The challenges of “Large Group” board games

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Survey a population of board gamers on what is a “large” group for a board game, and you will get answers generally ranging from 5 up to 12. They talk of the “sweet spot” for each of their games, meaning the number at which they feel the game is most enjoyable.

Quite a few of my friends hesitate to play euro games over 4P, but will make an exception for fillers and party games, especially social deduction games. But even then, ask them to join a group of over 12 players and their interest fades. There is common disbelief that a group over 12 can give a positive gaming experience, even a party game.

  Image is of role cards from One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games.

Image is of role cards from One Night Ultimate Werewolf by Bezier Games.

There are many fine 7-12 player games on the market (e.g. Telestrations, Dixit, Incan Gold, variants of Werewolf), but get over 12 and you encounter additional challenges. These include:

  • The physical challenge of 12+ people sitting/standing together and being able to communicate together effectively (that’s why meetings have Chairpersons and parliaments have Speakers).
  • Catering for people with different speeds of rule uptake, or second-language challenges.
  • Different attention spans, staggered arrival times, bathroom breaks etc.
  • Providing opportunities for all group members including structured thinkers, intuitive thinkers and those loveable “agents of chaos” that we all know (but won’t name here).
  • Managing the risk of non-dominant players losing interest either because they are simply drowned out by the numbers, or more dominant players. (Ever played Pandemic with an OC Dispatcher? It’s not fun.)

Any elimination-style game (e.g. Werewolf) needs to be fast enough that the game completes and resets fast enough that the players who were eliminated early don’t get “peeved”.

So I consider 12 to be the limit of scalability for most party games where players act as individuals, and even then games with more than 7  players generally need to have parallel activities instead of actual turns (like in Telestrations or Dixit).

Even when a very  large group of players (such as 60 attendees in a corporate team-building course) can be split into teams for a gaming/simulation activity, consider the maximum size of each team. Traditional management theory recommends that work groups should never exceed 7-10 employees reporting to a first line manager.  I suggest that this applies to a game team as well.

So I consider that games for very large groups need to

  • support splitting the participants into manageable teams with a clear, shared purpose.
  • have simple rules, and clear objectives that can be explained in a couple of minutes.
  • game-play should ideally be phased into several short executions or rounds, say 15-20 minutes each.
  • the first round should be a learning round that allows all players to get a grasp on the rules but does not affect the final outcome.
  • any components need to be thematic, durable and re-usable, or inexpensive.

And above all, they need to be interesting, effective and fun.

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