Board games for non-gamers
January 15, 2019 4:55 PM   Subscribe

What are some good board games for a mixed group? Meaning: some folks prefer familiar social/verbal games without a lot of strategy or complex rules (e.g., Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit), while others prefer more strategic games (e.g., Settlers of Catan or Pandemic – but nothing more hardcore than that).

None of us are die-hard tabletop gamers. Basically, the core group got caught up in the Catan fad a few years back, and that led to trying a few other games of similar complexity.

Now, though, we're organizing a game night with a few folks whose experience ranges from "I've played Catan once or twice, and I thought it was pretty cool", to "I tried Catan once and I hated it". (I'm just using Catan as an example of a nerdier, more complex game that's outside of these guests' comfort zone.)

Games we already have: Catan (with a couple of expansions), Pandemic, Forbidden Island, The Mind, Cards Against Humanity, Power Grid (too complicated), Agricola (didn't like it).

I guess we're looking for something that has both social/verbal and (not-too-complicated) strategic elements? Or something? I dunno.

Either competitive or cooperative is fine – although we do seem to have a particular affinity for cooperative games (Pandemic is always a good time).
posted by escape from the potato planet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (55 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
(Oops, sorry – the game we don't like is Carcasonne, not Agricola [which we've not played].)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:57 PM on January 15, 2019

Oregon Trail seems to work for our mixed-gaming family! Strategy comes in when the group needs to decide things. We added Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food recently and that was fun, too.
posted by cooker girl at 5:05 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by little cow make small moo at 5:08 PM on January 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

We've played Ticket to Ride (the original and its variations) with mixed groups without a problem.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:10 PM on January 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

Ticket to Ride?
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:10 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Betrayal at house on the hill is cooperative and very fun! The first part of the game is easy, focuses on creating the house (by searching rooms) and then there are different scenarios to play out where one person turns traitor and has to achieve an objective while the other people try to beat the traitor and achieve THEIR objective.

Bohnanza is a card based game that's super fun and very easy. You plant different types of bean cards and reap rewards when able to collect certain numbers of the same bean.

If it's a quirky group, I recently played another card game called Gloom where your objective is to try and make your "family member" characters miserable and then kill them off for maximum misery points. Additionally, you make up stories about the events that you play to make them miserable.

Another fun, mainly cooperative game is Dead of Winter. This game does require more set up and the rules are a bit more complicated, but not too bad.
posted by DTMFA at 5:11 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

You might like Codenames. It's much more talk-ey than most table top games.

Balderdash also works well for mixed groups.

Superfight -- basically a game where you argue about which made up superhero would win in a fight.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:16 PM on January 15, 2019 [16 favorites]

Dixit! It's like if Salvador Dali invented Apples to Apples
posted by heyforfour at 5:17 PM on January 15, 2019 [15 favorites]

The Cheapass Games catalog has lots of likely choices. My personal favorites (especially for groups with new/reluctant boardgame players) are Kill Doctor Lucky and Give Me the Brain.

A good quick game for any reasonable number of players is Fluxx. (Don't let the self-modifying-ruleset thing put you off. The cards literally tell you what to do. This isn't Nomic or anything remotely like it.)

If you're willing to try computer-mediated games, Quiplash is fantastic. (And, unlike CaH, it's only as filthy as your particular gaming group opts to make it.)
posted by sourcequench at 5:20 PM on January 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

Azul is the only board game my non-gaming wife has ever actually requested to play. More than once! It's challenging enough for serious gamers but with a simple ruleset that's easy to learn. Plus it has really nice pieces that are a real pleasure to handle and play with. It's for two to four players but I've played it with five - it changes the balance of the game a bit but is still fun.
posted by smartyboots at 5:21 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

If card games are ok, we much like guillotine in my friend group.
posted by pointystick at 5:37 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hanabi is cooperative and pretty quick; it does have logic and strategy but also relies on psychology and communication to some extent.
posted by aka burlap at 5:40 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mysterium, King of Tokyo, RoboRally, Condottiere, The Great Dalmuti, Beasty Bar
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:41 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the recommendation for Cheapass Games, and adding that yours truly, a non-gamer, has thoroughly enjoyed playing both Fish Cook and Deadwood with my Serious Strategy Gamer spouse and offspring.
posted by spamloaf at 5:52 PM on January 15, 2019

Ravine and Space Team are both short but fun, and easy to get started on. I like Space Team a bit more of the two.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:55 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

We've been playing Telestrations this holiday season with various groups of friends and family. Everyone requests it instead of CAH now.
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:58 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Dixit!!! Really great for non-gamers and still engaging (and beautiful!) for everyone.

Also seconding Codenames as really fun.
posted by augustimagination at 6:00 PM on January 15, 2019

Seconding Ticket to Ride as a main game. Guillotine is also a great warmup game.

We just got Five Minute Dungeon and it is RIDICULOUSLY fun chaos, not too deep, lots of jokes.

I have just as much fun playing Robo Rally badly as other people seem to have playing it well.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:04 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Azul. I was able to get my board-game adverse mother to sit and play it several times with my family. Actually, she quite enjoyed Century: Spice Road as well.

Sagrada, Artifacts Inc., Belle of the Ball, Moa, and Santorini, Sushi Go Party! are the gateway games I use for mixed groups.

Facade Games makes really great party games if your group is into Werewolf but want a bit more to their social interaction than deduction.
posted by lilnemo at 6:11 PM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Quirkle is a fun game for non gamers. It's more about patterns than words. It's also pretty to play.

Rummikub is good for strategy and familiarity.

Funglish is great team based verbal play.

Epic Spell Wars is fun. Silly, art by the Adventure Time illustrator.

I'm not a gamer at all naturally, but my partner is very much into Euro games (the style of Catan etc) and I have grown quite fond of Dominion. May or may not suit your group. It does require some front end learning but can be enjoyed with luck not just strategy.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

MrsHuman and I have had good experiences with Red Flags as our go-to party game once Cards Against Humanity got a little tired for us. More social interactivity, and equal hilarity.

Everyone plays two cards describing the best date ever for whoever is choosing... and then everyone plays a third card on their neighbor’s pair, rendering it a hilarious nightmare scenario.

Example: “Best smelling person in the world, has an actual pleasure palace... and plexiglass cheeks, so you can always see inside their mouth.”
posted by FallibleHuman at 6:30 PM on January 15, 2019

I guess we're looking for something that has both social/verbal and (not-too-complicated) strategic elements? Or something? I dunno.

Since folks are recommending Codenames, I'll just chime in that while I really love that game, it is not a terribly social experience for small groups. The clue-givers can only say one thing and then just sit there. The only good way to play is with a large group so your guessing team can guess/laugh/etc. together.

All of that said, another game with a similar level of interaction that I enjoy just as much is Who What Where, which involves drawing pictures and having folks guess what you drew. We don't laugh as much in any other game.
posted by klausman at 6:34 PM on January 15, 2019

As a fun, fast social game, I really like Anomia.
posted by mmascolino at 6:53 PM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Splendor is choice. Fairly simple, Catan-levels of strategy, and you can walk away to make drinks or something real quick and not have it be a huge problem.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:56 PM on January 15, 2019

I wouldn’t dismiss regular old card games either. We routinely play Hearts as a family and it satiates strategic Board Gamers and casual players alike.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:00 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Decrypto is maybe better than Codenames.

Both are great verbal games that accommodate ideally 6+ players.

If it's a consistent 4ish player group, nothing is better than Pandemic: Legacy.

More info on number of players would be helpful. Hidden role games aren't everyone's favorite but usually you can find a variety that a given group will enjoy, assuming a large enough group
posted by booooooze at 7:01 PM on January 15, 2019

Wits and Wagers is a really good quick and lively combo of trivia and strategy/betting,, I really joy it :)
posted by wats at 7:02 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Coup is an easy-to-learn bluffing game which takes about 5-10 minutes per game, allows for a decent variety of strategy and manipulation, and costs less than $15.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:06 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have been bringing Banagrams, Bohnanza, and Guillotine on work trips and they’re all big hits (and easy to pack!).

If you like dexterity games, I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of Go Cuckoo which is about building a nest to place eggs in. It can be as relaxing or as back-stabby as your group is.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:10 PM on January 15, 2019

Thirding Dixit. We played it on NYE, and it was a great game for letting those of us too drunk to strategize chat, while letting others play with strategy a bit. Plus the learning curve is pretty mellow.
posted by linettasky at 7:21 PM on January 15, 2019

If you think you'd like Dixit, try Mysterium. Same publisher, similar artwork aesthetic and interpretation mechanism, but with a really fun spooky seance/haunted house frame around it. And it's cooperative. :)
posted by lieber hair at 7:34 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since I haven’t seen it mentioned, I have to recommend Tem-PURR-a; I have played it with gamers and non-gamers alike, and it always gets people talking and laughing. It’s a great party game, in the same vein as Sushi Go, which is a similarly accessible game with a lot of strategy to it. Hoax is another fun one, it has elements of Clue about it but utilizes bluffing and teamwork both. Depending on how many players you have, Dungeon Mayhem could also be a great option. There’s some strategy to it, but the balance of the different decks and the randomness of the hands creates a level of chaos that had us in hysterics every round. The wizard has a tendecy to explode, if that affects your decision at all.
posted by suri at 8:01 PM on January 15, 2019

Kingdomino is a tile-placing game that is quick to learn, quick to play, and well-balanced.
posted by Phssthpok at 8:19 PM on January 15, 2019

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Cranium—from the Amazon description: Since the activities span talents, every player can have a chance to show off what they're good at -- whether it's spelling, sculpting, puzzling, acting, or humming.

Hoopla is similar, but cooperative.
posted by she's not there at 8:52 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

+1 to Dixit and Telestrations. My parents are emphatically Not Board Gamers but got pretty into Dixit.

And add me to the Codenames skeptics. I feel like people keep getting us different flavors of Codenames because they make an obvious gift for a trivia-y-verbal-y-boardgame-y couple but man I just *don't* find it fun. I felt like it was a lot of pressure and tension, even in a big group. And I don't think it would be any more fun in a small group either.
posted by potrzebie at 10:06 PM on January 15, 2019

Would something as oldfangled as Risk be too dull for the people used to playing more complex strategy board games?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:49 PM on January 15, 2019

I second Decrypto; it's very interactive and social, works really well with any number of player between 3 and 8, it's simple enough that our 7 yearly can play (and the requirement for lateral thinking means having a 7 year old on your team can be a distinct advantage) and has enough depth that our more hardcore tabletop gaming friends enjoy it. Also, the theming (cold war spies) is totally superfluous but adds a really fun extra layer.
posted by tomp at 3:15 AM on January 16, 2019

A bunch of my favorites have already been mentioned, but I don't see "We Didn't Playtest This at All" and "We Didn't Playtest This Either" from Asmadi Games. You can play with just one deck or combine them. It's fast, funny, and easy to learn, but it can also get kind of intense with the right group.
posted by maurice at 4:23 AM on January 16, 2019

Maybe a little hard to get ahold of, Khan of Khans is a face-paced game of cattle theft set in the long-running RPG setting of Glorantha. Fortunately, no background knowledge is necessary.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:44 AM on January 16, 2019

Whoa, lots of mixed feelings here on Codenames and Decrypto -- I like them both but I think that Codenames is way more fun to play (and that the tension of it makes it fun)

Someone also mentioned Gloom, which is AMAZING but your friends really do have to get into the storytelling part of it for it to be fun. The expansion packs for it are also great.
posted by aaanastasia at 6:15 AM on January 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

So many good recommendation here, I'll give King of Tokyo another shout out so it doesn't get completely lost in the mix.

A few more card games: Coup and Love Letters are short, simple games you can learn quickly and play a few times. Parade is another fun one that is a bit longer and requires a bit more focus.
posted by mark k at 7:50 AM on January 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a game hater. I like Set, Qwirkle, Anomia, cribbage, and speed solitaire type situations.
posted by clavicle at 8:23 AM on January 16, 2019

Ticket to Ride
Joking Hazard
Exploding Kittens
posted by RhysPenbras at 8:31 AM on January 16, 2019

My previous group (alas, no current group) would use The Resistance, Secret Hitler (meh) and One Night Ultimate Werewolf for mixed groups of hardcore gamers and semi-interested parties.

If the group leans more towards non-gamers, The Resistance is a much easier game to explain, and I'd also throw in Monikers and second the recommendation for Telestrations. Codenames was tricky because there's no respect for the rules with some people, but if it works, it works.

I also recommend Skull unabashedly for groups between 3 and 6 people, and the rules are both simple and quick to explain.
posted by Anonymous Function at 9:43 AM on January 16, 2019

Escape From Atlantis
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:46 AM on January 16, 2019

Timeline is a really light fast trivia-y intro game.
For Sale is also short and fun, with very light card-counting strategy.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 11:02 AM on January 16, 2019

I am this person! I like a bit more complex game, but ones like Catan and Ticket to Ride just take so LONG to get anywhere that I get antsy.

I really like Castle Panic--it's a cooperative game where something is ALWAYS HAPPENING, and you have to work together so it's social.

Concept is also really fun, it's kind of like Taboo, except you have to use little picture icons instead of words for guessing.

Machi Koro gives a bit more of that strategy feeling, but it moves fast and is easy to learn.

Also seconding Guillotine, Dixit, Sushi Go, and Rummikub from above.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:30 AM on January 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Betrayal at the House on the Hill, King of Tokyo and Fluxx. I am a board game addict and I often play games with people who are not comfortable with Eurogames or dense, cerebral strategy. These three games are easy to learn and are pretty crowd-pleasing.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:02 PM on January 16, 2019

BoardGameGeek's ranked list of party games and list of family games are a good place to start. It sounds like your group enjoys games with a minimal ruleset but that still have opportunity to be creative or competitive.

I play a lot of board games, both simple and more complex, and the ones that I think would match your group are these: Dixit, Love Letter, Codenames, Azul, Ticket to Ride, Junk Art, Magic Maze*, Escape: The Curse of the Temple*, Cash n Guns, Spyfall, Diamant, The Grizzled*, Skull, Tsuro, Sushi Go, The Mind*, and The Game*.

Betrayal and the House on the Hill is a great game, but I would never introduce that one to a group of non-gamers.
posted by Paragon at 12:30 PM on January 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Quiddler? It's Scrabble-esque, and our group plays with a circa 1987 dictionary for extra hilarity/annoyance — so many modern words are not allowed!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:17 PM on January 16, 2019

I played World's Fair 1893 and it'd be a good one in this category too. Relatively simple mechanic, nice theme, not too long but room for some strategy (I assume anyway; I lost miserably when I played it over the holidays with my sister and brother-in-law.)
posted by mark k at 10:11 PM on January 16, 2019

I recently had success with Paperback with my VERY non-gaming family. It's basically a deck building (think Dominion) version of Scrabble.
posted by natabat at 12:07 PM on January 17, 2019

+1 to:
- Codenames
- Dixit
- Azul (the stained-glass theme one)
- Ticket to Ride
- Escape: The Curse of the Temple (underrated, not too complicated co-op game)
- Wits and Wagers

Also recommend, haven't seen mentioned upthread:
- Ricochet Robots
- Tokaido
- Cottage Garden
posted by serelliya at 5:06 PM on January 17, 2019

+1 to Dixit and Codenames
I didn't see any of these above, but my crowd has liked them:
- Bards Dispense Profanity (Like Cards Against Humanity but every card is from the works of Shakespeare. Better for a general audience and still a lot of laughs.)
- Timeline
- Smart-ish
posted by cross_impact at 1:07 PM on January 18, 2019

Set. You do pattern matching; good for a small group.

Farkle. (Also called 10k.) Look up the rules online, it only takes dice, and once two people know how to play, it's really easy to pick up on by watching someone else play for a minute. Good for a medium-sized group.

Apples to Apples, which is the G-rated Cards Against Humanity. Same game, different audience. Good for a larger group.
posted by talldean at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2019

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