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Many times, I have limited space to pack games, and don't know how many players there are going to be. I frequently end up in a situation in which we have 5 players, but games that only work with 3 or 4 players, or something of the sort. In these situations, games which are flexible in the number of players they support are useful; one or two such games can cover most situations you end up in.

One problem is that while many games nominally work with a given number of players, they are really best played with a narrower range of players. For instance, there are many multi-player games that have a two-player variant, but the two-player variant is quite different than the multi-player game, and couldn't really be called the same game.

So, what games support a wide range of number of players well? Since there are many games which support 2-4 or 3-5 players, let's limit it to games that support at least 4 different player numbers well, such as 2-5 or 3-6 or any odd number from 7 to 15.

edit to add: Let's limit this to non-party games; party games as a genre tend to be fairly flexible in the number of players, so it's not all that interesting to list each one.

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closed as not constructive by Pat Ludwig Jan 8 '12 at 7:20

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27 Answers

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You get a lot of flexibility with a game system like Stonehenge or Icehouse. There are some games that are good for 2 all the way up to party games for 100. The downside is that you have to sift through a lot of weak games to find the good ones. There's an excellent article on Game Systems in the Game Journal.

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Once again I can't recommend Dominion enough.

The base set supports 2-4 players and really plays the same for all of those, and if you also get Dominion: Intrigue (or a second copy of Dominion, or just some extra copies of a few of the victory cards) you can play with anywhere from 2-6 players. 4 players is probably the "sweet spot" that the game was balanced around, though.

A few basic rules are adjusted based on the number of players - the amount of available victory points and the game end conditions scale with the number of players.

Game times will be affected most, naturally - in a 6-player game you'll be waiting longer between turns. The other factor that changes is competition for cards - in a 2-player game you will mostly be able to get whatever cards you want, while a 6-player game will require more adjusting of your strategy on the fly to respond to cards going to other players.

All that said, the core gameplay works very well for any number of players from 2 to 6 without excessive special-case 2-player rules or dummy players.

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Actually, Dominion does have special-case 2-player rules, but only in that you use 8 victory cards per pile instead of the usual 12. –  Powerlord Oct 21 '10 at 19:56
    
Good point, I changed my phrasing. –  lilserf Oct 21 '10 at 19:58
    
A minor difference, such as number of victory points or different starting setups, for different players is fine. Major differences, in which you have to have a "ghost" player or an entire trading aspect of the game is removed, are not. So I'd say that with the expansion, Dominion counts. –  Brian Campbell Oct 21 '10 at 20:11
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If your looking for a game that plays well with a lot of people, I would suggest Apples to Apples. It's word association game, and it lets you play up to 10 people. I've played it with more then ten people myself, although I do have the expansions to the game which adds a lot more cards. It's not very strategic though, and a party game at heart.

Also, check out the related question Recommendations for 6-player board game. On that post I recommended Citadels, a really good game that plays well with larger crowds, but only up to 8 people.

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I'm not looking for games that work with a lot of people, I'm looking for games which are flexible in the number of people. So, say, Diplomacy plays with 7, but you need exactly that many. Apples to Apples is certainly flexible enough, as is Citadels. –  Brian Campbell Oct 20 '10 at 15:50
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For word games, I like playing Taboo in large or small groups. It's fairly flexible because you can pair off, or have varied sized teams.

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When I have a group of unknown size to bring a game for, I always bring Formula D. It plays up to 10, and while I haven't played that many, I have played 7 and it works just great. There's a little more downtime, but everyone remains interested throughout everyone else's turns because of the risk of collision, and just because you want to follow the race!

I know it seems impossible for a boardgame to create a tense and exciting race, but Formula D manages the trick! The rules are light enough to explain to even a new group in a short time and it has just the right mix of luck and significant choices to make sure that smart play makes the difference and sometimes a big gamble can pay off.

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I've played Fluxx in groups from 2 through 10; Zombie Fluxx seems to work even better at the ends of that range. With too many people, though, you need to have a good conversation going while people wait for the turn to come back around.

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In my group if you pay too much attention to the game you're almost guaranteed to lose. Or have your head explode. –  Kristo Nov 5 '10 at 13:55
    
@kristo: In my group, having your head explode is considered a loss... –  David Oneill Dec 14 '10 at 20:48
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There's a great book called Super Party Games that describes a bunch of games that can be played by groups of 10 or more. I generated a set of puzzles for one of the games described in the book. Each player is given a sheet of paper that they tie to their forehead where they can't see it. On each sheet of paper are three letters, and you have to arrange yourselves to spell out a secret quote without telling anybody what letters are on their heads. You can download the puzzles and print out one of the puzzles for your group size. There are currently puzzles from 4 to 95 people, although I've never tried it with a group larger than 13.

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Small World is for 2-5 players and is very entertaining for each size. There are four different boards that come with the game (2 physical boards printed front and back) with the larger player groups having more spaces and fewer turns on the turn counter.

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Small World is expandable to 6 and even 7 players, in theory. The "Necromancer Island" official expansion gives one of the players the role of the antagonist on the island in the middle of the board. There's also a fan-made revision of the game that allows constructing 6-player boards, using hex-tiles. I've never tried to combine the two for a 7-player game, but I understand there are rules for it somewhere. –  scraimer Nov 29 '10 at 7:34
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The Icehouse Game System can handle variable amounts of players. There is a list of N-player games at the Icehouse Game Wiki. It may not be the most strategic game, but I've played a lot of Martian Coasters (2-5 Players). It scales well up to 5 players. There are tons of other games that support many different amounts of players so there is much to choose from in this game system.

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I have played Le Havre with 3, 4 and 5 players, and although the dynamics of the game change, the game is designed to deal with the differing number of players effectively in the way that the end of round 'feeding' phase determines how much food is required. The more the players, the less food required, ensuring that that the game is well balanced regardless of the player numbers.

Excellent consideration has gone into this game to deal with the problem of some games being best for a certain number of users.

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I'm not sure if this would qualify as a party game, but Pit starts to work well at 3-4 players and works up to at least 10 players.

You might need to use different cards than the original, though, which does not always have support for very many players (depending on the edition). What I have done with great success is take three decks of regular playing cards and use as many numbers as there are players, with nine cards of each number (necessarily selecting across all three decks).

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I've found Pit rather dull with less than 5 players. Do you do anything different to keep it interesting? –  shujaa Oct 11 '11 at 7:18
    
Not really. I may have a high tolerance for dullness. –  Erik P. Oct 11 '11 at 15:46
    
I mostly just remember games where after a few trades everyone was done at the same time. What I like about the full version is the chaos, confusion, and noise, which seemed to be lacking with fewer people. That said, I think it's a great game for this question. As it's not turn-based it works wonderfully with lots of people. –  shujaa Oct 11 '11 at 16:13
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The card game "Split" or "Speed" scales very well with slight modifications. Be creative about the arrangement of the shared cards and add more decks of cards and players to your hearts content. The only limiting factor is arranging the shared cards such that everyone can reach them.

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Battlestar Galactica with the Pegasus expansion supports 3-7 players, and works well anywhere in that range. This is one of my all-time favorite games. It's a cooperative game using a traitor mechanic.

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It's an excellent game, but I'm not sure it's the right answer, because 3-player games are so prone to random mid-game shifts depending on who the Cylon is. While Galactica allows 3-7, it's much stronger with 4-6. –  Tynam Dec 2 '10 at 20:51
    
Actually, I think 3 plays pretty well. I think 4 is the worst number in the base game because it's 3 against 1 and pretty tough for the Cylon. However with the expansion, 4-player is OK if someone plays a Cylon Leader. I've played a few 7-player games and I feel that's pretty balanced. –  Todd Dec 3 '10 at 2:04
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Struggle of Empires is a good game that supports 2-7, though I think you need at least 4.

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at least 4, best with 6, and kinda silly with odd numbers –  Chris DaMour Jan 26 '13 at 10:05
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Citadels (the later editions, or first edition plus expansions) supports 2-8. Once people get the hang of it, it goes pretty quickly. An 8-player game typically takes around an hour.

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+1 This works even in groups where many players have never played before. –  Zoot Dec 23 '10 at 21:09
    
The 2-players game is totally different. I (also) recommand it to people who are used to the game. I personally love it, but it has nothing in common with the 3-8 players game. –  Oltarus Oct 11 '11 at 5:16
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Bohnanza is a very fun multiplayer trading game. It's a bit more fun if you understand the German word plays on the cards but that's far from necessary. The core game is for 3-5 players and there are numerous expansions that add new twists or simply additional cards for more players.

The basic idea is that you grow beans. Every card is a bean of a particular sort. You and only grow two sorts of beans at a time and you have to plant your beans in the order you receive them. So in order to turn a profit you need to plan ahead and trade well. It's a very social game that involves a lot of haggling.

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Love this game, and I think that even the base game works up to 6 or 7 players, so it qualifies for the list (just 3-5 wouldn't qualify, if you check the question). edit to add Ah, just checked BGG, and the version that I have is the one that includes the first expansion which works for up to 7. –  Brian Campbell Oct 26 '10 at 17:16
    
Bohnanza is my favorite trading game, because of the human element of the player interactions. It's one of the few games where it's the guy who's most liked who is more likely to win, rather than the best strategist. And it's so easy to be nice, or be mean, in this single game. –  scraimer Nov 29 '10 at 7:37
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It depends on your requirements. Uno may be a terrible or a brilliant choice, depending on what you want. There's little strategy: it's something to do with your hands while you chat with a bunch of friends. That means the gameplay tends to be fast, so turns come around fairly quickly. And, playing in a large bunch, there's always the chance that the +4 cards go around the table, and someone ends up picking up 16 cards, which is always sweet (when it's not you). When the +2s go around, the pick ups can go into the twenties.

If you're looking for clever strategy games, you don't want Uno.

Uno works well with 5-9ish people, and perhaps more, and also works well with 2 people (though that's an entirely different game, really). I find it awkward with three or four people.

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Uno basically auto-plays, there's no strategy, almost no tactics... where's the fun? None. –  Lohoris Nov 2 '10 at 23:17
    
As I said, it depends on what you're looking for. I like the phrase "auto-plays", though. –  TRiG Nov 2 '10 at 23:20
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Can't believe nobody's mentioned Cosmic Encounter yet. Works very well for 3-6, and the old 'kibitzer' variant from Mayfair adds a 7th moderately well. (But don't play Cosmic for two. In two-player Cosmic the objectives change for each player: they become 'go find another player first'.)

Robo-rally works well from 3-8.

Most of the Talisman-esque games work for a wide range too, but they're not exactly small to pack.

Icehouse pieces are small, portable, and support several good multi-player or wide-ranging games: Volcano/Mega-volcano, IceTowers, IceHouse, Zendo come to mind as good examples.

If you can still find it, Duel of Ages is a team game, is one of the few 3-6 player games which works just as well for 2, and it doesn't matter if the teams aren't balanced. (In theory you could play it with any number on each team, but in practice more than about 3 players per team is slower without being more fun.)

Played right, Twilight Imperium works for 3-8, but it's definitely strongest with 5-6. And it's an FF big box game, so it's not small to pack.

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I can't believe you mentioned Talisman in the same answer as Cosmic Encounter. It makes my heart cry a little :-( –  scraimer Nov 29 '10 at 7:35
    
@scraimer: Well, yes. I admit I winced while I typed it. But it is an answer to the question. And I couldn't think of a good term for that whole Runebound/Prophecy category of games. (I could have just said "Prophecy", but while I think it's a better game, it's not as good an answer to the question.) –  Tynam Dec 2 '10 at 20:46
    
I've never played Cosmic with 6 people, but the complexity starts to get pretty crazy. You have to keep track of everyone's situation to really be successful, and that starts getting really hard when you hit 6. If you're group is fine with that, it's game on though. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Sep 23 '11 at 0:11
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There's always Settlers of Catan, with a 5-6 player expansion pack on hand. That covers 3 up to 6 fairly well.

Carcassonne is good with 2-5, and the Inns and Cathedrals expansion takes it up to 6.

I'm also a big fan of Scotland Yard which can adapt reasonably well to 2-6 players (although ideally with 3-6):

  • 2 players: one player is Mr X, the other takes 4 detectives 3 players:
  • one player is Mr X, two players take 2 detectives each 4,5 and 6 players:
  • one player is Mr X, the rest take 1 detective each

Scotland Yard is quite a bit of fun too.

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Civilization (base or Advanced) plays well with 5-7 players, not a very broad range but better than nothing. Yes, 6-7 is ideal, but playing in 5 people is still good enough to be almost the complete game.

Hacker plays well with 4-6 people. You may like it or not, since there are a few design flaws - I find it mostly fun anyway.

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I think Civ with 4 on the Western expansion is a decent game. Plays fast too (for Civ :)) –  Pat Ludwig Nov 5 '10 at 5:32
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Arkham Horror

The game supports 1-8. I've played 1-6 and all work well. With 3 or less you may want each player to control 2 characters, but that isn't necessary.

I suspect that with 7-8 there will be a fair amount of downtime between turns. However, if the group enjoys the game and gets into it I don't think the problem is insurmountable. I find that reading the event cards aloud really brings everyone into the game.

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A little bit amazed that no one has mentioned Agricola yet. This (my favourite game, not coincidentally) plays supremely well with any number from 1 to 5, by dint of having a different, carefully thought-out board setup for each of those different numbers. In addition, the Occupation cards subdivide into ones appropriate only for solo or 2-person play, for 3+ players, and for 4-5 players; thus, effects that would be silly for two players (auctioning things off, to pluck an example out of the air) can be limited only to numbers of players that accommodate them well.

A lot of games are accidentally good for both small and large numbers of players. Agricola's designers have spent a lot of time making sure it's good for different-sized groups - and the pretty decent solo option has got to be the icing on the cake. It really is an amazing feat of game design, regularly coming near the top of all-time-best-boardgame lists: if you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for?

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7 Wonders

  • Plays 2-7
  • Doesn't slow down with more players because turns are simultaneous
  • Bonus: Highly portable
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Yeah, big fan of 7 Wonders. The mechanic of players only interacting with their left-hand and right-hand neighbours is pretty sweet, as you rightly note, for keeping things moving quickly. (Though it does mean that you have no way of affecting a player on the opposite side of the table from you if they're doing well!) –  thesunneversets Sep 22 '11 at 23:46
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Shadow Hunters plays 4-8 well.

However, I would also suggest that a deck of regular paying cards can service a wide variety of needs. Rummy variants for 2, Specially designed 3 player games like Ninety-Nine for 3-players, Hearts/Spades/Bridge for 4, Specially designed 5 player games like Rook, etc.

Pagat has a list of games by # of Players, which can be useful.

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Don't forget Sheepshead for specially designed 5-player games! –  shujaa Oct 11 '11 at 7:15
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Racing Demon / Pounce / Nertz / Nerts

An excellent (if very hectic) game that I used to play often in large family groups is "Racing Demon" or "Pounce", although Wikipedia suggests that it's more commonly known in North America as "Nertz". As long as you have one pack of cards per player, and those decks have distinct backs, it certainly works well with 3 to 7 people, although as you add more players the number of limbs rushing to place cards down in the centre of the table increases - how you feel about that additional chaos probably dictates the maximum number of players. :) The rules of the game are at pagat.com. Essentially, you have to run through the cards in your deck solitaire-style while trying to keep an eye out for opportunities to move your cards onto the piles in the common area.

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Les Mousquetaires du Roy ("The Musketeers of the King" in old French, "Roy" being now spelled "Roi"), that just came out last year is good for that. The story is based on Alexandre Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers.

In the game, a players takes the part of Milady de Winter, the ennemy of the heroes. All the other players are a team and incarnate the musketeers: Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan.

When played with:

  • 5 players, each one has a character.
  • 4 players, somenone takes Milady and the three others each take a musketeer. The musketeeres have a slightly longer turn.
  • 3 players, someone takes Milady and the two others each take two musketeers.
  • 2 players, one plays Milady and the other one plays all the musketeers.

Note that the game can be played differently, for Milady is a character that can be simulated by random actions. The game loses a bit of fun though. Theoretically, you can play the game alone.

Note also that there is a fifth musketeer in the box, Tréville, which is the captain, that can be played by an extra player. The pieces needed are included in the box, but the rules for the character can be found online.

Conclusion: this game is supposed to be for 2-5 players, but you can practically play it with 1-6 players.

I tested it with different number of people including alone, it's not the same game, but all of them are equally interresting.

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Spot-It

Spot-It supports 2 through 8 on paper, but I've played it with many more players than that. The best part about Spot-It is that there are so many different modes of play, and you can even come up with new ones. We came up with a mode called two-fisted bomb mode which is similar to the mode in the instructions only each player has two cards they have to get rid of until one person is left holding everything.

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