The holidays are over and many of us are settling in for winter — hunkering down, closing the blinds and staying warm. It’s a classic time to play some board games.
Don’t think of board games as simply a way to pass the time until you can get outdoors for recreation. With proper preparation, a “game night” party can be a lot of fun for friends and family alike. For many, it’s a unique way to spend time together and socialize.
Gaming has many benefits. It is a chance to bond as a family or group of friends; an opportunity to teach young kids how to win and lose graciously (the lessons of sportsmanship aren’t unique to organized sports); to pull people away from digital screens and yes, a chance to indulge in some serious organization.
With all of this in mind, here’s how to organize a game night for your friends, family or a combination of both. I’ll describe some equipment to buy, steps to take before guests arrive to ensure a good time, and more.
A successful game night is an organized game night. A sure way to dampen the fun is to invite five or six people over to stare at each other and ask, “So, what are we going to play?” Here’s how to ensure a fun evening for everyone.
Consider who will be attending
I typically use the term “tabletop games” instead of “board games” because there’s such a wide range of gaming experiences available, from simple card games to board games many of us grew up with like Clue and Monopoly. You’ll also find mind-bending Euro-style games and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. When picking games to play, know your audience.
You might be excited to get Settlers of Catan to the table, but that won’t work with a Monopoly crowd. If you group is mixed, have two separate play areas so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the type of gaming they like.
In short, ask yourself:
- How many people can comfortably fit in your space?
- How many people can play the games you want to play?
- What kind of group do you want to have?
Sometimes a game just doesn’t work so it’s great to have back up games. Have something fun that is easily learned just in case.
Share information ahead of time
It’s a good idea to share instructions or rules before your get-together, as that can cut down on time spent teaching and learning. Board Game Geek has digital rule books for countless games that you can download for free. Share them with your guests via a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net so they can familiarize themselves with potential games, or even decide on what they’d like to play.
Get set up
If a small group is coming, the kitchen table will probably suffice. If you have a large group on the way, (Good for you!) you’ll need tables and chairs to accommodate the extra company.
I’ve used these flexible folding chairs many times and they’re great. Lightweight and comfortable, they won’t leave you sore after a few hours of use and fold neatly away when not needed. As for a table, this folding camp table has also served me well for years.
People like refreshments at parties and game night is no exception. When planning snacks, consider what can be eaten utensil-free without being too messy.
I love these drink holders. They clip onto the edge of a table and go a long way towards preventing spills. You and your guests will be constantly reaching across the table to move game pieces, grab snacks or gesticulate wildly with each dramatic move. It’s easy to overlook a bevy of beverages, so get them out of the way.
Have a schedule
As a host, take control of game night. Guests won’t appreciate an evening that ends too early or drags on too long. Here’s a good formula to follow:
- Start time, about 30-45 minutes. Have drinks and snacks ready to get people warmed up and ready to spend time together.
- Break time. A built-in and obvious break time lets people use the bathroom, get something to eat or excuse themselves.
- Ending time. Let people know when the evening will end, to eliminate fears of an endless night.
Set a goal for the party
This one might seem silly but it’s essential. Have goal for the evening. “To play games” is not adequate. Maybe you’ll choose something like:
- To laugh a lot
- To try out a new game we’ve been itching to play
- To welcome new neighbors
- To get to know people better and bond a little
- To try something new and expand horizons
When you’ve selected a goal, express it in your invitation:
Saturday at my place, let’s get together to play hilarious party games! We’ll have snacks starting at 7:00 and then break open two super fun party games: Telestrations and Wits and Wagers. We’ll wrap up by 10:30. See you then!
The day of your party
It’s game night! Now that you’ve selected appropriate games, distributed rules or other pertinent information to your guests, and set up a gaming space(s), it’s finally time to play.
Have the chosen games on display for guests to view. Let people mingle, get a snack and/or a drink and settle in. Again, take control as host and announce when it’s time to start playing, as well as the chosen games and a brief description of each. Lastly, as host, play! You might be tempted to tend to the drinks, snacks, and other guest needs. That’s noble, but your guests will appreciate it more if you play with them.
Have fun and enjoy an organized game night. You might even pick up a new hobby.