Winter can be the dullest of seasons; the sun is scarce, the weather sucks and my skin becomes criminally dry. Even so, I don’t hate winter because it can create great opportunities for learning new things and broadening horizons. This winter, I’ve played the 2018 God of War, watched several movies and finally played a board game that’s been sitting on my shelves for years: Donner Dinner Party.

Who was the Donner Party?

Before we dive into the game, let’s get a little context of its inspiration. The Donner Party was a group of pioneers in the 1840’s who traveled from the midwest to California in search of opportunities and fulfilling the manifest destiny. While the group began their journey following the Oregon Trail, they eventually changed course and took the Hastings Cutoff, a “shorter” route. Yet this so-called shortcut not only lengthened an already arduous journey, but resulted in dozens of deaths and lead the starving pioneers to no other choice but cannibalism.

board game: Various cards players can use to win the game.

Growing Up Near Donner Lake

As someone who grew up near Donner Lake, the location of the pioneers’ peak cannibalism, local culture loves the story. Restaurants and bars will have special drinks named after the event while artistic references pop up in paintings and murals. It’s a history we can’t escape, one so incredulous and terrifying that we’ve resorted to joking about it and playing board games about it.

Cannibalism Is My Passion

My brain – like many others – likes to go through periods of intense fascination with various subjects, and a few years ago one of the topics was cannibalism. No, I promise I was not researching for any personal reasons nor do I have plans on becoming the local cannibal. But maybe you can relate to this interest, considering you’re on a horror website and clearly enjoy horrific topics.

Donner Lake: I took this photo of Donner Lake in 2017 because I liked taking photos and skipping class
I took this photo of Donner Lake in 2017 because I liked taking photos and skipping class

Anyway, the Donner Party was of course among the many items I researched; just because you grow up learning about it in grade school doesn’t mean there still isn’t more to learn! So you can imagine how excited I was when, after discovering this game exists, an old friend gave it to me for Christmas. Ever since then, I’ve spent years looking for at least three other people interested in playing the game. Opportunities came, all of which were squandered, until finally, on Christmas day of 2021, I finally played it.

The Rules

Donner Dinner Party is akin to the classic game Mafia and requires four to ten players. During each round, the players receive three hunting cards and three supply cards to aid their survival. In the chance that there is not enough food to feed your teammates, the players must draw a vote on who to eat. This leads to bickering amongst the players, in which everyone turns on one another so they may live to see another day.

If you’re a pioneer, your goal is to eliminate (eat) all the cannibals. If you’re a cannibal, you pretend to be a pioneer to trick your teammates into eating someone else. Pioneers can only win if, at the end of the game, they outnumber the cannibals. When there is only one cannibal and one pioneer left, or there all the pioneers are dead, the cannibals win.

Board game: the small board for the game
The little circular cards are the players, either cannibals or pioneers. Flip the pioneer over when you die and you can play as a ghost before vanishing into the afterlife forever.

My Verdict and Suggestions

Once the instructions were read and a few rounds were played, Donner Dinner Party was simple and fun to play. The instructions are clear and anytime my teammates had a question, I was able to find the answers right away. However, when I played with my three friends, we usually ended the game within two or three rounds because we were able to eliminate the cannibal fairly easily. We all agreed that, while the game was fun, it would have been better to play with more than the minimum four person requirement. Additionally, if you play with six or more players, there is a special supply card (Ol Tasty, see above) that you can use should you be so lucky to earn it.

Donner Dinner Party is a game I’m excited to play again. I absolutely recommend it to you, reader, especially if you have a knack for fascinating history and eating your teammates.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

About the Author

CourtCourt is a writer, horror enthusiast, and may or may not be your favorite human-eating houseplant.

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