Today I’ve got some casual board game suggestions that aren’t just Catan and Ticket to Ride. I’m going to be suggesting lighter games for 4 to 6 players. This is based on a question from long time fan Emmett O’Brian.
What are some good games for a casual group (4-6 players)? Everyone knows Catan, Ticket to Ride etc. For a beer and pretzel kind of night. I’m extra interested in cooperative games or building games cause that’s what my wife likes.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. There is no cost to you, and we get a small commission if you buy something through one of these links. Using links like these helps to keep this blog and podcast going.
The Short Answer:
For a casual game night, you want games that are easy to teach and still leave time for socializing while you play.
The main thing I’ve noticed with casual players over the years is that most of them are there to hang out with friends and socialize. While this may involve playing some games, the focus is on the people at the event and interacting with them and not so much the games being played.
Due to this, for most casual game nights you want to find games you can teach quickly and easily and you want games where people can still chat and socialize while playing. Potentially even better would be finding games that are driven by social interactions, or at least games with a high amount of player interaction.
The Long Answer:
There are a lot of different options when choosing games for a casual game night.
While I love a nice heavy euro myself, sometimes I’m in the mood for something lighter. More often the people I’m with aren’t really interested in spending more than ten minutes learning a game and they’re definitely not interested in playing the same game for three plus hours. Often when games are suggested at a casual get together, it’s not really about the games, it’s about doing something together as a group. Because of this, the types of games you should be looking at are shorter, easy to teach games that have a lot of player interaction.
Whenever you are picking games to play, it’s important to know your audience and pick games that will fit that group. If you don’t know your audience well you are going to want to focus on games that have universal appeal. Either way I suggest having both group specific and generic games on hand, as you never know exactly what will go over well and what will go over poorly.
Speaking of games not going over well. Remember that you don’t have to finish a game you have started. More so than usual, a casual game night is all about having fun playing games. It’s not about who’s winning or losing, it’s about the joy of playing with others. If you find that a game you are facilitating isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to stop it and start up something else. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if people are having a bad time or just focused on a game, but it never hurts to ask: is everyone having fun?
As usual for one of these game recommendation posts, I’m going to break things down into categories, hopefully making it easier to find games that best fit your casual gaming group. Emmet is specifically looking for games for four to six players, so I will list the max player count next to the name of each game.
Great games for pretty much any casual game night:
These are games I’ve found have almost universal appeal. They are quick to teach and highly engaging. Most of these games people will want to play multiple times in a row.
Sagrada (4 or 5 with the expansion) – A brilliant dice drafting and placement game all about building stained glass windows. Simple to teach but deceptively deep once you get playing. This one usually takes two games for people to really get it, so make sure you explain that the first game is a learning game. Don’t be afraid to start over three or five turns in, once everyone gets it.
King of Tokyo (6) – Pretty much everyone played Yahtzee growing up, so this one is often an easy sell. It’s Giant Monster King of the Hill using the basic Yahtzee mechanics. For a real casual group stick to the base game, but if you have people with even a little bit of gaming experience I recommend adding the Power Up expansion so that it matters what monster everyone is playing. Even better have everyone start with one power card. This one is light enough even kids dig it and is great for a night with a mix of adults and kids.
PitchCar (8) – This is a game I break out when I have no idea who to expect at a game night. This one is great for getting total non gamers to play as it can be considered more of an activity or even a sport than a “board game.” I have met very few people who don’t enjoy flicking their wooden disc race car around these black tracks. The base set is good enough for a fun night, but toss in some expansions for some really unique track layouts.
Azul (4) – Have I mentioned this game before? There’s a reason this game ends up on so many of my game recommendation lists. It’s perfect for so many different kinds of game groups. This is the game my personal friends have had the most luck getting their families to play. Not only is the game great, it’s visually enticing and catches the interest of even the most jaded non-gamer.
Go Cuckoo (5) – This is my newest go-to break the ice game. This kids dexterity game from Haba has proved to be popular with gamers, non-gamers, parents, kids and pretty much everyone I have showed it to. I picked this up at Origins and have been playing it like crazy since. I’ve now got it in my van, just in case we end up somewhere that I can break it out and share with more people. Technically the tin says you can play up to five, but you could easily play with more if you just give everyone less eggs.
Party games were made for casual game nights.
As most of you probably know, I’m not a big party game player. I like my games with some more meat on them, but now and then I can be convinced to play the right party game. Here are some of the few party games I have actually had some fun with:
Telestrations (6, 8 or 12 depending on which version you buy) – This is a modern version of the Telephone Game or Eat Poop You Cat (yes that’s the name of a game). Players get a word and have to draw it. Then they pass their book to the next player who has to guess what they drew. They write that down and pass the book again, now the next player has to draw based on what the last player wrote. Very seldom does a book make it around the table and end up with the end result matching the first clue. My only tip for this game is to ditch the scoring and just decided to play a set number of rounds or until someone gets bored.
Concept (12) – Here’s another game where you toss out the scoring rules right away and treat it as an activity. One player gets a clue and uses a board of icons to try to get the other players to guess what their concept is. This one is easier to explain if you can see it, but trust me it’s solid. This is my absolute favourite team based party game. I advocate for Concept as often as I can. One last thing, you can really play this with any number of players, as long as they can see the board. Also, due to that, you can even get a large sized neoprene mat for this game just so that more people can see it at once.
Codenames (8) – Here’s another one that has a listed player count of 8 but I’ve played with many more. Again, it’s all about being able to see the cards. I will fully admit I didn’t like this game the first time I played it. Last year during our Gaming in the New Year party, we broke it out and had a great time. I’m now a Codenames convert. What’s cool about this game series is that if you have a group that’s into some licence or theme you may be able to find a Codenames version that’s perfect for that group. Things like Marvel Codenames or Disney Codenames.
But Wait There’s More (10) – There are a variety of different pitching games out there. Games where you need to make up a product pitch on the spot. Of all of them I’ve found that But Wait There’s More is the best of the bunch. This game requires a lot of creative energy though so make sure you don’t let the game go on too long and make sure the people playing have bought in before you start.
Cooperative games are great for getting casual gamers to play together.
Sometimes people are scared of learning something new. They are worried they will make mistakes or seem stupid. A great way to combat this is to suggest that everyone play a game together. Cooperative games mean that the players who know the game can help the players who don’t. Just be sure to nip any quarterbacking in the bud.
Pandemic (4) – Okay I’m personally not a huge fan of Pandemic but I have to admit I’ve seen it go over very well with new and casual gamers. The theme is very approachable and the mechanics tie into the rules really well. This is one of the few games I see people high fiving at the end when they win or all insisting on playing another time after they lose. While not my favourite game, I can’t deny the public appeal of Pandemic.
Shadows Over Camelot (7) – Technically this is a hidden traitor game but during a casual game night I usually suggest skipping the traitor rules and just playing this one as a pure cooperative game. If the players are able to win, then consider introducing the traitor mechanic. This game is great for getting role players to play a board game. Another great feature of the game is that players can drop in and out of a game in progress.
Flash Point: Fire Rescue (6) – This is the cooperative game I generally reach for over Pandemic. There’s something more engaging about putting out a fire and saving grandma from a burning building than removing cubes from a map of the world to me. Due to this level of engagement, always get peoples consent before breaking this game out. The theme can be a touchy subject for some people. Assuming you can get buy in, this is one of the best cooperative games out there. Stick to the family rules for your casual game night, toss in the full rules when with your regular game group.
Don’t be afraid of some lighter hobby board games on your casual game night:
Just because you have a group of casual gamers waiting for you doesn’t mean you have to leave all those heavier hobby games at home. Especially if the group has at least some gaming experience, there are some great next step games that can go over really well on a more relaxed game night. Here are some of my current favourites:
Cable Car (6) – I know a lot of people love and suggest Tsuro for a casual game night. Personally I find it a bit too random and too light and over too quickly for my tastes. My go to route building game for a casual game night is San Francisco Cable Car or just Cable Car. For a casual game night, keep the stock market rules in the box and stick to the basic game. The fact you are trying to complete multiple routes and can place your tiles anywhere makes this totally kill Tsuro for me.
Cinque Terre (5) – This is a hidden gem game from Rio Grande Games. We just played it last week and I can still say this is a fantastic gameway or next step game. It’s all about collecting coloured cards, using those to buy fruits and then delivering those fruits to five different villages in order to fulfill order cards
Legendary Forests (5) – In Legendary Forests players are building their forest all using the same set of twenty-five tiles. Of those twenty will come into play and the order is randomized each game. Every player has the same input but the end results always surprise me by being completely different. Scoring is based on having large fields of matching leaves. I haven’t heard much buzz about this Iello game but I was extremely impressed when I played it at a demo night at CG Realm.
Tiny Towns (6) – This is another game I knew nothing about until playing a demo game at The CG Realm. This game reminds me of the excellent app game Triple Town. Each turn one of the players names a resource and players have to put that resources onto their 4×4 town grid. When resources are played in a way that matches the pattern on a building card the resources are removed and replaced by a building meeple. The thing is only one thing can be on each square so it’s all about planning ahead to get the most buildings in your town. Each building scores differently. This game is way deeper than it first looks but still easy enough to teach that it could be perfect for your casual game night.
Sometimes themed games or licenced games are going to get more people playing at a casual event
Often the trick to get someone to play a game that they normally wouldn’t be interested in is to show them a game about their favourite thing. This could be a TV series, a movie or some trope. Here are some thematic or licenced games that may just be right for your group.
Star Trek Five Year Mission (7) – This is a high player count cooperative dice game that’s perfect for the sci-fi fans and Trekkies in your group. This game reminds me personally of a mix of Roll For It and Splendor. While lighter than most other Trek games, this one has proven to be very popular with fans who aren’t gamers.
Rumble in the Dungeon (6) – Have some RPG fans in your midst or even just Lord of the Ring fans? Break out Rumble in the Dungeon for some quick silly dungeon crawling fun mixed with a twist of social deduction. Twelve characters start in the dungeon. There’s a treasure chest. Either someone escapes with that chest or there’s only one character left standing. The thing is you don’t know who is playing which characters.
8Bit Box (4-6) – Here is a game for the video game crowd. The 8Bit Box is actually a game toolkit for recreating classic video games in board game form. The initial game box comes with three games. Pixoid (4) which is a Pac-Man clone, Outspeed (6) a combat racing game, and Stadium (4 or 6) a team based sports game based on video games like Summer Games from Epyx. I just broke this one out at an event last week and it went over really well.
Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier (4) – This is a surprisingly good cooperative kids game that’s just as good for adults at a casual event. It’s actually a complete re-theme of Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters with the characters from the new Ghostbusters movie. Personally I prefer the component quality of the original but if you have Ghostheads in your group this will go over great.
Social deduction games can be very popular at casual game nights
While I’m not a fan of most social deduction games, I can’t deny their popularity. I can’t remember the last casual game night I was at that I didn’t see one or more of these games played:
BANG! The Dice Game (8) – One player is the sheriff, the rest of the players are deputies, outlaws and renegades. The deputies want to protect the sheriff, the outlaws want the sheriff dead and the renegade just wants to be the last man standing. The trick is that the only role people can be sure of is who is the Sheriff. This was originally a card game that was simplified and in my opinion improved by the dice version. It’s less fiddly, easier to teach, and more accessible to new players.
The Resistance (10) – Team based social deduction. Send your team on missions hoping to not get sabotaged by the spies. This game was initially based on the popular convention game Werewolf. It improves on the original in many ways. Most importantly is that it removes the need for a moderator and removes any player elimination. While you will never catch me playing Werewolf you could convince me to play this with the right group.
Skull (6) – Skull was originally released as Skull and Roses and is based on a popular drinking game with bikers. Sticking with tradition the playing pieces in Skull are basically drink coasters. Skull is a mix of social deduction and push your luck, most similar to dice games like Liar’s Dice. Each round players bid how many coasters they can flip up without revealing a skull, the next player has to either up the bid or call them on it. One of the best things about Skull is you can double the player count with just one more set.
So there are some of my game suggestions for a casual game night. I could have kept going on. Lately the entire tabletop industry seems to be focused on games that give you a great initial experience out of the box and that can be played in under an hour. It’s actually a great time to be a casual gamer or to be a more hardcore gamer looking to recruit new people to the hobby.
Here’s a quick list of just some of the games I could have easily included above: Gizmos (4), Planet (4), King of the Dice (5), Alhambra (6), Bohnanza (7), The Great Dalmuti (8), Carcassonne (5), Paris Connection (6), and The Climbers (5)
What are your favourite casual games? Let us know in the comments!