On April 5th, 2014, gamers and game stores around the world celebrated International Tabletop Day. This day, dedicated to tabletop board games and card games was designed to bring together people of various cultures and nations in a shared love for playing games. Traditional games of these types are played in every nation of the world. Though the shared experience of playing games is near universal, actually playing games with players from a foreign country can be difficult due to language barriers. A few games though are almost completely language free. Should you ever find yourself playing with someone who doesn’t speak the language, the following are best language free games available.
Stratego – Stratego is a classic strategy game like chess, checkers, or go, all of which are also language free. What makes Stratego stand out from the crowd is that the game looks much more complex than most traditional strategy games, but is essentially language independent. If you know the various unit designs well enough, you don’t even need to know the same number system. Less rigid than chess, but significantly more complicated than checkers, this really is the perfect two player language independent strategy game.
Terra Mystica – Despite complex rules, this 2013 area control game was actually designed to be entirely language free. The designers created clear symbol representations for every action in the game. The boards deceptively seem like they are written in English until you look closely and realize the only words on the boards are the name of the race you are playing and that name is also written in German and entirely unnecessary for playing the game. Most other area control games, like Age of Empires 3 or Small World, rely heavily on cards or board text. Even Kingdom Builder which manages to minimize game text still has some. This game is unique because there is absolutely none and it doesn’t suffer for that at all.
Village – Village might be the most complex language independent currently on the market. It is ostensibly a worker placement game, but the actual mechanics for doing so are nothing like your standard worker placement games. It could arguably be described as half a dozen different games all thrown into a single pot and mixed together, but that description isn’t fair to the brilliance of the game where your people go out work, get old, and eventually die, and you actually gain benefits for every portion of that play, including their death. Just like Terra Mystica, extensive iconography completely removes all text from the game, though the expansion does use cards that require extensive translation beyond the language they are written in.
The Resistance: Avalon – This is pretty much a party game, but unlike Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, or Scattergories, doesn’t require any reading. Everything you need to know is visible graphically on either a card or tile and color coding and incredibly obvious iconography makes the game easy for anyone to track the state of. This game is essentially a slick version of Mafia that is quick to play and fun to play repeatedly. Talking to other players is normally a main portion of the game, but a lack of a shared language would simply force players to find new and creative ways to communicate intention, which would actually add a lot more to the game than it would detract. Other than possibly Pictionary, this is one of the best party games for people who don’t all share a language.
Tichu – Like just about every card game, Tichu does require that everyone at the table share the same concept of numbers, but puts no demand on a shared language. In fact, table talk is essentially prohibited, which won’t be a problem if people are speaking different languages. Everyone needs to know only one word, “Tichu”, which probably isn’t even a real word in any language. This unique trick taking game is similar to The Great Dalmuti, but significantly more complex. The fun of playing with someone who doesn’t speak your language is that partner-based trick taking skills are pretty much universal and should allow you to win despite not being able to communicate.