The great thing about the modern tabletop gaming movement is the incredible diversity that’s available. Your options are no longer limited to four hour escapades in dungeon crawling or cube-pushing. In fact, some really great tabletop experiences can be had in less than 30 minutes—and that’s with beginners as well as experts.
Like all great art and design, these small games are exercises in restraint and result in some really fun games that pretty much anyone can play.
1. Love Letter
Designer: Seiji Kanai
Love Letter is often seen as the spark that set off the entire “micro games” trend for both publishers and players. In Love Letter, two to four players take on the role of suitors attempting to deliver their love letter to the princess of the kingdom. The gameplay is simple and short: everyone starts with one of the eight roles (each with its own special ability), draws another role card from the deck, and plays one of the two. The result is a tight, quick game of deduction that always inspires multiple plays.
2. Good Cop, Bad Cop
Designer: Brian Henk, Clayton Skancke
Publisher: Overworld Games
This new little card game fits into the genre of games that put a large emphasis on social deduction, defined by games like The Resistance or Werewolf. While both of those aforementioned games will often go well over 30 minutes, Good Cop, Bad Cop stuffs all of the shouting, accusing and backstabbing into a single deck of cards and just around 20 minutes of gameplay.
Each player has three facedown identity cards placed in front them that categorize them on either the side of the good cops or the bad cops. By investigating other people’s identity cards, pointing gun cards at each other, and using some cool special power equipment cards, players attempt to figure out who is who and take the opposing team down.
3. Incan Gold
Designer: Bruno Faiduitti, Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Incan Gold sends up to 8 adventurers into the ruins of an ancient temple in search of treasure. It’s a simple push your luck game that is as much about taking big risks as it is playing the odds. The next card flipped in the deck could be a huge sum of gold to divide up between who was brave enough to stay—or it could be your quick demise by hazards like falling boulders, snakes or mummies. I’ve never play a game of Incan Gold that didn’t include cheers, gasps and shouts of joy, which makes it a winner in my book.
4. Star Realms
Designer: Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Deck building games have in vogue ever since the release of the mega-hit Dominion back in 2008. Star Realms is the newest one to take the tabletop world by storm. In Star Realms, you are not only building a deck of cards by wisely balancing what you purchase and how you play cards, but actually using this deck to attack the opposing player. It’s a more confrontational Dominion set in space, which is enough to get a lot of people onboard. The game is just a tiny box of cards and is finished up in less than 20 minutes, so it’s definitely worth a shot if you haven’t tried this one yet.
Designer: Rikki Tahta
Publisher: Indie Boards and Cards
Coup is yet another social deduction game, this time set in the same universe as The Resistance (which is a fantastic game that just barely missed the 30 minute cutoff for this list). Coup, however, fits great into this timeframe and will more readily turn your friends into sworn enemies than any other game on this list. Each player has two hidden role cards that have special actions including assassinating other player’s cards, stealing coins, collecting extra coins, and trading out one of your cards for another.
The catch? It’s all hidden and lying is perfectly acceptable. If lying to your friends and calling them out on lies sounds like a good time to you, Coup is one to pick up for your next game night. The game also has a great expansion called Coup: Reformation, which gives more cards and rules for team play up to 10 players.
6. For Sale
Designer: Stefan Dorra
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
For Sale is a classic auction game for three to six people where players are tasked with bidding on properties, ranging from a common suburban home to a European castle. The second part of the game then has players attempting to turn the best profit on each of the properties they purchased. The game is elegantly split into these two phases and still packs a surprising amount of strategic punch for how simple it is.
7. Eight Minute Empire
Designer: Ryan Laukat
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Although people often gripe about the fact that Eight Minute Empire doesn’t actually take eight minutes to play, don’t let that distract you from the excellent game that you get in this little box. What you’ve got here is a fantastic area control game that has players expanding their mini-kingdoms of cubes across the map. The game rewards both strategic and tactical choices and somehow gives you the feel of a more expansive game in a very small package.
8. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Designer: Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui
Publisher: Bezier Games
While Ultimate Werewolf itself didn’t quite fit the bill, the new micro-game version certainly did. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is just what it sounds like: a single chaotic night of Ultimate Werewolf where are all the stakes come down to what happens in a single round of hidden roles, bluffing and social deduction. Obviously some of the rules of Werewolf had to be modified to make it work in the shorter timeframe, but the feeling and atmosphere of playing Werewolf is still very much present.
Designer: Antoine Bauza
Most cooperative games are sprawling epics that have players working together against a mounting force of evil and destruction. But not Hanabi, the Spiel des Jahres winner from 2011.
In this elegant card game, up to five players are instead attempting to pull off a beautiful fireworks show. The unique mechanism here is that players can’t look at their own hand of cards, but can only see everyone else’s. The firework engineers will be attempting to play the correct cards from their hand based on the hints the players give each other. The theme doesn’t involve killing each other or creating an economic engine, which makes for quite a unique gaming experience that casual players will really get a kick out of.
10. Bang! The Dice Game
Designer: Michael Palm, Lukas Zach
In Bang! The Dice Game, each player is secretly put into one of the three teams in a Wild West setting, each with different goals for winning the game. Each player rolls five dice on his or her turn, which will give you an assortment of things that either hurt you or help you.
Dynamite will blow up on you if you roll too many of them, 1s and 2s let you shoot the people sitting that many spaces away from you at the table, and beer will give you more health points. Of course, you can also help mitigate your luck by re-rolling up to 3 dice on your turn as you attempt to take out people on the opposing teams. It’s a novel take on Yahtzee that makes for a fantastic party game for up to eight players.
Luke Larsen is the tech editor at Paste Magazine, but still loves sitting around a table of pieces of cardboard, paper, and dice. You can follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.