I Played 5 Professionally-Designed Drinking Games
I had a party with my closest friends, 5 drinking-themed board games, and a whole lot of booze.
Image courtesy of Thinking & Drinking LLC
The ancient Egyptians played board games and drank beer, so it's probably safe to say that people have been combining the two for more than 5,000 years. Alcohol can be added to any game, but some publishers have turned that connection into a more formal affair by making when you should drink and precisely how much part of the actual rules. To test out how much fun these games are and how drunk they'll get you, I bought a bunch of booze and gathered together some friends with the goal of trying five of them in one night.
The party started at 7 p.m. Friday, so after my grocery run I decided to read the rules for everything while I was still sober. Wiseman Innovation's Drinking Quest plays two to four people so I asked my husband, Kevin, if he wanted to play it with me while we waited for our guests to arrive. He refused, so we ordered pizza and waited to start until Rob and Nikki showed up bearing kettle corn and Bacardi 8. We mixed drinks and headed down to the basement.
Drinking Quest is fairly reminiscent of Steve Jackson Games' Munchkin, a zany Dungeons & Dragons-inspired card game that has players competing to earn the most rewards by defeating monsters and other challenges. The cards are filled with puns—character names include Malty and Daiquirin—and references to everything from My Little Pony to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Players take turns drawing cards from a central deck and facing challenges like fighting a keg-tossing goblin or trying to persuade the bartender to give you a different beer since you don't like the "weak ass goblin ale" you ordered. You can choose to have one person serve as game master and adjudicate all challenges, but we just had adjacent players roll dice for the monsters.
Challenges tend to be pretty tough, and your character can easily die if the dice don't go in their favor. If you've managed to collect an ale item through playing the game, you can escape death by using it and taking a drink. If you don't have one, you have to chug your whole drink to stay in the game. If you die again within the course of the same adventure, you just need to take three sips to stay in. As a result it's a good idea to sip your drink throughout the game so you didn't wind up drinking too much at once when you got unlucky. While the winner is determined by who has the most points at the end of the game, Drinking Quest doesn't give much way for players to interact with each other, meaning that people tended to just talk among themselves when they waited for their turn.
We'd barely finished setting up when Mike and Aerielle show up, so I looked up the optional rules for integrating up to 12 players by bringing in heroes from the different adventure decks together and combining the challenge cards. As a result we wound up with a deck full of goblins and cat people. It didn't make a lot of sense, but the game lacks a real narrative anyways so it worked. The mechanics were also light enough that the players who hadn't tried D&D before could pick up the rules easily. Their biggest challenge was learning to read four-sided dice. Another player, Sarah, arrived mid-game and we dealt her in with little need to catch her up.
The drinking aspect of Drinking Quest was highly uneven. When the deck ran out, Rob hadn't been forced to drink at all. I also hadn't had to drink, but I responded to his gloating by using my character's special ability and forcing him to chug. Most of the special abilities provide useful effects, like doubling the awards earned from a challenge or automatically damaging an enemy, but apparently my character, Chuglox, just likes messing with his friends.
Mike brought a shot roulette wheel a friend had given him a while back and filled the black shots with water and the red with mystery spirits. We set some rules involving the game. You had to spin the wheel for a party foul like spilling your drink or if you were ever caught without a drink when a game would make you take a sip. At any time someone could take a spin to force another person to do the same. The last card draw of Drinking Quest belonged to Mike, who was in the bathroom, so we came up with another roulette rule—you had to take a spin if we had to wait for you to take your turn. He grudgingly agreed and wound up landing on a shot of whiskey.
After running through a deck of Drinking Quest, you're meant to use your rewards to upgrade your characters and then face the next challenge. But we had more games to play. Sarah's husband, Chris, showed up while we were setting up Wagner Concepts Drink-A-Palooza and he was drunker than any of us, having just left an office Cinco de Mayo party. "My dinner was tequila," he proudly said. "Did you at least have a lime?" Sarah asked. His answer was no. Drink-A-Palooza plays six people solo or 12 people on teams and we decided to make teams based on couples. Chris said that wasn't fair to Sarah and that we should roll an eight-sided die to see who got stuck with him but Sarah said she could carry him.
Drink-A-Palooza is a sort of hybrid of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, with each team trying to fill their colorful six-pack shaped piece with beer bottles indicating they've won rounds of beer pong, quarters or flip cup. Players roll a die to move around the board either triggering those challenges or landing on spaces that indicate other drinking games like spin the bottle (no kissing involved, the person the cardboard bottle points to just has to drink) or high low, where players take turns betting if the next card from a deck of playing cards will be higher or lower than the previous one.
The first person to guess wrong has to take a drink for every card revealed. There's a cup in the center of the board that some squares technically let you pour part of your drink into and other squares that force you to drink from the center cup, but we decide everyone should keep their drinks to themselves and just fill that cup with PBR.
This game accelerated the drinking fast. Mike was forced to drink the center cup three times through a combination of failures and bad luck. Chris landed on Waterfall, meaning we all had to keep drinking for as long as he did, and he didn't let how far he was ahead slow him down. Things started getting a bit silly. Kevin, who is 6' 2", jumped for joy after we won a round of flip cup and hit his head and wrist on the ceiling of our basement.
Mike and Aer won the game—Aer's apparently one of those people whose hand-eye coordination improves with alcohol consumption—and I offered them a second copy of the game I was sent as a prize. I'm guessing the makers wanted to make sure I could still review the game if a cup spilled all over the board, which seems like a very real risk. Mike asked if he could just force everyone to spin the roulette wheel instead, but I said no and mocked him for prioritizing messing with everyone over taking a physical prize.
But then Rob decided I wasn't drunk enough and challenged me to a spin anyways. I landed on black and drank my water while he took a shot. Then Mike challenged me with the same result. As I was searching for the right number to align with my black shot, Kevin pointed out that it didn't matter which I picked, since they were all water. Mike admitted that wasn't true. One of the "water" shots was actually a clear spirit. That led Aer and then Chris to challenge me hoping that even if my streak continued I'd eventually hit that hidden shot—which I did. It was vodka and it was terrible.
Next on the docket was Uncorked Games' Read Between the Wines. The game seems designed for a bachelorette party or book club. The promotional photos all show well-dressed people toasting with glasses decorated with the included wine charms. The rules encourage you to greet everyone with "pre-game bubbly and appetizers" and to plan wine flights that "start with lighter whites and work up to more full-bodied reds." I enjoy a fine wine with dinner, but for this party I bought three varieties of Trader Joe's $3 Charles Shaw wines and a $10 bottle of prosecco as our premium pick. Chris thought drinking wine might make him sick, so he and Mike decided to walk down the street to Burger King and McDonald's.
Nikki volunteered to be the first "wine waiter," pouring Charles Shaw Merlot into each of our Solo cups and reading a card from a deck of themes that we needed to base our descriptions on. The first one was "describe what life stage this wine is in" and we all wrote down our answers and passed them to Nikki to read. Each player then took a turn guessing who wrote what, with a successful guess earning them a point and eliminating the player they named from the round. The last person standing became the next round's wine waiter.
Impressively, we all came up with different ages for the terrible wine, with my pick for senior citizen and Kevin's accurate description of the beverage as "a late-stage nursing home." Chris and Mike returned from their fast food run with fries and chicken nuggets, having been unable to get anything from Burger King since no one there seemed to be taking orders, much to the consternation of the other three intoxicated people who were in line in front of them. They also weren't able to bring any of the requested McFlurries because the machine was broken.
Chris was still off wine, so he ate while we dealt in Mike for the second round: describing the wine as a movie. Concealing your identity is key here. I was able to guess Nikki because I was pretty sure she was the only person at the table who had seen Hidden Figures, but I kept Kevin from pinning me down since he wasn't sure if it was Mike or me that had compared the prosecco to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. It's a pretty fun game, but the cards aren't really created equal. "Describe the wine as a fictional character" is too broad while "discuss what this wine pairs with" plays the game too straight. It's one of the few games I think could actually be improved by an R-rated version.
Two rounds in, Sarah realized it was 10:30 p.m. Their babysitter was originally only planning on staying until 9 p.m. and then heading out to a party, but Sarah had convinced her to stay until 10, saying she could start pregaming as soon as their daughter was in bed. They headed out and Nikki was wavering. But Rob came to this party to play Table Forged's Iron & Ale , which was the highlight of an International Talk Like a Pirate Day party he hosted a few years ago, and he didn't want to leave until he got in at least a few rounds.
Like Drinking Quest, Iron & Ale gives each player a character—each representing a different dwarven lord with their own special ability—and has them compete to earn the most treasure. Players draw from a mountain deck that contains a mix of treasure and monsters, which can be defeated to get rewards and force you to drink if you fail. Once they've drawn twice from that deck, players move onto the meadhall, a deck of challenges such as engaging in a staring contest with another player or seeing which player can finish their drink first while standing on one leg. If you don't want to engage, you can always pay the drink penalty and forfeit, but our competitive natures and the fact that most of us were pretty drunk by that point meant that never happened. We were honorable drunken dwarf lords, after all.
There were some pretty good moments, like when someone questioned if I had to stay still while Kevin was doing a plank with me on his back and my wiggling and bouncing caused him to immediately fall. Mike kept Rob from catching a die midair by dropping it when the rules of the challenge were being debated. But this is fundamentally a game for bros who like fantasy. There are just too many meadhall cards that involve tests of physical strength like arm-wrestling contests.
Rob and Nikki headed out after some debating about whether or not they actually needed to relieve Nikki's mom, who was watching their daughter, and whether Rob could just Uber back later. That left just Mike and Aer and the game I'd saved for last, Jon and Nikki Cooper's Thinking & Drinking. Despite the name, drinking isn't really in the rules of this one. Instead it codifies my favorite part of so many parties—sitting around and talking with my friends late at night.
The Thinking & Drinking box contained six decks filled with questions that all the players need to answer. Our first asked everyone to name their favorite Batman. I took a moment to consider and said "That's easy" and Kevin realized immediately where I was going, texting me to prove he'd guessed right. Aer picked Adam West, Mike chose Michael Keaton, and Kevin and I answered Kevin Conroy. There was some protesting over whether a voice actor counted, which led to more heated discussion about the quality of various movie versions and Mike's admission that he'd never seen Batman & Robin.
Kevin decided he had to see it and rented the movie from Amazon. Terrible ice puns provided the backdrop for future questions, where we implemented a rule that you could drink if you didn't have a good answer or choose the best from a pair of questions since not all of them were winners. Questions like "which of the players could get a phone number?" got discarded for more personal ones like "what motivates you?" That last one caused Mike to get a bit maudlin and prompted Aer to decide it was time to call an Uber. He left both his copy of Drink-A-Palooza and shot roulette at my house. I assume they now belong to me.
Two days later I remembered I'd put a $3 Chuck bottle in the freezer. It had exploded.