10 Great Lunch Games

Sack-Lunch

The majority of my gaming occurs at lunch, usually 4 days per week at work. Anywhere from 3-6 of us play games, which means we have a great regular group of known quantity, but also, we're constantly diving deep into our favorite games AND looking for new games that play up to 5 (the most common quantity) in an hour or less.

I wanted to begin the week on a bright, cheery note. Discussing 10 great games seems like a fun way to do just that. Therefore, and in no order (because I find the debate on whether an item should be #9 versus #6 and so forth tedious), here are 10 great lunch games.

Oh, one more thing. Every game on this list plays with 4 or 5 players in an hour or less. That's how it fits into this lunch group list. If your lunch is only 30 minutes long, I'm sorry. Some of these games will exceed that half hour.

Oh, one more thing one more thing. These are lunch games for people who play games. I don't think most of these should be flopped down in front of co-workers who don't game at least occasionally.

Let's get 3 out of the way real quick. These first three games are layups. They should be so non-contentious that I just want to get them out of the way quickly. Each of them plays quickly and is packed with strategy. They are games that are 10s for many people.

DominionFew games pack so much strategy and replayability into a single box. If you have a few of the expansions, as my co-workers do, you can play this game hundreds of times. Once you know what you're doing, you can knock out a game in 20 minutes, making this one a 2-3 games per lunch kinda game. It's also great in that it takes up very little table space. When it's not your turn? The downtime lets you take a bite of your sandwich and ponder your next play.

Downsides? Doesn't really work well with 5 or more. Might get a little samey for some without expansions. Definitely appeals to certain mindsets more than others.

7 Wonders (for drafting, see also Fairy Tale): I love this game for the pacing, strategy, ability to eat while playing (at least for me, as a quick decider), and plenty of time to trash talk. We have 7 Wonders weeks where we just play it four of five times in a single week. Dave is super good, by the way, and a pain to beat when he's "on." Especially once every knows how to play, the speed of the game is near unrivaled. Toss in the Wonder Pack to really up the variety.

Downsides? A pain to teach to new players, especially in the lunch setting. The slow down to count at the end is a bummer, no matter the setting. Leaders expansion is good, but probably best saved for game night.

Race for the Galaxy (plus Gathering Storm expansion for up to 5): Wow! This game. I just learned it last month and after a handful of plays I think it's a favorite. There are so many decisions to be made and it's slightly interactive in a way that's particularly fun with a lunch group. Ugh! You DIDN'T pick the action we all needed? It's a great light-hearted (yet deeply strategic) mid-day gas. Once you know what you're doing, you can easily knock out two games in the hour.

Downsides? Requires an expansion to play with 5. Big learning curve with all the iconography and depth of experience. The game keeps you fully engaged with a lot of moving parts. It's difficult to hold a side conversation or get too involved in a platter of food. This game pairs best with an easy-to-eat sandwich and container of grapes.

And now for the less-obvious selections. 

One Night Ultimate WerewolfThis is not only one of the best games I've ever played, but a brilliant lunch selection. The game is basically a conversation with rules, which makes it perfect to sit back and chew when you're the werewolf trying to stay under the radar. If you're playing with the timer, you should finish in under 10 minutes, which means you'll knock out a good 4-5 games in the lunch hour. There's definitely some good thinking, but mostly, this game is about laughing and pondering things that are infinitely more fun than what's awaiting you back at your desk. This game feels good to win OR lose and I think it's such a good midday de-stresser.

Downsides? You should get a big enough room to let people sit comfortable around the table AND one that's sound proof when everyone yells "WHAT?!"

Chinatown: This is a pure, simple game of negotiation and trading that plays wonderfully with 3-5. It's so simple. Each round, every player is dealt properties, of which they choose a subset, and a few business tiles. Business tiles will specify a number, say, 4, which means the number of adjacent spaces that must have that tile to be complete. For example, a Laundromat requires 4, so you need 4 adjacent spaces with a Laundromat. You're trading the property spaces, the business tiles, and money to ultimately end with the most money after a set number of rounds. It's great, social, and perfect for lunch.

Downsides? If you don't like trading or interacting...don't play this. I don't really know many downsides. It's such a simple, quick-playing game with nice depth.

Lords of Waterdeep: I'm both surprised to find this game in the top 100 (around 50, I believe) of BGG, but also, in the ire list of so many gamers. While Lords of Waterdeep doesn't bring much new to the world of mid-weight worker placement, it DOES do it incredibly well and smoothly. If you bypass the expansion and keep it to 4-5 players, it fits easily in a lunch hour, which means you can have some thinkin' with your puddin'.

But Tzol'kin (or however you spell it) is better, you shout, as you shake your fist, dislodging lunch meats with every to and fro. Maybe, but it doesn't fit over lunch.

Downsides? Your more AP co-workers might drag this one over the lunch hour. It might also not work for your lunch group, especially if you don't work at a game company like me. It is a strategy game with many moving pieces.

Side note for Waterdeep: Can we stop calling this game thematic? It has great art and pieces. But, you're collecting orange cubes to spend them because the card will give you points for spending the orange cubes you collected. This should not be our poster child for thematic euros, lads and laddesses!

LibertaliaThis is a desert island game for me and it's shameful I don't own it yet. I need to rectify that. Like 7 Wonders, the game benefits from simultaneous action selection. There's great fun in double and triple guessing what your opponents will play to go after cards as, initially, you all have the same cards. This is where it gets brilliant. By the third round, everyone will have a few nasty cards they've kept since the first round, leading to shouts of "why do you still have the monkey noooo!" followed by "shhhh!" and such. I love it.

Downsides? The pirate ship names are really awkward. The Slackey Jack? Eesh.

RaThis is a brilliant design. It is just layers of bidding and point salad and interaction and timing. The key element are the suns, which have a numerical value of 1-16. You spend these to win auctions of tiles, worth points. The key, is that you trade the tile you spent to win for the one that was last used -- often a lower value sun. Do you really want that tile set? Enough that you'll cripple yourself in future auctions? But, are you really crippled?

Downsides? The game isn't really thematic at all and has quite a few tiles. They are all simple, but it'll take a few games before everyone stops asking "what are the Nile tiles worth?" I'm reaching here. It's so good.

GinkgopolisThis gorgeous and highly interactive euro combines area control, drafting, and resource management. You're building a city, or stack of tiles, whatever. It has simultaneous drafting, but then turn-based execution, which gives you a moment to munch and explain "you jerk!" when someone builds on top of your building and cuts your points in half. It has a lot of pieces and a bit of setup time, but it still manages to fit within that hour, assuming everyone takes their turn and gets moving.

Downsides? Not great with 5, as the game reaches the end a smidge too quickly. But, boy does it sing with 3-4. The game can also be a tinge confusing at first for some mindsets as it has a bunch of numbers, letters, and isn't terribly thematic.

Last WillThis one just barely squeaks in under the time limit, but squeak it does. This is arguably the heaviest game on the list, yet it's full quick, yet meaty decisions that let it fit within the lunch hour. The game will definitely scratch an itch for those who want to think at lunch, yet provide plenty of interaction in its worker placement phases to jab one at your co-worker who just sent that rather obnoxious email.

Downsides? You may want to play this one outside of lunch the first time for the learning game. The AP prone will definitely send this one into that 1 pm meeting, so keep folks deciding and moving. There are quite a few bits, so it may not work for the sticky fingered card fetishist.

The Appendix

Games that I desperately wish fit within the lunch hour but often fall just a smidge outside of it: Princes of Florence, Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, Ascending Empires, 1775 or 1812.

Anything jump out at you on this list, for better or worse? What are some of your favorites I forgot? Chime in and turn this top 10 into a top "much larger number."

Comments

The people I play with at our once-weekly gaming lunch don't self-identify as gamers, so I have trouble imagining how I'd get them started on most of these. We've been playing a lot of Dominion, but as you pointed out, it's very replayable. I've had great success with Incan Gold and No Thanks!, but those are much lighter games and I itch to get something more interesting on the table. We played Sentinels of the Multiverse a few times, but the game length is too variable and we often ran over.

Great list!
My lunch group has played Resistance: Avalon, Hanabi, Coup, Coloretto, Wizard and Die Sieben Siegel dozens (in some cases literally hundreds) of times each. We love playing the tile version of Hanabi outside to confound the wind.