In Eight Games different board gamers share the eight games they’d select in eight different situations. The links are given to Board Game Geek listings for you to find out more. 

This month Jessica Metheringham shares her Eight Games. Jess runs Dissent Games, mixing games and workshops on social justice themes. “Disarm the Base”, a game about disarming warplanes, was successfully kickstarted in 2019. The next project is about fighting monsters in a library with the help of famous fictional and historical women. 

1: A game to take to granny’s house:
A family friendly afternoon.

Alhambra
BGG Listing

When I need a fairly straightforward game, I often go for Alhambra. The aim is to build your own beautiful walled compound of gardens, bathing houses, libraries etc. It’s a tile laying game — collect money cards, use them to buy tiles showing different parts of the Alhambra, and place your tiles in front of you. Just like the real Alhambra, your version is bordered by a river, which can make placing the tiles a little challenging!

One reason that Alhambra is good for sharing with newer gamers is that it’s possible to give good advice to another player without jeopardising your own chances. Although you are competing for the types of buildings to place in your Alhambra, for most of the game you are actively keeping your options open. I play it with my family on a regular basis. 

2: A game to take to a restaurant:
Play around the drinks and cutlery.

Dixit is a game of words and pictures. One player describes a picture card using a word or phrase, and the other players try to guess to which of a range of cards their fellow player is referring. The skill lies in being able to give a clue which some but not all of your competitors will get — you get no points if no one guesses correctly, and no points if everyone guesses correctly! 

If you’re going to a restaurant then leave the box at home and just take the cards, numbered tiles, and pen and paper to score. The cards are beautiful and often sinister, with the sharp-edged depth of fairytales and folklore. If you’re not careful then you can easily spend the evening lost in the illustrations — but it would be an evening well spent. 

3: A game to take to a reunion:
Some people you want to chat to, others… not so much.

Codenames
BGG Listing

It’s a team game, which is good, but works with very loose teams. My partner has a huge wider family, and we were 15 adults last Christmas (plus children, plus dogs). Codenames was an almost permanent feature, and it really didn’t matter if people wandered away or swapped teams. A grid of words is laid out in front of the teams, and one person on each team needs to get their teammates to say certain words, but avoid others. The result is a game of wordy connections. It’s a simple concept, and a brilliantly effective one. 

4: A game to take to a primary school:
Arm yourself with multiple copies and take over a whole classroom.

City of Zombies
BGG Listing

Be warned, this game will make you do basic arithmetic. Roll the dice and see how you can add, subtract, multiple, or divide the numbers in order to knock out a zombie! The zombies advance towards you along a multi-lane board, which makes the whole thing feel a bit like an arcade game. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it’s very child friendly. Many games which try to be educational don’t quite get the balance right, but this one is game first and maths lesson second. It’s a co-operative game, which means the adults can set the pace. With adults only it can get very quick indeed! 

5: A game to take to a youth club:
Hook in the next generation of board gamers.

Mysterium
BGG Listing

A game for up to seven people, Mysterium is a one part Cluedo, one part Dixit (which obviously you took to the restaurant earlier), and one part something else entirely. One player takes the role of ghost, and can only communicate with the other players through the medium of picture cards. The other players are each seeking to understand a (different) murder, and must work out murderer, location, and weapon…all from the rather haphazard cards picked by the ghost.

The first reason I’ve chosen Mysterium is the artwork. It’s not cartoonishly, but somehow just the right amount of over-dramatic. The box alone reminds me of a box of Turkish Delight. The set up (justice from beyond the grave! three ravens! a clock!) feels so Edgar Allen Poe. I know my teenage self would have loved it. 

The second reason is the fact that it’s almost as fun to watch as it is to play. (And with a large group you can even do one round at a time, swapping out players between rounds.) Watching the poor ghost struggle with cards which don’t give the right hints, or players determined to pick the wrong murderer is a recipe for a group of teenagers in fits of laughter. 

6: A game to take to a job interview:
Demonstrate your best qualities and answer questions while you play? (This really should be a thing)

Carbon City Zero
BGG Listing

Of course, I have to take my own game, Disarm the Base, to a job interview! But if I wasn’t taking that, then I’d be taking Carbon City Zero. This is a card game created by climate campaigners Possible (previously known as 10:10) about creating the best carbon-neutral city. I love the idea that games can be about striving for positive change in the world. Just like with educational games, if you want to use the theme of a game to send a message then there’s a tricky balancing act between informative and fun. Frankly, I’m always on the fun side — it’s not really a game unless it’s enjoyable. Luckily the people behind Carbon City Zero also thought the same!

7: A game to take to a hospital:
No brain-power needed.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
BGG Listing

If you think that your hospital stay (or anyone else’s, for that matter) might involves long periods of waiting, then I’d recommend Sherlock Holmes.

Firstly, there isn’t a board and pieces. Instead, you have a map, a case book, a directory, and some sheets of newspaper. This makes it easy to play anywhere — I played the first three games in the park over a picnic. 

Secondly, it’s not important who you play it with. You can play alone, or with a group. It’s a puzzle, a riddle to be figured out, and other people will probably help….but not definitely. And there are multiple cases to be solved, so you could easily ask people to help out as they visit you. 

Finally, it’s a game where not being in a rush would benefit the game. You get scored partly on how many places you visited (and whether that was fewer than Holmes) and so having the time to really ponder your next step is rather useful. 

8: A game to take to a cabin in the woods:
You have lots of time and lots of space.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
BGG Listing

I played this over about four months with some friends. They’d come round for dinner, we’d play Pandemic Legacy afterwards. It really cemented us as a group. I could imagine that playing it the whole way through in an isolated place would be an intense experience — you’d come out so deep into character that you’d be trying to pay for flights by discarding cards for weeks. 

I think you would probably need to take a week to play the whole season. As a legacy game, you change the board and even the rules as you progress. Playing through the whole thing means anything between 12 and 24 individual games, and each game takes about an hour and a half. The story twists and turns so much that it reminds me of watching a few episodes of 24. There are boxes to open, stickers to change the board, stickers to change the rule book. The objectives change over the course of the game. Doing it all over a week in an isolated cabin with a small group sounds like an brilliant idea to me!