Player Count

Are there any games that work well outside the recommended number of players? I am thinking of board games, but really any; did LOL Twisted Treeline ever become a thing? The particular thing that comes to mind is games with “variant rules” for more or fewer players, where the game is usually made for 3-4 players with a 2-player (or solitaire) variant and a 5-6 player expansion. That seems really common in board games, but I cannot think of many (any?) where I have seen it done well.

  • Dominion breaks down with 5+ players, particularly if there are attacks. There is not much fun to be had in a game with at least one Torturer per round. Without attacks, you can have a very short game with that many people emptying stacks unimpeded.
  • Starfarers of Catan gets extremely crowded in the early game, leading to a snowball effect where a bad first turn puts you several turns behind everyone else as you need to navigate/colonize around them. I have never tried Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player expansion, out of a holy respect for the mathematical purity of the base game.
  • 7 Wonders does a great job scaling up or down for 3-7 players, and that is built into the cards to begin with. Well done. The two-player variant is messy and clunky. I am told that 7 Wonders Duel is excellent, intentionally re-designed for two players.
  • I am not sure if Smash Up is bad as a two-player game so much as very different, and the balance shifts massively. Any card that costs you something to hurt an opponent becomes vastly stronger if you have only one opponent, such as most Kittens cards, while factions like Ninjas and Pirates that jump into others’ fights are much weaker in a heads-up game.
  • I should just stop the two-player games, because they play differently and usually pretty badly. Recent examples I have tried include Coup and Havok and Hijinks.

Some games work for two players without rules variations, and they can mostly work. This works better for Eurogames with minimal interaction, such as Dominion. I have played Kingdom Builder mostly with two players, and it becomes a much more strategic game as you limit the number of players.

In my day-to-day life, scaling down is the usual issue, playing with my wife at home. When I go to a game day, scaling up becomes the issue as we try to get more people at the table rather than boxing 3 or 4 people away for a couple of hours. But that often leads to a suboptimal time for several hours.

Thoughts from KTR readers, games that do this well or badly and why?

: Zubon

6 thoughts on “Player Count”

  1. AD&D 1st (and 2nd really) worked well with large groups – this was due to things being setup pretty much mathematically against the players and less emphasis on fighting and more on figuring out how to evade stuff.

    3rd edition and Pathfinder are more setup for 4 person parties – and frankly are difficult to scale in relation to more people – not because you can’t work out the math – but because it’s so complicated per person – along with an emphasis on combat – that everything bogs down.

    Hide and seek scales well :)

  2. 7 Wonders Duel is one of the better two-player games I’ve played. Because it’s an exclusive draft, every move affects your opponent’s choices directly. Contrast with Rivals of Catan, in which direct interactions are random events which require a player to meet a prerequisite or nothing happens.

    Citadels scales well from 3-8, but is another where the two-player variant fares poorly.

    A Game of Thrones is one that scales particularly badly. The first edition had a four-player variant board with additional mechanics that worked alright. Other than that, the game requires six players. You can play with five, but that puts Lannister at a severe disadvantage.

  3. Computer/party game-wise, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is something I’ve been dying to try, except I lack game-playing RL friends.

    It sounds like it will play well with two people (warning: not responsible for broken marriages) and scale up to more pretty handily as the communication chaos will only increase with more people.

    Supposedly it is also playable solo, just juggling manual and computer, but that seems not quite as fun, since ‘broken telephone’ is part of the intent.

  4. I work in a retail game shop, and answering questions like this is what I do for a living.

    (Clears throat)

    -Games that scale down to two players-
    Best Game: Carcassonne
    Most Populous Genre: Cooperative (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Hanabi, etc.)
    Honorable Mentions: Samurai, Ra (both by Reiner Knizia, both recently reprinted), Isle of Skye

    -Games that scale up to eight or more players-
    Best Game: Codenames (or the recently released Codenames: Pictures)
    Most Populous Genres: Party Games (Cards Against Humanity, Superfight, Concept, Monikers, Mysterium), Hidden Loyalty Games (Werewolf, Resistance, Mafia de Cuba, Secret Hitler)
    Honorable Mentions: Camel Up, Tsuro, Munchkin

    -Other games to note-
    Great two-player games that take less than an hour to learn how to play: Patchwork, Jaipur, Lost Cities
    Great two-player games that, yeah… set aside a whole afternoon to teach it: Twilight Struggle, most of the LCGs from Fantasy Flight Games
    Great two-player game that’s quick to learn, easy to teach… and it’s not like you need all of that money for groceries, anyway: X-Wing Miniatures game

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