, but it doesn't look like it'll be widely available soon.)
posted by Chessboxing at 10:34 PM on December 8, 2013

It's not generally available yet, but this should get on your radar: Velociraptor! Cannibalism! is a delightful "game of survival, mutation, and eating your friends." It was originally a Kickstarter project (which paid for much better game art than the Kickstarter video has), and is available for preorder now.

It's ridiculously simple to play. You eat cute otters and kittens, fight or run away from predators, reproduce, mutate new body parts, and eat your friends to steal their eggs/body parts. It's fun!
posted by JDHarper at 4:14 PM on December 9, 2013

Lost cities, for two players.
posted by aniola at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2013

Small world! Can be played with 2-5 people, is really quite easy to pick-up, and has tons and tons of iterations so really never gets old. Is also playable and teachable while drunk. Also the expansions are great, and if you're into a spookier version, I'd particularly recommend Underground, which stands alone (doesn't require the classic version).
posted by likeatoaster at 11:56 AM on December 11, 2013

Lots of good suggestions in this thread. Definitely Tsuro, Dominion, Bananagrams are great. A few more:

A fun back stabbing game is City of Horror, which is pretty straight forward.

A cute Euro thats pretty simple to explain and includes throwing people in a volcano is Pompeii.

For Sale is a superb auction card game which is very easy to understand and fast to play

Citadels is pretty easy to pick up, and can manage up to 7 players.

Zombie Dice and Liars Dice/Perudo are nice simple dice games that are incredibly easy to play.

For generic card games, the ever popular shithead goes down nicely.

I'd recommend watching Will Wheaton's online show Tabletop. A lot of the games featured there will work, because for the format to work the rules of the game have to be easily communicated.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:08 AM on December 12, 2013

Cranium Hoopla -- low barrier to entry and the rounds go by quickly, so you can get started playing and soon enough incorporate late-comers

nthing Cards Against Humanity -- no other game has brought me so close so many times to peeing my pants laughing
posted by dancesquad at 7:59 PM on December 15, 2013

Elder Sign is a pretty fun symbol matching dice game, and is a cooperative game, so if you're looking for a change of pace from competative games, it's a good and... relatively(?) simple one for you to check out. There are more complex ones from Fantasy Flight as well, but sound like they'll take too long and be too complex for what you're looking for.
posted by Caduceus at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2014

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