College: a place where young people come together in the pursuit of higher learning. This noble goal inevitably gives way to late nights with friends doing all sorts of things better left unsaid. With this many young people all in one place, there is no better time to explore new games with new friends. Modern videogames have moved away from split-screen play, but there are still more than a few gems to play with your dormmates and any other randos passing by. Tabletop and boardgames likewise provide wonderful experiences to unwind with your fellow stressed out students. Many of these can even be augmented by alcohol, bringing the partying and gaming together under one banner. Check out these games, both recent and old, for a variety and competitive and cooperative experiences perfect for that college life and forging new friendships. And even if you’re not in college, these will undoubtedly provide a lovely way to spend a long night with friends.
Artemis is just about the closest experience a game can offer to that of being a member aboard the USS Enterprise (even closer than the actual licensed Star Trek games). Artemis sees you and up to five friends taking control of a starship, with each person fulfilling a different role. The Helms Officer flies the ship, taking it in and out of warp speed and maneuvering it in battle. The Weapons Officer manages all weapons, choosing targets, aiming and firing. The Engineering Officer controls the flow of power in the ship as well as repairs. The Communications Officer transmits orders to friendly vessels, handles interactions with stations and can monitor enemy comm lines. The Science Officer is responsible for detecting and analyzing any enemy ships or unknown anomalies. And lastly, the Captain coordinates everyone’s efforts towards a common goal to make sure everything runs smoothly. Every player has an instance of Artemis running on their own computer and is connected via LAN to their friends’ computers in the same room. When my friends and I played, we all set up our laptops around a table and then had the Captain’s view displayed on a TV in front of us. It felt like we were all out our own stations on the bridge of a starship because Artemis transformed the space we were in and the way we were interacting. It wasn’t just my living room anymore and we weren’t just talking about the game. We were all communicating with the captain who was relaying orders back to us as we traversed the galaxy. Artemis is available on Steam, the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.
And while six people is the ideal set-up, one person can run multiple stations so you don’t need exactly six people every time you want to play.
The Halo series has been a staple of dorm rooms since its debut in 2001. Last year’s Halo 5: Guardians, in a disappointing but increasingly common move, ditched split-screen gameplay. However, many of the previous games in the series remain a blast in split-screen co-op. If you have an Xbox, an Xbox 360 or an Xbox One and a few controllers, any Halo game can make for a perfect evening. Every game’s competitive play is a blast with four friends, and the myriad customization options allow for wonderful match variations such as low-gravity instakill energy swords only. The introduction of Forge in Halo 3 allowed for players to completely rethink the game in ever more inventive ways. If you spend some time scouring the internet, you can find maps that offer completely different experiences in a Halo shell, from obstacle courses to a weird map a friend and I found for Halo 3’s Narrows where we were both armed with gravity hammers on an endless slope and had to kill each other while continuously sliding downwards. Every game’s campaign is even more fun in four-player co-op, and even the original still holds up (except for the damnable Library). And on top of that, Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach’s wave-based Firefight modes are a fun way for longtime players to test themselves together. Whichever Halo game you can get a hold of (5 notwithstanding), they deserve to continue being a mainstay of dorms the world over.
Nidhogg is the closest a videogame has ever gotten to the feeling of actual fencing. Two people are armed with swords and face off on a 2D plane. Your goal is to simply get past your opponent. With each time you slay your opponent, you push forward one screen closer to your goal, but with every loss your opponent pushes you back one screen closer to their goal. A common theme among the games on this list is their deceptive simplicity, allowing new people to pick them up quickly. Nidhogg matches can be won in ways as simple as running forward into your opponent so that your permanently-outstretched sword impales them. Nidhogg’s duels introduce depth with varying map layouts, the ability to disarm your opponent, and different sword positions. And yet, after dozens of matches, throwing the sword from across the screen remains the most satisfying and entertaining way to impale friends. The victor is met by a giant worm, of course, who devours them in glorious consummation. Nidhogg’s electronic music and pixel art accentuate the stressful showdowns with a beautiful throwback aesthetic.
I bought a Wii U for one reason and one reason only: Smash Bros.. My friends and I have played the newest entry in the long-running brawler for enough hours to not only justify its own purchase, but the entire Wii U. Smash Bros. is one of the few fighting games that doesn’t make you memorize long combos or perform quarter-circle turns to be able to play, making it easy for you to hand someone a controller and just start playing. And with the Wii U version allowing up to eight people to play at once, it’s perfect for big groups. Before long, intense rivalries between you and your dormmates will develop. You will curse your neighbor who spams PK Fire as Ness while another teaches you the intricacies of wave dashing. The Wii U version has a stunning roster of 58 characters, ensuring that as soon as you tire of one there’s plenty more for you and your friends to try. Special Brawls introduce absurd variations, like making everyone giant or invisible. Freshman year of college, my four roommates and I played Smash Bros. so much we had to institute a daily limit of four matches. It turned into the best way to take a quick study break from our stressful classes. At the end of the semester, we celebrated with a 100-stock Smash Bros. match, taking turns playing our music and enjoying the highest quality soda and junk food. And even if you don’t have a Wii U, if anyone has a Wii, Gamecube, or even Nintendo 64, any entry in this series will provide endless matches of fun.
Outlast may seem the odd one out in this list, as it’s the only singleplayer game, but in my experience, Outlast (and other similar horror games) work brilliantly among friends. Watching many games be played is often uninteresting because they lean on the physical act of combat to maintain engagement. The tension is completely concentrated in the person playing. However, Outlast wastes no time on repetitive combat encounters. Instead, this first-person horror game puts all the emphasis on the cycle of fear and tension. Whereas the gunfights in horror games such as Resident Evil or Dead Space are way more interesting for the one person playing, the fear that one of the asylum’s patients will jump out at any second fills everyone in the room when Outlast is being played. The fear is then compounded by knowing that it is entirely up to the friend sitting next to you whether or not the main character survives. And when they inevitably die, it’s the next friend’s turn to try. The game’s controls are easy to learn—there is naught you can do but run and hide—which makes it great for friends who may not be videogame experts. Trading off the controller in Outlast gives everyone a chance to feel the pressure and tension that comes with the responsibility of staring off into a dark room and having the responsibility of taking the next step. That very fear made it so my friends and I were often begging for someone else to take the controller. I was so scared playing at one point that I started running in circles as my friends yelled and tried to take the controller. Outlast was made all the more fun by my jumpier friends, whose screams would spread to the rest of us with each terrifying moment.
Nintendo excels at creating gaming experiences for friends together on a couch. Mario Kart is one of their best examples and represents the pinnacle of kart racing in games. Any entry in this series, which has appeared on every Nintendo home platform except the NES, provides fertile ground for newfound rivalries with newfound friends. As with Smash Bros., the game’s simple controls and premise allow almost anyone to start playing and have a good time. And given the college focus, I should mention a wonderful Mario Kart variation: Beerio Kart. Everyone must finish a can of beer (or other high volume drink, alcoholic or not) by the end of a three-lap race while still aiming for first. The catch is that you can’t drink and drive, so the kart must be stationary for you to drink. Anyone with a Nintendo console owes it to themselves and their friends to get a Mario Kart game. Just stay away from the motion controls of Mario Kart Wii. They feel about as good as driving a banana peel with an imaginary steering wheel.
There are two teams and two rooms. No one knows who’s on what team or what their role is, and the goal is to discover that info. The leader of the Blue Team is the President. The leader of the Red Team is the Bomber. If the Bomber and the President are in the same room at the end of the game’s five rounds, the Red Team wins. If they’re in different rooms, the Blue Team wins. However, there are dozens of different roles for each player that confound things and make the game as exciting the 20th time as the first. One game I could play as the Spy, who presents as the team they’re not. Another, I could play as the Ambassador, who can go between rooms at will. And a third game I could play as the Blind, who must keep their eyes shut the entire game. Two Rooms and a Boom creates both a sense of urgency as the rounds tick down and a feeling of camaraderie among the players in an effort to find each other out. Arguing with the room’s leader over hostages, trying to work with ambassadors to find out who controls the other room, and rounds of decreasing time make this hostage situation of a game stressful in a wonderfully fun way. Two Rooms and a Boom supports 30 or more players, so it’s perfect for large groups of friends or parties, regardless of whether or not you know everyone. After playing this game, that cute guy in the corner of the room will be the traitorous spy who cost your team the game. And best of all, there’s a print-and-play version available to download for free here.
Mascarade plays like a masquerade party where everyone switches masks constantly, only here the masks change the gameplay. Every player has a different role that affects how they gain (or steal) money. The player who gets ten coins first wins. But the roles are hidden, and any player can regularly switch roles with one or more players. Many of the different roles include powers that allow or force role switching. With every role switch the game’s confusion compounds ad infinitum, diminishing the stress of trying to keep all the different roles straight and instead putting the focus on the silly roles and deciding who to screw over. Mascarade can be played in small groups, but turns into a circus with large groups as no one but those with computer memories can remember everything. All the different roles give Mascarade longevity, with successive games on successive nights staying fun as you experience new roles with new friends.
Here’s another deceptively simple game that I’ve played an embarrassing number of times. In The Resistance, like in Two Rooms and a Boom, there are two teams and many players do not know who is on what team. The teams are the Resistance and the Spies. No one on the Resistance knows who anyone else is, but all the Spies know who each other are—except they’re outnumbered, so must remain hidden. Every game consists of a series of missions. A subset of players is chosen by a rotating leader, but if any Spies are selected, they have the chance to fail the mission. Since no one on the Resistance knows who anyone else is, this game quickly becomes all about deception and trying to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. I’ve played dozens of games that have devolved into screaming matches as players accuse others of being spies and they try to defend themselves. It’s incredibly stressful in the best way imaginable. Other games and expansions have built on The Resistance’s base, but this pure and simple experience remains the best for its beautiful focus on everyone’s ability to lie and deceive. One match where I was a spy I was so nervous as I lied to both new and old friends my hands started shaking. In this game, your friends will lie to you. Your friends will betray you. But you will recount stories of the game’s epic moments of betrayal or narrow victories the next morning at the dining hall as though they are war stories.
Cosmic Encounter is a game of aliens trying to set up colonies on each other’s planets, accomplished through combat or diplomacy. Within this framework, there are over a hundred aliens to play as and each one changes the rules in some way. Sometimes this is as subtle as increasing their strength in combat. Other times, it completely changes the game’s core mechanics. One alien can replace any game mechanic with a coin flip at will. Another wins if all of its units (space ships) are destroyed. Another can force other players to marry them and then divorce them for alimony. There is even an alien that allows the player to cheat, so long as they aren’t caught. With the absurd nature of the many aliens and the sheer number of different variations, Cosmic Encounter games can feel entirely different one to the next. And there are multiple expansion packs that all add new aliens that come right up to the point of breaking the game, but just make it more fun to keep playing and see what aliens and crazy rule variations will come up in the next game, which are usually under an hour.
Kyle McKenney writes for Swarthmore College’s student newspaper the Daily Gazette and is an intern at Paste. You can follow him on Twitter @TotallyKyle95.