Social gaming? Try HoMM 3!
Last time I wrote about trying to find casual games for medium/large-group social events. We can split multiplayer video gaming into a couple of vaguely-defined categories; I'm going to use the term "casual" or "social gaming" to refer to medium-scale social gatherings that involve video gaming; hardcore gaming, of course, is all about the game; and we might perhaps call the last group "LAN party gaming" to indicate a middle ground between casual gaming and super-intense gaming.
It is for the first category, social gaming, that I suggest a game today: Heroes of Might and Magic III. It's kind of an old game - it was released in 1999, but the graphics certainly don't show it. If you look closely (and use the map editor a lot), you'll notice that an incredible amount of time was put into making the artwork for the game. Even at the measly 800x600 or whatever resolution the game uses, the forests and mountains and everything are incredibly detailed.
What is most interesting about the game, however, is its potential for social gaming today. It has two inherent advantages. Old games tend to use disk space much more efficiently (as a necessity), and this one is no exception. The entire installed footprint of HoMM 3 Complete (the original and two expansion packs) is only about 300 MB. I can compress this into an archive and put it on other computers, and get this - HoMM 3 allows you to join multiplayer games without having a CD inserted! You can copy this game to all your friends' computers and have them join your game with exceptional ease. It's second advantage is its turn-based nature: since you cannot do anything when it's not your turn (besides looking around and inspecting your allies' heroes), there is a lot of room in-between turns for conversation and socializing. It's not necessary to be in a frenzied, intense state the entire time one is playing this game.
HoMM 3 games do take a long time to complete (on the order of many, many real-life hours), but multiplayer games can be saved and restarted at any time. Saving is almost instantaneous and basically effortless. I have been trying it out with my friends, and HoMM 3 does indeed make an excellent social game!
Unfortunately, HoMM 3 is no longer published, but you can still buy HoMM 3 Complete (which works, very well, on Vista!) very cheaply at some sites. It might be worthwhile to pick one up soon, especially if you're interesting in social gaming, as I'm not sure you will even still be able to buy this game in a couple of years.