We’ve all been at that family party where one of your relatives has just discovered that the world of board games didn’t crystallize after they learned they could reprint Monopoly with different logos. The family gathers around that wooden crate, hesitant and mention of rules, but soon everyone is encircled and laughing. Apples to Apples has been that ice-breaking game for millions of American households, and rightfully so. It is easy to teach, easy to play, and conveys it’s party feel right away with its uncluttered cards. But, after a few dozen plays every game starts to wane. Many keep plugging away, insisting that the “Steak and Potatoes” card will regain its humor if we just believe, but we know that type of immortality isn’t there. We need another game, but it has to be just right or you will scare your family away, returning to the era of listening to a niece babble about Twilight.
Swapping out games can be hard enough to make Indiana Jones sweat. But there are options out there. Among these games you can surely find something to replace that old fruit.
Dixit is a subjective association game, like Apples. Dixit uses beautifully illustrated pictures rather than words and phrases. Each round a judge submits an unrevealed card with any amount of description, then each other player adds a card. All the cards are flipped and the players try to guess which card the judge submitted.
Dixit features simultaneous play, so no one is waiting, its theme is neutral and undaunting, and the subjective nature of the play leads to relaxed conversational atmosphere. Dixit has been around for a little while and there are quite a few expansions that can help to keep the game fresh for a long while. The biggest flaw would be that Dixit officially tops out at 6 people. You can easily hack it to much higher numbers, with the game playing fine at 8 or 9 people.
Dixit shows at 7.5/10
Telestrations is a combination of the telephone game and pictionary. Players use a flip book of whiteboards to alternate between drawing a phrase passed to them and trying to decipher what phrase the person before them was trying to draw. Telestrations is so simple it doesn’t really need an explanation, you can just hand out the supplies and most people will get the hang of it mid play. It encourages that same funny play we look for in a family game, and really benefits from people who aren’t good artists, which keeps those who may be intimidated invested in the game. The base game of Telestrations plays 8, but there is a 12 person Party Pack. The components are of mild quality (I replaced our markers almost immediately). Telestration gets a lot of milage, and just like charades, if you have things you can be drawing it never really gets old.
Telestrations draws 9/10
Ultimate Werewolf is a game where each player has a secret identity. Each identity has its own abilities (or lack of abilities) and different players may have different win conditions. One person plays the narrator, who leads the game and does not participate. As the game progresses each turn someone is killed, either eaten by the wolves or lynched by the townspeople. Werewolf is nice for huge groups. You won’t get enough people into one room to top out werewolf. There are some heavy downsides. Because players are ‘killed’ during play, anyone killed early has to wait a while to get to participate again. An animated group can make this wait enjoyable. The game is also heavily dependent on a good narrator. If you simply move through the mechanical steps of the game, it is pretty hard for anyone to get excited, but contextualizing every action into the story of the game helps a lot.
Werewolf swings in at a 5/10
Story War is a barely formalized version of “Who would win in a fight…” where the combatants are classic fantasy creatures. The game has a great mechanic of rotating teams, which gives all the benefit to learning and playing of having teams, without any of the downsides. Story War sits in the same subjective judging arena as Apples to Apples, but rather than judging the cards alone each player gets to go to bat for their champion. Story War’s biggest downfall is it’s mix of actual competition and subjectiveness, leaving some players overly aggressive or confused about how strongly they should be fighting.
Story War earns a 6/10
Cards Against Humanity is Apples to Apples, but every card has been replaced with terrible things. 4chan level stuff. Don’t underestimate what is on these innocent looking slices of cardstock. CAH has every benefit of Apples to Apples with the added hilarity of terribly offensive jokes. The obvious downside is that your family may not be comfortable with this game. If you have the kind of reunion where people can make buttsecks jokes, then it is an excellent catalyst for hilarity.
Cards Against Humanity pulls out an 8/10
Wits & Wagers is a simple trivia game, but instead of getting points only from having knowledge, you get points from knowing who has knowledge. It’s great for those groups where one person keeps dragging out Trivial Pursuit. Wits & Wagers really comes through on the promise that the game is still fun even if you don’t know a bunch of trivia. The biggest downfall of Wits & Wagers is that can be intimidating. Some people are scared off by mention of trivia, and the lack of a subjective or performance component can give an impression of real competition.
Wits & Wagers wins a 6/10
If you’re looking for a game to bring to a function, don’t rely on scores out of ten, instead think about who the people are who you will be bringing this game to. How boisterous are these people? How raunchy? How many people? And don’t forget about how well you will be able to sell the game to them. If the game is great, but people go into it discouraged, it can cause the whole thing to fall flat.
|Dixit||Noncompetitive, Young, Nongamers, Timid||Groups of more than 6, Loud groups|
|Telestrations||Any competency, Charades-lovers||Perfectionists, groups less than 6|
|Ultimate Werewolf||Huge groups, with at least one orator||Groups with 10 or less people|
|Story War||RPG-types(even if they don’t actually play any)||Quiet, timid, or overly competitive|
|Wits & Wagers||Trivia fans(or mixed group), medium competitives||Rules shy, distractible groups|
|Cards Against Humanity||Awful people, fans of filthy jokes||Small groups, The faint of heart|
I’d like to give one special mention to Cards Against Humanity. This game gets a special second life. Once you’ve played it through a dozen times and it begins to sink into a similar lull as Apples to Apples, you can reinvigorate it by using its cards in games like Telestrations and Charades.
Games like Apples to Apples can turn boring functions into real fun, but my grandmother is never going to transition to Mice and Mystics. So, when Apples to Apples starts to spoil, don’t languish, pick out something new to get everyone laughing again and save Christmas.