Spotlight on Games > Ludographies
Party Games
Taxonomy and Reviews
December 23, 2012
Just what is a party game, anyway? It's not an essential ingredient for a party, though many a party has featured one. It's not a game without strategy or tactics for many have some. Despite what you may have heard, it's not necessarily about love of knowledge or word. In fact they can take on many guises, witty or otherwises. But at the bottom, at the end of the day, what you'll find there is a way, to let down your hair, to reveal a bit of yourself and let others know you, and have a great laugh too.

But before looking what are the best party games, let's review their many sub-types.

Communication This sort is about figuring out how to communicate a word or phrase, but via oblique means. Either there are certain words you cannot use or you cannot use words at all and must rely on gestures. Two rather old games are prime examples: Password and Charades.
Composition Closely linked to the communication games which require a modicum of ability are these which require quite a bit more. Now you need to actually compose something as sophisticated as a fake definition, a joke or even a proverb. There is something of the skill of the writer in it. Examples: Balderdash, Why Did the Chicken ...? Depending on how much players put into creating match phrases, games like Dixit are blurring the line between Communication and Composition and it may be that these two categories really one and the same.
acting The arts are essentially communicative endeavors. Whether one is making music, dancing or painting there is a non-verbal communication between the creator and the appreciator. Consequently a number of the performing arts have been adapted into games. This type includes all games where players need to adopt a specific role, including murder-mystery games and the Mafia/Werewolf sub-genre.
body This could also have been called dance though games about dancing are not so prominent (yet – I'm sure more prominent ones will be arriving one day soon). Essentially any game involving movement of the entire body fits here, e.g. Twister.
drawing Drawing a picture to communicate a word or idea, on the other hand, is quite popular, Pictionary and Telestrations forming prominent examples.
singing Possibly this category should be called music, except no games involving non-vocal musicmaking come to mind. There are vocal games, however, e.g. Tunebaya.
Personality While all of the party games share the goal of getting you to lower one's natural defenses and reserve, some refuse to be subtle about it. A prime example is True Colors in which players are directly asked to vote on what they think of others. But a game like Apples to Apples is in this category too because the essential skill is to figure out the judge and pick a card which will please.
Storytelling Closely allied to Composition games, these , such as Once Upon a Time require players to make up stories, or at least parts of them, often being inspired by a random card or bit of text. There are so many of these games, and their goal direct entertainment rather than any particular sort of communication, that they really deserve their own category.
Trivia Although it may not be immediately obvious, even these games give players a chance to reveal themselves, if for no other reason because what one knows can tell quite a lot about who one is.

Title (click for review) Sub-type Quick Description
Anomia composistionThis one takes composition down to its most minimal form. Each player has a face up card. Then you reveal a card from a deck. If its symbol matches that of another player's face up card, you try to give an example of a person, place or thing on their card before they can do the same for yours. If you win you score the card. Symbols differ in both color and shape. There are wild cards which can match two different symbols, i.e. multiple players can get involved. There are 200 cards in two decks for this game of speed by Andrew Innes for Anomia Press-2010; 3-6 players; 30 minutes.
Apples to Apples personalityplay the card that best matches what the chooser is thinking
Attribute communicationdecide which cards are the same and which are opposite
Balderdash compositiontry to fool everyone with your fake definition of an obscure word
Barbarossa communicationsculpt a clay figure which is neither too hard nor too easy to guess
Bethump'd With Words triviadictionary and history lovers
Beyond Balderdash composition try to fool everyone with your fake definition of an obscure word, date, movie, etc.
Buzzword communicationguess the intended word from the clues provided
California Wine Quiz, Napa Valley Edition triviaCalifornia wine industry
Dixit communicationtry to figure out which card goes with an announced phrase, or, try to come up with a phrase which goes with a card, but not too obviously
Dixit 2 communicationThis first, rather large, expansion kit seems a worthy and important addition. Eighty-four cards are added. Several more expansions have appeared subsequently: Dixit Odyssey, Dixit 3, Dixit:Journey and Dixit Jinx (which is something of a different game).
Facts in Five triviafind words in various categories which start with a particular letter
Global Pursuit triviageography
Go the Head of the Class triviathings you should have learned in school
Going Nutz triviacome up with a word that fits the randomly-determined category
Hart an der Grenze perform: actinglie to successfully get items over the border, or call out the liar
Linq communicationtry to find your partner using a word that reminds of the word you both know, or guess which two players are doing so
Ostrakon compositiongiven a random topic, formulate a question on which the table will be evenly divided
Outburst triviashout out the top ten answers for a category
Password communicationget your teammate to say a hidden word without using any form of it
Pictionary perform: drawingdraw a word well enough that your teammate can guess it
Portrayal (Identik) perform: actingone player describes a picture and the rest try to draw it as best they can, in 90 seconds
The Resistance perform: actingplayers try to solve several missions, but one or more are secretly traitors and put in failure cards
Revenge in Rome perform: acting murder mystery party set in the modern city
Scattergories triviafind words in various categories which start with a particular letter as fast as you can
Scene It: Disney Edition triviaDisney clips from a DVD
Scene It: Friends Deluxe Edition triviaDVD clips from the Friends series
Taboo communicationget your teammate to say a hidden word without saying the five best clues
Tales of the Arabian Nights storytellingmake up stories in this game's storytelling variant
Telestrations perform: drawingdraw a picture, write a guess of what it is, draw picture based on this, etc.
Time's Up communicationguess the names of celebrities with increasingly limited clues
Travel Buff triviaexotic destinations
Trivial Pursuit triviathe classic all-around
True Colors personalitygiven a random category vote on which players are the table are most or least like it
20 Questions triviaidentify a hidden subject via yes-or-no questions
Twister perform: bodycontortionist game of awkward body positioning while attempting to stay afoot
Werewolf perform: actinggame of hidden identities, lying and lynching
Wise and Otherwise compositionattempt to fool your friends by making up endings to obscure proverbs
Wit's End triviageneral knowledge, by categories
Wits & Wagers triviabet on your confidence with various numerical trivia
Wits & Wagers Family trivianow the whole family can play
You've Been Sentenced! compositionmake a plausible sentence given ten word cards