With board games becoming more and more popular as an option for an evening with your friends, it’s becoming quite the art when deciding which games to play. Of course, everyone’s tastes will vary, but here’s a great way to have a game night with friends that are new to the modern board gaming scene. Being new to the scene means they probably have only played games when they were younger, like Sorry, Clue, and Monopoly, and maybe they’ve played a few of the party games from 20 years ago like Trivial Pursuit or Balderdash.

How Many Players?

So the first thing you have to decide is how many people you want to invite to your games night. If you only have a total of 4 people, then you have a lot more games to choose from. If you have 5 or 6 total people, then you still have plenty of options, but if you want to have more than 6, then you’re going to be restricted to mostly party games.

The art of curating a game night is comprised of two aspects: the Complication Scale and the flow of the night.

Complication Scale

If your game night friends are new-ish to the game world, then you don’t want to overwhelm them with games that are too complicated for what they’re expecting. You invited them over for a game night, so they might be thinking they’re coming over to play some fun and light party games, so maybe it doesn’t make sense to start off with something like Through the Ages. Instead, try to find games that have few decisions in the game, that are fast to play, and easy to teach and start playing.

Great games to start the evening

Sushi Go falls into this category as you only have one decision every time you have cards in your hands – which one to keep for yourself.

Love Letter is a game that is comprised of only 16 cards and is a great game to start your next games night. With only 16 cards, they managed to make a very interesting game that will surprise your guests with its depth.

Coup has a few more cards, but it’s a great bluffing game as you try to outsmart your friends and be the last one standing. The game is over fast enough that no one is left out of the fun for too long.

Flow of the Night

Deciding what to play next is going to depend on the flow of the night. Did your guest like that first game? Were they pleasantly surprised at the experience, or were they struggling to catch on? This is where you have to be the Game Somolier – pairing the perfect game with the flow of the night and the feeling of the current mood. When I hold a game night, I bring three times as many games as I need, but it means I’m ready to shift to a game that better suits the mood and helps with the flow of the night.

If your guests were struggling even a little bit, then it’s probably best to skip to the party games (see below), but if they seemed interested and enjoyed the experience, then let’s see if they would like a game that is a little bit more involved.

Bring it up a notch

Codenames is a great second game to a night if your guests are enjoying the mental gymnastics from the first game. Codenames seems almost boring at first glance, but it has exploded onto the scene as one of the hottest new games out there. You play in teams and deal out 25 random word cards face up. One player from each team can look at the reference card, which corresponds to the 25 word cards and indicates which cards belong to each team. One at a time, the player’s take turns trying to get their teammates to guess all the words that belong to them. They do this by saying a one word clue and then a number. This number represents how many words they believe matches that clue. This game requires you to think super creatively as you race to find all your words before the other team – but watch out, because if anyone ever guesses the word that lines up to the assassin, then that team loses immediately. The game has spawned a Disney and a Marvel version as well as one that uses pictures instead of words, and one that’s specifically for 2 players called Codenames Duet.

If you don’t think your guests are going to be interested in wordplay, then try Mysterium. This is a cooperative game, and one that will often surprise many newbies in the board game world, as they have only ever played competitive games. In Mysterium one player plays the ghost that was killed and must use only these super weird and interesting cards to communicate to the other players who killed them, and with what and where. It’s a clever game that will have players scratching their heads as they try to decipher what the ghost is trying to say to them.

Take a breather

If everyone seemed to enjoy the thinkier game, but are expressing a bit of exhaustion from the workout their brain got, then maybe you should try a filler game next. A filler game is a quick game that requires very little thought and is usually over in 10-15 minutes. A perfect candidate for a filler is Happy Salmon. In this game, each player has the exact same set of cards. Everyone shuffles their cards and with them face down, the game beings. Players simultaneously flip over their top card and try to find another player who has the exact same card. They do this by making the hand gesture of what’s on their card, which is one of: High 5, Pound It, Switcheroo – where you physically swap places with another player, and the titular Happy Salmon – where you slap each other’s wrists like a fish. Once you find a player with the same card and complete the action, each player can discard that card. It’s goofy and ridiculous, but everyone that has played it always ends up laughing. It literally takes 2 minutes to play.

Thinking about the flow, and also the amount of alcohol that has been consumed so far, you might have to start reducing the thinking in your games, and switch gears and play some party games. Here you can play more traditional party games like Cranium – which is like 4 games in one, Apples to Apples – which is the friendlier version of Cards Against Humanity, or Telestrations – which is more of an activity than a game, but is guaranteed to get everyone laughing.

So remember to not confuse new players with games that have too many rules at the start, then follow the flow of the night and see where it takes you. Which games have you found to work well at introducing new players to the wonderful world of board games?


Jay Cormier
Jay enjoys his double life: working at Best Buy Canada as a Video Production Specialist, and his side career as a board game designer. He has a dozen or so games on store shelves right now and many more signed to come out soon. He also teaches game theory to students taking the video game design program at Vancouver Film School.


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