Signs point to our country’s being on the way out of the recession, but my friends and I are still searching for on-the-cheap ways to socialize when Friday rolls around. On top of mixing up the weekend routine, breaking out game boards can also be a telling way to get to know friends and potential significant others better. (An article in Psychology Today posited that we learn more about someone by playing a game with that person than we do by going on ten (ten!) traditional dates.)
Whether you’re looking to get to know someone or just want to spend time with people who’ve already passed the relationship test, some games are definitely better investments than others. I compiled a list of some tried-and-true game-night favorites that have proven their worth in a variety of social situations.
It’s easy to bypass the board-game option when only a few people are hanging out, but there are actually a handful of games that are ideal for small groups.
Chess: We know this game’s all about kings and queens, but I didn’t realize that the centuries-old intellectual battle actually originated in royal times, in India, and then traveled to Europe, where it evolved into its modern form beginning in the 1400s. Though it’s known as a game for intense, intellectual types, the strategic match can be as competitive or as laid-back as players desire. And a little intellectual challenge never hurt anyone, right?
Yahtzee: Fifty million Yahtzee games are sold each year, according to Hasbro, and for good reason, too. This dice game challenges players to score the most points by rolling five dice. Anyone can play (I remember learning from my grandma as a kid), and players try to rack up the most points. The luck involved in throwing the dice and the game’s competitive nature make it exciting—and encourage creative dice-throwing techniques.
Boggle: For those of us who get a little more excited over words than over numbers, this word-creation game challenges two-plus players to build as many words as possible out of a random combination of letters in three minutes. The more letters used in each word, the more points that word is worth. The game is fast-paced and stokes a little friendly competition.
While some of the small-group games can work for the larger groups, and vice versa, I’ve found these to guarantee loads of laughs among medium-size gatherings of friends and families.
Scrabble: Can’t say you didn’t see this one coming. For all the word lovers out there, this is the holy grail of all board games. Your success relies on your ability to build words from the letters you draw from a pouch; you get bonus points for tricky ones, like Q and X. (So brush up on your Q-without-U words.) Scrabble’s creator is reported to have studied the front page of the New York Times to determine how often each letter was used—and how much it should be worth in the game. So wow your friends and build some obscure words. Zax, anyone?
Monopoly: The forefather of all board games, this American standby was devised during the Great Depression (we had to feel rich somehow, even if it was just in gameland). Today, the buy-and-build game sells in over one hundred countries and boasts versions in over forty languages. As anyone who’s been to the game area of Target in the last five years knows, there are dozens of specialized versions, devoted to everything from The Cat and the Hat to wine. Chances are, there’s an “-opoly” available for your group’s interests, too.
Life: I grew up on this American dream–driven board game—loading my perfect family into my pink car, earning my medical degree, and buying the biggest, prettiest house I could find, all within the comforts of my parents’ kitchen. Turns out, kids and grown-ups have been doing the same for over a century, since the game’s creation in 1860 by Milton Bradley himself. I’ve found the game even more fun to play as an adult: Stop and get married? Nah, I’ll just continue on to the get-rich-and-go-on-vacation part.
Clue: This murder mystery actually hails from across the pond, where the Brits originally called it—no surprise here—Murder!. Guests at the murder-mystery party, also known as players, take on personas—Miss White, Colonel Mustard—and work their way through the lavish rooms of a mansion to figure out where and how a killing took place, and whodunit. The game’s old-fashioned nature is a great excuse for shaking up some martinis, too.
The key here is finding a game that doesn’t require too much rule-related knowledge, tedious scorekeeping, or undivided attention.
Apples to Apples: While not exactly a classic, this is, no contest, one of my favorite party games. Designed for four to ten players, it was named Party Game of the Year by Games magazine. Players receive seven cards with nouns or phrases on them, such as hippies or gossip. The judge, a role that rotates from player to player, draws a separate card, which states an adjective, like moronic or fresh, and places it face up for everyone to see. Players choose one of their noun cards and place it anonymously in the center of the table. The judge then decides, without knowing who put out what, which noun best matches the adjective. The fun part? Best can mean anything—creative, logical, random, or totally nonsensical. What would you pair with Helen Keller?
Trivial Pursuit: This game tests your pop-culture knowledge—based on a particular decade, geography, sports, or even Disney. Regardless of the theme, the mission is constant: the player to collect one wedge-shaped piece from each of six trivia categories first is the winner. Though individuals can compete against each other, the game is ideal for large-group play.
Bad economy or not, we could all use a break from TV. And learning a new word that starts with Z? Well, we could all do with a little vocabulary building, right?