Top Ten Lunch Games


I’ve written on the subject of lunch games many, many times, but probably most completely here. The category of lunch games–games that can be played and in most cases taught in an hour–is near to my heart for several reasons, not least of which is lunch when I am most likely to have time free to play a game. The pressures and responsibilities of home prevent me from attending more than one game night a month. But over lunch? Then I am free.

In my earlier post, I listed several criteria for ideal lunch games. They are:

  • Goldilocks playtime (neither too short nor too long)
  • Simple rules
  • Simultaneous (or near simultaneous) play (in other words, there’s always something to do)
  • Chaos factor (players have an opportunity to break gameplay conventions)

So which games am I most excited to play over lunch? Here’s my list.

10. Coup. 3-6 players, 5-15 minutes. Coup fits with most of my criteria above. It falls a little short in the playtime category, but it makes up for this by allowing for multiple games in a sitting, and the game typically plays better after a play or two anyway. Coup is a distilled bluffing game, and it lends itself very well to the lunchtime atmosphere. It’s fast-paced, casual, and offers lots of room for experimentation (especially over multiple games). This is also a good game for players to jump in and out of–it’s super simple to teach.

9. Ra. 2-5 players (best with 3-4), 45 minutes. Ra fits all of the criteria above, although its rules can be hard to digest on a first play. This is my favorite of Knizia’s auction trilogy, and gameplay fits right within a lunch hour. During that hour, though, there are lots of opportunities for clever play, taunting other players, and breaking conventions–depriving other players of items they want or bidding to make them pay more. There’s also a strong push-your-luck element in the game, which makes it exciting for lunchtime play.

8. The Resistance. 5-10 players (best with 7-9), 15-20 minutes. If you want to learn to distrust your friends in a mere fifteen minutes, this is a game for you. Okay, there’s that aspect, but The Resistance is great because it’s very easy to teach and provides a very social experience. Players are constantly involved in the discussion (even if they don’t get chosen to go on missions), and the gameplay is short and satisfying. As with Coup, The Resistance is short, but this is another game that isn’t hindered by playing multiple times in a sitting.

7. Innovation. 2-4 players (best with 2-3), 30-45 minutes. I love Innovation. I love the cardplay, the clever combinations, the excitement of having an excellent board only to have it handily dismantled by an opponent and then building it back up again. Innovation, however, falls short in a few of my categories above. The basic rules are easy enough to grasp, but the game takes new players a little while to understand, and the first few games move very slowly. This is one to break out if you have a smaller, more committed group. It’s not as raucous as some of the other games on this list, but it is fun, and it’s very interactive with lots of opportunities to be social (even if the social elements are demanding things of your fellow players).

6. Hanabi. 2-5 players, 20 minutes. Hanabi is the only cooperative game on this list. It isn’t a very social game, even though the whole game takes place through talking. It’s not incredibly social, but it is very immersive. Players will be completely engrossed in the task. Hanabi does an excellent job of eliminating the “alpha gamer” problem present in many cooperative games by limiting the information each player has. You can usually play at least two rounds of this over lunch, which makes it fun to compare your score from round to round.

5. Medici. 3-6 players (best with 5-6), 45 minutes. Medici is another game in Reiner Knizia’s auction trilogy, and while I don’t like it quite as well as Ra, I think it makes for a better lunch game. The rules are super simple to teach and understand, but within the ruleset there are lots of good decision points. The game also handles a good number of players in a consistent 45-minute playtime. I’ve not reviewed this one yet (soon!), but it has been one of my favorites. Just please, please, please: if you buy it, do not buy the first edition. The graphic design in it will do everything it can to complicate the game.

4. Dominion. 2-4 players, 20-30 minutes. Dominion. Dominion, Dominion, Dominion. Dominion. I love this game. It is different every time, and while the game goes fast, it’s so satisfying each time. The rules are easy to explain, and the game expansions introduce new elements in a logical flow, so it’s easy to draw new players along. This game doesn’t have simultaneous gameplay, with something for each player to do on every other player’s turn, but turns are quick, and I find the game engaging the whole way through. This game is all about adapting to new situations, which makes it easy for newcomers to join with more experienced players.

3. Libertalia. 2-6 players, 45 minutes. I played this game for the first time in August, but I already recognize this game’s stature as a near ideal lunch game. It’s very simple to teach, there’s always something for a player to do (all gameplay is nearly simultaneous), and there is the catharsis of revelation with each cardplay. There are good social elements involved with reading other players, and the piratey theme enhances the in-game banter. This game is excellent at any time, but especially over the lunch hour.

2. Glory to Rome. 2-5 players (best with 3-4), 45 minutes. Glory to Rome breaks the rules I gave above, but it’s too good not to include. This game is not simple to teach in the least–the first session with new players is just learning the flow of cardplay without the building abilities. It’s very hard for new players to join, and the game has a huge skill gap between experienced and novice players. I don’t care–this game is awesome. It provides a super satisfying game experience in less than an hour, and it keeps all players involved (through its lead/follow mechanism) on every turn. The combos in this game let every player feel like a hot shot. And losing doesn’t hurt too much because half the fun is admiring the combos the other players come up with. Teaching this game to a lunch crowd is an investment, but it pays huge dividends.

1. 7 Wonders. 2-7 players (best with 4+), 30-40 minutes. And here we are, the number one game on this list. I wasn’t too impressed the first few times I played 7 Wonders. In fact, I played it just because it seemed like a game I should like–it fit a perfect niche. Plays seven players in less than an hour, is fairly simple to teach, and all players are involved at the same time. Who cares if it’s any good? But now, over fifty games later, I can tell you the game is brilliant, but especially so over a lunch hour. Why? Even with just the base game, it plays differently every time through the shuffling of the cards and the different wonder boards that appear, as well as seating order. You can both teach and play the game comfortably within the lunch hour, and even if you lose, there is a satisfaction in having built your empire. The game works almost equally well with all player counts three through seven (though I think the game shines with four or more). The expansions (especially Cities) are good, but not always necessary. I am always satisfied if 7 Wonders is the lunch game choice, and even after all of my plays, I’m still eager to explore it more.

Honorable Mentions: These are other games that I’ve enjoyed during the lunch hour, but the strict format of a top ten precludes any entries over ten. Pandemic, Carcassonne, Qin, Chronicle (unreviewed), Bruges, and Rialto are also great choices for lunchtime play.

If you’re interested in another take, fellow blogger @BGJosh has his own top ten lunch games. What are your favorites?

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion12 Comments

  1. Some good games on this list. I don’t have the opportunity for “lunchtime” gaming, but am interested in light, fast games regardless. I’ve ignored Resistance/Avalon/Coup until now, but think I’ll look more seriously now. Hanabi and Libertalia are high on my wishlist too.

    What do you think of Tokaido, if you’ve played it?

  2. How about Citadels? After reading your list, I feel it might find a home in your lunch-game rotation. It doesn’t have perfectly simultaneous actions, but due to the way the King calls out the roles sequentially, it keeps people interested.

    • I do like the secret and common draft of Citadels, but I prefer Libertalia in almost every other way. Every time I think about trying Citadels again, I find we just play Libertalia instead. I’m weak! And piratey.

  3. My lunch crew plays the following games:

    1. Wizard – this was a card game that I hadn’t heard about much before starting here. It’s got a nice balance of strategy and luck, and can be played in just under an hour. Once understood, the rules are simple enough to allow a lot of background chatting as well.

    2. Carcassonne – We’ve been playing this a lot lately when we don’t have 6 players. The gameplay is simple and enticing. Although there are lots of tiles, they are relatively easy to manage, and while the board does grow, it starts out small, giving people to finish their lunches by the time its big enough to get cumbersome.

    3. Uno – although not my favorite game, it does a good job accomodating 7 or more players. With my crowd the “screw your neighbor” factor goes through the roof and lots of laughs are to be had. The game itself has very little strategy, and its possible for players to go from 1st place to last in one round.

    4. Cribbage – with 2 or 3 players, although sometimes we play carcassonne with that many players. It’s good to have this game around for a little variety.

    5. Occasionally we’ll play Euchre or Hearts as well.

    Most of these are card games, and it’s nice to have cards because they don’t take a lot of space, and don’t require too much fiddling with.

    Additionally, since the player base is fairly diverse, it’s nice that most of these games are pretty simple to play, as not everyone is willing to spend time learning rules.

    Finally, having games that can be completed inside of an hour is a must. Games that start going a little long get people on edge as they feel the need to get back to work. It’s hard to keep a game going between sessions since people are working from home the specific players on any given day can change pretty dramatically.

  4. I’m a big fan of ‘Lunch Money’, and played countless lunches away at work and in college. It has a bit of a learning curve for beginners, remembering when this or that card can be played in combination, but after 2-3 games people pick it up and it goes pretty fast. Lots of upsets and out-of-the-blue surprises in this free-for-all fighting card game, and the art is spectacular.

  5. Lately we’ve been playing San Juan, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, The Resistance, and Escape: The Curse Of The Temple. All fit nicely within an hour lunch.

    In the near future I’m hoping to try Seasons and Lords Of Waterdeep again. We played LOW once before but it was a learning game and it did not fit within an hour. Fortunately, at that time we had a room which we could dedicate to gaming so we were able to finish the next day. I think it may fit within the time constraints on the next play. Hopefully in the future we’ll again find a room we can hold onto for a couple of days each week to set up longer games.

  6. So far my work lunch group (2 months old now!) has played Forbidden Island and DC Deck Building (which would align with Dominion in gameplay etc… I guess). Great list, i have been looking at innovation and welcome the additional suggestions!

    • Innovation is great! Be warned, though, that it’s tougher to get into than the other games you mentioned. I thought it was just okay the first few times I played it, but it gets better once everyone knows what they’re doing. Carl Chudyk’s new game Impulse is also great, although I haven’t sold my lunch group on it yet. In time. 🙂

      Good luck!

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