Play is not only a fun and social bonding activity. It is also beneficial for our brain – this is a proven evolutionary fact. According to Douglas Scharre, a neurologist and professor at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, “Puzzles and games […] can stimulate and challenge key parts of the brain, including reasoning, language, logic, visual perception, attention, and problem-solving.” Something every student needs, I'd say. Not enough to tempt you? I can give you more reasons to prefer games to Netflix and nachos!
Games give us a sense of competition and achievement. They help build confidence for those who feel shy in a crowd, promote social skills like empathy and negotiations, and train one to lose (or win!) gracefully. Games foster critical and strategic thinking, supercharge your patience, exercise your creativity and memory, and teach you stuff – like trivia, for example. I can go on all day if you care to listen. Many of you can join in and list your own personal reasons in favor of games!
Yet here is the twist. Although “game night” is synonymous with Xbox and PlayStation for most students, I'll take board games any day. Why? First of all, because of digital detox. Screens follow me around. It starts in the first seconds of the morning when I “snooze” the alarm on my phone and then pick it up to scroll through social media feeds. Throughout the day, I write my paper, follow the news, or watch TEDTalk clips on my laptop. Finally, in the evening, I cozy up on a couch to snigger at hollering huskies on TikTok. Whatever I do – work, relax, chat – I am glued to the screen, and it takes its toll on my eyes and posture. Hello, blurry vision and tech neck!
I am pretty sure you, as a student, can relate to this only too well. That's why board games are so refreshing. This is pure, unadulterated fun with friends. Besides, unlike a gaming console that can only accommodate up to 4 people simultaneously, a board game can entertain an entire roomful of people – with some card games including up to 35 players! Perfect for a college party, what?
Another practical feature of a board game is that each round takes a limited amount of time to complete, unlike video games that are often endless. According to Arcadia Kim, a game designer-turned-advisor, that's because the goal is to make video games hard to put down. As Arcadia confesses, “The more I was able to hook people, bring them into the world […] – the more successful I was at my job.” Don't get me wrong, I devoted a significant chunk of my misspent youth to World of Warcraft and regretted nothing! However, videogame addiction recently became a globally recognized illness, even if it only affects a tiny fraction of all gamers – about 2-3%. Whereas, when I call a board game “addictive,” what I actually mean is “engaging” and “of great replay value.”
That's why today, I have decided to share my bucket list of board games with you. Some are tried and true classics, while others are more of a novelty. Yet whichever you choose – for yourself or as a present for your roommate (conspiratorial wink!) – you are guaranteed hours of healthy old-school fun! Let's roll.
Skull & Roses
Skull is an exciting game of bluff, perfect for college parties. You make bids, raise stakes, bluff, and laugh at striking your opponents. The rules are deceptively simple – a poker for kids, one might say. However, you will be amazed at how the scheming and deviousness of individual players can complicate it to the point of an art form. Skull is very flexible, with endless variations, since most of the gameplay happens inside players' heads. It is dynamic – the average session duration is between 15 and 45 minutes. Three to six players can play simultaneously; you can also combine several decks to allow more players. Plus, speaking from my experience, even if not everyone is playing, the rest of your party can have a blast just watching the Skull shenanigans.
Care for something more sophisticated? This game of social deduction will make you step up your skills of deception. With a number of players of 5 to 10 and the average round taking about 20-30 minutes, Secret Hitler is great for bigger parties. It is a fast-paced, engaging, and exciting game where the team of liberals has to stop a hidden minority of fascists from getting elected and advancing their agenda. Side-effects of Secret Hitler may include sore throat (from shouting and laughing) and mild paranoia, but it shouldn't stop you from having hours of fun. You can buy a set with beautiful wooden components as a present or try this game for free right now. A downloadable version is available here under the Creative Commons license.
Settlers of Catan
No list is complete without this quintessential strategy! In Catan, you will build your empire by shrewdly managing your resources, trading with fellow players, negotiating territories, and – of course! – fighting your rivals. With up to 6 players, a heavy focus on interaction, and an average duration of 60 to 90 minutes, it's an excellent game for parties or evenings with friends. Variable board and extension packs make for unlimited ways to play, so you can return to this game over and over. All this gained Catan a faithful following, with international championships, conventions, merch, and everything. Join in for a lifelong obsession!
Find civilization building a bit boring? Need something more dynamic? No worries! Chronology: The Game of All Time is an ideal option. With an average duration of 20 minutes and up to 8 players, this light and entertaining card game is a perfect ice-breaker. It challenges you to build your own timeline of 10 random events accurately ahead of your competition. Although knowledge of history might help with significant events like Gettysburg Address, other cards can puzzle even History majors with obscure and surprising things like the invention of matches or mayonnaise. The set contains 429 double-sided cards with 858 events, so the game has a fairly high replay value for its type. Plus, if you want to make it a bit more dynamic, you can reduce the target number of cards on your chronology – all the way down to 5.
Cards Against Humanity
Dubbed “a party game for horrible people,” this one will make you roar with laughter and blush at just how dirty one's mind can get. Especially if prompted by a frivolous card! Your task is to pair a start of a joke with a perfect punch line using only the options you have on your hands. The author of the most hilarious pairing takes a point. Think Apples to Apples, only adult and outrageous. The essential deck contains 100 black cards (the opening lines) and 500 white cards (the punch lines) and can accommodate 4 to 20+ people at a time. With extension packs, alternate rules, and the willingness of some embarrassed players to forget what happened, Cards Against Humanity has virtually eternal replayability. A tip: make sure everyone at the table is over 18 and not a prude.
Stellar Factory Werewolf
Dubbed as a “game for devious people,” this clever and inventive spin on a classic Mafia is perfect for big crowds since it can entertain 7 to 35(!) people in one session. Finally, something everyone can play! Well, except for the moderator. However, judging from my experience, every company always has someone who feels more confident supervising rather than acting.
In this card game of lies, deceit, and accusations, each player gets a role to embody for the duration of a round. A single Werewolf will “kill” players one by one unless they find a way to identify and stop the beast. This is not the game for a small gathering, but it's ideal for a college Halloween party.
Another game for a big crowd, but this time you work in two rival teams. With 15-minutes rounds, it's a great pick for a party. You will be spies tasked to contact all of your agents before the other team. It's a game of words and semantics, which Linguistics majors will love to bits. Two spymasters give their teammates clues that could point to multiple cards on the table – each representing an agent. The team's task is to identify enemy agents without uncovering their own, or worse – end the game prematurely for everyone by bumping into the Assassin's card. By the way, this title has a variation for two players – Codenames: Duet. So if you and your roommate are averse to the big parties, you can enjoy this fun game together after classes.
Okay, competitiveness and paranoia can be fun in moderation, but how about something that brings people together? Fortunately, there are many games where players work towards their joint victory against the system. One of them is Forbidden Island from Gamewright. It is a cooperative survival strategy that hones problem-solving, strategic thinking, and teamwork – the essential skills every college student needs! This is a game for smaller groups – 2 to 4 players. It's perfect for playing with your roommate or a couple of friends who drop by for tea. Playing time is only 30 minutes, so you will have enough time to watch some Indiana Jones movies after you capture sacred treasures from the ruins.
Another beautiful game of cooperation, only this time you will want to re-watch Kubrick's chilling cult classic afterward. This horror survival strategy is for smaller groups – 3 to 5 players – and takes about 45 to 60 minutes to complete. So, maybe not for a party, but for an immersive and atmospheric game night for sure! You are all hired as a team of caretakers of the Overlook Hotel. Your task is to survive the winter months in the isolation of the Rock Mountains. Despite all the horrific visions and hauntings, you must collect tokens of willpower to continue and keep your sanity – or you risk turning on other players and failing the mission. Complex gameplay offers endless variability. Plus, there is a variation with a twist – one of the players can be secretly a Corrupted, working against others from the beginning.
This “game of chess for the impatient” is honored for excellence by Mensa Select. It is designed for two players, and each round only lasts about 10-15 minutes. Like standard chess, each game's challenge depends on how skilled your opponent is. It has simple rules but gains depth as you exercise your strategic thinking – hence, endless replay value.
The set contains 22 hexagonal tiles in a decorative bag. It is beautiful, portable, and makes a perfect gift for a friend, roommate, or anyone into board games. That is unless your recipient has a fear of bugs and spiders – because they are your army. Each tile has a unique way of movement, resembling the moves of the insect it represents. Grasshopper jumps, beetles climb over other pieces, ants guard the perimeter, etc. Your task is to surround and capture your opponent's Queen Bee while protecting your own hive.
I hope you have found something new here that fits your personal taste – suspenseful or outrageous, fast-paced or immersive, for big companies or two opponents. Board games are the entire universe of genres and styles, and I heartily welcome you to explore them further!