Some people seem to flit through parties with the social grace of a minnow darting through underwater obstacles. Unfortunately, many of us are more like tadpoles, awkwardly bonking into each other. Fortunately, now that there are lots of apps and games for parties you can play on your phone that are either cheap or free and perfect for breaking the ice, so you can make your parties more friendly towards introverted attendees. Personally, though I'm not exactly a wallflower, I still find parties daunting, and often gravitate towards pets or artwork upon which I can fixate ("Oh, is that your dog? Can I pet her for two hours?").
The key ingredients to a great party game are: intuitiveness, interaction time, and the probability you'll say or do something stupid/embarrassing for your friends to enjoy and remind you of for years to come. I've looked through some of the top-rated party game apps with this criteria in mind. Most of them are super cheap or free, offering in-game purchases that you don't need to buy play the game. When you consider how expensive the average adult board game is, it's a great way to include party entertainment on a budget.
1. Heads Up
This has been one of the most popular game apps ever, and for good reason: it's an updated twist on classic "guessing" party games. You put your iPhone or other mobile device screen-forward on your forehead (so your friends can see but you're clueless about what's written there) and they clue you in either by giving you hints or acting it out. You only need one phone to play, it's intuitive and easy to learn, encourages social interaction, and allows people an excuse to get silly.
2. What Would You Choose?
This game is an update on the classic "would you rather" party game (or way of passing the time on road trips). The problem with this game is it always ended in a stalemate of creativity (personally, rounds of this game with my brother would always end in "would you rather eat farts or eat snails," a riveting question for the ages). This app takes care of that problem, with tons of randomly selected pre-written questions of an almost unending variety. It's also family friendly, so there won't be any awkwardness at your family BBQ.
3. Truth or Dare
Similar to the problem solved in the "What Would You Choose?" app, the Truth or Dare app takes the decision-making about topics or dares out of your hands and leaves them up to fate (or the app developers). It makes the game a lot more fun and judgement-free, and the app gives you the option of either going for more risqué topics, or something a bit less naughty. It's got a 4.5-star rating, and a cute, simple interface.
This game has a simple and fun premise: You have to name a list of things that fall in a category, within five seconds. The short time frame almost ensures you'll say something weird or embarrassing, and therein lies all the fun. The game gets a good rating on the App Store, but there's a caveat: while they offer a free version, they'll try to get you to buy an ad-free version for a $5 weekly subscription (or $15 monthly subscription). And while it may seem like signing up for the "3-day free trial" is the only way to proceed with the app, you can actually play the game with ads without signing up.
The concept of this game is a sort of high-paced automated Family Feud: players are given a question and try to shout out what they think are on the answers list, while a scorekeeper marks off their correct answers on the phone. It even has an audio playback feature, to settle any arguments with the referee. It can be played in teams, which is a great way to bond at a get-together.
6. Out Of The Loop
This is a deviously fun game that forces you to practice the art of deception (and it may not be for those with a serious case of FOMO). The phone is passed around, and each player is given the same prompt (i.e., "hamburgers"), except one unlucky soul who is "out of the loop" but must keep up the guise of being "in the loop." Then the game prompts players to ask each other questions to try and find out who's faking (i.e., "Katie, can you bathe in these?") I'd answer yes either way.
7. Reverse Charades
Like its name suggests, this is a game of "reverse" charades: the entire team acts out the word, while one person tries to guess it. It's also highly customizable, allowing you to choose the number of rounds, teams, and seconds per turn. The game is free, but offers in-app purchases for more card-packs.
8. 5 Second Guess
This requires partygoers to quickly rattle off things in a category (much like "Bravo!"). It also allows users to create "custom challenges," where you write your own questions, which, depending on how mischievous you are, could lead to some great fun.
9. Harry Potter Wizards Unite
This app isn't exclusively a party game and can be played solo, but it's fun when played as a group, especially when you're out on the town. It's an AR (augmented reality) game, similar to Pokemon Go. If you're a Harry Potter fan, it's full of references and a whole new plot line where you must retrieve magical artifacts before the muggles catch on. You can work as a group to battle monsters at real-life landmarks, so if you're bar-hopping with friends you might as well add a bit of magic to your night (just don't get tipsy and run right into a dementor). The game is free, and absolutely playable without spending money, though it does offer in-app purchases.
10. Triple Agent!
This game follows a similar premise as "mafia," but with spy-thriller twists and turns. You're either working as an agent or a double-agent, or, well, it gets more complicated. It's a great way to get into (fun) arguments with your friends as you try to defend yourself and implicate others.