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Top 5 Games for All Player Counts

dune all player counts feature

When we talk about a game that “scales well,” we mean that our enjoyment isn’t affected by the number of players. Sometimes adding players can mean longer downtime between turns. Sometimes the mechanics of the game don’t change, which can be problematic. With that in mind, here are some suggestions of games that are enjoyable at any player count!

Dune Imperium - John Hunt

While I know scalable to four doesn’t seem like a big ask, Dune Imperium deserves a shout-out for the quality of its bot, which does a creditable job of making the solo and two-player games as much fun as with three or four.

Imperium blends worker placement and deckbuilding in a satisfying melange. Your hand of five cards is split in its function. Choose between playing cards to place your 2 (and later 3) workers or playing at turn end to purchase from the card market and fight on Arrakis. In all this you are competing for VP – from combat, from influence with the four factions and potentially from Spice Must Flow cards.

As a solo, the bot deck (or free app) controls two rival houses and makes for a proper challenge as you race to 10 VP. While the AI players are functioning on a simplified mechanics set, it seems to work really well. They have you competing for spaces and influence with the four factions and fighting hard in the round’s combat on Arrakis. There’s no free pass.

At two, the bot controls a single AI player with even more cut down rules, but still, they are a foil for the two human players. The spaces lost on the board to the bot’s workers make for greater direct contest between the two players and ramp up the tension. And this really makes a difference as I think too often WP games at two lose their bite by offering too much space and choice.

And at three and four the game is equally fab – three being the perfect blend between confined choices but sufficient scope for tactical options. Four is a bit of a knife fight in a phone booth, but because each of the board regions has more or less accessible spaces if you find yourself really constrained it’s probably because you made poor card-purchasing decisions.

Dune Imperium is a great game – pacey, thinky and providing plenty of routes to victory. It’s a real pleasure to be able to play it at any count and guarantee a thoroughly spicy experience.

Welcome To - Hannah Blacknell

A game that scales and is as good at any player count is not a thing you always get. There are lots of games that play well at all their recommended player counts, but what about any player count. Enter Welcome To, which is a roll and write which can be played at any number at all. It says on the box 1-100 but this is chiefly based on the number of sheets available in the box.

Welcome To is a neighbourhood planning game where each turn you get to choose one of the three pairs of cards to place into your neighbourhood. You are trying to build pools, parks, and estate agencies for points all the while trying to create a neighbourhood that fits with the three contracts of the game. But still bagging you big points. Which is the conundrum.

Going for the contracts too early might result in you messing up your street for later end game scoring. But then getting a contract early ensures the biggest points for you and denies your opponents them. This is a head-scratchingly good flip and fill game that can be played easily over a video call as well as in person. As it is kind of a multiplayer solo game, there is no significant player interaction so you are able to play at any player count without any of the crux of the game being lost.

There are also a number of expansions now so you can suit your game to the time of year with the zombie edition or Halloween candy corn version. Ice cream trucks for the hot months. There is an Easter egg version and a winter wonderland expansion too. If that wasn't enough variety for you, the game is built upon more in their subsequent games; Welcome to Las Vegas and the brand new release Welcome to The Moon. Oodles of fun for any player count!

Railroad Ink - Ian Peek

There are many reasons I’ve enjoyed Roll ‘n Writes recently (see September’s What We’ve Been Playing), but I’ve never considered is how well they scale.

I usually buy games with smaller groups in mind, rarely giving much thought to how (or, more problematically – ‘if’) they’ll play with higher numbers. It’s a real relief when you discover a game which was fun for a few of you also excels with a crowd. Like Hannah, Welcome To was first among my thoughts too, followed closely by Railroad Ink.

So how does a game like Railroad Ink scale so superbly?

Firstly, it benefits from being teachable in minutes – a real boon when you’re explaining to larger crowds. It also maintains pace. Players are kept engaged throughout.

In Railroad Ink, the central mechanic involves all players drawing on their grids using the same dice. You’ll be surprised how different networks are drawn from the same dice! This simultaneous play aspect is a real win when dealing with larger groups; cutting down wait times reduces potential boredom and frustration. But whilst the shared turn time is a definite benefit, it’s the shared pool where this game really shines. At the end of the game you’re comparing scores with other players who’ve had access to the exact same options as you – it’s the levellest playing field you could hope for. There’s something extra satisfying and moreish about revealing how differently your decisions have played out by the game’s end. Railroad Ink plays for 6 people out of the box, with extra sets increasing group sizes and still playable at the same table. In-box expansions offer variety for repeated plays.

Cartographers is also another excellent roll ‘n write recommend – fittingly, a game about maps which also scales well.

7 Wonders - Jim Cohen

7 Wonders is an absolute classic. If you don’t have it and are looking to add a new game to your collection, I couldn’t recommend this enough. If you are looking for a game that scales well, 7 Wonders is a strong contender too. Now, you cannot play this at one, and the two-player mode is not the greatest. They made 7 Wonders Duel for that. But for a game that works from three to seven, there are not many better.

A game that scales well needs to be as enjoyable in multiple player counts. It needs to have a similar game time, irrelevant of player count. And it needs to avoid lengthy downtime between turns, which in a high player count can be very dull indeed. 7 Wonders plays simultaneously. There is zero downtime. The game length is not affected by the player count at all.

This is due to the drafting mechanic within the game. If you haven’t played a drafting game before, it is explained very simply. Each player will be dealt some cards. You choose one to keep and then pass the rest on. As all players are doing this at the same time, and this is the main premise of the game, 7 Wonders is simple and quick enough to teach to anyone, which I believe is another key factor is games that scale well.

It is all well and good having a great game at seven. But if you cannot find seven people who will want to play or enjoy it, it’s irrelevant. Whereas 7 Wonders could be explained within minutes to people who had never played a modern board game before. Experienced players will still find enjoyment in this modern classic.

Flamme Rouge - Craig Smith

As others have suggested, games with simultaneous actions tend to scale the best. For me, Flamme Rouge is the best example of this.

Each person is responsible for a team of two cyclists: a sprinter and a rouleur. Each cyclist has a deck of cards that represent the speed they cycle. Sprinters are generally slower but capable of bursts of speed. Roulers are more evenly paced. In a turn, a person takes the top four cards from a cyclist’s deck and chooses one. They place it face down and then do the same for their other cyclist. Then everyone flips their cards over and, starting from the front, all cyclists are moved. If anyone is exactly one space behind another cyclist, they are slipstreamed forward. If they are the front cyclist, or more than a space behind, they collect an exhaustion card to add to their deck.

Because turns are done simultaneously, there’s no real downtime. Even when the cyclists are moving, you are trying to work out how everyone else’s decisions will impact you. There are ongoing decisions of when to use your higher valued cards. Do you save them to try and speed towards the finish? Do you make an early move and hope the exhaustion cards don’t slow you down too much? What happens if you get left behind by playing too cautiously?

Flamme Rouge can be played at 2-4 players, or can be played with up to six players with the Peleton expansion. Games with higher player counts are only marginally longer, meaning there’s no boredom or restlessness. There's just a want to play it all over again!