A gaggle of games for fun indoors

UP FRONT

January 24, 2002|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PARTY games can be a wonderful way to fight the winter blahs. When chill winds and holiday-depleted wallets make going out a chore, games of luck, skill and challenges invite us to stay home and share a few laughs with loved ones and friends.

"They're a way for friends to get together and have a good time at relatively little cost," says Peter Sarrett, editor of The Game Report, a magazine devoted to spreading the word about games from around the world.

"Good party games also foster a cordial atmosphere by creating opportunities for laughter, dramatic swings of fortune, and showing off for each other," he adds.

The drooping economy may be spurring an increase in game sales. Frank O'Donnell, manager of Wizards of the Coast, a Hasbro-owned game store in the Columbia Mall, says sales for 2001 exceeded expectations.

"Every time there seems to be a problem with the economy, people, I think, want to stay home and play games rather than go out, and do more family things," he says.

Old favorites like Scrabble and Monopoly can still work magic, but many wonderful new games are out there waiting to be tried. Following is a look at some of the most popular of them. Most games are $25 or less, though some of the more elaborate ones can cost as much as $50. Prices vary by store.

Cranium: This game has been a word-of-mouth sensation since former Microsoft execs Richard Tait and Whit Alexander introduced it in 1998.

To win, you simply advance around a board by performing the activities on selected cards. The cleverness of the activities is what makes the game so successful. Activities include anything from sculpting with clay to humming to spelling backward.

The game, designed for teens to adults, needs at least two teams of at least two players each. When a team is up, the team to the right reads an activity card from one of four categories, based on the team's position on the board: Creative Cat, Word Worm, Star Performer and Data Head.

If a team completes the activity before a timer runs out of sand, it gets to roll the dice and move forward. Then it's the next team's turn.

The goal is to make it around the board and into Cranium Central, where teams must complete one final activity to win.

Hilarium: In this Mattel game for ages 16 and up, players draw cards and act out the actions on the cards all at once. Some players might be gyrating to hula dances, while others are smashing their fists into their own guts in an attempt to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Each card has an exact match. The goal is to figure out which player is doing the exact same thing as you.

Players begin the game with $100 in play money and five cards telling them what action they must perform. Then everyone acts out what's noted on one of the cards.

If a player suspects someone else is doing the same action, he or she asks that player to show his or her card. If it is a match, the first player gets the card and both players move on to the next activity. The other players continue trying to find a first match.

At the end of the game, players get $10 for each matched card, and the person left with the game's "Gotcha Card" loses $30. The player with the most money after four rounds wins.

Jenga Truth or Dare: This new version of Jenga builds on the popular party game by adding truth or dare challenges to it. In the original game, participants take turns removing wooden blocks from an increasingly precarious 18-story tower and placing them on top of the tower. The last person to remove a block before the tower tumbles wins.

Jenga Truth or Dare keeps all the elements of the original game, but now, before removing a block, players are required to answer such personal questions as "What's the best game you've played in the dark?" or take such dares as "Say something romantic to the person next to you." The questions and dares are written on the blocks.

This Milton Bradley game for adults also comes with 18 blank blocks for writing your own questions or dares.

Settlers of Catan: This game can be addictive, but it requires some concentration to get started. "It's almost like an ancient Monopoly," says Wizards manager O'Donnell. "Except instead of buying houses and hotels, you're building roadways and towns."

Three or four players, ages 12 and up, rely on a combination of luck and skill to create communities. The game has a board for beginners and a more complicated setup of hexagons for experienced players. In either case, each player represents a group of settlers on the remote island of Catan. The goal is to become the dominant group by building settlements and cities, having the longest roads or largest armies, or by buying certain cards.

Each settlement or city receives resources based on the nearby terrain. Players can use these resources to build, or can exchange them for development cards that contain knights or other advantages.

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