So, you’ve got a few friends, a few games, and some free time to burn. If you’re thinking of combining them into one grand event, it sounds like you’re about to host a game night. But what can you do to ensure everyone has fun? To help out, here are 5 things to consider while you’re planning your very own game night.
1. Playing Space
It may seem like common sense, but it helps to have a space that fits the game you’re trying to play. No one wants to play Charades in a closet, or Twilight Imperium on a TV tray. If you’re pulling out a board game, make sure you have a table that fits it. If you don’t you’ll end up playing on the floor, hoping that everyone still has the knees of a 20-year-old.
A 4-player game of Twilight Imperium – Photo by Maggie Chia
If you have a great patio table for some games, you’ll still want to beware of the wind. One good gust can effectively flip the board, leaving you scrambling to restore order. Unless you have a photographic memory, it can be a challenge to get everything back to its rightful place. If you do decide to play outdoors, I recommend sticking to the Charade-type games. If the cards need to come out, I prefer classics like Hearts and Cribbage where there aren’t a lot of different card piles to get blown around.
2. Game-Appropriate Snacks
Snacks can be a fantastic addition to your game night. Not only can it help prevent the players from getting hangry (hunger-induced grumpiness), it gives them something to occupy themselves with when it’s not their turn. However, the wrong type of snack can quite literally ruin the game itself.
You want to avoid anything that’s going to leave a residue behind. Feed your crew Cheetos and you’ll find orange dye winds up all over your game. As a general rule, anything where you feel the need to lick your fingers after you eat it is a bad idea.
Other types of snacks to avoid are anything that needs to be dipped, or cold beverages with a lot of condensation (cans okay, glasses with ice bad). Keeping your games clean will help ensure that they’ll continue to survive through many game nights to come.
3. Consider your audience
Everyone is different. Keep that in mind while planning your game night. Some people may want to play a plethora of quick games, while others may prefer buckling down for one epic, strategic venture. Making sure you’ve got something that everyone (including yourself) enjoys is extremely important. It can help to casually survey your guests before the event to see what types of games they most enjoy. Finding games with those elements should keep everyone happy.
Once you’ve got a general idea of what people like, that leads us directly into…
4. Plan Your Games Ahead
Having a selection of games is fantastic. However, if your selection becomes too large you can spend half your evening trying to choose which game you’re ’re going to wind up playing. I’ve found it helps greatly to pull out just a few games you think that everyone will enjoy. This will narrow down the selection, and thus the time it takes to pick your game.
If you’re really ambitious, you can have your guests vote on this selection you’ve chosen before your game night begins. Then once everyone shows up you can unveil the winner. The downside of this approach is that it does run the risk of the popular choice being a game one person will just hate playing.
My favorite method of selecting your games is putting them in a pile for everyone to see. Then allow everyone (again, don’t forget to include yourself!) to take turns eliminating one game from the pile. Keep taking turns until there’s only one remaining. This gives everyone the chance to eliminate their least favorite options. Hopefully this will help to make sure the last game standing is one that everyone will enjoy playing.
5. Plan the time accordingly
If you’re playing more casual party games, this one isn’t as large of a deal. When playing a more competitive game though, you want to make sure you have time to finish the game you’re playing. Cutting games off before they end can leave a bitter taste in some players’ mouths.
There’s two factors to keep track of here. One is the length of the play time, and the other is how late the players are willing to stay out. Some people are night owls, while others may be used to being in bed by 8. Even if they’re willing to stay up later, don’t push it too far. They’ll naturally get less aware and more cranky as it gets farther and farther past the time they’re normally unconscious.
Once you’ve figured out an end time you want to shoot for, now you’ll want to guesstimate how long the game (or games) will take. Most boxed games have an estimated play time, but remember that those are made by experienced players familiar with how the game works. With my group, I’ve found we’ll usually take around double the estimated time to play through on our first attempt at a game. This padding gives everyone time to learn the rules, strategize, or just socialize and enjoy everyone’s company.
When you’re more familiar with a game, this can take less and less time as you play it more often. I’d recommend waiting until you beat your estimated length of time more than once before assuming it will regularly take less time. Flukes happen, and it’s better to wrap up early and have some extra time to chat than it is to run overly long and exhaust everyone.
I hope these 5 items help you to plan a successful game night that your friends will love. As with the pirate code, remember that these are more guidelines than rules. The most important rule is that everyone needs to have fun. You want to make it enjoyable so that they’ll come back for the next one. Stay flexible, and remember that it’s all just a game.
What is your ideal game for a board game night? Let us know in the comments!