Social Board Games (Part 2)

Welcome to part two of social board games!  If you missed the first part, you can read it here.  I won’t readdress how useful social board games can be in the library – that can be found in part one, as well as my post on board games in the library – so let’s just get to the meat of the topic.  Here are three more social board games that have proven to be incredibly popular – Sheriff of Nottingham, Codenames, and Spyfall!

Sheriff of Nottingham

This game single-handedly created multiple inside jokes among my teens when I introduced it to them at the Gretna Public Library.  Teens overacted fabulously, literally getting to their knees and begging the Sheriff of Nottingham to let them pass with their goods to sell at the market.  The mean-hearted Sheriff, displeased with their behavior (and perhaps the wailing), opened the merchant’s pouch to find contraband inside.  The goods confiscated and the fine levied, the merchant teen wailed their despair all the way back to their chair at the other end of the table.

The premise of this game is that each player takes a turn being the Sheriff of Nottingham, whose job it is to ensure contraband goods don’t make it to the market.  The other players load up their sacks with legal or illegal goods, and then make a declaration of what they are carrying to the Sheriff.  The Sheriff can choose to let them go or inspect the goods, but may also demand bribes or be willing to accept them.  Players are free to decide whether or not to bribe the Sheriff, and if the Sheriff chooses to search their pack and they declared their goods truthfully, the Sheriff owes them coin for an unreasonable search.  However, if contraband items or goods that were not declared are found in the pack, the player must pay a fine to the Sheriff and the Sheriff disposes of the ill-gotten gains.

It’s likely that you can see how easily acting out the roles fits this game, and it certainly makes for a louder board game group.  This game certainly doesn’t have to be acted out in such a fashion – I just happened to have some teens who loved the idea.  Even some of my quieter teens really got into the theme of this game!


Codenames has become very well known despite only coming out in 2015, and that’s for good reason.  Codenames is a great way to really delve into the multiple ways one can interpret a word, promotes critical thinking, and it also serves as a great way to learn the English language – as I learned by playing with my Czech friends.  These reasons make it a perfect fit for any library and a great asset for teen programming.  The designers behind the game are also making expansions, including Codenames: Pictures, which could help increase the longevity of the game and widen the audience.

Codenames divides the group into two teams, red and blue.  Cards with words on them, 25 in total, are placed at the center of the table in a 5 x 5 grid.  Each team has a spymaster, and these spymasters sit next to each other and look at a 5 x 5 grid on a key card that tells them which of the cards on the table are their spies’ code names.  The spymaster’s goal is to get their team to guess all of the code names that correspond to their color in the key card.  See the photo below for an example.

The spymaster has to get their team to guess which of the words on the table are their spies, but there are limits to how the spymaster may interact with their team.  The spymaster may only say ONE word and ONE number – such as SNOW – THREE.  This would imply to the spymasters’ teammates that three of the words in the 5 x 5 grid are related to snow and should be chosen.  Once someone touches a word in the grid, the spymaster must put out the corresponding marker – blue spy, red spy, civilian, or assassin.  If the team guessed correctly and got their color’s spy, they get to continue guessing.  If they guessed a card that was actually a civilian or the enemy team, their turn is done and the enemy team gets to go.  And if they guessed the assassin, their entire team has been killed and the enemy spies have won!

The fun really starts when, as the spymaster, you try to associate 5 or 6 words with the one word you say and watch your team try to figure out which cards you meant them to guess.  You really do have to be careful as the spymaster, though.  If you accidentally say a word that could be associated with enemy cards or even the assassin, you’re in for a ripe scolding from your team for helping the enemy or getting your team killed.  Of course, getting your team to guess more cards correctly in less rounds than the enemy is best because the first team to guess all of their spies wins.

Something to note – it’s vitally important that the spymaster stay completely silent and stone faced while their team discusses what their one word and number meant.  Giving anything away by noise, facial expressions, etc., could be (and, for my playgroup, definitely is) considered cheating!


Spyfall is going to be great for those in your group who love acting and enjoy bluffing games.  In Spyfall, each player receives a card that states the location that they’re in – a submarine, casino, circus, military base, etc. – and their role at that location.  Perhaps they’re the manager, or the barker, or the clown, etc.  However, one person’s card is the spy card – and the spy card has no location on it.  The spy’s job is to find out where they are without giving away the fact that they’re a spy!

The game is played by each person asking someone else a question.  That person answers the question, then has to ask someone else a question.  These questions have to be clever, because you want to fashion them so that other players get that you know what the location is WITHOUT being too specific and giving the location away to the spy!  At any time, the spy can flip their card, revealing that they’re the spy, and guess what the location is.  If they’re right, the spy wins and everyone else loses.  If the spy is wrong, everyone else wins!

Alternatively, at any time (once per round) a player can accuse someone of being the spy.  If the vote is unanimous (except the accused), the accused flips their card.  If they were the spy, everyone else wins.  If they weren’t the spy, everyone else loses.

This game does require a somewhat outgoing group to be enjoyed to its full potential. It’s a blast to act out a role in a location and have the spy have to pretend to be doing the same, but players who aren’t into the acting aspect may find that this game isn’t up their alley.

Another important tip – print out copies of all the locations so that each player has their own!  The core rule book has all of the locations printed across two pages, but that doesn’t make it easy for everyone to look at.  It’s going to be pretty obvious who the spy is if one person is staring at the locations during a round, so having each player have their own locations in front of them would be a good idea.

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