Games That Can Be Fun Or Fail (Depending On Your Gaming Group)
Have you ever had that game night that just fell flat? The games selected were well loved and you were with people you enjoyed so the formula should have been perfect, but it just didn’t work out that way.
Here are three games that didn’t go over so well for me and why I think they didn’t work out the way I thought they would. All these games are fantastic in their own ways, they just might not be perfect for every person or situation.
- Coup by Indie Boards and Cards
Reason for Warning: Game doesn’t work with groups that refuse to lie
Coup is one of a series of dystopian themed social deduction games produced by Indie Board and Cards. It can be played with 2-6 players and is very rules light. These two factors led me to believe this would be a great game to take home for the holidays. After all, it accommodates quite a few people and who doesn’t like a social deduction game? The workings of this game are so easy just about any newbie could grasp it. The idea is that you are a powerful CEO and you have influence over two politicians, which are symbolized by two face down cards that are set in front of you. You are allowed to know which two you have power over, but no one else at the table is. Each player is given a card with a series of actions that you can perform on your turn. There are some actions you can take for free and some that you can only take if you have influence over the character associated with that action. If an action is taken that requires a certain character everyone has the opportunity to call a bluff. If a player gets caught in a lie the player has to reveal one of their politicians and it remains face up for the rest of the game. If they were telling the truth they reveal the card proving they had the card and then exchange it with a card from the deck, both of their cards remain face down. The person who made the accusation now has to reveal one of their cards. Once both cards are revealed that player is out of the game. The last person to still have influence over at least one politician wins.
When I brought this to the family Christmas last year and set up the game the rules were not the part of the game that we ran into the problem with. It turns out my family is horrible at lying. This fact should make me happy, but it made for a very awkward game. My great Aunt would get outright offended if I accused her of lying and after the first time of being accused she would only chose the free actions so no one could question her. By the end of the game everyone had switched to using only the free actions and building up enough credits that they could buy a coup (the free action used to kill the politicians in front of you). It was the longest game of Coup ever. To this day my family tells me, “please bring games, but not that ‘weird’ one again.”
I really like Coup and have had great fun with it when playing with friends, but I didn’t read my audience well. On this same trip I also took Red Dragon Inn (a game about drinking in a tavern) and that was a hit with them. So, I guess that tells you a little bit about my family’s interests.
- Sheriff of Nottingham by Arcane Wonders
Reason for Warning: Sibling Rivalry
Sheriff of Nottingham is one of my favorite games to bring to a party. This game is for 3-5 players and is a very social game. Each person takes a turn acting as the Sheriff and then the other players act as merchants trying to get their goods into Nottingham. There are some goods that are approved to bring into the city and others that are contraband. At the end of each turn the Sheriff marker rotates one person to the left and the next round commences. Players draw cards and decide which ones are worth trying to sneak by the Sheriff. These cards are placed in a small bag, then players draw back up to their hand size. The Sheriff goes to each player individually and that player must state what is in the bag. The Sheriff then has the option to believe them or open the bag, but wait if the Sheriff appears to not be believing your bluff you have the option to try to bribe him into not checking your bag. If the Sheriff checks the bag and they were being honest the Sheriff now has to pay for all the contents of the bag, if they check and the player was lying the player now have to pay for all the contraband in their bag.
Due to the social nature of this game the level of competition can escalate quickly. My family actually did well with this game, but I introduced it to a family friend at a Fourth of July party and when she took it home to her family things did not go as well. She has two very competitive brothers, who in their daily lives are trying to one-up each other. When she sat everyone down to play the game it was immediately intense. The two brothers refused to take bribes from each other and always checked each others bags. At one point one brother yelled, “Is this how you are going to play the entire game?!” The game ended in a literal table flip.
I want to reiterate that this game is great! It is great for any age of gamer, the rules are not very complex, and you can play through a game in about 45 minutes. 95% of the people I play this with love it! I ask more questions about family dynamics before recommending this game now though.
- Ex Libris by Renegade Games
Reason for Warning: Type A Personality Issues and Lots of Rules to Explain
This is one of my favorite worker placements. The theme is that you are a gnome in a village trying to curate the best library and become the main library for the town. To set up the game draw two genre cards one becomes the main type of book you want to collect (or the town favorite) and the other is a “banned book” or a discouraged type of book. You will also draw a genre card for yourself that is your secret collection. There are boards that are flipped over each round that allow you to take several different actions such as drawing cards, shelving books, or rearranging your shelved books. The ability to rearrange the books is important because when the books are being shelved they need to be in alphabetical and numerical order and they cannot be moved once placed without the special action offered by the boards. The goal of the game is to collect a wide variety of books with the exception of the banned book and have all the books shelved in alphabetical and numerical order. The player with the best collection wins.
I adore this game because I am a librarian. There are a few little flaws here and there in this game, but nothing significant. There are a few typos on the boards and I am not a fan of the white text on pastel colored boards, but the game play is very fun. However, this is not a great game for those with OCD because you probably won’t be able to shelve every letter in the alphabet, which leaves gaps in your shelves. To some people like my husband who like the organization to be very stringent this posed a problem. He was not a fan of the skipping entire sections of the alphabet. The second issue we ran into was when it came to scoring. You are given a player board that allows you to tally up the total points. To be fair part of the reason the tallying did not go well was because I did not explain the win conditions very well. I may have mentioned that it was a good idea to have a wide variety of genres in your collection, but I did not tell him how important it was to have several books from each genre on his shelf. I also did not do well at explaining that your shelf had to at least be a 3X2 rectangle and all grouped together to be scored…. I guess I also need to work on my rules explanation skills. In the end my hubby ended up with almost no points and I had lots of points. Between the gaps in the shelving and the royal stomping he received he has vowed to never play this game with me again. I feel like that is unfair because now he knows the rules so he might win the second time! Maybe…
At one point I tried to introduce my family to Gloomhaven, but I didn’t even get the box to the table and they all disappeared. The lessons I learned from these adventures is to think about your audience before selecting your game night game, also make sure you know all the rules and explain the win conditions before starting play. Avoid my mistakes and you should have many successful game nights.