I’m not a fan of party games. Well, not really. OK. Some are fine. Maybe just when I’m in the mood. I don’t know anything anymore. A number of weeks ago I went along to my regular DnD night and discovered that the agenda had been changed to a board game night.
As six of us had turned up it was suggested we play Time’s Up. In this charade style party game, players write names of books, movies, events, or famous people onto 6 blank cards. They then shuffle the cards and sit opposite a partner in a circle. Whoever is having their turn takes the cards and has 30 seconds to try and get their partner to guess what is on the card without saying any of the words written on the card. Correct guesses are tallied and the cards are shuffled and passed around the circle. Once everyone has had a turn with the cards and at guessing, then the next round begins. There are three rounds with different rules for each round. Round 1 you may use a sentence, round two a single word, and round 3 no words.
This sounded like torture. I came to roll dice and fight dragons, not play a glorified version of charades. Still, I was there and willing to try. Let me say this. The game went way longer than I would have liked and I was pleased to end the night as soon as we were done. I was also slightly annoyed that I didn’t get to play DnD. This was to be expected. As soon as I heard someone mention party game I knew I would be disappointed with how the night would go. All this is normal, except the part where I also enjoyed the game and wanted to play again. Go figure. I could not explain it myself. I had fun and wanted more, but I don’t do party games. I do real games, at least, I started the night thinking that.
I left feeling conflicted. I was annoyed at having to play this a party game and at the same time I was pleased I had played it. As I reflected I had to admit to myself that there are many party games I like playing such as Codenames, Spyfall, The Last Banquet, and Werewolf. How did I construct this idea that I did not like party games when they have been a big part of my gaming experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed? Perhaps my desire was to be seen as a “real gamer” and not just a casual gamer? Perhaps I thought it a wasted opportunity to spend time playing Balderdash when I could be playing Small World. Either way, my reflection led me to one irrefutable point, I’ve been a game snob and missing a great experience in party games.
Party games are not offering the same experience as typical strategy-based board games. Yet that does not mean they are not offering a deep experience. Anyone who has sat in the “Master Spy” seat during a game of Codenames knows just how much skill and thinking are required to communicate a veiled message to your team. Party games offer a depth that other games ignore or actively avoid. While strategy games offer a complex interaction with game systems, party games offer a far more complex social experience.
Strategy games have varying degrees of interaction, from games like 7 Wonders that reflect parallel play to Twilight Struggle where every decision you make directly impacts your opponent. Yet the social interaction in these examples is at no time the focus. This cannot be said of party games that clearly create an interactive system that makes a person's game success dependant on other people at the table. In Time’s Up, partner communication is absolutely key. During my game, at no point did I want to get up and do actions, but it was clear that if I didn’t the final round would not be fun for my partner. So up I got and acted like a fool to the raucous applause and laughter of my friends. I may have started a reluctant participant but I did not end my turn that way.
If you needed further evidence of what I am trying to suggest I offer you my lesson in Global today. Global is a combination of history and geography. This term we have been learning about Medieval Europe. I decided that considering we had finished the test a nice way to end would be to break into 5 groups of 6 players and have a game of Time’s Up using characters, events, and objects that we had learned about in class. The students put their pile of cards together and I walked them through each round. It was absolute hell on Earth. They were noisy and painful to deal with, but wow did they have fun doing revision. Yes, doing revision. They were covering definitions of events, people, places, and objects they had learned about and trying to find numerous ways to explain them. Try to use one word to describe a murder hole from a medieval castle. It's not that easy. Some were practically in tears because they were laughing so hard at their partner acting out the black plague or the like. But that wasn’t the best part for me. For me, I was most excited when I looked over and noticed a student of mine who has social anxiety and does not like to speak in front of the smallest group. He was standing up at his table, laughing, and engaged fully in this silly yet meaningful party game. Was it hard to do? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.