For big crowds: While charades is an old-school favorite, I am going to skip the standard go-to and offer up Apples to Apples. Perfect for up to ten people, and with very few, very simple rules, this game makes for a boisterous round-the-table event. Let's not gloss over the fact that it was Games magazine's party game of the year in 1999!
For outgoing, slightly rowdy friends: Our family favorite was always Taboo. Much like a modern $20,000 Pyramid, you have to describe a thing without using the words that best describe the thing! There's a buzzer, and you split the group into two teams. It's prime grounds for a battle of the sexes, or family vs. family. Maybe it's just our family, but our games always involved a lot of loud, frantic rounds ending in lots of laughter!
For a small group: I'm of the opinion that good, old-fashioned card games are hard to beat. Give me a deck of 52 and three willing opponents, and I will deal spades, poker, or euchre all night long! Keeping a Hoyle's Rules of Games book around means you can even learn a new game from time to time! (I know, you can find this all on the internet, but I like the book, for Pete's sake! It makes it more official!)
For those with endurance: If you've got a bit of time on your hands and the taste for world-domination, Risk is hard to beat. By building armies and moving from country to country battling opponents armies, the goal is to become the dominant world power. Be forewarned, this game can last for hours, and has been known to be the cause of some heated debates! I suppose we like to tempt fate like that around our household!
Drinking game: Alright, so it has been years since I've actually played a drinking game, but during an indulgent vacation with one of my best friends in town, we watched far too many episodes of the original Melrose Place series. We immediately decided that the best drinking game in the world involves taking a drink every time you a) see someone in a robe, b) see someone with a coffee mug in their hand, c) see someone in a vest and d) see someone making a "really obvious face" that shows exactly what they're thinking. Honestly, you could pick one of those rules and drink too much wine in one episode!
My personal, all-time favorite party game: Yahtzee! It's like poker, but with dice. For some reason, I feel like this makes it a bit more approachable for the guest that doesn't play poker. Plus, the act of rolling a cup full of dice makes it more exciting, and there's strategy to be learned! I'm pretty biased towards any game where you're encouraged to yell Yahtzee! when you roll all of the same number.
So, now I turn to you, readers, to find out what your favorite party games are! What am I missing in terms of fun, rousing games for groups of folks after dinner?
Image 1: U.S. National Archives via Flickr Creative Commons