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I'm wondering, what are some good games for mixed gamer/non-gamer parties? I've had good luck with some light strategy games in the past, but nothing too serious. What's good, quick, and can easily incorporate a lot of people?

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9 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

There are of course different definitions of light strategy games, so I will just mention some games, which I have introduced to nongamers in parties, and which have been interesting both for them as well as more experienced gamers (in random order).

Games which can be explained in 5 min

Small pure card games:

Cards and some bits:

  • Citadels: 2-7(8 with usually included expansion) players, 60 min - this one is a must have
  • DiXit: 3-6 players, 30 min - almost no strategy but very good and can be easily played with upt to 8 players even using just the expansion and writing points down on a paper

Abstract:

  • Rumis(+): 2-4(6 with expansion) players, 45 min
  • Blokus: 1-4 players, 20 min

Other:

Games, that require a little longer explanation, but are still managable

  • Bohnanza: 2-7 players, 45 min. Even though this is an easy game, explaining it allways takes me more time than I like
  • Bang!: 4-7 players, 30 min. This one is really good for more players, but explanation takes some time. Can be modified so, that healing beer cards make the player drink a tequila shot ;)
  • Dominion: 2-4 platers, 30 min. Everybody loves this one, and it can be played as fast filler. Just don't overdose with expansions in the first session. If you have an expansion, you can run more than one paralell game.
  • Agricola (Family version): 1-5 players, 120 min. If you are really adventurous explainer and have longer time to kill in a small party, this actually can work really well. My nongaming in-laws understood the family version on ~10 min and really liked it (even though their score wasn't great)
  • 7 wonders: 2-7 players, 30 min. As previously mentioned it might look intimidating, but is easily explained and a fast game.

In my opinion one of the most important things for a game to be successful with non-gamers and casual gamers is the capability of "getting in the game fast" - you must generalize the important rules and guidlines and delve into details as you go. If you do so, and the game is not a total brain burner and doesn't exceed some 2h, you will be able to play almost any game with nongamers. Basically:

  1. Persuade them, how cool the game is
  2. Don't scare them away before they get into it

Also, a good advice by Tynam - with some exceptions, like bang and saboteur, try to split the group in several smaller gaming sessions with similar expected game time, so they can mix the games during the evening.

Edit: Added hyperlinks as promised

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Great, dare I say definitive answer? I like that you aren't afraid to mention games that people who want to get into boardgames might enjoy, instead of just games that won't offend the lowest common denominator :D –  thesunneversets Jan 5 '11 at 18:18
    
go go gadget tequila shot ;) –  warren Jan 5 '11 at 18:49
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Ingenious

Always a solid simple abstract strategy game; allows 2–4 equally well and has that useful party property of being easily taught by someone who only just learned it themselves.

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One of the most fun party games I've played (and the one that has generated the most laughter) is Eat Poop You Cat (or its commercial version, Telestrations). All you need is a stack of index cards (or paper) and a pen or marker for each player. Each person begins by writing a word or sentence on the top card or on top of the paper. They then pass their paper or card stack to the person on their left or right. This person looks at the words written and on the next card or below the words and then draws a picture illustrating the words. Then, they put the card with the words at the bottom of the stack or fold over the top of the paper, and pass it on to the next person who writes a word or sentence describing the picture. This repeats until everyone playing has gone through the process with each stack of card or paper. When people get their original stack or paper back, the chain of pictures and sentences is then revealed, generally to much laughter.

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I'm a little surprised that no-one has mentioned Werewolf yet.

It's quick to explain, quick to set up, works best with a large (9+) number of players, requires nothing more than a Poker deck, can be played by gamers and non-gamers, and still plays well if the players in the game have a wide range of play-skills.

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The Resistance

Simple 5-10 player social game where a set number of people are spies infiltrating a group of resistance fighters. Brings out some of the witch hunt of Battlestar Galactica without all those pesky rules and components getting in the way. Plays fast. The recent printing has great quality components.

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Here's a few I pull out at parties:

  • Bonanza
  • Kill Dr. Lucky
  • Unexploded Cow
  • Hey That's My Fish!
  • Blockus
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Wits and Wagers

It's like a fun version of Trivial Pursuit, only everyone guesses the answer and you get to bet on the right one. Straightforward, and good for parties.

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It is a great game, and ideal for most parties - not sure I'd go so far as to call it "light strategy" though! –  thesunneversets Jan 5 '11 at 20:08
    
The wagers portion is strategic, but I agree that the game is still pretty "light" in comparison to other games. –  Zoot Jan 5 '11 at 20:12
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Bang

Fast, not too complex, contains casual violence towards your fellow partygoers.

(Cash and Guns works well for the same reasons.)

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Bang has the property of different players getting knocked out of the game at different times; this may be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on what type of party it is. (It's good for players to be able to "suicide" if they want to go mingle... but bad if one person has to sit on the sidelines of a game everyone else is enjoying.) I've only played Cash and Guns once but it might be similar. However, you can't really fault a party game where everyone gets to point big foam rubber guns at each other! –  thesunneversets Jan 5 '11 at 0:49
    
Cash and guns can have early knockouts, but doesn't often, as it lets you duck out when under heavy threat. So usually all players will last most of the game. And yes, it's the rubber guns that make it a great party game. –  Tynam Jan 5 '11 at 0:58
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Assuming you don't want something that is fun for gamers and non-gamers alike, but doesn't really count as a strategy game (Apples to Apples? Dixit?)...

7 Wonders

I got "7 Wonders" for Christmas, it's pretty light as strategy games go and has an easy theme that anyone who's heard of the computer game Civilization will quickly comprehend and enjoy. It takes up to 7 players, as the name might suggest, and only lasts half an hour per game. Each player only has to interact with their left- and right-hand neighbours so it's not too intimidating; and you have the choice of either cooperating with neighbours (buying their stuff, while they buy yours in return) or amassing superior military force, so it should appeal to most temperaments!

I haven't actually tried it with non-gamers, but it strikes me that it would be a perfect "gateway game", while simultaneously accommodating a pretty large group. Could be worth a try!

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I just played 7 Wonders for the first time, and I think you're overestimating the ability of non-gamers to keep track of everything. There's a good amount going on in that game, and ~8 different ways you can amass points; non-gamers aren't used to that sort of thing –  Michael Mrozek Jan 5 '11 at 4:06
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Agreed, this is far too complicated for a casual party game. –  Neal Tibrewala Jan 5 '11 at 5:48
    
Well, it depends on your crowd. Random drunk partygoers who think boardgames start and end with Monopoly: definitely won't work. People who've expressed an interest in boardgames, have maybe played some Settlers of Catan and quite enjoyed it, I think 7 Wonders would be an excellent length and not absurdly overcomplex. –  thesunneversets Jan 5 '11 at 18:16
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Having said all that I have, I sprang this on 6 other people who'd never heard of it at my boardgames night last night. Some of them really took to it: in fact, there was an immediate clamour after the game had finished that we should play again, and we did (though only a 4 player game this time). One or two people really couldn't get the hang of it though, kept on trying to build things they didn't have the resources for, clearly couldn't cope with the concept of trading. With regret I must concede that this is probably not a game ideally suited for totally non-gamery types :( –  thesunneversets Jan 11 '11 at 19:44
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