Top 5 High School Club Games for 2016/17
With the full school year of 2016/2017 just over we’ll look at the five most popular games at the high school lunchtime Games and Chess Club for the school year. There’s something to be learned about running a games club from each of the top five games.
Number 5: Fluxx has changing rules and victory conditions and so it varies wildly in playtime – from 5 to 30 minutes. There’s never a clear or predictable path to victory and wins are random and almost never go to the most skilful players. Frankly I refuse to play it. The unpredictability drives me nuts! So why do the kids like it so much?
Kids have a very high tolerance for random events and don’t value time the way an adult might. They don’t get personally offended when 30 minutes of careful planning and scheming is completely undone by a completely random event. In fact, it’s safe to say that for my high school kids the randomness of Fluxx is the attraction. It’s also the tide that raises all boats. Games like Fluxx allow kids of all ages and abilities to have a laugh while playing with kids they would never play in chess or other ‘brain burner’ games.
Randomness can level the playing field. A game that has similar benefits: Munchkin
Number 4: Game of Thrones got a lot of play this year. The tacked on theme has a little bit to do with it. The box art and card art means it’ll at least get opened occasionally but it’s the game play that made it popular. Unlike Fluxx, Game of Thrones allows and rewards careful planning and scheming. There’s an element of fortune in the hand of cards you’re dealt but there’s no bad hand, only bad strategies to deal with it.
Between 2 and 6 can participate and players can drop out without wrecking the game. There’s enough ‘screw-your-neighbor’ to keep the grade 9 boys happy but the game is abstract enough that it’s impossible to actually pick on a particular player. While the game’s strategy can be complex the rules are not. In fact, they’re dead simple.
- Get rid of all your cards by playing one per turn on any row
- The pyramid base can have a maximum 8 cards
- Cards played above other cards must straddle two cards and be the same colour as at least one of the cards below it
Games that allow variable player counts but predictable play time, have no player elimination, and have easy to learn but hard to master rules are winners. It’s also a ‘safe’ game where older kids can’t beat up on newbies.
Easy to learn but hard to master games are good investments. Games that offers similar benefits: Chess, Hive, Abalone
Number 3: King of Tokyo had a resurgence this year. With the constant popular media recycling of the giant monster-mech-Kaiju genre there’s always interest in playing a 30 story monsters that smashes a city and other monsters. This, again, is a game that I won’t play very often. Players take turns rolling the same set of dice in pursuit of gaining victory points, buying abilities, and fighting. The catch is that you have to wait your turn as the dice make their way from player to player as each does their turn. If you’ve got kids who overthink everything and/or can’t seem to roll the dice without one bouncing off across the floor it can be a long wait.
It plays well with 2 to 6 players but 5 or 6 player games can go past the 40 minute lunch hour timeframe, particularly if you’ve got a slow poke in the group. It’s fun, looks good, and has a lot of replayability built into the base game and a Power Up! expansion that melds seamlessly into the base game without making the game take much longer. The dice rolling encourages strategic thinking and mastering probability on the fly.
Games where the prime mechanism for winning or losing are a water tight set of rules take the social anxiety aspect out of the game and allow kids of different ages to get used to each other before moving to games that are more social in nature. King of Tokyo‘s a good icebreaker for the start of the new games club year but also keeps kids entertained all year-long.
There’s no substitute for a well designed game that also has replayability. Games that offers similar benefits and a pass-the-dice experience: Age of War (or anything else by Reiner Knizia will also have a rock solid design although some are perhaps to dry for kids)
Number 2: Saboteur assigns one player at random the job of hindering the group’s efforts without getting caught doing it. More than other games on this list Saboteur demands that you have social skills and be able to adeptly deflect blame, cast doubt on others, and carry off the role of saboteur. Some high school kids struggle with this and if they get found out early it’s pretty easy for the rest of the group to band together and win.
The social aspect of the game, however, appeals to most and everyone wants to be the saboteur, even if they play the role badly. The hidden agenda and trying to sort out the good guys from the bad is played out through a clever little game that can host 3 to 10 players, has no player elimination, has a predictable playtime for each round, and you can play as many extra rounds as time allows. Alongside King of Tokyo, the Saboteur table is always the liveliest with accusations flying back and forth and groans or laughter from the duped or the duper depending if the saboteur was caught in time. Hidden role games are a lot of fun!
Hidden role games appeal to just about everyone and because the game play is people instead of game oriented, each play turns out differently. Games that offer similar experience and benefits: Bang!, Avalon
Number 1: Family Business by far was played the most this year again. Apart from the violent theme there’s little to dislike about this game for games club kids. Adults may find it grows tedious as the game play is blunt and to the point but that’s because adults aren’t actively making and breaking alliances, trash talking, and announcing every Contract, Hit, and St. Valentine’s Day with gusto. Kids are uniquely suited to make the most of this one and I have to confess that this is the game I don’t play often with adults but love to play with the kids. It also benefits from fitting perfectly into a lunch break with little or no dead time after you’re done. If you’re quick you can even squeeze in two rounds.
Sometimes direct conflict and the ability to make your buddy (or teacher!) pay is just plain fun. There’s nothing abstract about Family Business! Games that offer a similar experience and benefits: Bang!, Ca$h n’ Guns
It was a good year at games club. I consider myself lucky that several times a week I kinda get paid to play games. The opportunity to play with teenagers reminds me of why I got into gaming back when I was in high school. Apparently, the novelty hasn’t worn off yet…
For more on starting and running a youth game club see these posts: