Why you should care

Because you’ll never be sitting in a silent room, staring at your loved ones, stumped for ways to pass the time again.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is nearly over, but even if you’ve had enough togetherness, togetherness has not had enough of you. No cure exists for this state of being, but there are workarounds. Among them: The parlor game, a 19th century invention that allowed people to spend hours and hours with one another in confined spaces without resorting to homicide. There are modern-day equivalents, of course, from the boob tube to the smartphone, but none are as energy efficient and, let’s face it, cozy-feeling, as the parlor game.

There are a few criteria for a good parlor game. They should be pleasant, but not competitive. (A parlor game should not expose comparative IQ, athleticism or attractiveness — which is why games like Scrabble, basketball and Spin the Bottle are not parlor games.) They should allow for interaction, but not meaningful conversation and nothing close to oversharing. And parlor games should be capable of being played in a parlor, which is to say: sitting down, on a couch or easy chair or rug before the fire, and as immobile as possible. Some of our favorites below:

Mafia

Number of players: Eight or more

Equipment: Deck of playing cards

Several mafia members have infiltrated a town. The townspeople are trying to root them out. At their daily meeting, the citizens try to figure out who belongs to the mafia, and then vote on one person to “kill.” At night, the mafia secretly meet and carry out the murder of a townsperson. Play continues until the mafia have all been killed, or the mafiosi outnumber the townspeople.

Mafia is a bit like poker – bluffing and confidence moves are key. And while we quite like it, it has its share of haters: “What’s the use of roleplaying if no one’s getting naked?” complains one of our friends.

Black and White lithograph of people playing in a room as one man in the center is blindfolded

A family game of blind man’s buff. Original Publication: Pictorial World, 1874

Source Getty

Cards Against Humanity

Number of players: At least four

Equipment: Cards Against Humanity set

The shtick: It’s “inappropriate” – a snarky, jaded, adult version of Apples to Apples. For all the adolescent innuendo (something called the Bigger Blacker Box), it’s actually quite fun.

It’s a snarky, jaded, adult version of Apples to Apples.

Each player gets 10 “answer” cards, on which are written nouns (“poor people,” “catapults”) or gerunds (“eating the last known bison,” ”grave robbing”). A card czar plays a “question” card, reading out its question to the group. (Examples: “The class field trip was completely ruined by _________.” “What is a girl’s best friend?”) Players submit the answer card they deem best, and the card czar reads aloud the answers, then chooses the winner.

Less than two years old, Cards Against Humanity has perched atop Amazon.com’s “Toys and Games” bestseller list for a while now. That’s despite the fact that the game, invented by eight twentysomething Illinoisans, is available as a PDF download for free. Need more endorsement? Anne Hathaway says it’s her favorite, although she misidentified its name as “Crimes Against Humanity.” Oops.

Celebrity

Number of players: Six or more

Equipment: Scraps of paper, hat, pens

Like Charades but better. To begin, everyone writes down the names of well known personages on paper scraps and then puts them into a hat, bucket or similar receptacle. The players divide into teams of two or more. One by one, players withdraw a name and then describe the person without using his or her name. “Bono,” for instance, could be “the Irish rock singer who loves Africa.” In the second round, players can use only one word to describe their subject. In the third round, players can use no words, only actions.

Are You There, Moriarty?

Number of players: Four or more

Equipment: Blindfolds and newspapers

Confession: We have never played “Are You There Moriarty?” and we are not sure we ever want to. We wouldn’t mind watching. The game involves two blindfolded players who lie prone on the floor, head to head, about three feet from each other. One player asks, “Are you there, Moriarty?” The second replies, “yes.” Then they begin to try to hit each other with their rolled-up newspapers. The first player hit is eliminated, and another player takes his place.

The game was popular when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was writing about Sherlock Holmes and his archnemesis, Dr. Moriarty. And in some ways, it seems an ideal outlet for intrafamilial aggression, so long as you don’t combine it with anything sharp or alcoholic. “Definitely not a drinking game,” says my friend S., who swears she hasn’t played it since college.

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