If you like to laugh a lot, games are your gateway drug. Last night we played a modified version of Pictionary, using prompts from a 1980s 3-D charades game called Clay to Win. We were at it for almost 2.5 hours guessing popular sayings like "Let me bend your ear" and "Rats abandoning a sinking ship," and there was a lot of laughing so hard we had to cry.
But that's really all you need – a simple concept with a few good people around the table with you. Whatever your vice is with gaming, be it cards or long-form strategy, today is the day for games.
The context for a lot of board games, it seems, is a competition among players to reach a goal or obtain something before the other players. The thing I like about Pandemic is that it's not set up like that at all – all players work as a team to try and stop a multilevel outbreak, coordinating across the globe, and when you win everyone wins and when you lose everyone loses. At the very least it's fun to talk openly about strategy instead of keeping your cards close to your chest.
2. Oh, Hell!
All you need to know is that Oh, Hell! is a trick-taking game in which players predict the number of tricks they will take in a given round and are rewarded if they were right. The catch is that the game is set up so that someone will lose every round, and there is one less card each round (i.e., if four players are playing, round one has 12 cards, round two has 11 cards, and so on), which makes it hard to accurately project the number of tricks you'll take. It's a staple game in the crowd I run with, and is always a good time.
3. Two-Card Guts
Betting games can be divisive, mostly because the consequences can be so great. It's never fun to lose, or to feel dumb, and both of those things can happen when you're betting on something. Guts is a betting game that hits the sweet spot, where things can get crazy really fast and whatever happens, you won't feel dumb.
Put simply, it's poker where all players must show their cards at the same time; everyone who doesn't fold (except the winner) has to replace the pot in full, so the pot gets huge quickly. You can play for a long time with a $1 buy-in and penny bets; you can't find poker chips made in America, so I recommend grabbing some bakelite ones on eBay.
Carcassonne is a German board game set in a medieval landscape in which players try to get the most points by creating long roads, building big castles and cities, and claiming large fields. Each turn, a player places a terrain tile in a way that connects or extends the landscape elements. Players earn points by placing followers on different elements. I highly recommend the game as well as the expansion packs, but it's highly addictive, so proceed at your own risk.
5. Cards Against Humanity
Get ready to laugh and laugh and laugh with this one. If you haven't heard about it yet, Cards Against Humanity is Apples to Apples for grown-ups, a party game where you choose an "answer" card that best completes a missing word or phrase. Be warned, it's not the kind of game you play with your mother.
The best part is, Cards Against Humanity is available for free under the Creative Commons license. Print your own set, or buy the pre-made game online.