But right now, my favorite 4 player game is a simple card game that costs under $10...Tichu!
Tichu uses an almost standard deck of cards. It's a regular 52 card deck, but with 4 special cards added. I was originally interested in the game because I heard it was similar to a game I used to play in college all the time, Big 2 (although, back then, we just called it 'Big').
Tichu (like Big 2) is a trick taking games (or I guess more accurately, a climbing game) where one player will lead a card (or set of cards) and the other players must play cards that are higher than the previously played card(s). For example, if a player plays a 5, the next player would have to play something higher than the 5, like an 8.
Not only can you play single cards, but you can also play sets of cards, like pairs, triples, or runs. So, if a pair is led, the every player that follows can only play pairs of cards. If everyone passes after a player plays a card, that player wins the trick and gets to lead a new card (or set of cards).
The player who gets rid of their cards first is the winner of the round.
Pretty simple stuff so far, right? Well, the part that makes Tichu interesting is that it is a partner game, kind of like bridge. At the beginning of the round, someone will usually call 'Tichu'. When they do this, they are trying to be the first one to get rid of their cards (they get a lot of bonus points if they succeed, but will also get penalty points if they fail). So your job is to either get rid of your cards first or try to help your partner get rid of their cards first. But you can't actually say what things are in your hands or what you'd like them to play.
And in our house, this leads to some fun times...
...like when I yelled at My-Friend-Who-Lies (MFWL, who was my parter at the time) because I was going for a Tichu and he played a middle ranked single, preventing me from getting rid of one of my low cards.
...like when I passed MFWL (again, my parter for the game) the Hounds (one of the special cards) 3 times in a row and really wanted to pass it to him a 4th time to be funny, even though it would've really messed up his bid for a Grand Tichu (and given us a 200 point penalty)
...like when my mom was using VERY un-subtle hand signals to ask me if I should break up her run of 3 pairs
...like when my mom started woofing as another un-subtle way of finding out if she should play her hounds
...like when MFWL and I start complaining about the bad plays the other person was making, even though we were winning by several hundred points (it's actually quite funny when we're partners)
So far, we've had 2 sessions of Tichu and they've both been great fun. The game itself has a lot of interesting decisions to make, and you also get to use a little bit of creativity figuring out what combinations to create when playing your cards. The rules take a little while to explain, but the complexity level is really quite low, which provides for a nice, relaxing, fun game.
But again, the great thing about Tichu is the partnership aspect. Mrs. BigKat noticed that we laughed a lot more in this game than when playing our regular boardgames. In this sense, it was kind of like a party game, but with the tactical decision making of a boardgame.
If you ever have 2 couples getting together for a game night, this one should be right at the top of the list of games to play. This is one game that I can see playing many years down the line while wearing my straw hat, white tennis shoes, and dress socks after the kids ship me and Mrs. BigKat off to a retirement home.