Necessary Elements of a Perfect Party Game

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm
Can party games be more than this?

(Editor's note: Sorry...scheduling error! Little re-post if you don't mind!)
The other night marked the birthday celebration of a good friend of mine from college. The gathering began at a restaurant and bar, but as the evening wore on we all went back to an apartment and fired up a Wii. The first game decided upon was Mario Party 9.

I know I work in the video game press, but I had no idea we were up to Mario Party 9. Mario Party apparently has become the Nintendo equivalent of Now That's What I Call Music!, which now has about five hundred versions? Right? I feel like there have been enough editions of Now That's What I Call Music! that literally anything that anyone has ever called music has been featured on a Now That's What I Call Music! CD.

Anyway. I had not played Mario Party 9 before, but I quickly understood that it features the same type of micro-game-laden, frenetic, chance-based gameplay that is so common in party-oriented titles that aren't Rock Band.  Before long we were knee-deep in stars and toadstools.

But while Mario Party's board game / mini-game feel is certainly one way to make a video game meant to be played in a party setting, it's not my ideal. The party game of my dreams is a game that both emphasized each party-goer's individual skills while also exposing to the party which players are hyper-competitive dicks. It is half hopscotch and half gladiatorial deathmatch. It is both hilarious and unfailingly logical. And it adheres to the following guidelines.

It should emphasize multiple skill sets.

My ideal party game includes both combing and drilling.

The best parties are where people of different worlds have a chance to come together. While it can be comforting to hang out within your insular circle of friends, parties should be where people branch out, social alchemy occurs and new relationships blossom. The best school parties were the ones where the jocks were doing kegstands with the nerds, and the best parties in adult life are when you get to watch your friends in finance try to figure out what the hell your artist pals are talking about.

And since different people have different things they're good at, the perfect party game should have diverse gameplay that relies on more than just one type of skill. I'm talking Cranium, video-game style. My ideal party video game would include the following: board game mechanics that rely on platforming skills, mini-games that include everything from trivia questions to artistic ability, and a strong currency component that rewards quick thinking and mathematical acuity.

Sounds kind of all over the place, doesn't it? Absolutely. But it also allows everyone playing, from the writer to the athlete to the couch potato, to have a niche within the game where they can really shine. And if you're not good at a certain portion of the game, guess what -- the person sitting next to you very well may be!

It should have the potential to make people laugh.

It should be notes that my ideal party game contains less shame than the game pictured above.

Look, we all love a good nineteen-hour game of Risk where everyone takes it way too seriously and maybe you cry when the last of your riflemen have perished on the war-torn beaches of Australia. There's no shame in shedding a few tears over honor.

But if you're at a party, unless the whole point is to sit down and play some huge, complex thing like the Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones board games, usually you're looking for a somewhat more lighthearted experience. You're looking to do something engaging and focused, yeah, but really you're looking to laugh with friends and bond over a shared experience.

What I'm trying to say is that the whole thing should be full of opportunities for the players to do ridiculous things, say hilarious lines and find themselves in ludicrous situations. This way everybody loosens up and gets on the same wavelength.

It should provide the opportunity to fuck people over.


I don't want you to think from the preceding two sections of this essay that I'm some kind of Kumbayah party hippie. I think a great party game should be accommodating of what each player brings to the table, it should be fun to play, but I also think it should absolutely give you the chance to backstab other participants.

Why, you ask? Why is the possibility for betrayal one of my requirements for party games? Well, one reason is just that a simple act of Machiavellian cruelty, even one of the board game variety, is completely engrossing to watch. Even people not actively playing the game will be interested in looking on if there's always a potential plot twist coming up.

But it also gives the people at the party a chance to discern for themselves who's charming and who's a jerk. It's pretty easy to be likable and easy-going when nothing's at stake, but put even a small amount of pressure on someone, and you'll see who is actually a cool person and who is, in fact, a total ass.

It should allow for infusions of the players' personalities into the gameplay.


I think it is possible to actually get to know people through playing party games. JD writer Ryan Winslett posted a piece about great board games recently, and mentioned Apples to Apples and its more ribald counterpart, Cards Against Humanity. One of the amazing things about these games is that the winner of each round is chosen by one of the other players, acting as the round's judge. So each round, everybody has to assess the judge's sense of humor, whether they'll appreciate randomness or logic more, et cetera. These types of games let people see not only how you compete, but who you are.

So while of course there's a place for the pretty elementary mini-games of the Mario Party series, perhaps there should also be party video games where the players dictate the conditions of victory, where input from the player is less about controlling an avatar's movements and more about expressing an idea or a joke.

What would a game that involved all the above elements look like? I can't even imagine it. But I think if I played it, it would not only provide a great alternative to just sitting around and drinking, it would teach me a bit about the people playing it.

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