A good party game has the power to resuscitate a dull evening or elevate an already exciting one. Arguably a better social lubricant than alcohol, it can make new friends of relative strangers. And though there’s nothing wrong with a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit, here are some suggestions from hosts and guests for slightly more elaborate diversions.
For the past 40 years, the director and actor LaTanya Richardson Jackson, 73, and her husband, the actor Samuel L. Jackson, 73, have hosted game night on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Charades is the household favorite but, because of the intensity with which they play it, the game has “morphed into something that scares people,” says Richardson Jackson. Onlookers are not allowed, so anyone who shows up to see what the fuss is about must participate, and “people come armed now with the encyclopedia,” she says, to stump others with their obscure picks.
Untitled (“Reveal a Secret”)
“I force everyone to reveal a secret about themselves,” says the Lagos, Nigeria-based writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 45. “And invariably I want it to be about their sex lives. It doesn’t always work. Usually, the first person says, ‘Oh no, come on.’ Then the second person says, ‘Well, I did this once…’ And suddenly everyone’s laughing.”
Named after the main train loop in central Tokyo, Yamanote involves saying the names of the stations on the line in order, so if one person says “Shibuya,” the next person has to say “Ebisu,” and so on. “If you make a mistake, you have to drink,” says the Tokyo-based fashion designer Tomo Koizumi, 34. “It’s fun to play when you’re drunk.”
The name means “scraps of paper,” and it’s a game that the Mexico City-based chef and restaurant owner Mercedes Bernal, 34, has played since middle school. (In the U.S., the same game is called Celebrity or Fishbowl.) Guests split up into two or three teams, depending on the size of the party, and every person writes down the name of a celebrity — or a fictional character — on a piece of paper and drops it in a hat. A player then draws a slip of paper, which only they read, and the game begins. Papelitos is played in three rounds, with teams getting one minute per round to guess whose name is written on the paper. During the first round, the player who picked the paper can use as many words to describe the celebrity or fictional character as possible, as long as they never say the person’s name. “So if it’s Marilyn Monroe, you can say, ‘Blonde actress from the 1950s,’” explains Bernal. In the second round, the player is allowed to say just one word (e.g., “blonde” or “bombshell”). In the third round, there is no speaking whatsoever — just acting. “It’s kind of like Charades, but more difficult,” says Bernal. “My friends hate playing anything with me because I’m so competitive.”
Halo Kaya Perez-Gallardo, 34, the chef and owner of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson, New York, believes this game is a real icebreaker. How it works: The host (or judge) picks someone in the room but doesn’t say their name out loud. “It’s the responsibility of everyone else to ask questions that build the profile of that person’s essence,” explains Perez-Gallardo. “It’s subtle. You’re not asking, ‘What would this person buy at the grocery store?’ but more like, ‘If this person were a time of day, would it be dawn, just as the sun is rising, or noon, when it’s beating down on the earth?’ Or, ‘What Mario Kart character would this person’s essence be?’” The round continues until everyone in the room has asked an essence question. Then, on the count of three, they all say the name of the person they think it is out loud at the same time. The person who was profiled then becomes the next judge. “I love playing it with strangers,” Perez-Gallardo says, “because it’s a really beautiful way to get to know someone.”
Truth, Dare, Mystery Shot
“I don’t know how sick or juvenile this will make me sound, but Truth, Dare, Mystery Shot is a perverse party game that I invented in my twenties,” says the Brooklyn-based author and musician Michelle Zauner, a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast, 33. “It involved some pretty awful truths and dares. The mystery shot — if you were brave enough to opt for that — was a shot [glass] that all of the guests would fill with whatever was in the kitchen: leftover mint liqueur, ketchup, things like that. Not many of us are brave enough to do it anymore.”
In each round of Mafia, a role-playing game that the Seoul- and New York City-based fashion designer Terrence Kim, 35, recently played with his co-workers on a camping trip in Gapyeong, South Korea, the “Mafioso” or “Mafiosi” choose one victim to kill; the “doctor” saves one person they believe the mobsters will target; and the “police officer” gets one stab at guessing the identity of the criminal or criminals — which only the host and the criminals know. The objective is to test one another’s deductive reasoning skills. “Everyone does what they can to survive,” says Kim. “It was interesting to see the conniving side of my employees.”
Untitled (“Face Off”)
“I’m known for tearing my face off at dinner,” says the U.K.-based performance artist Elliot Joseph Rentz, a.k.a. Alexis Stone, 29, who often wears movie-grade prosthetics when impersonating celebrities such as Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, the socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein and, most notably, Robin Williams’s Mrs. Doubtfire. After Rentz has finished eating his meal (“I have to eat to think”), the artist likes to turn to the person sitting beside him and instruct them to pinch his chin and nose and pull firmly and steadily toward them until the whole facade falls away, revealing his real face underneath. For a more traditional party game, Stone likes “Cards Against Humanity.” In each round, players are prompted to fill in a blank or answer a question using cards that have offensive or taboo phrases written on them. The judge for that round then reads the cards aloud and chooses a winner. Says Rentz, “It’s definitely a ‘let’s turn the phones off and leave them by the front door in a bowl’ situation when that game comes out.”
Additional reporting by Jason Chen, Michiyo Nakamoto, Juan A. Ramírez, Coco Romack, Laura May Todd and John Wogan.