For most games out there, the optimal number of players is somewhere between 3 and 5. It’s why on the Board Game Flowchart, a good two thirds of games are in the ‘3 to 5 players’ category. However, it’s not always the case that you can get that number of players – what frequently happens is that you invite a bunch of your friends to play board games, some of them won’t make it, some will, and you end up with a number of people and only one or two games that can actually accommodate them all. Nobody is really willing to split off into smaller groups to play separate games because, hey, you’re all friends and you want to hang out!
Likewise, if you’re at a public gaming group, you want games where a lot of people can join in. However, there’s a somewhat different set of problems here – it’s highly unlikely that more than a few people will know the rules of any game you choose to play. Also, as soon as you start making a motion to start a game, a new person will probably walk in that needs to be incorporated into the group, making it necessary to put that game away and select another that works with the new number of players. So, it helps to have a good stable of games that work well no matter how many players you need to accommodate.
Games need a different set of qualities when you will be playing them with large numbers. It’s difficult to teach complex rules to bigger groups, so they need to be relatively straightforward. Games have a tendency to really stretch out when you have more players, so ideally they will have some form of simultaneous play mechanism, or for turns to be short enough that you don’t have to wait all that long until it’s your turn again.
So without further ado, here’s a handful of games that work excellently with 6 or more players, in increasing degrees of complexity. This is by no means a definitive list, but it can provide some inspiration for those needing a game that works well with larger numbers, and I plan to have a few segments covering these sorts of games. I won’t be including games that theoretically take 6 or more players, but nobody would ever play them with that many because it would take literally forever and drive all the players insane (I’m looking at you, Caverna).
Dobble (or Spot It in the US) is an amazing reflex game that can be set up and taught in seconds – just take two cards, ask players to identify the common symbol, and they know everything they need to know! It works great with any number and can easily accommodate more at the drop of a hat, allowing new players to just join in as they arrive. It makes an excellent game for board game meetups, as there’s now no reason that everyone needs to sit around waiting for others to arrive – you can just join in! According to the tin it goes up to 8, but there’s nothing really stopping you from going higher, apart from practicality.
I haven’t written a summary on this one yet, but I will soon! Shadow Hunters is a hidden role game where some players are Shadows (that is, monsters), some are Hunters, and others are neutral characters. The Shadows are trying to kill the Hunters, the Hunters are trying to kill the Shadows, and each of the damn dirty Neutrals have their own unique agendas.
Shadow Hunters plays up to 8, and although it features sequential play, each player’s turn is usually lightning-quick – move somewhere, draw a card and play it, and attack a character if you want. It encourages social interaction and has some light deduction, making it good for groups with fun reveals when you find out that the person you were attacking all game was actually your ally. It’s light and contains lots of player conflict but nobody’s going to really take it too personally. Its main drawback is that some of the anime art features improbably-breasted women, but that’s only on a handful of the cards and easily ignored.
A staple of board game meetups, 7 Wonders fits the bill of an easily-taught game that has a deep enough strategy to interest players who have already played it before. While it plays best with three, it can certainly be played with larger numbers – up to 7, of course – and its simultaneous play mechanism means that a game with 7 people is not likely to take all that much longer than a game with 3 or 4. The more players you get in the game, the more random the game itself can feel, but there is still good scope for strategy and building up your empire.
It’s difficult to have a game with any real depth when you have 6 or more players, but 7 Wonders is a fine choice for these situations where something with a bit more substance is wanted. Its main drawback is perhaps that it’s been too popular – many boardgamers have overplayed the base game and would rather play with expansions, and it’s difficult to teach all the extra expansion rules to those picking it up for the first time.
If 7 Wonders is played out in your group, Evolution makes a great substitute. In Evolution, players take control of a number of prehistoric species, and can give them a range of adaptations by playing Trait cards on them, making them carnivorous, giving them the ability to evade enemies by climbing, giving them foraging skills and so on. Players will collectively choose how much food is available in a general supply, then try to adapt their species in such a way that they can best survive, or at the very least, prevent other species from surviving! The player who ends the game with the most points (calculated by how much food they eat, final species population and some other factors) is the winner!
What makes Evolution a great game for groups is that the rules are relatively easily explained, and the gameplay emerges as players start to understand how the cards interact. A player may think herself safe with her climbing creature, until her opponent’s carnivorous creature develops the ability to climb and snacks on her species with impunity! Evolution works excellently with 6 as the game length is determined by how quickly the deck of Trait cards is depleted, and with more players, more of these will be drawn. Furthermore, the rules allow players to perform their creature upgrades simultaneously, and after all players understand the options (which usually takes a round or two), they’ll be growing their species however they see fit.