An interesting thing happened on the way to my monthly Dice Vice gaming: a wild board game cafe appeared! If you’ve never been to a board game cafe you should definitely see if there is one in your area and plan a visit. Basically, it’s a cafe—the one in my town serves coffee, sandwiches, and gelato, but some serve booze—where you can pay a fee to play any of the cafe’s collection of board games. At this one, it’s $5 per person for the day, and if you’re there for a few hours you can play a lot of games. It’s a great way to try out some new games before you commit to buying them or just play with your friends with some food and a nice change of scenery.
So, my board-gaming boyfriend and a couple of our friends headed down to the grand opening on Saturday to check it out. We ended up playing for about three hours and had a lovely time. They are all pretty easy to pick up. Usually my boyfriend has played the game before and teaches it to us all, but he was learning two of the three games for the first time. If you’re looking for some fun, casual games that are easy to learn try the three we played: Codenames, Castle Panic, and Funemployed.
First up is Codenames. This is the one that my boyfriend already knew, but it’s still pretty easy to pick up: You need at least four people but it would work for more as well. You lay out a 5 x 5 grid of cards with words on them and split into two teams—one red and one blue. One person from each team is designated the Spymaster, and those players are given a random card with a color-coded grid that shows which words will score points for the red team and which ones will score points for the blue team. It’s their job to provide their team with one-word clues to make them guess the words that correspond with their color.
For example, if the Red team’s words in the grid include “eagle” and “hawk,” the Red Spymaster might say “Bird, two,” to let their team know that two of their words in the grid are related to the word “Bird.” The rest of the team then needs to choose a word from the grid. If they guess correctly, they get a point and can guess again! But if they guess wrong, a point goes to the other team, and it’s the Blue Spymaster’s turn to give a clue. But watch out! One word on the color-coded grid given to the Spymaster’s will be marked with a big black X. This is the Assassin word, and if any team chooses that word, they lose the round instantly. So maybe during a round, the Red team has the words “Hawk” and “Eagle,” but Spymaster’s know that the Assassin word is “Sparrow.” They’d need to be a little bit more specific with their clues to keep their team away from the Assassin!
So that’s how it goes—the Spymaster is only allowed to say one word and then a number, and then their team has to guess what they could possibly be talking about. You go back and forth between the teams guessing words until one team gets all their words, or you pick the assassin word.
If you’re me, you pick the assassin word on your very first guess and then have to start the game all over with new cards!
It’s fun to remember previous clues if you’ve missed a word and try to figure out what your teammate was trying to say. For example, my friend said “Bug, Two” to try and get his wife to guess “Insect” and “Slug.” Slugs are not bugs—what are they exactly?!—but he knew she’d probably guess “Slug” anyway. This is a great party game or just want to warm up your gaming muscles before something more intense.
After Codenames we picked out Castle Panic from the wall of games figuring that since the cafe had two copies it must be good! Castle Panic is a cooperative game where you work together with your friends to keep your castle from being invaded and it’s walls destroyed. It’s slightly more difficult to pick up than Codenames or Funemployed, but it’s by no means complicated.
You have to try and attack the trolls, goblins, and other monsters that advance upon your walls round after round before they knock down your castle’s towers. You do this by playing cards that attack them or rebuilding walls they might have destroyed. The monsters advance in color-coded concentric rings around the castle in the center of the board, and you can only kill them if you have a card that corresponds to the grid where they are.
Say you have a troll in the innermost red ring. That ring is labeled the “Swordsman” ring, and you can only attack him if you have a card that shows a Red Swordsman. Similarly, there is an “Archer” ring and a “Knight” ring. To attack a monster in either of these other rings, you just play a card that shows the appropriate character. This is a cooperative game, so all of the players are working together, trading cards with one another to keep the castle standing. If the monsters manage to knock down all of the castle’s towers, you’ve lost.
The panicky part is that after every player’s turn, the monsters on the board move forward, and you draw two more monsters. Sometimes the monsters are straightforward, like another two goblins. Those aren’t too hard to kill, but sometimes it’s a giant boulder that knocks down your walls! Ack! Or a it’s a Boss Monster that brings along more monsters! Then you might end up in a situation like we did where we had about eight monsters on the board and one lone castle wall standing. Needless to say, we did not win!
Reeling from the loss of our castle we decided we needed something a bit easier so we picked out Funemployed. In mechanics, Funemployed is a bit like perpetual favorite party games such as Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. One person reads the clue card, the other players have to tailor their answers to the card and the card holder, and the card holder then decides who wins. Then you rotate and the person with the most clue cards wins.
Unlike Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, Funemployed is centered around a central theme: getting a job. The clue cards are all job titles that you’re going to be interviewing for. Some of the job titles we had during our brief game were School Nurse, Used Car Salesman, Venture Capitalist, and B-Movie Actor. Each person is given four cards that list their qualifications, like “sneaky” or “Has Really Bad Aim.” The players then have a short amount of time to swap out cards from the spread of ten lying face up on the table. This is great because you get to see options from the deck and from other player’s hands after they discard them.
Once the interviewer is ready you have to use all four of your cards to convince the interviewer that you should have the job. For example, for the B-Movie Actor job, I had the cards “Camera,” “Topless,” “British Accent,” and “Blonde.” I’m not proud of pretending to be a blonde woman with a Valley girl accent saying she was good in front of a camera, could do a British accent, and was willing to go topless, but that’s what happened. I did win that card so I suppose it’s worth it?
We were rolling with laughter after some of the interviews so it’s great for groups. Up to twenty people can play, though I imagine it would start to drag on and on with that big of a group.
Three quick games in three hours—what a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I mean, the gelato helped too. Check out your local board game cafe to try out some new games!