Hanabi

Putting on a beautiful fireworks show can be a difficult challenge. Now imagine you can only say very limited instructions to your coworkers.  Then you are playing a game similar to Hanabi, a game filled with deduction and figuring out how best to communicate within the rules.

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Players are dealt a number of cards based on the number of players. Unlike almost any other card game, you put the cards facing away from you. The cards in your hand can be rearranged freely - you can never see the front of the cards you’re holding. However, that means you can see what everyone else is holding - which can help you figure out what is in your hand to some degree.

Each turn one action is taken; giving a clue, discarding a card, or playing a card. The goal of the game is to get the numbers 1 - 5 (in order) of each of the five colors before you run out of time or make too many mistakes. The group relies on players giving good clues with perhaps unspoken information coming along. The only things you can say are how many cards in one person's hand are a color or how many of those cards are a specific number.

Sometimes it can be very hard to not cheat while playing the game, but as long as everyone is there to have a good time they just become points of amusement. One of the most obvious ways players can unintentionally cheat is when someone goes to discard a card and the rest of the players flinch. We always try best not to but it's amusing when we can’t help ourselves. Some people can find the game stressful because sometimes you have to play hunches from your hand. Overall though it's always been a fun game that can be played almost anywhere!

Bohnanza

Growing fields of beans isn’t generally a theme that grabs everyone to come and play like high fantasy or other themes. But when a game is simple and fun enough, any theme can make a great game. Bohnanza is a game of set collection and trading cards between players. Sometimes you are going to have to make trades that are better for your opponent than for you as you really don’t want the card you are trying to trade away.

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During the game each player will have a hand of cards. Unlike any other game we can think of, the order of cards in your hand is super important and you can’t rearrange them once you receive cards. At the start of your turn you have to play the first card in your hand. Even if you have to uproot a field to do so (you only have two fields to start with). Then you can optionally play the next one, generally only if it matches one of your fields already in play.

The largest part of the game is next.  On your turn you get dealt two random cards from the top of the deck into the middle of the table. You have to plant these two cards unless you can trade them away. And everything traded for or with also has to be planted immediately. Players can even revolve cards in their hand in order to get them into a better order than they are in currently. Once you have a good healthy crop, you can sell off the entire field for coins which varies in value based on the type of bean.

At its core Bohnanza becomes a great negotiation game as you deal with the beans you draw and trade with other players. We have even had people offer to trade hugs for beans as they didn’t have anything else to offer. With its quick playing time it can be a silly trading game to play around the table.

Halloween Favorites!

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The first game that became a Halloween tradition for us was Betrayal on the House on the Hill.  It can be a great atmospheric game, that isn’t too time consuming.  All of the players are exploring the house at the beginning of the game finding items, spooky events, and scary objects. Once the game has progressed to a certain point a haunt begins! Normally this means one of the players reveals their evil plot of one of 50 different scary movie tropes. Sometimes unbalanced but always lots of fun.

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After a few years of playing Betrayal we discovered Mansions of Madness.  Based on the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft, this game drops players into spooky scenarios to investigate without dying or losing all sanity.  Mansions was a more balanced game that added puzzle solving and a more engrossing strategy. Although one person had to run the story (which is complicated to set up) the other players felt more like a team. When the second edition came out it made the game even better, by having an app “run” the game. Now the game is fully cooperative, always changing, and even comes with thematic music!

One of the most complicated games with a Halloween theme is Fury of Dracula. But being complicated doesn’t mean to it can’t ooze with theme. One player is Dracula, trying to evade vampire hunters while trying to spread a reign of terror across Europe. One of the better hidden movement games made even better with dim lights, candles, and people playing up their roles as Van Helsing and other vampire hunters!

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But what if you want to have some Halloween fun without it getting too scary or thematic? Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters is a terrific cooperative game of getting some treasure out of a house before the ghost take over. Some people will have to fight off the ghosts while the others try to get the treasure out. With adult and kid friendly settings it can be a game for the whole family or a challenging game for a group of adults!

Lanterns

Setting alight countless colored paper lanterns on a lake must be a beautiful sight. And while this board game doesn’t glow, it still is quite pretty once you have arranged all the tiles. Players are building a lagoon with tiles showing lit lanterns in order to earn the most points from sets of lantern cards.

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How you get lantern cards is one of the interesting aspects of the game.  When you play a tile, not only are you getting a lantern card, but you are likely giving a card to all of your opponents. Playing tiles at the right time in order to benefit you the most and your opponents the least is one of the central strategies of the game. When a tile is placed the color pointed in your direction is the color that you receive (if there is any available). Also if you matched colors to previously placed tiles, you also get those colors as a bonus. Then starting with the player to your left you give people the colors pointing towards them if the color is available.

If one of the lake tiles that matched had a platform you also get a favor token. These favor tokens can be used during your turn to exchange one lantern card for a different color. This exchange can be helpful because this is the only way to change your lanterns cards before you make a dedication on your turn. Dedications range from having all the different colors to have multiple copies of certain number of colors. If you make a dedication, you have to do it before you play a tile so players will see what you will be capable to dedicate as the round goes around the table.

Simple, strategic, and pretty Lanterns has quite a few of the things we like in games. One of our favorite things to do is place a great tile for us that denies cards to our opponents. There is also an expansion that adds little tweaks to the game that are a great addition if you find that this game is lots of fun like we do!

Labyrinth

Do you like solving mazes? What about if they are constantly changing? If both of those sound interesting you should give one of our family friendly titles, Labyrinth, a try. Each player has a small deck of treasures that they are trying to collect before the other players. The only problem is there might not be a clear path for your character to walk to get to your current goal.

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On your turn you will take the one extra piece that is currently outside the maze and slide it into one of the slots on the side of the board, which will push all of the other tiles in that row until a different tile falls off. After doing so you move your pawn as far as you can in the direction of your goal. Hopefully as far as you can go is all the way to it! After you finish moving you just give the new extra tile to the next player in turn order and go round and round until someone has gotten all their treasures!

With such simple rules Labyrinth is very accessible for all ages. Easy enough for smaller kids to enjoy while also allowing for adults to not only use the tiles to get ahead in the game but also to make it more difficult for their opponents to reach their goal as well.

Starfall

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Sometimes all you need to make an enjoyable game is just a few simple choices. In Starfall, when it is your turn, you only have 3 choices you can do with your one action. Those three choices are putting out a new disc into the sky, decrease the value of one of the discs already in play, and then lastly you can use your stars to buy one of the available discs.

Each of the discs have different spacey elements shown that score different. If you get lots of comets each of them slowly grows in value. You can get some planets for moons but each moon has to have a planet. (Evidently no multiple moon planets in this galaxy!) Others are just worth stars that can be used to buy other discs.

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While the game has very few choices, deciding which one to choose can be a thinker. Putting out a new disc you want to buy might not last until your turn. The decision between making something cheaper or just buying it is one of the hardest to make. You have limited currency to spend on getting discs so you want to get your bang for your stars, but if you make it cheaper someone might buy it first. It doesn’t help that sometimes if there isn’t room in the sky you could be making it much cheaper than it already was.

Starfall’s simple choices that require thought is why it is one of our favorite games to teach. People can start playing in less than a minute and then have the fun of making those tough choices throughout the game. Just don’t ignore the comets - if someone gets a lot of them they can sneak in a victory!

Animal Upon Animal

Simplicity in game design sometimes makes some of the better games. In Animal Upon Animal the concept of the game is simply to stack all your animals on top of one another before anyone else. But can you find a place to stack all of the various animals that won’t cause the entire stack to fall?

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On your turn you will roll a die that tells you what you will do for your turn. Some of them are quite simple like stack one or two of your remaining animals on top of the pile of animals already in play. Another has you expand the base which starts out as just a crocodile which can be pretty tight base for all the pieces. The last action on the die is to hand one of your animals to an opponent to stack for you and they suffer any penalties!

We always enjoy games that can be played with all ages without having the make accommodations or not play to your best skill level in order to give the younger kids a chance at winning. After playing this at some events we feel like we have met some future engineers since they have stacked animals in ways we didn’t think possible. Just make sure not to knock everything down when you celebrate!

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As the game has gained popularity there have been a great many iterations of the game. Some are simply changing the animals used making you learn how to use the new shapes like in Crest Climbers. Others add quite a bit to the game like a spinning base to make it even harder to keep the stack steady like in Here We Turn. There is also a two player version with super tiny pieces but we still enjoy the classic Animal Upon Animal the most!

Hey, That's my Fish!

One of the most ruthless games that you can play with kids! On a large grid of ice flow tiles the players will compete to see who can get those most fish before all of the ice is gone. Movement rules restrict where you can go and once you get cut  off from the rest of the ice then that penguin’s fate is sealed! Sometimes that can be a good thing though, let me explain.

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Everyone’s penguins start on a single fish tile one by one for the set up. Then you on your turn you move one penguin in a straight line in one of six directions from the tile it is currently on. You can go as far as you want in that direction until you either hit a lost tile or another penguin. Then you have to stop. After your move is completed you take the ice flow tile that you started on slowly chipping away at the available paths on the board.

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Using the movement and the disappearing ice flows you can strand some penguins on small ice flows with not that many fish making it more likely for you to win. However, on the reverse you can also block off everyone else from a lucrative pile of fish for only you to collect!

Cutely marketed for children this game is fun with all groups, parents and children, kids, and even a bunch of adults. Granted with a bunch of adults it gets even more cutthroat! Although admittedly we have seen the glee on some kids faces when they turn the table on their parents as well.

Codenames and Codenames:Pictures

One of the most popular party games in recent years, Codenames and its sequel Codenames: Pictures are a great team based word games. The game doesn’t get as raucous as some other party games and doesn’t expect you to draw or even know trivia!

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Each team is trying to locate their agents in a field of cards spread out on the table. One player on each team knows which cards are theirs and which ones are bystanders, their opponents agents, or the spy. On each turn the person in the know gives a one word clue and the number of cards on the table that match that clue.

One by one teammates will select cards on the table hoping to choose correctly. SInce the clue giver can’t make any comments, the only thing they have to guide them is those one word clues. If they get one of their own agents they can continue guessing. A wrong guess ends the turn - unless they pick the assassin then they immediately lose!

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The original Codenames uses a set of 25 cards with words on them for the teams to guess, and the sequel Codenames: pictures uses a slate of 20 pictures instead of words. When we first heard about the pictures set we thought they would be generic clip art style photos. Instead they are very unique pictures that give lots of openings for connecting the different cards.

Whether you want to connect words together or some interesting pictures Codenames can be tons of fun for any group of people. Simple rules and lots of laughs over some ridiculous connections make Codenames and Codenames: Pictures our favorite party games.  

Mascarade

Everyone is at a Mascarade trying to use their powers to become wealthier than the others. Every character has special abilities to use on their turn.  In some games you would have to be that character in order to use those abilities. But in Mascarade you can bluff about what character you are playing as sometimes you might not even know what character you are!

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There are three actions players can take on their turn. They can use one of the powers available in the game (not all characters are used each game) and then all of the players in order decide whether they want to claim that power as well. If no one else claims that power you use the power without revealing your character. If other player(s) claim they are also that role then everyone flips over their card and anyone who is that character uses the power and then everyone who lied pays a fine to the court.

Instead a player can trade or pretend to trade character cards with another player. By doing the trade under the table you are the only one who knows if you switched cards with the other player or kept your original card. Sometimes we get too absorbed in being sneaky that we forget whether we switched cards or not!

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The last thing you can do on your turn is just look at the card you currently control. While this can be informative it is likely to cause players to trade with you before your next turn removing any advantage you had by knowing your character.

Mascarade is a fun game of trying to figure out what role you have or faking it until you can get the 10 coins needed to win the game. Lots of similar games require you to be able to lie or bluff convincingly,but this one can be won with just good manipulation of the characters! If you have a group of friends and are looking for a quick deduction game you can win without being deceptive this is a game to try!