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!

 

Ingenious

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Simple abstract tile laying games are one of our favorites because they are easy to understand for new players and have some strategy for seasoned ones. Ingenious is one of those games we bring out when we want something a little different from our other favorite tile laying game--Qwirkle.  In Ingenious, everyone has a hand of double hex tiles with two colors on them (they are also unique shapes to be color blind friendly) to play to rack up points.  The gameplay is simple, but the strategy is what makes Ingenious fun.

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When  you play a tile, each direction branching out gets you points depending on how long that branch matches the color from the tile. If you put your tile into a group of the same color you can get a ton of points from all directions! But make sure not to focus too much on any one color.  At the end of the game your score is the color that you scored the least points in (if you max them all you instantly win). So while some moves might make you a ton of points you need to be sure not to get shut out from a color by your opponents when you aren’t looking. Often once someone has gotten more points than anyone else in a color they might try to close off any point scoring possibilities for that color to make sure that they keep the lead.

Ingenious winds up being a rather simple game that can get quite cutthroat if the group wants it to be and/or it can be quite relaxing as the players just try to get the best score they can at a relaxing pace. If you enjoy thinky abstract games or if you enjoyed Qwirkle, then you should give Ingenious a try!

Word on the Street

Word on the Street is another game that successfully integrates learning and gameplay to make a great game both for adults and kids. Two teams work to claim letters from the middle of the street. Being able to quickly of words that fit the category will help your team claim victory, but make sure you know how to spell them!

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The game begins with all of the letter tiles down the middle of the board. Not all of the letters - the vowels and some rarer letters are not included. The opposing team will flip over a category and your team must come up with a matching word.  Categories can be as simple as “something that you can open” or as hard as “____.”

The speed element of the timer slowly ticking down can make your brain freeze as you try to think of a word that will move the most letters and match the category. The best words use the same letter multiple times to tug on a letter repeatedly. Plurals are also quite nice until the S has been taken by one of the teams.

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Word on the Street is great for adults, kids, and families. The game definitely can test our ability to spell every time we take it off the shelf. But more than just spelling, it also tests our vocabulary in a fun way. Lots of educational games can be far from fun, treating teaching as being more important than being fun. Word of the Street however finds a nice balance of the two to make a fun and tense game between two people or two teams.

Dr. Eureka

Games using dexterity and speed elements without risking life and limb have been making more and more of a splash into board games. Dr. Eureka takes those elements and also requires logic and planning (quickly) in order to win the game. Everyone starts with the same set up of test tubes and marbles and must be the first to arrange the marbles into a different formation.

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Each player starts with three test tubes filled with three identical marbles in different colors. Someone flips over the top card from the deck which shows a new arrangement of marbles. The challenge is you aren’t allowed to remove the marbles from the test tubes other than to move them to another test tube.  The person who completes the new arrangement first wins the card.  If you ever drop a marble (which will happen) then you are out for the round.

The game ends once a player wins the most cards from the deck. However, like lots of other silly fun games, you can decide to play as long as you want if you are enjoying trying to solve these puzzles. We’ve had lots of fun trying to solve these puzzles and have found it is accessible for most ages with adults occasionally losing to smaller children.

Can't Stop

You just can’t beat a good dice chucker. One of the classic press your luck games, Can’t Stop, quickly tests how much you can push your luck in order to win. Each turn you roll four dice and pair them by value. Depending on what you roll you slowly move up a game board shaped like a stop sign.  The goal is to cap off three numbers before anyone else.

Each turn you have three safety cones used to indicate movement for the turn. After you roll the dice and pair them you have to move (or place) at least one cone. Numbers that have already been capped become invalid for movement. Once you have all three of the movement cones on the board, those are the only ones that you can move. You can keep rolling as long as you want, but if you ever roll dice and can’t make pairs all of the progress you made is lost. Instead if you decide to stop before you bust, you change out the movement cones for your own and you can never lose that progress.

While Can’t Stop is entirely made out of dice rolling there are still choices to be made. Rarer rolls are easier to cap off while the most common roll of seven takes a lot of rolls to reach the top. Then fun of the game is the tension of deciding whether or not to roll again. Especially when you get close to the top of the column. Do you keep rolling to try to capture the number or do you take the lower risk of waiting until your next turn and keep your progress?

Magic Labyrinth

Try to collect the treasures in the labyrinth sounds simple enough - but the walls are invisible! This game uses a lot of memory to try to remember which paths are safe as you work your way towards the current token everyone is trying to reach. Magnets are used bring some reality to the magical invisible walls.

On your turn you roll a die to see how far you can move. Once you start moving towards a specific square, you have to keep moving (otherwise you could feel for the walls). If you manage to safely get to the next square you can keep moving if you have movement remaining. However, if your ball bearing falls from your pawn you ran into the walls and will have to start from the beginning of the labyrinth at the start of your next turn.

The maze is completely customizable being constructed from wooden pieces that are inserted into a frame below the board.  If you are playing with young kids you can use less walls to make it easier to get around. If all of the players are smart adults then you can put all of the walls in and make it a challenge.

Once a player gets three of the treasures the game ends with them as the victor. The game probably takes at most 30 minutes to play depending on quickly you can get around the invisible walls. If games that test your memory are fun for you make sure to get Magic Labyrinth a try.

Tsuro & Tsuro of the Seas

These two games are quite simple but lots of fun. You are trying to be the last person standing as you build an intricate maze of lines on the board.  In the sequel you are still trying to stay on the board, but now there are sea dragons looking to eat you as well!

On your turn you play one of the tiles from your hand next to the edge of where your pawn is. After that you follow the new lines until their end - hopefully that doesn’t mean the edge of the board because in that case you have eliminated yourself! The game starts getting pretty crazy when other players are bordering the same space because then when they play a tile you have to follow the path that they laid down for your pawn as well. This is generally how you get knocked out of the game as you aren’t likely to kill yourself unless you have no other option with the tiles in your hand.

In the sequel, Tsuro of the Seas, the game plays essentially the same. The board is slightly larger and now there are a number of sea dragons on the board based on the number of players. Before your turn you roll dice to see if the dragons move - they move on the most common rolls so they will be moving quite often. If they move in front of your space on your turn or onto your space than the dragon has ended your chance at winning the game. Tsuro of the Seas can take longer than the original game because tiles are being removed as you go. Eliminated players still get to participate however as they still roll for dragon movement when they would normally have a turn. Which means near the end the dragons will likely move far more often than the remaining players.

Both of these games are good simple fun that plays in 10 - 20 minutes with lots of replay value. We would probably recommend starting with the original but if you like it the sequel is the same fun with a little bit more flavor.

Dominion

Deck building games are one of our favorites. Dominion was the first of its kind to have the deck building happen during the game instead of building your deck before the hand like with trading card games.  Dominion (especially with all its expansions) has tons of different cards you can play with but each time you play there are only 16 options of cards you can buy. Six of those stacks are always the same and the other ten can be selected by the players, chosen from suggested setups, or using the randomizer cards to pick randomly to get great variety in game play.

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Each player starts with the same 10 card hand. The goal of the game is to buy cards that help you make your deck a better point making engine than the rest of the players. With different cards available each game, it can be an interesting puzzle to decide which cards and how many of each to try to buy and shuffle into your deck. Part of the limiting factor of the game is unless you have cards that give you more you can only play one action card per turn and can only buy one card as well.

Since there are so many different card combinations sometimes there can be disagreements over how those cards interact, but over time the designers have gotten clearer in their wordings and also the rules books have a section talking about possible interactions between the available cards to clear up any rules argument that might pop up.

Newer games have given the deck building style a little more polish in our opinion. However, the designers have also worked to add polish to Dominion itself - with a great many expansions and more likely to come. If you want to see where this great style of game started make sure to give Dominion a look!

Race for the Galaxy

One of the tougher games for new players to get into because of its iconography, but once you can get past that issue (which doesn’t take too long) there is lots of depth, strategy, and choices in this card game. It is impressive the amount of choices one game can have without a board or resource tokens.

At the start of each round the players will secretly choose which of the five actions they want to perform. Each of the actions selected by players will be part of the round. Part of the game is trying to guess what actions your opponents will select because then you can select one of the other actions instead. If you can manage to do all of the things you wanted to do in your turn then you’ve played your opponents well.

The five different actions are explore, develop, settle, consume, and produce. Explore lets you draw cards which can be used either as new planets to conquer/settle or as the currency to build developments or settle new planets. The second action (if selected) is develop, which lets you  purchase development cards from your hand that will make other actions more powerful for the rest of the game. Settlement is the third of the possible actions. It allows players to either settle planets by paying with cards or conquering them with previously acquired military might. The next of the possible actions is consume, where you get points from certain cards and by selling the resources your planets have acquired. The final action is fairly simple - some or all of your planets produce goods again for later consumption.

Race for the Galaxy is full hard choices since most costs must be paid for with cards from your hand. When you draw new cards they will likely almost all look super tempting to get into play, but most of them you have to give up to get the other ones. Once the point tokens have been exhausted or when people get enough cards in play the game ends. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Once the new players get past the iconography (which is all explained on a good player aid) this game can be played over and over again to discover all the complex strategies that can lead them to victory.