The Laurels: Best Socializer Games Of 2015

The Cardboard Republic has rolled out the first annual Laurels of the Republic awards, celebrating the best new games released in 2015 for each of the gamer archetypes. What follows are the finalists for one of those groups. 

SocializerThere are few things that Socializers want more out of games than a means to engage with other players as much as possible. If they were a clan, their credo would be ‘Light on Rules, Heavy on Interaction’. Games to this group are less about picking out intricate strategies or figuring out a way to win at any cost than they are about a means to collectively enjoy spending time with other people. As a result, this group prefers games that either have short and simple playthroughs or those that permit them the opportunity to, well, socialize with other players.

And with that, here are The 2015 Laurel Finalists for Socializers:


Honorable Mention: Mysterium

Publisher: Asmodee | Players: 2-7 | Play Time: 45 Minutes

Mysterium cover newMysterium is a new game for 2015, except where it isn’t, which is why there was some conversation about whether it should’ve been eligible this year at all. The original Mysterium game by Portal started making the heavy rounds in 2014, but while the gameplay itself is almost entirely language independent, no English edition was available and it never saw direct distribution in the US.

French publisher Libellud took up the task. They went one step further, however, by stating that several aspects of the game would be updated or modified. Their end goal was to create a ‘new Mysterium’ that felt similar enough to the original but still offered an experience all its own. Which they largely did. So it seemed wrong to not at least give the new 2015 version some due recognition.

In both versions of this Co-Op deductive reasoning game, the premise is the same: someone committed a murder most foul of an old mansion’s former resident, and its restless spirit cannot find peace until the true killer is found. One player acts as the ghost while the rest are paranormal investigators trying to solve the killing before time runs out. The ghost imparts clues by way of a phenomenal assortment of beautifully eccentric, strange, and mysterious Dream cards, which players use to try to narrow down the crime’s details.

While the new Mysterium updates the physical components, adds time limits, and introduces the idea of Clairvoyance points, the illuminating and affable core experience remains the same. Mysterium is one part game and one part social exercise, where every playthrough offers a unique experience. The result is a lightweight game that’s great for Socializers: it that has nearly limitless replayability, it’s accessible by almost everyone, and its true worth comes from the experience of playing rather than whether you win or lose.


The Nominees

2015 Socializer Laurel Nominee


Nominee #5: Bad Medicine

Publisher: Formal Ferret Games | Players: 3-8 | Play Time: 30 Minutes

Bad Medicine nominee coverHave a pesky foot rash? Here, take some Trioxicane! It’ll clear that right up…though it may leave you with some minor uncontrollable hair growth. But don’t worry! We have this other pill that will clear that right up too, so long as you don’t mind it causes explosive vomiting…

And so the cycle of pharmacology goes in Bad Medicine, a lightweight party game all about peddling drugs. In it, each player acts as the head of a big pharma company, and you’re all looking to get as many people to buy into your drug concoctions as possible.

During every round there exists a malady that needs to be remedied. Each player uses a handful of cards to assemble a drug’s name, its conditions for how it goes about curing the problem, and of course, a side effect you’re likely to experience as a result of taking the new medication. Then, in classic ‘pitch game’ fashion, players take turns trying to sell the rest of the table as to why their particular product is the best consumer option. Usually with ridiculous consequences.

The winning drug’s side effect then becomes the malady for the following round in a vicious, endless cycle of problems and prescriptions.

Bad Medicine is fast, goofy, satirical take on the pharmaceutical industry, but it does so in a way that’s resonant while still being highly entertaining. The creative combinations for drug names and conditions are restricted only by the cards you draw, and even if your card options are less than ideal, this game epitomizes the notion that with the right pitch, anything is salable. For Socializers, Bad Medicine’s engaging nature and light rules ensures this game is definitely the right diagnosis.


Nominee #4: Spyfall

Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment | Players: 3-8 | Play Time: 20-30 Minutes

spyfall nomineeWhat happens when you take the fast-paced bluffing of Coup and the deceptive tactics of Resistance and smash them together? You get Spyfall, essentially.

Unlike the real spy trade, the rules for being a secret agent here are remarkably simple. At the start of a round, one of the game’s few dozen Locations is secretly chosen, and every player receives a card matching it. Well, every player except one. That player is the Spy. Everyone then takes turns asking others players questions, trying to root out who the Spy may be. If the Spy can figure out the Location before they’re outed, they win. If the Spy is caught in a lie, it’s double oh no! and the other players win. Repeat with a few different Locations to see who has the best clandestine skills.

That’s it.

Much like other light social games on this list, what makes Spyfall so intriguing isn’t a complex set of mechanics but the level of dynamic interaction between people at the table. Spyfall is a brief foray into a world of half truths and vague answers. It’s an often tense affair as players try to either flush out the deceiver in their midst or keep their cool and remain hidden. The longer the game goes, the more you can visibly watch anxiety and suspicion mount as everyone starts parsing their questions and responses in carefully constructed ways, inevitably building towards a climactic showdown over whether the Spy is caught or they’ve outwitted everyone else at the table.

The round usually ends long before things get too stressful or too serious though, and before you know it, you’re resetting the situation to do it all over again. It is precisely this balance of intrigue with fleeting high stakes that endears Socializers to this cunning spy game.


Nominee #3: Stockpile

Publisher: Nauvoo Games | Players: 2-5 | Play Time: 45-60 Minutes

stockpile nomineeIt’s time to buy low and sell high! Striking it rich has never been this simple as you navigate the ever-changing stock market. In Stockpile, the goal is to use the totally-not-illegal act of insider trading to your advantage and walk away with the biggest pile of cash. To do that, you’re trying to use the market to your advantage while preventing your opponents from doing the same.

Stockpile may seem like a strange choice on this list at first, but underneath its economics premise lies a game that’s more about watching other players and guessing what they’re up to than just cold number crunching. In this short exercise of unbridled capitalism and crossing ethical boundaries, every player is a stock trader who knows how one company’s stock is going to behave each round before everyone else. During the course of a round, everyone helps build and then bid on piles of stocks – hence the name. The goal is to make the most money (naturally), and so much of the game’s engagement is about figuring out which of those stocks to hold on to and which to sell off, all without tipping your hand to other players about what you know.

The fact that Stockpile can do all this while maintaining lightweight complexity and an easy to follow atmosphere is part of its inherent beauty, and it’s why Stockpile works so well for this particular group. Many economics games tend to be too hefty, lengthy, and involved to cater to Socializers, but Stockpile is one that they can call their own. Hopefully they’ll still be willing to share with the rest of us.


Nominee #2: Lanterns

Publisher: Renegade Game Studios & Foxtrot Games | Players: 2-4 | Play Time: 30 Minutes

lanterns nomineeSome games hook you with sprawling boards, extensive rulebooks, and more components than you may know what to do with. Then there are games like Lanterns, a splendid example of elegance in simplicity. Like tea lights upon a tranquil pond, this is a game whose broad-base appeal stems from its casual gameplay vibe while still maintaining substance just beneath the surface.

We often describe Lanterns as Ticket to Ride without the trains, and that’s in no small part to the game’s color-based set collecting. In Lanterns, players are artisans planning for the annual harvest festival and are competing to see who can get the most acclaim for their lantern arrangements. Players takes turns laying tiles of various colors on the board. Then, every player collects a card matching the lantern color of the tile side facing them, ensuring that no matter whose turn it is, everyone gets something. Once you collect enough cards of specific colors and / or amounts, they can be turned in for points in recognition for your groundskeeping efforts. In the end, the person who turns in the most points will be the victor.

Lanterns possesses a very zen-like play quality, partially because of the communal rewards to tile laying and partially because the entire game can be orchestrated in a very relaxed manner. Whether used to start a night off or wind it to a close, Lanterns provides the ideal kind of game for a Socializer, as you’re able to carry on full conversations and interact with one another while still reaping the aesthetic reward of creating a colorful lantern-strewn mosaic. So ideal, in fact, that it came very close to winning the whole thing, if not for one specific obstacle…


The Winner

2015 Socialilizer Laurel Winner

2015 Socializer Laurel – Codenames

Publisher: Czech Games Edition | Players: 2-Any | Play Time: 20-30 Minutes

codenames winnerLet’s go with “Juggernaut: 1”.

If someone this time last year suggested that one of the breakout hits of 2015 would be a simple word association game, few people would have taken them seriously. Yet that’s precisely what happened when this deceptively robust social game debuted at Gen Con, catching everyone off-guard – including the publishers themselves.

In this game, two teams of spies square off in a race to make contact with all of their team’s agents in the field first, all of which are only known by their – wait for it – codenames. Each faction is led by a spymaster who provides (generally) one-word clues and a number, trying to guide you towards a number of words on the board that share the clue’s correlation. The first team to reveal all their agents wins, though it’s not always as easy as it sounds.

Much of the game’s rampant widespread appeal, and why it’s managed to retain staying power despite such a basic premise, is due to how well it fosters player engagement whether you have four players or fourteen. Whole teams can participate in the debates over the spymaster’s clues, and with hundreds of words at the ready, replayability is practically limitless. Codenames is the pinnacle of a Socializer game, where basic gameplay and a straightforward premise is paired with loads of dynamic interplay every time the words hit the table. It’s a simple yet diverse game whose entire nature generates a contagious social air that makes it hard to not want to join in on the wordsmithing fun. Which is precisely why it earned this archetype’s top spot for 2015.


Codenames Contest!

We thought about different ways to celebrate the winner of the first Socializer Laurel. In the end, we opted for the most direct approach: providing one lucky winner with the opportunity to enjoy the award-winning game first hand. So that is what we’re going to to do right…now.

That’s right! Enter below for your chance at your very own copy of Codenames!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: In honor of their award recognition, Czech Games Edition has kindly provided a copy of this game for giveaway purposes.

Be sure to check out the 2015 Laurel Award pages for the other archetypes once they go live!

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