2020 has been a year of lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing and generally ‘stay in your homes ALONE’, but occasionally we have been allowed to gather in groups of six, maximum (unless grouse shooting, of course… not that I am one to grouse) either outdoors (mostly) or indoors (sometimes). So, when getting your all-important dose of gaming, it is important to get the maximum play for the maximum number of players. Below are six of the best six player games, ranging in play time from six minutes to six hours (okay, maybe that’s a bit hopeful).
Sub Terra is billed as a horror co-operative board game. I’m not sure whether I agree with that. I think it is more a nail-biting cave escape co-op. Sub Terra is an event though, not just a game, and it scales brilliantly at all player counts.
In Sub Terra, you and your fellow cavers are going to explore the depths of a cave system by turning over tiles and laying them out into a complex network of tunnels and dead ends. But you are not alone down there. In fact, any way you reckon you could die in a cave is definitely going to happen a few times in this game. There will be poisonous gas leaks, there will be floods, earthquakes, cave-ins and, as if that wasn’t enough, you’re not alone down there. Unknown horrors are also stalking you and trying to kill you if you stray too far away from safety.
This is an action selection game, where you will work together to reveal all the cave tiles and then hopefully also all get out. Each player gets two action points per round, but some actions will cost both of those. You can perform a “skill check” to gain an additional action. This involves rolling a 4 or higher on a D6. But if you fail, then you lose health points.
As a co-op, you either all win or all fail. But you might not all survive the cave. If you play with my partner we invariably have to leave him for dead as he takes far too many risks! The first of our favourite six player games is an ideal twist on your Pandemic! co-op experience, and a sequel set in an ancient pyramid is due out in 2021!
Citadels will always have a place in my heart as it was one of the first games I demoed. It also remains pretty unique and a cracking game for six players.
The aim is to have the most points at the end of the game, determined by the value of your city. The game ends when someone builds eight districts in their city. So far so simple, and the rules are simple too. On your turn you can either draw two cards and choose one or draw two gold and then you can build a district from your hand. Very nice. What makes Citadels unique, though, is the characters. Every player chooses a character, and every turn the characters change.
What’s so good about characters, I hope you ask? Well, not only do the characters determine the order of play, they also unlock special abilities for the player. In the base set (the deluxe version has more characters), the characters are, in order of play: Assassin, Thief, Magician, King, Bishop, Merchant, Architect and Warlord. For those of you who are good at ‘da math’, you will see that there are eight characters, so not all characters will be in play.
This is what makes Citadels more than a hidden identity and more than a tableau building game. For example, the Assassin always goes first and gets to choose a ‘character’ (not a player) to lose their turn, so it pays not to get too obvious with your choices. The King always gets to choose first and will know what character isn’t in play. The Bishop is protected from the Warlord’s ability to destroy districts, so if you’ve got seven buildings… and so on.
As you can see, there’s huge potential for variation and, even though Citadel is 20 years old, there really is nothing like it.
“When seeing friends and family [for board games], you should meet in groups of six or less”- COVID-19 guidance, UK government.
So, having found five other friends who are prepared to play games, and follow social distancing rules, how do you maximize game time with such a group?
Key Flow is a re-implementation of Keyflower. Think of it as a cross between 7 Wonders and Agricola. This superb game by R&D Games will take about 60 minutes, irrespective of player count. If you're looking for six player games with virtually no down time, this fits the bill perfectly.
Imagine a world where you can visit the next town with no lockdown restrictions, work with your neighbour and mine ore together without wearing a face mask. Think of being able to borrow someone’s cart to shift your quarried stone, without having to wipe it down with anti-viral wipes. In Key Flow, more than two people can visit the jewellers in the next town at the same time or a group of people can build a boat for the river.
It seems a world away from our present coronavirus reality. If you fancy an hour of escapism, with the chance to develop your own “Little England”, free of Covid-worry, keep reading.
Over four seasons (rounds) you draft cards and place meeples to develop your village. One player may major in resource development such as ore or wood. Others might want their town to have farms and animals. Others prefer more urban developments with grander buildings. This is a family game. The rules are not complicated. Gameplay is sufficiently quick and simultaneous to keep everyone engaged. At the end, everyone has a pretty tableau with fields, farms, buildings, a river and perhaps a few boats. The victory points are counted to see who has made the best of their given opportunity.
I’ve had such wonderful fun playing Skull with six players. It’s a kind of bluffing game, a bit like poker. There’s constant drama around the table and you feel involved with every single action. The aim is simple: be the last person standing. Yes, there’s player elimination, but the super thing about Skull is it’s a spectacle. It’s theatre. Usually, the most fun part of any game is your turn. But in Skull, watching other people try to out-fox each other is even more entertaining.
Everyone begins with four circular cards. (They’re like pub beer mats, but don’t treat them as such!) Three of the faces are a flower. One is a skull. One by one, everyone plays one of their cards face-down in front of them. The first player then decides: do they want to play another card? Or, they can open the bidding with how many flowers they think they can turn over among the cards played thus far.
Once someone opens with a bid, other players have to up the ante or back out. At last, someone will have a number nobody dares match. Then comes the fun part! The highest bidder has to turn over cards around the table, one at a time. They need to hit their target, their stated number of flowers. The catch is they have to start with their own card(s). So if they were bluffing and played a skull, they’ve shot themselves in the foot! Will they later go on to pick your skull?
Make a successful attempt and they’re 50% of the way to winning. Achieve this twice to win! Sounds easy, right? But if they see a skull – which is very likely when you play with sneaky opponents – that player loses one of their cards at random. Lose all your cards and you’re out…
There is something about playing games with higher player counts that really encourages me to go for epic game play. And they don’t come much more epic than Twilight Imperium.
Now on its fourth edition, this is an epic game of space politics and warfare for 3-6 players that can easily take nearly a day to play at six players. There are 17 unique races to play as. Each race has a few unique technology and unit cards to add to the common pool, as well as a unique racial ability. Depending on which races are being controlled, certain aspects of the game may become more important. All in all, you are aiming to be the first player to complete a series of public and private objectives to win the day.
But why would you play this game when you could probably play 3-4 other games in the same amount of time? Good question. For me, I enjoy the way this game acts as a bit of story generator. Depending on your player abilities, your neighbours on the table and the objectives available there are a few ways to approach play. In some games, trade may be really important. In others it may be all-out war all over the board. Sometimes politics will allow you to reshape the rules in your favour.
This is a game that probably sits on my shelf gathering dust for 364 days a year. But on the one or two times a year that I do play it, everybody around the table knows they are in for a great time. You are never quite sure how the game will evolve, thanks to its many moving parts and interwoven systems, but you can pretty much guarantee that you will have an experience you will remember and talk about. And with a new expansion on the horizon adding yet more to this epic game, it is only going to get better… and probably even more epic. One of the six player games out there.
One of my favourite 6+ ends to an evening, in pre-lockdown world, was when a couple of 3-4 player games finish a bit early and we all got together for some Werewolf. I love the fact that this social deduction classic has so many interesting roles that can be blended together in different ways and tweaked from game to game, as the play time is so brief. And this then gives you a range of different win conditions: villagers killing a wolf; wolves not being killed; minion and tanner with different death-wishes.
The companion app is easy to use and makes the set-up so swift and straightforward, removing entry barriers for new players. It also reduces stuff ups in the set-up which can drag the whole experience down. I love the bare-faced lying and the crazy acts of assertion and bravado as bluff and double bluff emerge in 5 short minutes. I particularly enjoy getting to be a wolf, and the little desperate team that forms, improvising a way through surviving the claims and counter claims.
Finally, I love the development of a meta that emerges if you play together for more than a couple of games in an evening, or if you play with the same group week after week. A most memorable session for me was when one player claimed to be the Tanner (rarely a claim you see made – as he wins by being selected to die) from the off in one game. He then proceeded to do the same for the next three, and he won three of the four games as we all became increasingly confused. In reality he had a run of being a Wolf (not killed), a Minion (killed) and final the Tanner (killed again)….aaargh!
Overall, it’s a fabulous, pacey social deduction game with variability, pleasurable confusion, and bare-faced lying. Plenty of delighted groans of frustration and whoops of triumph are to be heard as round after round ends and the roles are revealed. Buy, bluff and enjoy!
So these are our favourite six player games – honourable mentions go to that elder statesman of ‘designer board games’, 7 Wonders, which has just had a 2nd edition released (if you haven’t got it, or haven’t tried it, you really, really should) and the recently re-released Dune – great for bringing friends together and then tearing them apart.
We may not be able to meet as sixes for a while. However, seeing as you are a gamer in tier one, two or three, you will probably be itching to get around the table for some big Game. The time will come again, be sure of that. In the meantime, stay safe, keep well and… back off, okay?
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