Lots of people ask me: "Matt, what kind of games do you play when you're not playing video games? Do you know of any games to play with say, a group of friends at a party? Friends who may be adverse to wires, controllers, dice, boards, and even complex instructions?" Ok truth be told no one's ever asked me that, but let me tell you, it would be an excellent question to ask, because I totally have a great answer for it! And I'm going to provide it right now.
I'm particularly fond of these two great party games, which I've presented to enough different groups at this point to realize they're pretty universally loved, one perhaps a little more than the other. They're a staple of improviser parties, which I suppose makes a lot of sense, but I think anyone and everyone should check them out the next time they're at a party where they feel, like I inevitably always do, that the alcohol, the music, the relaxed mood and the time catching up with friends, coworkers and/or family aren't quite enough.
This game can be played with anywhere from 4 people to 100 people, though those 100 people would have been VERY into the idea of playing a game together. It's a perfect party game because even people not into the game (or gaming in general) at first inevitably get caught up in the fun, and various levels of intoxication really only stand to make the game even more fun.
You form two teams, usually by splitting the room in half (odd numbers don't matter so much) and giving everyone playing anywhere from 3-5 (or more, depending on how long you'd like the game to last) small slips of paper on which to write down 'celebrity' names. A celebrity can be anyone, living or dead, real or fictional. And it can be completely obscure if you choose, however keep in mind by writing down Phineas Gage you're as likely to screw over your own teammate as you are the opposing team. So generally known personas is usually the way to go - though I personally love testing everyone in the room's knowledge of random video game/80's cartoon characters.
Once everyone's written down their names you put them all in a hat or similar hat-shaped container and you start the first round. In Round 1, each team takes turns, getting one minute each, to pull out as many names as possible and get their team to guess the names. The only rules in the first round are not saying the person's name, or saying things like "rhymes with Messica Malba". Every correct guess is a point, and unless you're playing with pansy rules, there is no passing on a name. The teams swap off, and another member on the opposite team goes next, eventually giving everyone on each team a chance to show off how much or how little they know about the list of celebrities. I recently had a game where I got 'Thomas Jefferson' and I opened with "The 3rd, or possibly 2nd president!" which was semi-embarrassing, only to be met with blank stares from my teammates who initially couldn't name either. "He loved sleeping with his slaves!" somehow still didn't work, either.
After the entire pile of names has been finished, you take all the names and put them right back in the hat. What!?? Yes, that's right. You're about to use the same names again in Round 2, which plays out exactly the same, except this time each person CAN ONLY SAY ONE WORD, which can be extremely difficult. But bear the mind all the names have been revealed, so at this point its just about summarizing the earlier clues as succinctly as possible. A few important things: while they can only say the one word, they are allowed to emphasize/say it however they want and they can repeat it ad nauseum.
Saying another word gets them disqualified (and some meaner versions I've played makes "Um" count as their one word, thus essentially giving the team no clue at all for the remainder of the round), and you can't use gestures, because after the 2nd round comes the 3rd round which is essentially charades. No words at all, just wonderful hilarious interpretive motioning and flailing about. Again, all the names go back into the hat and once all the names are finished in Round 3, you count the total points up and name the winning team. And that my friends, is 'Celebrity'.
Werewolf (a.k.a "Mafia/Assassin")
This party game is a little trickier to pull off, simply because its a little more complicated to understand initially, and it requires a bit of roleplaying - even if ultimately it's just a simple game of suspicion and accusations. Werewolf, also know as Mafia or Assassin depending on which variant you are playing (which is essentially just a theme, a window dressing to the actual game itself) involving a group of people, no less than 7 (less may potentially work, but you may get some very short games) who are all playing villagers trying to decide who is killing them off at night. It's a murder mystery game that brings out both the actor and the suspicious neighbor in everyone.
The game starts off by randomly assigning every player into one of four roles: villager, werewolf, doctor, or fortuneteller. In a game with say, 12 people, there will be 3 werewolves, 6 villagers, 1 doctor, and 1 fortuneteller (technically also a narrator, which I'll get to in a second). In general there's always one doctor and fortuneteller, and the werewolf to villager ratio simply depends on the number of players (usually 1 werewolf for every 2 non-werewolf players, though 3 seems like the magic number from anywhere from 10-15 players, the number I've usually played with). You can use a deck of cards to assign everyone, with Aces as Werewolves, a King as the Doctor, a Queen as a Fortuneteller, and Jacks and 10s for Villagers. Have everyone look at their cards, and then keep them nearby, face down. There is one final role, that of the Narrator, who guides the whole experience. This should be the person who knows the rules the best, and if you're playing multiple times, the role should obviously be passed off so everyone gets a chance to play.
The game operates in two phases: night and day. At night (when the game begins) the narrator asks all players to go to sleep, putting there heads down and closing their eyes, and then for the werewolves to arise. At this point the werewolves open their eyes and acknowledge each other. They then silently agree on who they wish to kill amongst all the remaining villagers. The narrator acknowledges this, then puts them back to sleep. When morning comes (via the narrator's voice), everyone wakes up, and is immediately told who has passed away. A dead villager then turns over his card and is removed from play, no longer allowed to accuse or participate in any way.
Now the fun begins. Every player, villagers, and werewolves posing as villagers are sitting in a room together, and their job right then is to decide who they think the werewolves are based on the scant evidence they have. Anyone is able to throw an accusation at any other player based on any evidence - i.e. "Sharon is being SO quiet right now, quiet like a WEREWOLF would be!", and once accused, a person is put on trial, asked to defend themselves, and then a vote is cast. A majority vote leads to a lynching, in classic mob style. If not enough votes are cast, the group must decide on someone else to kill. This is important, as games where the lynching is optional often leads to the werewolves whittling down the innocent villagers until the game is over. Speaking of which, the game ends when either all werewolves are lynched, or there are an equal number of werewolves to villagers, at which point the villagers have made winning mathematically (and strength-wise) impossible.
There are two roles I haven't discussed yet - the doctor and the fortuneteller. Both of these players are technically villagers, but they have special roles that come into play at night. After the werewolves has made their kill and gone back to sleep, the narrator wakes up the doctor and then the fortuneteller, one at a time. The doctor is allowed to point to any one person in the room and choose to "save" them, essentially saving their life in the event of a werewolf attack. This includes his own life, though the doctor cannot save the same person two nights in a row. Also the doctor has the same information the rest of the group does, and thus is equally likely to save a werewolf if he has been misinformed. Once the doctor has gone back to sleep the fortuneteller awakens. The fortuneteller is allowed to determine if any one player is a werewolf or not. The narrator will give a silent thumbs up/thumbs down to let them know.
The two special villagers have as much at stake as the werewolves do in keeping their identity hidden, as revealing themselves too soon makes them a target for killing. A good fortuneteller tries to sway the group without making it to obvious he or she has inside information. And while it's perfectly legitimate for a fortuneteller to say "I am the fortuneteller, and this is what I know..." keep in mind its almost guarantee death for the fortuneteller during the next round, AND anyone else (like a werewolf) could say the same thing at any time. Devious, huh?
A game can play out quickly or slowly, depending on how the day portion of the game goes. A more timid, gun-shy group of villagers make take a while to make accusations, but usually once the game gets going (or you're playing for the 4th or 5th time) accusations start flying and the body count rises very quickly.
I love both of these games a lot, and I recommend giving them a shot at your next dinner party, book club meeting, or corporate event!
From Your Professional Party (Game) Planner,
P.S.: I recorded my first podcast last night for amped! I highly recommend you check it out, assuming you're into video games at all. Friends of mine looking to support me can find other outlets, as I'm sure you wouldn't enjoy hearing me talk games for over an hour in person, let alone in a recording.
Currently Playing: Still working on that pesky back catalog, but I'm making some nice progress. I beat (as in, totally destroyed) Shadow Complex, I've beaten Resident Evil 5 twice now, and am still somehow addicted to the Mercenaries mode you can play afterward. And I'm slowly and co-operatively making my way through New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I have yet to play it alone, but I may have to do so soon, as the opportunity to get through the game with others isn't presenting itself at an equal level to my desire to simply play it.