The board game industry has seen pretty significant and consistent growth over the last decade, as modern designers prove to new generations that today’s games are more fun than the Hasbro games of the 80’s. Much of that growth is attributed to the success and popularity of crowd funding. While everyone was stuck at home through the COVID pandemic, people were desperate for new activities and began to branch out into new interests. During this time, the board game market saw an additional 20% growth and is expected to grow even more in the next five years.
Market growth means more great games and more people to enjoy them with. Before the pandemic, I had a difficult time finding people interested in playing. But as interest rises, I’ve needed to put a cap on my game nights or end up with more people than my games (and apartment) can support. Since the majority of board games supports a maximum of four or five players, I often have to tell people that they can’t join because the group already agreed to a game with a smaller player count.
However, there’s a significant amount of games on the market that support higher player counts. Most games for larger groups are restricted to party and deduction games. So we’ve put together this list of games we love that work well at higher player counts. It’s also worth noting that for the purpose of this article, we’re considering “high player counts” to be over five people since games designed for five players are easier to come by.
For those like me who have overly competitive friends and would like to keep those friendships intact, cooperative games may be the better way to go. These games all offer players different challenges they’ll overcome by effectively collaborating. Each of these games pits players against the game itself in the form of increasingly difficult mechanic based challenges or a horde of enemies.
Genre: Worker Placement Maximum Player Count: Seven Players
We recently reviewed the second edition of Atlantis Rising which has officially replaced Pandemic in the WayTooManyGames collection. In this game, up to seven players collaborate to rescue the citizens of Atlantis by building a gate to teleport them away from the city while the waters around it rise and flood the city until it inevitably disappears from the earth and takes its place in legend.
Anyone familiar with Pandemic will immediately recognize the Misfortune and flooding mechanics in Atlantis Rising as they so closely mirror the way viruses spread in Pandemic. While Atlantis Rising uses character powers as a tool for players to leverage against obstacles, it also provides players with the options to unflood lost tiles, negate the flooding of specific tiles, or get a second chance to obtain resources when they might otherwise fail. As the game progresses, it becomes evident that time and tide are not on players side and it becomes a high pressure race to escape.
While I strongly recommend playing Atlantis Rising with more players for the challenge and the more lively dynamic, the game was designed to scale down to as few as two players with some modified rules. Unless you’re grossly opposed to any degree of randomness, Atlantis Rising is a must-have for fans of cooperative games.
Genre: Claustrophobic Dungeon Crawler
Maximum Player Count: Six players
I need to preface this entry with the disclaimer that Deep Madness is exclusively a Kickstarter funded game and is currently only available on the second-hand market. The reason we’re including an out-of-print game on this list is exclusively to raise awareness before Deep Madness returns to Kickstarter for the next expansion, after the fulfillment of the publisher’s current prequel project Dawn of Madness.
Deep Madness is a claustrophobic Lovecraftian horror dungeon crawler that takes place in an underwater mining facility called the Kadath, not unlike that of James Cameron’s Abyss (1989). You and up to five other players will control a group of six survivors trying to escape the facility as it springs leaks and is consumed by an onslaught of otherworldly beings.
This is without a doubt the most challenging game I’ve ever played. In addition to standard game mechanics like action points, enemy AI, and health points, players will have to manage oxygen meters. Various rooms will flood as the station falls into disrepair and the maddening influence of the Lovecraftian beasts continues to spread. It’s entirely possible that a key objective will end up underwater. Players will need to swim through flooded station sections to reach their objectives, reducing their oxygen meter by one point for every action they take underwater. It’s a simple mechanic, but it presents an increasing sense of danger that significantly raises the difficulty.
Despite its size, Deep Madness isn’t a campaign game and the included missions can be played and replayed in any order. The base game provides a complete story, but expansions like The Oracle’s Betrayal, Faces of the Sphere, Uncounted Horrors, Endless Nightmares, and Rise of Dagon provide a more complete picture of the events that took place in Kadath. The biggest design complaint I have is that the game is balanced for six active characters. Regardless of how many people are playing, they’ll need to use six characters and divide them up among the players at the table, so you might as well revel in the challenge (read: commiserate) with more friends.
Mysterium is the only social game that will appear on this list, mainly due to my aversion to them. After so many years in the hobby, there’s only so many times I can play Code Names or One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Mysterium has managed to hold my attention longer than the rest for no other reason than the silent game master mechanic.
In Mysterium, up to seven players work together to solve a whodunnit murder mystery. The twist is that one of the players is the victim and the rest of the group are psychics attempting to put the spirit at ease by apprehending the murder. The player, acting as the ghost of the victim, is not allowed to speak during the game. They are only able to communicate to the psychic players through dreams represented by abstract card art. Using these dreams, players will have to decipher what the spirit is trying to communicate to them.
Ultimately, Mysterium’s silent player boils down to little more than a gimmick, but it’s nonetheless an effective one. As the whole game takes place in only seven rounds, psychics are eager to help each other decipher the clues before time runs out. The end result is a lively group discussion solving puzzles while the victim gets to drown their frustration in whiskey watching the psychics misinterpret the dreams. Eventually, it all comes to a close and the ghost can revel in just how off track the psychics were.
Spirit Island is easily in our top five cooperative games. We reviewed the base game and talked (arguably too much) about how it functions so we won’t do any of that here. The experience changes drastically depending on which characters choose as each one has influence over different areas and aspects of the board. Be it river, ocean, flora, beast, stone, or sky, players will choose a Spirit to control that governs over one aspect of nature. When Invaders arrive on the island and begin settling on the island, it’s up to the Spirits of nature to push back against them or risk losing the island and indigenous Dahan to the colonizing Invaders.
The base game goes up to a maximum of four players, but the expansion Spirit Island: Jagged Earth adds ten new spirits and increases the maximum player count up to six. As table talk is such a key part of the Spirit Island experience, adding more players to the table has only improved the overall experience. With the added variety of the new spirits, players are provided with more complex strategies to experiment with and discover. The expansion Spirits have a higher level of complexity making the expanded game perfect for a group looking for a challenge.
For those who prefer to compete, or perhaps have alpha players in their group, it’s possible a bit of healthy competition is a better for your group. Be it head-to-head competition, indirect, or just a race for points, these games will put players through the paces before sending the losers packing.
Betrayal at House on the Hill originally came out in 2004 and has been a team favorite ever since we first played. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a game where up to six players enter and explore the titular abandoned house on the hill. As they explore the decrepit mansion, players will encounter cursed objects, hidden passages, and lingering spirits. Eventually, the house will get the better of players and someone will turn traitor. At that point, one or more players will be assigned the role of the traitor(s). Players the divide into Traitors and Survivors and attempt to achieve their secret objectives
Betrayal has been a divisive game since its release because of how unbalanced and random these scenarios are. The scenarios, referred to as Haunts, often have vague rules that leave room for interpretation and cause confusion around the table. At best, one side is going to lose and feel they didn’t have a fair shot. At worst, the newest player at the table becomes the traitor, has to fend for themselves in a game with secret information, and no one has a good time.
So why is this game on this list if the rules are so sloppy? We absolutely love Betrayal at House on the Hill. It’s true that many of the scenarios are unbalanced; sometimes feeling entirely broken under the wrong circumstances, but we can’t help but love it. Betrayal at House on the Hill isn’t a game that you play to strategize and win. Instead, it’s a casual game where you explore and experience the mysteries of this house and endure its many misfortunes.
Every session of Betrayal has been memorable. Even if every player hopelessly died as the house came crashing down around them, we had a blast watching the horror unfold. Does that mean we would recommend Betrayal at House on the Hill as the main event for a game night? No. Is it a good fit for players who want a crunchy decision game? Absolutely not. But it’s an excellent game to bring to the table when the group feels like playing something they don’t have to take seriously. Betrayal at House on the Hill is a great game to grab a few drinks, explore a haunted house, maybe meet a few ghosts, and witness your friends meet their macabre fates.
My parents and grandparents loved Yahtzee and that meant I played it a lot when I was young, but I never had fun. In fact, it deterred me from ever playing another roll & write again. But COVID has a way of wearing you down and forcing you to expand your interests. Even a year after its initial release, there was a ton of buzz around Cartographersand at its relatively low cost, I decided to take the chance. I was not disappointed.
In Cartographers players take on the role of cartographers hired by Queen Gimnax to map out the northern lands hoping to reclaim them for herself. Each turn, players reveal a card depicting a terrain type and shape that all players draw on their individual maps/score cards. Players share the same scoring objectives and do their best to maximize their points with the card draws they’re given. At the end of the game, whichever cartographer was able to map out the northern territories most effectively will earn the favor of the Queen and win the game.
Since turns are taken simultaneously, game length is minimally impacted by the number of players. The longest game of Cartographers I’ve ever played took only forty minutes and that was a game with ten players, three of which were learning the game for the first time. The best part is that Cartographers‘ maximum player count is only limited by the number of remaining score sheets you have. Of course, if you make the effort of laminating a few, you’ll never have to worry about running out.
Maximum Player Count: Eight players with faction and map expansions
Area control games are a dime a dozen. However, there’s only a small handful we’ve decided to keep in our collection. Our favorite of which is Cthulhu Wars. Not only do we have a soft spot for Great Old Ones and cosmic horror, but Cthulhu Wars offers many of the same tense power struggles in a fraction of the time and twice the table presence.
Unlike most Lovecraftian games where players take on the role of investigators attempting to stop cults, in Cthulhu Wars they are the cults and Eldritch beasts. Each player chooses a cult faction in service to a different Great Old One vying for control over Earth after it fell to cosmic horrors. Factions earn points for each summoning gate they control at the end of a round, bringing the game to an end after a player reaches thirty points. Every faction has unique six unique spell abilities they’ll also need to unlock in order to win. The cults of Great Cthulhu, Crawling Chaos, the Black Goat, and the Yellow Sign all have different objectives to achieve to unlock their six spells. Since these objectives are specific to the faction, they provide players with some valuable insight into their chosen faction’s strengths which is especially helpful for first time players.
Once a group is familiar with Cthulhu Wars it can take as little as an hour for a full game. The fast gameplay and faction variety makes it tempting to play a few games back to back to swap it up and experience the other available factions. The big downsides to Cthulhu Wars is the cost of entry and availability. It’s a fantastic game, but not an inexpensive one and expansion factions and maps are needed to play with more than four. However, since most of the required expansions are simply other factions, they provide more gameplay options, even at lower players counts.
Maximum Player Count: Six players with the base game and an additional two players with the As Above, So Below expansion
I’m certainly outspoken on my general feelings about train-themed board games. I find them to be too dry, even when they are mechanically sound. But where there’s a rule, there’s an exception, and Level 99 Games loves to add a touch of magic to themes that would otherwise deter me. Trey Chambers’ Empyreal: Spells & Steam is Level 99’s answer to train games and they got me hooked.
The game itself is simple but offers very tight action and resource economies. Each player controls a different commercial train line and builds routes to collect and deliver color-coded goods to cities of the matching color. The challenge comes from the fact that resources aren’t replenished so players will be aggressively racing to be the first to the snag them up. If players move too slowly or spread their trains too far apart, they’ll find themselves left in the dust. Thankfully, Empyreal includes both tableau building and player powers that can act as light catch-up mechanics, ensuring players aren’t left impossibly far behind.
Empyreal: Spells & Steam is a game with incredible production value from game inserts, to train pieces, mana gems; the whole caboose. The downside to this however is that to store it all, Empyreal comes in a massive box that takes up the majority of a Kallax cube. It also means that the cost of the base game is higher than most mid-weight games of its class. The reason why we like this game so much is because it’s so easy to teach, plays quickly, and offers such tense competition, that it’s likely you’ll want to play another round right after the first.
Maximum Player Count: Four players with the base game, increases to six with any of the three faction expansions
Back in 2018, Leder Games made a big splash with the release of its asymmetric area control game, Root. To say that its adorable aesthetics are misleading would be a gross understatement. Root is one of the most aggressive area control games I’ve played but what truly makes it so interesting are the different factions.
The base game contains four different factions; the Eyrie Dynasty, Marquise de Cat, Vagabond, and Woodland Alliance who each have their own unique game mechanics. The Eyrie faction is all about maintaining an ever-growing engine. Woodland Alliance is centered around set collection. Vagabond uses items as an action point device. And the Marquis spreads their influence by generating and building with construction materials. The Riverfolk, Underworld, and upcoming Marauder expansions each add two new playable factions. Every new faction makes use of different game mechanics so regardless of what types of games your group likes, there’s a Root faction for everyone.
While there may be a Root faction to fit any player’s preferred playstyle, that doesn’t mean the overall experience is for everyone. Root can be a mean game where players can far well behind the rest of the group and never have a fair chance at catching up. Nonetheless, we love Root and play it often. Root shines best with a group that is committed to repeated plays and likes the challenge of a game that takes time to master. Having players who understand each factions’ strategies helps to close the point gap in a way that evens out the competition so it’s enjoyable for all. It’s worth its weight in gold to consider who you’re playing with and what their interests are before investing in Root.
Western Legends is the second experience game on this list and of the two and is undoubtedly the better one. Following the blockbuster trend of play-how-you want Westerns like Westworld and Red Dead Redemption 2, Western Legends lets players interact with the world and each other however they’d like. Players compete as either Outlaws or Marshalls to become the most legendary gunslinger in the West. No matter how you choose to play, one thing is for sure: the sleepy town of Dark Rock is about to see some action.
During setup everyone drafts characters from a pool of legends like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and Annie Oakley. On their turn, players get three actions to move, play poker, buy from the General Store, wrangle cattle, go to the “cabaret”, or mine for gold. If you’re a Marshall, you can arrest NPC bandits or more importantly, Outlaw players. As an Outlaw, you’re free to rob banks, give cattle to rival farms, or mug other players. What Western Legends does nicely is balance out how players earn the game winning Legendary Points (LP).
There’s a separate track for both the Marshall and Outlaw paths that detail when and how players on those tracks earn LP. Outlaws gain points at the end of each of their turns but Marshalls only earn LP by advancing on their track for doing things like arresting Outlaws. What this does is create an intriguing player dynamic where players are are incentivized to become Outlaws to get ahead in points while putting some pretty significant targets on their back.
We’re referring to Western Legends as an experience game because there are some pretty obvious ways to wrack up LPs and sneak ahead on the scoreboard. It’s a much better experience when everyone plays Western Legends as a sandbox roleplaying game as opposed to a strategy game. If you’re looking to get into a deep strategy game with a large group, Western Legends will be a great disappointment. But if you’re looking for a fun game to create memories with your gaming group, there are few games I can recommend more.
This not at all conclusive list, nor are they the necessarily the best games for big groups. These are simply our favorite games for big groups. There are plenty of others out there like Camel Up (which we admittedly haven’t had the chance to play) that also support large groups of people. We love all ten of these and they will absolutely be staying in the WTMG Collection. If there are any that you feel deserve to be here, feel free to sound off in the comments!