Hello hello! Welcome to the first edition of Gayme Corner, a biweekly column in which I’ll talk about games, all types of games, and the ways that we play them. In the spirit of starting new things, stepping into new spaces, meeting new people, etc, I want to discuss a topic near and dear to me: party games. Specifically, games that are fun to play with people you’ve just met, whether it’s at a dinner party or an Autostraddle Meetup or a game night with your Tinder date. To me, playing games is a great way to get to know people. You get to hang out with them, but you also have something else to focus on if the conversation get awkward or if it’s your turn. Plus, hopefully, the game itself will give you plenty of safe topics to talk about.
Here’s the thing, though: if you’re anything like me, games at a party can be hit or miss. I am, by nature, a teeth-gnashing, dirty-playing, trash-talking competitive monster, which is no fun for anyone. Now, my friends put up with it because they are charitable angels, and because we usually play games like Cards Against Humanity, which technically is competitive but usually ends with net positive laughter. That’s the point! Games are fun! They’re social! They help you feel closer to people and less like a misanthropic hermit with the heart of a robot!
I’m way less comfortable playing the same games with people I barely know. What if the extremes of our sense of humor aren’t compatible? What if the game drags? What if I lose? Repeatedly??? The anxiety/anticipatory misanthropy is enough for me to stay home forever.
Enter the cooperative genre of games. Everyone has to work together, so either we all win or, y’know, who cares? Many of them are open-ended, so we get to be a little (or a lot) creative. And, because we have to pay attention to each others’ moves, we end up getting more out of the game while also learning a little about each other. For all of you hyper-competitive, friend-making gamer-babes out there, here are my five favorite cooperative games that I’ve had a great time playing with close friends as well as people I’d literally just met.
Co-opoly! It’s just like Monopoly, but fun. You move around the board and work with your group to found and run a co-op. Any co-op! You could make a pancake co-op, a waffle co-op, a boxed wine co-op, a bike-and-unicycle co-op. A sex toy co-op? Sure, and if you’re successful enough, you can open up a lube co-op right next to it. Make some tough decisions, get a little lucky, and you might get to overthrow
capitalism the patriarchy the Point Bank. It incorporates the realities of running a co-op with really solid gameplay, plus it’s sustainably and ethically produced.
2. Betrayal at House on the Hill
Y’all are in a haunted house! How did you get here? What is that smell? Better check it out! You progress through Betrayal at House on the Hill by exploring its rooms, each with the potential for a deadly trap or a mystical misadventure. Eventually, a traitor is discovered in your midst, and you have to strategize together to defeat them. The fun is in the game flavor — you might turn someone into a frog or become a team of mice that has to escape a cat — and the nature of the setup means that each time you play you enter a new house. Easy to start! Great for replays!
If you’re the type to escalate, riff on, or plumb the extreme depths of a joke or story, Microscope is the game for you. It’s a collaborative world-building game that takes out the most shark-jumping elements of story-telling (for example, you can’t just destroy the world and start over when you paint yourself into a narrative corner). Besides that, your collective imagination is your limit. You start out with a broad, epic event in history (real or alternate), and with each turn you fill in the gaps on how that event came to pass — the catalysts, the significant characters, the socio-economic-political changes, etc. I love playing this because, depending on how the group’s feeling, you have the potential to get deep and really explore topics like human nature and historical cycles, or you can get silly and tell the storied legend of how you finally created a lesbian commune utopia with all of your favorite celesbians. You can explore an entire eon of history, or just flesh out a generation inside it. Plus, it’s set up so that no one player’s idea dominates the game; everyone gets creative input, which is co-opy as heck.
Like Microscope, Fiasco is a collaborative story-telling game, but with a much smaller, more cinematic narrative. Inspired by heist-gone-wrong comedies like Fargo and Burn After Reading, Fiasco divides playtime into five stages: Set-up, Act 1, Tilt, Act 2, and Epilogue. You and your group create your characters and take them through the planned heist, rolling dice to introduce new plot points. The developers have released several playsets that include scenarios, locations, specific character motivations, potential wrenches that could be thrown into your heist works, etc. I have a soft spot for heist movies, and this game lets me play out all my fantasies of being on a queer lady heist team.
If you’re into creative communication and logic puzzles, definitely check out Hanabi. It has a deceptively simple goal: play same-colored cards in order from 1-5 to put on a great fireworks show. The gimmick is that you can see everyone’s hand but your own. Your teammates have opportunities to give you hints about your hand, but they can only tell you one thing at a time. Every time I play, my group and I inevitably end up breaking the rules, which, hey. At least we’re cheating together. That’s how you know you’ve found a good group.
What’s your favorite getting-to-know-you game to play with strangers? Any horror stories to share? Also, let me know what you’d like to see featured in future Gayme Corner posts! We’re all ears, all the time.