I’m not what you’d call a “board game geek”. I don’t spend my Friday nights sitting around a table with other like-minded people campaigning to eradicate diseases or collect resources. But I do enjoy quick little games here and there while enjoying a pint with a friend. Here are three games that can help keep your mind sharp away from the computer that are quick, easy and don’t require you have more than one friend.



Kind of like a cross between chess and dominoes, Hive is played with hexagonal pieces that have different bugs printed on them. Each one has a different way of moving (like in chess) and there is no board, you just build off of the pieces being played in a hive-like manner (get it?). The goal is to surround the opponents’ queen bee with pieces and play time is around 15 minutes per round. 👌

Hive is great because there is no one way to win the game. You can be playing a round and just when you think you’ve got this guy cornered he busts out a play you didn’t see coming. Dammit.

As a designer, playing Hive gives me a chance to flex my skills in problem solving away from the glow of my laptop. I love the weight of the tiles in your hand as you’re playing, it’s so satisfying to play a piece and hear it clink against the others as you make a risky, but bold, move. You have to think about each play you’re going to make from every angle and consider many different approaches. It also requires you to adapt and be responsive to pieces as they are being played, keeping you on your toes.


Exploding Kittens

Brought to the world by the fine folks over at The Oatmeal, Exploding Kittens is a delightful card game where you’re trying to avoid the exploding kittens through various action cards that allow you to see the future, skip your turn or even attack your neighbor. This card game does have some chance to it based on what you’re dealt and what you draw, which helps to put everyone on a pretty even playing field. Game play is quick, but can get a bit competitive depending on your personality and how aggressive you are with your strategy.

This game is best played with 3 or more people, but we’ve found ways to modify it to be just as fun for 2 people. One tip, if you’re familiar with the game, is to put all of the exploding kittens AND all of the defuse cards into the deck. You play each exploding kitten card out of the deck until the last one remains and that one stays in the deck until the end of game (as usual). It’s much more challenging than it sounds and makes the game more interesting.

As a designer I like this game because a certain amount of winning is luck. Much like some of the projects you’ll work on, you just don’t know what you’re going to be dealt until you’re knee-deep in it. You do what you can with what you’ve got and come up with the best strategy to try and avoid the exploding kittens.

Bonus! They just came out with the expansion, Imploding Kittens. This deck includes 5 new action cards and, you guessed it, imploding kittens! There’s also a cone of shame for anyone who forgets who’s turn is next. I think this is something that all games should include, but that’s none of my business.



SET is a card game that can be played with alone, with 2 people or more. Game play is pretty quick (depending on how many people you have and your skill-level, of course) around 15-30 minutes per round. Each card has four attributes, color, fill, shape and quantity. The goal is find card sets of three that have each attribute either all the same or all different.

I’m not going to lie, I hated this game the first time I played it. The people that introduced it to me played regularly and were ace at it, which gave me little chance to get a hold on game play. Many years later I saw it in a local game store and ended up purchasing it in hopes that I could use it to improve my skills of pattern recognition. It’s become a favorite to bring along to bars, mostly during football games to play during half-time. After playing a few rounds I can definitely feel my observational skills and response times improve, which is important in user testing and synthesizing results (did I just say “synthesizing”?). It’s definitely frustrating at times when you’re staring at the cards and just can’t see any patterns and your friend is spotting them left and right. However, just like with any skill, the more you practice the better you’ll be.

They also came out with a travel version of SET that has fewer cards and is even more portable. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Well, those should keep you and your friend busy for at least the next month. Let me know in the comments what you think and if there are any games you play to keep your mind sharp. Cheers! 🍻

3 Card Games to Play with a Friend

Jamie Aucoin

Designer @ Spiceworks

Category: Roundup

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