Gayme Corner: The Games of Getting to Know You

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.


1. Co-opoly

Coopoly

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

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!

3. Microscope

microscope

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.

4. Fiasco

fiasco

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.

5. Hanabi

hanabi

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.

Robin doesn't lean in, she spreads out. Her skills include talking up the movie Spice World to strangers. In any situation, she would prefer to get campy. She's a hedonist, lady dandy, and lazy academic. She has a twitter and a tumblr.

Robin has written 43 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. “I am, by nature, a teeth-gnashing, dirty-playing, trash-talking competitive monster, which is no fun for anyone.”

    Oh dear, that sounds exactly like me. I just graduated college and haven’t gotten a job yet so I’ve spent tons of time playing games with my friends.. and I think some of them might be starting to hate me 😛

    I’ve never heard of these games before, but they seem really swell. I’ve never played a cooperative game before. Once I get some income again, I really think I’d like to check out the co-op one and Hanabi!

    Robin I’m super excited for this column/series/whatever!! and GAYmes!! I love puns. This is the most perfect thing on the internet right now.

  2. I am so excited about this new column! Games are my favorite, despite having few friends who actually enjoy playing them (gamers in Seattle?). Betrayal is one of my favorites, and I am excited to try these new games. Thank you!

    • Hey! I am a gamer in Seattle! ~waves~

      Well, technically Lynnwood.. and I work in Redmond.. but pretty darn close! Close enough to game, anyway lol.

      Both my partner and I are lucky enough to work in a very nerd-rich environment, but we are always looking for more people to play board games with. The more the merrier!

      Have you tried taking a board game and a couple of friends to a gamer pub? Seattle has a TON You’d be surprised how many people will sign up when they hear they can have good beer from the tap lol. Also a lot of gamer pubs have fun non-alcoholic beverage options and even sometimes ice cream. It is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

  3. There’s two other games that are worth adding to the list, Bang and Munchkin.

    Bang is a Spaghetti Western themed card game where each player has a different role (outlaw, sheriff, deputy and renegade) with their own conditions for winning the game. It’s fast-paced, fun and easy to teach to new players. There’s also a mobile/tablet version I like to play on road trips or at restaurants.

    Munchkin is basically a riff on a Dungeons & Dragons style campaign with lots of silly cards (like the Floating Nose or Slimy Armor) that encourages you to screw over your fellow players in order to win. There’s also a ton of expansions for when things get stale. It’s insanely fun and probably one of my favorite games of all time.

  4. By nature I’m a solitary person that games and I’ve never played a board game that did not end up with something getting thrown, getting frustrated enough with the game, the player to release my wee Canary Cry, or just so bored I quit.
    To be fair the most volatile of that was with family. One of my siblings has unapologetically believed from the age of eight that some people are just not worthy of life and basic respect because they waste the resources of the deserving and I am not counted among his worthies.
    So you can see how most board games were doomed in my childhood and any form of competition really now that I think about it.

    I do have a horror story of sorts and because I doubt this guy would frequent AS I can actually tell it without interruption of hey I think I know who you’re talking about or someone going but he’s so nice you big meanie. The table top community where I’m at is small and almost queer lady circle of doom levels of incestuous.

    This guy tried to make a composite game of basically every game that White Wolf has ever publish. I know what you’re thinking how the fuck can anyone even make a functioning system out of all that? Well we did with some flaws here and there but the experienced players in the group were pretty good at coming up with stop gap measures on the fly.

    The things that made me headdesk was the fact he begged another person to do the honors and DM this for him, but holy shit did he backseat DM the whole fucking time. The DM was/is a person I love dearly but he is just not a person who knows how to firmly tell people NO because he doesn’t want to hurt their fee-fees or be “mean”.

    And being a such a unique game that thrives on good humor, pulling things on the fly; laughter, and bouts of silliness are to be expected, cherished even. But noooooo it upset him! We were bespoiling the sanctity of The Game, in addition to just plain annoying him.

    Does he say this to our faces? Nope he keeps to himself during game and whines to the DM later which of course would not work. Then he tries to form a plan of attack to “rein us in” which was basically pouting at us and suggesting we quiet down some as to be respectful to those around us. The place we gamed was full of people being just a loud as we were and is rather know for that. Also the table we consistently chose was by the door to the “patio” which is where people go spray their models which is a pretty reg occurrence.
    When his “tactics” failed he tried to get to group to play another game entirely after building this whole other thing everybody helped together that we had. Cannot remember the game he wanted us to switch to just I was super unfamiliar with it and the books had furry art so much furry art. You Do You, safe, sane and consensual ect. furry stuff is one of my hard limits where even if I was a paid domme I could not be convinced to traffic with. I was not about to have to learn that book and have those pictures burned in my mind.

    So in reaction to this ridiculous experience I haven’t touched anything table top since, I’ve even turned down some White Wolf LARP. And I live vamp, villainize, and be the beast under the bed in your closet in your head.

    Overeaction? Probably but I have hard time not telling people off in the worst of ways when I find them spineless, pathetically underhanded like that. And through that entire experience I bit my tongue and held things in way too hard for my comfort level just for the comfort of other. When I find that balance needed between ripping someone to shreds and politely telling someone to deal with, or to just fuck off in nicer words I’d consider RPG table top games and group things.
    Small communities can be a pain in the ass.

    I think some of the games you listed Robin might help me reintegrate or heck rehabilitate my broken bond with board games and gaming with other humans.
    I’m not completely hopeless I can play duelling games with other humans no prob and co-op first person shooters sometimes without issue.

  5. YAY, a gaming column, awesome!! I love board games (me n fellow ‘straddler @ratscantknit go to a board games club together)

    Anyone who comes to my parents’ house for Christmas gets thrown in the deep end with Saboteur, in which we are all little mining goblins trying to get to the gold…except some of us aren’t, we’re saboteurs instead, and our job is to fuck up the mines so the good goblins can’t get the gold. IT’S AWESOME. And fast, easy to understand and hilarious. Everyone gets into the spirit of trying to work out who the bad guys are, pretending to be what they’re not etc. You can play it with 3 – 10 people (I think?)

    Also – it’s pocket-sized, so you can take it to the pub, on camping trips and holidays, anywhere you’re gonna hang out with a bunch of people you don’t know very well. It’s a great ice-breaker.

  6. Omg yeeees!!! Gaming column!!!

    I loove Betrayal, but my gaming group recently all moved to another country so I’m having a hard time finding friends to play with.

    And I played Hanabi once when I visit the above mentioned friends. We lost quite bad, but it seemed like a fun game.

    And since we’re talking Co-op, I have to mention my all time favourite Pandemic. I don’t think it’s the best get-to-know-you game because someone usually ends up taking the lead which can make the more shy inclined people not to contribute at all.

    A non co-op games that I think also fits the theme is Dixit.
    I think it’s a great way to go into someone’s head and find out it’s just as random as yours 😛 And even though it has a scoreboard I never felt like it was very competitive, but that might just be because I know I’m terrible at getting into other people’s minds so I just play for the fun…

    But yaaay games, I’m excited!

  7. My girlfriend’s work is centered about games (board games mostly, but all kind of games) and getting people of all ages and backgrounds to play them. Our house is full of games from all around the world because of that.

    Anyway, Hannabi is a nice game but a little slow, I’d say. If you’re playing with people who do not usually play board games or who are not very interested, you might want to chose something else.

    There’s a game we have here (France), don’t know if you have it in the States, that is really great for groups. It’s called Le Maître des Ténèbres (Master of Darkness? or something). It’s a really fun roleplaying game based on the ability of each player to continue a story that quicly turns crazy.

    The GM is the Master of Darkness. S/he send all his/her evil goblins (the others players) on a mission… that they failed, because they are lame. So every player must explain why they are not responsible, and… put the blame on some else.

    It’s really fun and the story is inherently crazy because you can only use excuses from a set of cards you have in your hand (things like “an alluring feary”, “dancing in the woods”… build your story with that!).

    If it’s available in the US I really recommend it !

  8. Snake Oil!

    Active player draws a customer card, everyone else combines their object cards to sell them something amazing/horrible/useless.

    My personal favorite was the time I played Super Hero and my friend sold me a Shame Cape, to hide in when I’ve been problematic.

  9. Yay for a Gaming column! I see that many of my fav.’s are already mentioned (Forbidden Island, pandemic BETRAYAL OMG Betrayal. Such an amazing game) but Super Dungeon Explorer is another GREAT game that I would strongly recommend. It is only co-op with the ‘Forgotten King’ expansion, but either way it is a really fun game! AND it has miniatures that come with it. Who doesn’t love miniatures?!

    I also have a game called ‘Mice and Mystics’ coming to me in the mail that I am really excited about, which is a co-op game where you are a bunch of Knights trying to save your kingdom, but have been turned into mice.

    Co-op games are always a great choice when playing with new people, but my go-to ‘getting to know you’ game is still Apples to Apples, and it probably always will be 🙂

  10. I’ve been a Straddler for years, but this is the column that finally got me to join and comment! We game A LOT, and it’s one of our fave ways to meet people while traveling. A Wizard deck is always with us. It’s kind of like spades in that it’s a trump game where you bid for and collect books, but mo betta for groups and/or people who are intimidated by card games because there’s more of a luck element. Unlike spades, you play individually, trump changes every round, and rounds start at 1 card and increase with each deal. The deck, which you can get on Amazon or at most game stores, has 2 sets of special cards: wizards (the ultimate trump card) and jesters (not worth anything). It’s not a cooperative game per se in that each player is trying to win independently, but you do end up teaming up some against breakaway players to keep an even keel. Scoring is cumulative and done every round, so you can stop anytime you like (i.e., if dinner comes or the vibe just goes in a different direction) without feeling unfulfilled. We teach new people to play in just a few minutes all the time; just keep in mind that as scoring can be a bit complicated, the scorekeeper should probably be a more experienced player. Loooove this game! Just found out there’s a free app version, to which I expect to be addicted by tomorrow.

  11. I am so here for this column!!

    My Fave game to play with new people is Dixit- it is along the lines of apples to apples, but it has whimsical french artwork instead of words.

    One of my favorite co-op games is Pandemic- where you save the world from dying away from 4 different diseases.

  12. Wow! So cool to be included on this great list. And at number 1! (Ahem, not that it’s a competition or anything…) We had lots of people writing to us to let us know about the article seemingly minutes after it went up. We definitely think Co-opoly is a great social-justice-get-to-know-you-while-laughing-raucously game!

  13. Oh I also love the game resistance which is like the game “mafia” if anyone played that on the bus to choir concerts like me and my high school friends did. Anyway, some people are the spies and everyone is trying to outwit the spies without knowing who the spies are. It’s very interesting, but I tend to get overly competitive so it’s good for a get to know you game if you are meeting board game people.

  14. yeah for board games! also it’s such a good idea to start with co-op games ! the thing is, i’m the resident board-game nerd among my friend, which means i’m always the one who knows the rules. so co-op allows you to explain as you play, because you remove the competition aspect of it.

    one of my personal favorite co-op board game is arkham horror, which always seems super complicated to new players, so it’s nice that you get to help each other out.

    looking forward to this column !! gonna keep my finger crossed for some ttrpg down the line 🙂

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