Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Geek Games Your Family Will Play This Christmas

For many, a big part of the Christmas season is spending time with extended family. Family gatherings with food and games are fairly common, but these aren't exactly the best opportunities to get your geek on. Most non-geek adults don't enjoy playing games with complex rules, preferring light "party games" instead. And there are also kids to think about, as large family gatherings tend to be littered with them and you may be called upon to help keep them busy.

Is there any hope for geeking out in times like these? I can think of at least two games to help get you started.

The first is "Ultimate Werewolf", a conversation-based party game that plays anywhere from 5-68 people. (Yep, 68!) One person serves as the moderator and a kind of storyteller. (This should be you the first game or two with family.) The moderator gives each other player a card which they keep secret from all other players. Each card contains a "role" on it. (Though you can assure your more mundane relations that this is not a "role-playing game".) The game includes a wide variety of roles, but the most common are Villagers, Werewolves and Seers.

The game plays in day and night cycles. At night the moderator tells all players to close their eyes. He then tells all werewolves to open their eyes and select a victim through silent communication with each other. All werewolves then close their eyes and the moderator tells the Seer to open their eyes and point to a player. The moderator then silently indicates whether or not the player pointed to is a werewolf, and the Seer closes their eyes again.

During the day cycle, the moderator tells all players to open their eyes and informs them which players has been killed by a werewolf. The killed player is removed from the game and must remain silent but may now keep their eyes open at all times. (I hate player elimination, but this game is just as much fun to watch as it is to play!)

All players now nominate and vote on one or more players to execute (removing them from the game) in hopes of killing all werewolves. (At least those who are really just Villagers hope for this!) This is the meat of the game as players passionately accuse each other or defend themselves until the final vote is called for.

When a player is killed (by werewolf or execution) they reveal their role card at last and "I knew its" and "I told you sos" are exchanged as the game moves forward.

The werewolves win if they are ever equal in number to the remaining Villagers. The Villagers win when the last werewolf is executed.

Now, if your extended family is like mine, getting them to play a new game called "Werewolf" might be a hard sell. Especially if they have a sensitvity to supernatural fiction. The good news is that Ultimate Werewolf can easily be re-themed and re-titled. (In October I ran a version of the game with my adult Sunday school class that I based on John Carpenter's The Thing. They loved it!) You may also be familiar with the game "Mafia" on which Ultimate Werewolf is based, and which simply uses a normal deck of playing cards to assign roles to players.

"Ultimate Werewolf" comes with a wide variety of roles that endlessly spice up the game and alter winning conditions. (For example, the "Tanner" hates his job and life so much that if he is executed, he wins the game! And the "Ghost" is a villager who sits out the whole game with their eyes open, but gives a one letter clue to the villagers each day cycle.) The cards also come with point values to easily self-balance the game no matter what combo of roles you use, and great thematic art to get everyone in the mood.

But you can just as easily play the basic game using the rules for Mafia found on its Wikipedia page.
Just create a variant theme that will work for your group (such as silly B-movie "pod people" or "secret agents") and you're good to go!

If you're stuck playing with the kiddies and would rather claw your eyes out than play Uno one more time, give "Dungeon" a try. This game is only $20 brand new. While the components aren't made of the best materials, the art is great and surprisingly not "kiddie-looking" or cartoony, despite the game's 8+ age recommendation.

My son just turned five, and with just a little help with math now and then he is able to play the game just fine (four games and I still haven't beaten him!) and begs to play it every week.

In Dungeon, each player takes on the role of a Fighter, Rogue, Cleric or Wizard, moving their piece through dungeon rooms, defeating monsters and gaining treasure. The first to get to the exit with their allotted requirement of treasure wins. (A Co-op variant is also included.) The roles each have different strengths and weaknesses against the numerous monster types in the game. Although there is some strategy involved, there is plenty of luck too.

This game can also serve as a simple introduction to the serious fantasy genre for those afraid of complex rules or "concerned" about games like "Dungeons and Dragons". Inviting parents to try playing this game with their interested kids may open some wonderful doors for worthwhile conversation about the fantasy genre in general.

While the game is very simple, it's inexpensive, comes in a portable thin box, and passes a babysitting geek's time far more enjoyably than most of those boring kids games you can find at Walmart.

So have no fear! This year you can make plans with family and bring your inner geek along too!

Merry Christmas!

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