Another category of games I like is the games that I call social/imagination games. These are typically very light on rules so they’re extremely easy to learn, and can be appropriate for any age, and a game with children seems completely different from a game with adults, even though it’s the exact same structure.
Apples to Apples
Apples to Apples is the smash-hit that may have started this entire genre. It’s rules are elegantly simple: one player plays a descriptive card such as “frightening” or “warm” or “old,” and then all the other players try to come up with the best match from the cards in their hands and the first player judges who made the best match.
It seems so simple, and yet the unlikely pairings can get so hilarious that this year one of our players (Let’s just call her “Kimberly”) ended up laughing water up through her nose. It’s that much fun.
Similar to Apples to Apples, Dixit is about making a match between a story idea and the images on the beautifully illustrated cards. The twist here is that the “judge” wants to get some, but not all, of the votes of the other players, while the other players want to fool everyone else into thinking that theirs was the card the judge laid down.
The images on the cards are fascinating and geared perfectly to spark imagination. This game might be even better with younger kids than Apples to Apples because it doesn’t even require any reading or external references. Everything you need to know about a card is right on the card and in your imagination.
Mad Science University
Naturally, Mad Scientist University is one of my all-time favorites, but it isn’t just because of the theme. In this game, the players are given a task such as “tell time” or “cure the common cold” or “clean your room,” and each must then describe a machine or a scheme that involves one “unstable element” which could be anything from paper to plutonium.
When you need to solve world hunger with lawn gnomes or drill to the center of the earth using squirrels, you might laugh water out your nose on this one, too. Not recommended for the excessively literal-minded or the unimaginative.
This is another one that is brilliant in its simplicity. Rory’s Story Cubes doesn’t keep score but it is always good for a laugh. The idea is simple: roll one of the dice, which have special symbols like sheep, pyramid, or key-holes. Then start a story that has that element, and then the next person rolls a die and adds the next element to the story. The game can be a quick as 5 minutes, so you can play a few hands in the time you’re waiting for pasta to boil, and it’s compact enough that it can be taken anywhere and played at a moment’s notice.
Well, those are my picks of the New Year. Here’s wishing everyone happy gaming in 2013!