This week is a good contrast to last week where I talked about great games for a casual game night. This week we’ve got someone who wants 5 player games that aren’t filler or party games. A gamer more after my own tastes.
Jay Gordon asks,
My game group usually consists of 5 players. It’s really hard to find something that plays well with 5 players and isn’t a filler or party game. Do you have any suggestions?
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The Short Answer:
Just buy Terraforming Mars if you’ve got a group of five looking for a game with some meat.
If you’ve got a group of five gamers looking for a solid engaging board game experience where their decisions really matter and the race is going to be pretty right right to the end you can’t do much better than Terraforming Mars in my opinion.
I do strongly recommend you include the Prelude Expansion with this as well, as the game can get long with five players and that little boost at the start of the game will help keep the total time down.
The Long Answer:
I’ve got a variety of great five player board game suggestions for those of you who already own Terraforming Mars.
The secret to picking out the perfect game for your game night is knowing your players, and if you don’t know your players finding games with near universal appeal. There are a ridiculous number of games coming out every year now a days (“It’s over 9000!”, it really was, in 2018) and trying to pick a game to play is all about filtering down the list of candidates.
Thankfully Jay has given us a good start here. Just by only looking at games good with 5 players, that eliminates a ton of games. Added to that Jay doesn’t care about party games or filler games. That’s a ton more games we can forget about. What I don’t know though is if Jay’s group digs cooperative or competitive games, if they like campaign games, if they like really heavy games or prefer medium games or what kind of game length Jay may be looking for here.
Due to this I’m going to stick to our usual format and break my five player, non-filler, non-party game suggestions into categories.
Five Players is the perfect player count for a team based game.
Star Wars Imperial Assault – not only is this the best campaign based “dungeon crawling” game out there it’s also got the Star Wars licence. That’s a win/win for me. Imperial Assault is one of the tightest and best designed one vs. many games I’ve played. There’s no need for the adversary player to go easy on the players, everything is very well balanced with each side having a good chance of winning any mission. This game has the bonus of also including a skirmish mode, which is a two player miniature battle game.
Descent Journeys In The Dark (Second Edition) – if you prefer your dungeon crawlers to be actual fantasy dungeon crawlers then this is what you want over Imperial Assault. Personally I thing the rules in Imperial Assault are somewhat better than this but if your group prefers the fantasy theme this is the way to go.
Fury of Dracula – one player takes on the role of Dracula and the other players are characters from the historic novel trying to track down and defeat the Count. This is an old game. I own the original Games Workshop edition. Since then three other editions have been released, each tweaking the rules in some small ways. The latest edition is from Wizkids and is the best looking yet, having pre-painted miniatures.
Battlestar Galactica – This is by far my favourite hidden role game. I don’t call this one a co-op as right from the start you know there’s two teams. There are the humans and the cylons. This game is great for gamers who get into playing roles while they play. Just make sure people realize that while you are playing characters from the show, what allegiance they had in the show may not apply in the game.
There are a ton of classic Eurogames that are fantastic at five players:
Settlers of Catan – While you need a 5-6 player expansion to play with five, I really enjoy Catan at 5. It’s even better than at 6 players as I find the board gets too crowded with 6. Note there is a new rule with this many players, at the end of every players turn everyone gets a chance to build with the resources they have in hand. This stops players from accumulating too many cards between rounds and getting hit hard by the robber.
Power Grid – I think five is the perfect player count for this route building economic game. I’ve been a big fan of Power Grid since I discovered it many years ago. At one time it was my number one game. This classic still stands the test of time. A fair warning: some people find the amount of math in this game a turn off. There is a lot of it but it’s all just money based addition and subtraction.
El Grande – Even after about 15 years this is still one of the best area majority games ever made. I’m a huge fan of El Grande and happy to say it actually plays best with the max player count of 5. You want as many players as possible when you are all fighting to control areas on the same map.
Puerto Rico – While I think this classic game plays best with four it works pretty well at five as well. I would rather play five than three. This role selection time has been near the top of the board game geek rankings since it’s come out and is still in the top 25.
Shogun/Wallenstein – These two games (which are basically the same games with different themes) are second only to Terraforming Mars for me when I think five player games. My absolute favourite folk on a map game using the amazing cube tower for battle resolution. A very solid mix of Euro and Wargame mechanics has had these games in my top games list for a long time. They both play best at the max player count of five players.
How about getting your five players to work together in these cooperative games:
The Grizzled – a card driven cooperative game about surviving in the trenches of World War I. Has some very unique mechanics, a really unique and moving art style and engaging gameplay. This one was been nominated for 7 different awards including the Kennerspiel, though it has never won. My guess is that is due to the uncomfortable theme.
Mansions of Madness Second Edition – Your team of five investigators arrived at a spooky old mansion. What unspeakable horrors lurk inside and what will you have to do to stop them? The app driven mechanics of this game greatly surpass the original one vs. many gameplay of the first edition. I was blown away by how well this new edition plays and feels.
Sentinels of the Multiverse – While there can be a bit of a downtime issue playing with five players, Sentinels of the Multiverse is still my go-to super hero game. Each player picks a hero, you then pick a villain and an environment to challenge them in and go to it. This game is all about teamwork and finding synergies between your various character abilities.
Here some some great medium weight games that play perfectly with five players:
Risk Legacy – I know a lot of people are going to balk at the name Risk. Realize that Risk Legacy is not the Risk game you grew up with. No longer is the game about taking over the entire world, instead each game is a race to four victory points, victory points that can be earned multiple ways. The first Legacy game, the board and objectives change as you play through the campaign. Worried about replayability? Well if you do actually manage to finish a campaign, your board becomes a Risk board that you can continue to play on for years to come that’s totally unique to your group.
Strasbourg – I’ve been a bit obsessed with this game lately so it only makes sense to be on this list. I’ve now played it with 3, 4 and 5 players and have to say I most enjoy going through the 35 auctions in this game with five players. The more the players the more the bidding wars. With five players that also means that there’s the potential for every hidden goal to be in play.
Lords of Waterdeep – While I admit that waiting between turns can get a bit long in Waterdeep with five players, it still works. This is a great introductory level worker placement game with a very cool Dungeons & Dragons Theme. I find that the Skullport expansion helps out the 5 player game a bit by giving players more worker placement spots.
Endeavor Age of Sail – While I haven’t played my copy a ton of times yet, Endeavor seems like a great nautical area control game at a five person player count. Five players means more competition for spots and more diversity in what buildings get built each game. I found Endeavor surprisingly easy to teach despite it’s seeming complexity.
Istanbul – What of the unique parts about this game is having to pay people to use spots that are already occupied. With five players this type of player interaction happens quite a bit. Overall I really love the “movement” system in Istanbul where you have to drop your family members off at spots to use them and then pick them up later or else you run out of options. This is a really solid pick up and deliver game that I personally dig quite a bit at five.
Chinatown – This game is all about negotiations. It’s all about trading properties, businesses and money. The way to make negotiations better and more tense is to include more players. I actually don’t like this game at three as it’s too easy for two of the players to gang up on another, but it plays well with four. For it to really shine, you need five players.
Tokaido – The most zen game ever, until one of those other damn players takes the last spot you needed to get the fifth sea panorama. With five players there’s more competition for spots making the game more cutthroat and that’s a good thing. Be sure to add the Crossroads Expansion when paying five though so that there are more options at each spot and it doesn’t become a matter of haves and have nots.
While they make take some time to play there are some great heavy board games for five players:
Concordia – I really love this game, unfortunately the weight and playtime tend to scare people away. I will admit the scoring is also quite opaque and takes a few games to really figure out. That said this is a great five player option. While there will be some downtime, it will be well worth it. The two sides of the map means this game scales well all the way up to five.
Euphoria, Build a Better Dystopia – While everyone else in the world seems to be moved on to Scythe I’m still happy sitting back here playing Euphoria. A very cool take on dice driven worker placement with a dark but amusing theme. This is my personal favourite Stonemaier game and it just happens to play best with four or five.
Hansa Teutonica – I only discovered this game late last year and fell in love. Now here’s a route building game that I can sink my teeth into. This to me is the gamers answer to ticket to ride. Connect cities and build your network of offices while upgrading your skills along the way. The more people playing the more competition there is on the map and the tighter the game. This one sings at five players.
In the Year of the Dragon – This classic Stefan Feld game is all about mitigating disaster. It seems the Year of the Dragon wasn’t a good one as players will have to deal with fires, drought and earthquakes. Be sure to recruit the right people to prepare for the coming year. I’m a Stefan Feld fanboy and this is one of my favourite Feld games. I really love that it’s all about planning for the worse and that the winner is the person that managed to do the best they could with a bad situation.
Rising Sun – Besides being one of the most overproduced yet beautiful games in my collection, I’ve found that this folk on a map wargame actually plays best with five players. This is mainly due to the tea ceremony mechanic where players make alliances with other players every round. With five players this means that there’s always someone left out, making the negotiations more tense and often involving more future promises and resources trading hands.
Once you get five players, maybe it’s time to put the board away and grab an RPG.
While writing this one of the things that came to mind to me was that if I personally had a group of five players, and all of them could commit to getting together regularly to play games, I would probably suggest starting a role playing game campaign over playing board games.
While I love board games, I’m still a big fan of pen and paper roleplaying, and while I have fun playing one shots at campaigns now and then or running a group through a beginner box, my true roleplaying love is an ongoing campaign.
Here are some RPGs I wish I could be playing right now:
Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition – I was part of the D&D Next playtest team and while playing that I noted that I haven’t enjoyed D&D this much since playing 2nd Edition. I have since played a game of 5e at a con and still felt the same. It’s like 2e D&D with some modern mechanics like passive checks, inspiration and actual background information that matters. While I haven’t read through the new core rulebooks I’ve liked what I have seen. Plus I can’t deny the popularity of this edition of D&D.
Shadow of the Demon Lord – Since reviewing this dark fantasy roleplaying game back in March I’ve been itching to run Shadow of the Demon Lord. The fact that the game has a limited time frame really appeals with my busy schedule. This game has been called a modern homage to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and that was the system I loved the most growing up.
Starfinder Beginner Box – The Pathfinder Beginner Box was, by far, one of the best RPG starter boxes I’ve ever experienced. I managed to take that box and the simplified rules within and turn it into an epic campaign that ran for almost a full year. Since Starfinder came out I’ve been curious about this new Sci-Fi setting and when I heard that they were putting out a Beginner Box I knew I had to have it. I’m pleased to say, as of today, I’ve got a review copy coming in the mail and I’m really excited to check this box out.
So there you have some of my top five player, non-party, non-filler games. This list is close to my heart as five players is one of my favourite player counts for game night. I find it’s the perfect amount of players for many crunchier, more competitive games. The style of games I prefer to play.
So what’s your go to game for five players? Let me know in the comments below!