Sunday, 11 December 2011

Games for many who game:

I’m going to mix up the format I’ve been using so far for this series.  Since it’s a series made up of two other posts, this egregious departure from the pattern shouldn’t blow any minds.  If you find yourself having any heart palpitations at the thought of minor change however, I suggest you lie down now for a while, try some meditation or breathing exercises and then tackle this post renewed.

So, back on topic: This post is all about games for larger groups.  When I was thinking about the games I play with larger groups I felt they broadly fell into two sub-categories - large groups of people who know and play a lot of games, and large groups of people who are non or social gamers.  This post will deal with 5 games I feel make for great playing with a large group of people who game.  

Now when I say ‘large group’ I don’t mean it in the same way as an entomologist might when talking about eusocial insects such as ants.  Obviously finding enough table space and coasters for large groups in your average colony of leaf-cutter ants would be a challenge, plus the downtime between one turn and the next could well be greater than the average worker ant’s life span.  No, a large group by my terms here is really 7 or more people.

These are generally lighter games, but I feel they have enough rules twists to make them ever so slightly harder to introduce to people than those games that will fill out my next category.

In any case, without further ambling:

The first 3 of:

5 Games for many who game.

Published by: Asmodee
Designer: Antoine Bauza

7 Wonders, like Agricola, which I wrote about last post, is a game that hit the gaming world by storm.  I am not usually a gamer who will jump on the latest buzz game fresh off the press and immediately fall in love with it.  In fact, with 7 Wonders I was well prepared to dislike the game when I first sat down to play it.  But the playing of the game drew me in.

In 7 Wonders you are dealt a hand of seven cards, you take one, play the card you took, and pass the remainder to the person next to you.  Then you take a card from the six you were handed, play the card you took, and pass the remainder on, and so on.  The central mechanism of the game is this drafting process and is quite simple.  However, what makes the game interesting is the ways in which the cards interact.  Cards come in many varieties, they allow you to produce resources - and thereby build an economic engine that will support your ability to play future cards.  They also allow you to build a variety of other things, that interact with each other, and score you points in different ways.  Some cards score whatever points are written on them, some multiply with other cards of the same sort, some multiply by cards of different sorts.  

This layer of card interactions, with the economic considerations, the military concerns, and the potential to score points, both short and long term, make for some very interesting choices.  The ways in which the cards and various systems interact with one another make this a fun, and in my opinion very good little game to play.

One of the central reasons I like this game so much, is that it manages to squeeze layers of interesting interactions and some tough choices into a very short playing time.  Even with a large group (it plays with up to 7 players), the game ticks along at an easy and enjoyable pace - and certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
Designers: Bruno Faidutti and Jef Gontier

Bruno Faidutti is a designer with a wonderful sense of humour who manages to squeeze a lot of fun and frivolity into his games.  Those fans of purer game engines, games that make you feel like your mind is slipping into the steep gravitational well of a newly formed black hole, will undoubtedly find the healthy dose of luck and zany humour unpalatable.  Faidutti’s games are to be enjoyed, in my view, and for me, they succeed extremely well.

Red November is Faidutti and Gontier’s take on the co-operative trope - games where everybody wins or loses together.  In it players are drunken Gnomish submariners (what else?), doing their best to keep their submarine from filling with flames, flooding, running out of air, launching nuclear missiles or being destroyed by the giant kraken.

Players rush about the submarine trying (often vainly) to fix all those things going horribly wrong.  The currency in the game is time - players can spend it to perform actions, but must spend it wisely.  They will need to work together to solve the problems, using their time and actions with careful consideration and team work.  Of course - more vodka helps too.

This is not a deep tapestry of layered choices, where careful maximisation of resources will lead to victory.  Luck, both good and bad will happen, chaos will ensue, fires will start and rooms will flood.  This is a zany game full of twists, where players must do their best to weather the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ in order to survive to the end.  Red November plays with up to 8, doesn’t take too long, and most importantly: it is fun.

Published by: Z-Man Games
Designed by: Yasutaka Ikeda

Shadow Hunters is a game that fascinates me.  It is a 'hidden roles' game - meaning every player has a character and a faction to which they are allied, but no-one knows who anyone else is - at least to begin with.  The premise of the game is that there are three factions, the Hunters, the Shadow, and the poor Civilians, caught up in the war between the other two.  The Hunters and Shadow are trying to destroy each other, while each of the Civilians will have their own peculiar ‘win’ conditions.

Players roll dice, move around the board to different locales, use the powers of the locales to gain items that may help , or give hermit cards to other players in the hope of finding out which faction they belong to.  Players may, and very often will, want to attack each other - after all, the Hunters and Shadows naturally want to wipe each other out.

This game is at it’s best with 6 or 7 players in my view, this ensures there are a number of Civilian roles in the game, and the Civilian roles add a significant amount of interest, mystery and fun into the mix.  I also highly recommend the small expansion, if available, as it adds new characters into the game that mix things up and make it even more re-playable.

This is not a deep game, but the mixture of special powers each character brings to the table, the different goals of the different factions, and of course, the mystery of who is who, keeps it lively and interesting.  Shadow Hunters plays quickly, and never really feels like it bogs down.  Players are trying to find out who their friends are, who their enemies are, and of course, win the game.  While lighter perhaps than some of the other games on this list, it is highly enjoyable.

Next post: I'll finish off the list of 5 Games for many who game...


  1. Nice -7 Wonders is a favourite, but I must try the gnomes in submarines game. Brilliant theme!

  2. Yes - the theme is fantastic! I love the fact you can drink Vodka to give you bonuses, but do it too often and you pass out for an amount of time...

    7 Wonders - I was prepared to not-like this game based on others telling me it had a superficial relationship with Fairy Tale - I was very surprised and impressed by the game though - we played back to back a couple of times, and that rarely happens. Great game.

  3. The great thing about 7 Wonders is that it just keeps giving.
    There always seems time to sneak a cheeky game in at the end of an evening - it's fast but leaves you with a satisfying feeling of achievement with what you have built.

    Red November I enjoy but you need the right crowd.

  4. That is very true about 7 Wonders - it is very satisfying - amazing given the short playing time!

    Yes - Red November (like many of Faidutti's games) need the right group of people - it's a game that's light, fun and silly - and needs to be played like that!

  5. I'd go with Cosmic Encounter, all day long.
    With the next expansion adding team rules(!) and so much variety you will never try it all, this is the ultimate game for a large group of like minded friends.

    The frequent complaint about cosmic with large groups is that sometimes someone will rush down the game and score 5 points before the last two players have even played an encounter. This is not the game's fault, but lack of experience on when to block opponents and when to throw an entire encounter to prevent an enemy victory.

  6. I haven't played Cosmic Encounter - though it's one I'd love to try out - I just read so many good comments about it.

    The upcoming expansion brings the player count to 8 (with all expansions)!

  7. I seem to miss Shadow Hunters whenever it get played by my group. I really need to try it out. I almost picked up a used copy at the game store yesterday...

    Cosmic Encounter never caught me. Probably need to try it again, but it fell flat the one time I played it...

    Good choices on the other 2 :).

  8. You haven't played Cosmic Encounter?!? We must remedy this at the next Bordercon (if you can make it!)

  9. We're hoping we'll be able to make Bordercon next year Iain! I'd love to play a game - so I'll tentatively book a seat! :D