Great Games Under an Hour
One of my favorite times to play board games is over lunch hour with other co-workers - it makes for a great mental break in the middle of the day. Not only that, but shorter board games serve several purposes; they make a great filler before a longer game while waiting for others to show up, serve as good gateway games to gently introduce people to the hobby without committing them to a 3 hour experience, and even in a social situation as an icebreaker or activity for a group. Here’s a few favorites I really enjoy!
Players: 2 to 8+, Playtime: 15 mins, Complexity: Low
Codenames is a spectacular little word game that we’ve talked about a few different times in the podcast. The idea is players are broken into teams and presented with a grid of 25 random words. Two people (one from each team) are designated as “clue givers” for their team and have to give a one-word clue followed by a number; the number is the number of cards on the table that the one-word clue pertains to. From there their team attempts to identify the words that the clue giver was attempting to allude to, without guessing the wrong word. Picking the wrong word can result in anything from simply ending their turn to losing the game if they’ve picked the dreaded “assassin word”.
The fact that I’ve just explained the entire ruleset in that paragraph makes Codenames a great game for casual gamers, and having players divided into teams makes for some fun social icebreaking. It’s also a great word game in that you’re not at a disadvantage for not having a large vocabulary unlike games that require you to spell or come up with words on the spot, making it more accessible for all to enjoy. Coming in at under $30, the game is a great addition to anyone’s collection.
Players: 5 to 10, Playtime: 30 mins, Complexity: Medium
The Resistance is one of the purest “hidden traitor” games available. The basic idea is that one or two players at the table are secretly spies (determined by random card draw), and are attempting to undermine the success of the game. If they’re able to do so 3 of the 5 rounds, the spies win. Throughout the course of the game the good guys are attempting to successfully complete 3 of their own missions, but in doing so they have to (unknowingly?) interact with some of the players at the table, which may cause their mission to fail. Using this information, the good guys attempt to root out the bad guys and win the game.
The Resistance plays in about 15 to 30 minutes, longer if your group flies fast and loose with the accusations (which is half the fun of the game). I prefer the Avalon version since it also adds some player roles to spice up the gameplay a bit. Coming in at 5 to 10 players, it’s a perfect game to play around a pub table when everyone’s got a few drinks in them and aren’t afraid to throw wild accusations at each other.
Players: 1 to 5, Playtime: 15 mins, Complexity: High
If for some reason you enjoy games that stress you out, Space Alert is the game for you. In Space Alert, you’re given 10 minutes to deal with a multitude of threats that attack your spaceship both inside and out, by playing movement and action cards in real time while a MP3 soundtrack makes crazy noises and throws more threats your way. After the 10 minutes is concluded, you reset everything and “resolve” your actions step-by-step to see exactly how well you did, more often than not ending in crippling failure as your ship explodes because someone forgot to wiggle the mouse preventing the on-board computer from going into standby.
Space Alert is a complex co-operative game, but comes with a cleverly designed tutorial to ease people into the full game over the course of 7 sessions. Since the game itself only takes about 15 minutes for a full round, it’s a fun one to fail at and then try to do better right afterwards.
Players: 2 to 4 (or 8 with deluxe version), Playtime: 20 mins, Complexity: Low
For the causal card game fan, Love Letter is a great suggestion. The game is simplistic in that you’re only given two cards on your turn, and are required to use one of them, with all of the rules on that card on the bottom. The goal is to either eliminate all other players or end the round with the highest numbered card. You eliminate players in a number of different ways, through guessing which card they hold in their hand to comparing values and removing the lowest card. Rounds are quick (5 minutes max) so eliminated players don’t miss out on a lot of the action.
The 4 player game only comes with 16 cards, making it very portable and easy to break out during some downtime. The main mechanic in the game relies on card counting, and becomes a clever game of playing the odds which get more and more intense the further into a round you get.
Players: 2 to 4 (or 6 with expansion), Playtime: 60 mins, Complexity: Low
Survive is actually a re-release of an older game, Escape From Atlantis, which is a decidedly cutthroat classic where you need to rescue your individual meeples from the island of Atlantis before it sinks and is consumed by a volcano. Where it gets cutthroat is that there’s only so many boats in which to leave the island, that you will probably end up sharing with other players; it’s then up to the other players whether they want to rescue their pawns while also giving you points, or to suicide the whole vessel into a sea creature or whale. Oh, yes, also, there’s sea creatures, whales, and sharks that each player takes turns controlling to destroy one another’s chances of winning.
If your playgroup is capable of playing a direct conflict game without holding grudges after the fact, I think Survive deserves to be in every collection. In every game I’ve played, there seems to be this careful tension in the air when the game starts - as soon as the first meeple is killed, the game is on and there will be blood.