Mike and I started a tradition when we lived in Chicago that we've carried with us to Whoville. Every two to three months, we host a party at our place dedicated to playing games.
We invite basically everyone we know who lives in the area, which can range from family members to friends from college to people we just recently met. We also let people know they can bring friends, significant others, or family members to join the party.
Board games and other party games are a great way for people to get to know each other because they don't require making small talk, but people's personalities come out all the same. A well-planned game night will keep everyone laughing and having fun.
We've had seven or eight of these gatherings in the past two years, so by now we've come up with quite a few rules of thumb to make sure the party runs smoothly and everyone has a good time.
Here are nine tips I'll pass on to you in case you're thinking of hosting your own game night:
1. Potluck it.
For the first party Mike and I ever tried to host after we got married, we invited a bunch of people and then bought and made a whole bunch of food. Only one person showed up. After that experience, every party we've hosted has been a potluck, where we ask on the invitation that each person or couple bring a side dish or drinks, and then we make a few things ourselves. I use Evite, which allows me to create a list of things people can sign up to bring (I usually list non-alcoholic drinks, alcoholic drinks, chips and dip, veggies and dip, other appetizers / side dishes, and dessert). This works well for a number of reasons -- the amount of food is more or less proportional to the number of people who show up, and people tend to bring foods that are easy to eat while playing games and easy to grab between rounds. It also lets people know upfront that there will be food. Mike and I provide serving utensils, plates, silverware, napkins, glasses, ice, and water, as well as whichever food we've made.
2. Prepare your space.
We rearrange our living room furniture before every game night and bring in dining room chairs to fill out a circle of seating. We try to make sure there's enough seating for everyone and that everyone is reasonably close to a flat surface to set plates and drinks on. We have a stack of coasters on each of our four end tables so people don't feel weird about setting their drinks down. We clear everything off the coffee table so that game boards or cards can be set down. We put our dining room table against the far wall for food, and set up a counter for drinks in the kitchen. Mike is good about picking background music that keeps things upbeat without being distracting.
3. Don't plan to start games for at least an hour.
We had a party this past weekend that started at 7pm, and we started our first game at 8:30pm. First of all, most people show up late because they don't want to be the first one there, so by now we expect people to start showing up about half an hour past the start time. (This may be a regional thing.) Secondly, people are introducing themselves to new people, catching up with others, and filling up on food. They want to stand or sit and talk for a while before they're ready to get in game-playing mode. It's like your standard cocktail party, where you're snacking and chatting with people, but then eventually people start getting bored of small talk, and it's the perfect time to shift to a game.
4. Pick games ahead of time.
Mike and I have a large collection of games, but not all of them are suitable for large groups. We'll usually pick out about five games and plan on playing three over the course of the night. We try not to repeat a game at consecutive parties. Games that work well are ones that can be played by a large number of people (or a smaller number of pairs or teams), can be understood by a newbie in under five minutes, and don't require sharing personal information with people you've just met. (I avoid Loaded Questions for this reason.) I also generally avoid games like Scattergories and Boggle where people are silently thinking for the majority of the game, and go instead for ones that involve a lot of interaction. Depending on your setup and how many people you're expecting, you may also want to avoid games that require everyone to crowd around a single table to quickly react to something, the way some card games do.
Some party games we enjoy:
- The Game of Things
- Wits and Wagers
- Smart Ass
- Scene It?
- Catch Phrase
- Such a Thing
- Apples to Apples
We also like the Picture-Sentence game, alternatively known as Telephone Pictionary, Eat Poop U Cat, Telestrations, or various other names. Each person has a piece of paper and writes a sentence across the top, passing it to the next person who illustrates the sentence in the inch or two underneath and then folds the paper so the next person sees only their drawing, and so on until the page is full. There are no winners or losers; it's just a funny game.
5. Consider your guests' comfort level and abilities.
I put this separate from choosing games because this is something you may need to gauge as the night goes on if you don't know all of your guests well. Some games that you may be comfortable playing with your closest friends -- like Cards Against Humanity or Dirty Minds -- can make other people uncomfortable or even offended. Other games, like Guesstures / charades, that require one person to stand up in front of the entire group, may not be enjoyable for people who are very shy or who don't know many other people there. Also, if your group contains a wide range of ages or education levels, consider whether anyone would have such an advantage or disadvantage in a particular game that it would stop being a fun experience.
6. The first game should accommodate a changing number of players.
There will inevitably be people who show up late, as well as people who can only stay for the first hour or two. It helps if you start with a team game like Pictionary or Scene It? where people can join or leave at will without throwing a wrench in the game. After the first game, late guests are less likely and people who haven't left generally settle in for the next game, so you don't have to worry as much about fluctuating numbers.
7. Know, and explain, the rules of each game.
I am the designated rule-explainer in our family, which means it's my job to make sure I understand the rules of the game. Sometimes this requires refreshing my memory by looking over the rules while people are refilling on snacks and drinks between games, but I try to have the basics down well enough not only to explain it but to anticipate questions or issues that will come up. (For example, I always stress that the person reading in Balderdash should look over people's answers before reading them out loud, so they can clarify any handwriting questions in private without ruining the secret.) Even if everyone has played before, I'll go over the basics to make sure we're all on the same page about how it's played, house rules, etc. If we're deviating from the written rules, it's good to say that upfront.
8. Have an end point in mind for each game.
Some games come with a game board that has a clear Finish at the end. Others rely on scorekeeping and may not explicitly tell you what score to play to. Some, like Taboo, say to play until everyone's had a turn reading, but in our family we like to play to a specific score and go around the circle multiple times. Figure out ahead of time what will constitute the end of the game so it doesn't drag on indefinitely. But be flexible, too -- if it's the end of the night and people are getting restless, tired, or drunk (see next point), it may be time to say, "OK, last round."
9. Plan ahead for the effects of alcohol.
Mike doesn't drink very often, but he'll drink the beer or wine people bring over for our parties, and it takes only a drink or two to get him really, really silly. This isn't necessarily a problem, and can in fact make games even funnier, but it's something to keep in mind when planning the order of games. If you're going to have alcohol there and know you have some heavy drinkers and/or lightweights who will get intoxicated easily, put knowledge or critical thinking games like Smart Ass or Trivial Pursuit earlier in the night when everyone's thinking straight, and creative or flexible games like Balderdash or Apples to Apples later on. If you have friends who get unreasonable or angry when they're drunk, then avoid games like Such a Thing that involve a lot of debate and judgment calls. And please practice safe hosting, just like with any party, and don't allow people to drive home if they've had too much to drink.
Using these guidelines, we've had some really fun game nights and look forward to many more. Hosting game nights works for us!
What are your favorite party games? What else should people keep in mind when hosting a game night?
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