It’s early evening: snacks are laid out, drinks are laid in and you have a gaggle of gamers bearing down on you. Eager excitement abounds and you’re considering how best to bring out the laughter and frivolity that typifies your sessions. Your friends love to be silly, they love creativity and they enjoy a little bit of performative play. Look no further than these 5 player-suggestion party games to bring out your inner improv comedian.
Game Of Things
This is the original, the progenitor, the game adopted and adapted by panel shows and television formats since time immemorial. One player suggests a category, such as, “things you would find in the bedroom”, and all players write a suggestion. Here’s the twist: all the suggestions are handed in and the player who gave the category shuffles and reads them out (including their own). The other players have to guess who wrote what but the person who gave the category doesn’t guess and cannot be guessed.
As with many other games, such as Cards Against Humanity (which will not feature in this list as a result of my personal dislike of its dubious premise and clumsy format), and even Mock The Week’s ‘Scenes We’d Like to See’, players seek to make each other laugh, running jokes emerge and the format is endlessly repeatable. This game also has the benefit of not needing to be purchased and requiring only pencils and paper (digital versions such as a bot on Discord are possible). It works best with between 5 and 8 players, in my view, but I have known it to be played with upwards of 15.
It does have a memory element and there are often requests for the remaining options to be repeated, which can slow things down, but its simplicity and possibility of escalation (in terms of childishness, irreverence or absurdity) tends to mean you can happily go several rounds without it getting stale.
This game works in a very similar way to Game of Things but in reverse. At the start of a round, the active player reads a question and all other players receive a fish-shaped token: all but one are red on their underside (a red herring!) while the final one is the “true blue kipper”. The player who receives the kipper has to give the correct answer, which is shown on the back of the question card, when the active player goes around the group (but try to make it sound unbelievable). Everyone else has to invent a false (but believable) alternative on the spot.
The active player then faces the challenge of identifying all the red herrings by flipping over their fish token to show its colour, leaving only the true blue kipper unrevealed. They can stop guessing at any time, and a point is scored by the active player for every red herring correctly revealed; players whose red herrings were flipped score nothing; unflipped red herrings score one point for every flipped fish; and a revealed blue kipper scores one point for every unflipped fish. If the active player reveals the kipper, their turn is over and they score no points.
A key difference here is that one person is doing all the guessing, but everyone else is equally invested in their choices. Tension is high and there is a real thrill as fish are turned over and their red or blue underbellies revealed. It requires a little bit of set up (but it’s not especially onerous) and the point scoring can be a little bit fiddly. The rounds are nonetheless fast paced, though, and extremely funny. It’s also nice to have drama and suspense added into a type of game normally focused just on performance.
Keeping in the oeuvre of players attempting to fool one-another, this literary-themed game also asks you to give fake suggestions of something for which the correct answer is provided. In Ex Libris (not to be confused with the Gnomish Book Collector game of the same name), the active player (‘the reader’) reads out the title and synopsis of a book - ranging from famous classics to more obscure titles - and players must write a suggestion for its first line or last words. As they ponder and pen their suggestions, the reader writes out the genuine first line or last words from the back of the card.
All the suggestions are shuffled and read out by the reader, and all the other players have to guess which is the genuine article (or adjective, verb, or noun!). You score one point for guessing correctly, and one point for each time someone guesses your response as the real one. The reader receives a point if no one manages to guess the real answer.
One downside here is that the reader mostly has to sit and wait while others guess. However, the rounds are short and snappy so you don’t have to exhibit much in the way of patience and there can be a sweet sense of schadenfreude as you watch your friends squirm over their choices. Reading out the suggestions never fails to amuse, either. It’s less performative than the others and so some players will find it more accessible but it’s also less repeatable - there are only 100 books in the set and although that will last several games (depending on your appetite), they will eventually run out. You might also find it more difficult if playing against any real literary buffs, as they may well know the real answer!
Drifting further away from the expectation of performance, Herd Mentality challenges players to blend in as much as possible. As with Game of Things, one player gives a subjective category (some are provided in the game box or you can improvise) and everyone gives a suggestion. However, in this game, you’re trying to offer the suggestion that the highest number of players gives.
All players who wrote the most popular answer get a point (or a ‘cow’ in the nomenclature of the game), but if more than one answer was suggested the same number of times, no one gets a point. If one player is the only person whose answer doesn’t match with anyone, they are awarded the pink cow and cannot win the game (although they can still score points) until it passes on to someone else. First player to eight points wins.
This is no longer about making people laugh, or duping your friends into guessing your suggestion, but instead requires you to determine the most obvious, most widely agreed upon or most well-known response to the prompt, which is a really interesting and innovative twist on the genre. Some of the included suggestions are multiple-choice, which is good for scoring points but less challenging, and the game in general is less creative and more tactical than the others in this list. It also has less potential for the kind of humor and memorable moments as a result of focusing on mainstream answers, but definitely presents an interesting puzzle and great satisfaction when your answer succeeds.
Swinging wildly to the other end of the spectrum, I’ll finish with Cult Following: an extremely creative and performative game that rewards improvisation and outright lunacy. In each round, 2 or 3 competitors choose three cards from their hand of five and must combine them in a pitch for a cult to which they are attempting to recruit the other players.
Their potential recruits then ask questions - which can be drawn from a deck of cards or your own imagination - to get some more insight into how this proposed cult would operate. They then vote on which of the advertised cults they would most like to join, and the elected player wins (you’re not obliged to actually start your cult, but my friend’s pitch of the “Pirate Lords of Doing it All Wrong” did seem to be depressingly brought to life by my record in other games that weekend).
This game is creative, dramatic, hilarious and utterly bonkers which suits my group down to the ground but which some might find intimidating, especially in terms of the level of performance required to sell a cult really effectively.
All of these games offer many opportunities for in-jokes, recurring motifs and roller-coaster rides of shame and glory as your ingenuity is put to the test. When considering which your group ought to try next, consider how much your players enjoy creative freedom and ostentatious performance - neither of these are required by all of these games, but both appear to some degree in almost all of them. It might be worth considering the style of play you enjoy on a scale of bananagrams to scrabble: both require you to arrange letters into words and both pitch you against your opponents, but they are very different in terms of pace, energy and volume.
Scrabble players may lean more naturally towards Herd Mentality or Ex Libris, while bananagrams fans might enjoy Cult Following and Game of Things more, with Sounds Fishy occupying a middle ground between the two.
They are all great fun and stand up to considerable repetition, so perhaps one could be a gateway to the others for your group.