It's a little hard to believe, but “back to school” time is almost here. For college freshmen, though, it's “off to school for the exciting-yet-somewhat-terrifying first time.”
A new school, new classes, new challenges, new living arrangements, and a completely new social group await your freshman. (You, my fellow parent, are in for some changes as well, including the occasional sleepless nights and random text message requests for everything from laundry advice to bank transfers, but at least you get to stay at home through it all.)
We know from both academic research and personal experience that playing games with people helps you connect with them. Just the act of sitting down to a tabletop game with another person breaks down social barriers and increases how much you'll like your co-players and how they feel about you.
Why? Because games are a social lubricant. They smooth out the bumps and get people laughing, mixing, and mingling. The trick is finding the right titles for your student's new world.
A word of explanation
Before we get into the games themselves, I want to explain something. This is the most “normal” list of games I ever wrote about -- normal in the sense that they're largely available at big box retailers rather than independent game stores. If you read this column for any period of time, then you know how abnormal this list of “normal” recommendations really is.
I chose this mix of games for some very specific reasons. First, the games need to play well with a group of people. Three and four player games are awesome, but these need to work with a whole slew of people at once.
Second, they're easy to learn. None of the games on this list take more than a minute or two to teach. That's vital for a college crowd where you need to engage people fast and get them playing. Maybe later in the school year your student can teach people to play Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan, but for now the goal is just getting a bunch of people around a table and playing a game.
Finally, these games are inexpensive and easy to replace. At college, bad things happen to good games. Nobody meant to spill the soft drinks all over the table or shove the deck of cards into the toaster (okay, they might have meant it about the deck of cards…). If something bad happens to any of these, they're fast and easy to replace. (Some companies might even ship replacement parts if something gets lost!)
On with the list
Dice games make great college game fodder because they're a little loud while you play, plus most of them take about 30 seconds to grasp. Once the noise draws people over, these games suck them in with their easy playing style. My top picks here are the classic standbys Yahtzee, Pass the Pigs, and LCR. In fact, LCR gets a special double secret nomination because every college student just needs one. It's that much fun, that simple to teach and play, and far too easy to toss in your backpack. Just buy it. Buy a couple of them. Seriously.
Moving on to light strategy games, Jenga and Uno make another great pair of titles. Both easily pass the “Let's Make Some Noise!” test for good college gaming, plus most everybody already knows how to play, even if they don't know all of the rules.
Full-fledged classic party games make good options as well. You can't go wrong with Apples to Apples and Catchphrase, although newer options such as Choose One (Looney Labs) and Snake Oil (Out of the Box Games) may make a bigger splash because of their novelty.
And then there's this one
Since we're on the subject of party games, there's one game I really should mention even thought I honestly don't want to. That game is Cards Against Humanity. It's all the rage among the 20-something college crowd for being a politically incorrect “I can't believe you said that” celebration of, well, things that you really shouldn't say out loud these days.
While many people swear by the game's raw, inappropriate humor, a lot of others swear at it for being sexist, racist, and a slew of other -ists. When the game's positive reviews describe it as “dirty, foul, and hilarious” and “great for people who can laugh at orphans with cancer,” you know it's not something for everyone. If that fits your students' personality and style, then this could be another party game option. That being said, I can't recommend it (but I also can't ignore it). At least you know what you're getting into with it.
That wraps up the off-to-college game list. Make sure you save some space in the car for a few of these social connectors to help your student launch into a successful time meeting, greeting, and making friends.