In some parts of the gaming world, Valentine’s Day recently made its annual appearance. While I am not a big fan of the holiday, I am a huge fan of romance. I also believe that board games can be a great romantic tool, if employed properly.
You may be thinking to yourself, Isn’t this article a week late? Not exactly. If you set out to plan a board game date night I have a few steps that you can take in order to ensure that the night is fun, romantic, and successful, and the first factor does not favor a Valentine’s Day board game date.
The stakes for every date night are not the same. If your dating partner is expecting elegant five course service and a night at the ballet, pulling out a copy of Caylus as you sit at a local coffee shop could lead to disappointment (along with a very crowded coffee shop table). Hence, the poor fit between board games and Valentine’s Day. While this combination may work for some; for most, expectations favor a different type of experience. If on the other hand, your partner is in the mood for a low key night, games are a perfect way to turn the evening into something fun and uniquely engaging.
When determining whether a date is suitable for playing a board game, you should consider the reason for the date. Is it a first date where you are getting to know one another? Are you looking to reconnect after a week of shuttling kids from one destination or another? Are you looking to luxuriate in each other’s company and shuffle off the burden of a demanding work schedule? Are you wanting to let your hair down or keep the romantic spark alive? While playing a board game together can conceivably serve each of these ends, moving cardboard pieces around a map of Medieval Europe typically does not inspire romance, at least not directly.
I am over 40; so for me, Netflix and Chill means, we are going to watch a movie on Netflix and relax together. A board game date night fits most comfortably as an alternative to such a night. It is best suited for date nights where both of the parties are eager for relaxed companionship and the connection that this engagement fosters. Put another way, board games are best reserved for a date night that doesn’t need to do any heavy lifting.
Set Up The Pieces
Once you have decided that you are going to make board games the core of a date night, the next step is framing the experience. Board game date nights come in three basic varieties. The night in, the night out, and the double date. The first is suited for nights when you are in the mood to relax and indulge in each other’s company. The second involves more costs and advanced planning, but it increases the novelty of the experience, typically inviting a more festive atmosphere. The final can certainly provide opportunities for a couple to enjoy one another’s company in a social setting (which, by the way, has been shown to promote higher intimacy among romantic couples, See Welker et al., 2014); however, in the short term a double date can dissipate intimacy and should be planned only if all parties are up for it.
Regardless of the type of board game date upon which you ultimately decide, you should remember the night is a date first, a chance to play board games second. Make game play the culmination of your planned activities. Think through where and when you want to play and how you will build up to the experience. If you are staying in for the night, perhaps you could play something after an opulent home cooked meal, upon opening a favorite bottle of wine, and while listening to a specially curated playlist.
If you are playing out, either alone or with others, think about making your board game destination the night’s capstone. Get everyone fed and relaxed before you turn to the table. Also, be mindful of where you want to play the game, it should have adequate light, sufficient table space, a relaxed atmosphere, and ideally access to suitable refreshments.
You should also choose a setting where pulling out cards and a game board won’t draw undue attention. If one of the players feels uncomfortable playing games in the setting, the experience will be tainted with an uncomfortable pall. Obviously, if you are proximate to a board game pub or café, your decision is fairly easy; if not, a local bar or café with table seating will suffice. Bookstores with a café can also be a good place to relax and play. Be inventive, but do not underestimate the necessity of finding a spot where your partner will feel at ease.
You should also take your time before pulling out a game. Even after you have reached your final destination, let the focus be upon conversation before you start setting up game pieces and beginning your rules explanation. I have found that when I play board games on a date, things tend to go better when we start playing a game slowly, allowing time for personal interaction to predominate.
Games can demand considerable attention and it can be easy for gaming couples to fall into silent contemplation of their moves and tactics. However, when the game starts after the parties have already fallen into a pattern of give and take; it is easier for the momentum of conversation to carry over into game play. Turns may go more slowly, tactics may not be as sharp as they otherwise would be, but the experience becomes richer when the focus turns away from the game and toward the connection that it facilitates.
Like many date activities, the game is a bit of a red herring. It is simply a thing around which the parties can find structure and comfort. It is a tool to belay anxiety, a distraction of sorts. It gives the partners something to attend to when conversation lulls. It forms the basis of a shared experience that opens the door for discussion of deeper matters. Ironically, when this safety valve is in place, many people are free to let down their defenses and need the distraction less and less. In my opinion, if a board game date is a success, you may spend far less time focused upon the game than you expected.
It bears noting, board game as social lubricant applies to people in committed relationship as much as it applies to new daters. As all old married couples can attest, one of the pitfalls of being in a long term relationship is the risk of running out of things about which to talk. As my experience has proven, a board game on the table often makes it easier for people to talk about things that run deeper than what the kids had for lunch.
But all of this relies upon making your interaction with your partner more important than your interaction with your board gaming adversary.
Picking Your Moves
Game selection is an important factor in planning a great gaming date. You need to be mindful of balancing play with connection between you and your dating partner. Good game selection can go a long way toward making this easier. Games that can be explained in just a few minutes and which can easily be played in under an hour usually fit the bill. These games allow the players to talk between turns, without risk of losing their thread of thought. They also make it easier for the players to relax and enjoy the game without fear of the game overstaying its welcome.
In addition to selecting games that are easily explained and quickly played you should also consider games with suitable mechanics and themes.
I have found that games with a lot of direct competition are not ideal for board game dating. This doesn’t mean that you can’t compete, but games that challenge the players to maximize their actions and resources typically work better than those that pit the players directly again one another, especially when one player is more experienced than the other. Additionally, games that involve a measure of luck, are a nice way to off-set any experience imbalance.
Of course, cooperative games are a good way to engage and interact with a partner, but these games should not necessarily be your default. If you are on a group date, playing a cooperative game is a better fit than if it is just the two of you. While cooperative games can be played with two, most titles of this type shine with three or more players.
Games that are thematically rich should also be approached with caution. Thematic flourishes work, but for some reason that I cannot quite put my finger on, games that involve a heavy narrative element, do not. Perhaps it is the attention that following a board game’s story requires, but whenever I have played games of this sort on a date, the experience felt flat and unsatisfying. In the same regard, games with a heavy or dark theme can be off putting to some. While some will embrace a game set within an apocalyptic hellscape, when in doubt; opt for whimsy over pathos.
Another factor to consider is the game’s foot print. If you are likely to play a game outside of the home this is especially important, since most public spaces that are suitable for game play feature smaller tabletops. Moreover, you may have to carry the game with you throughout the night, so smaller is typically better. Also, games with a lot of components can be a bit overwhelming to some players, even experienced players. Games with fewer moving parts are easier to get started and present fewer distractions.
Of course, tastes and temperaments are different. Cater to your partner’s interests first, but when making a selection, consider these criteria and seek guidance from those that apply. Because of the highly personal nature of board gaming taste, I would rather not propose specific games. However, I will concede to listing a few games that I have found to work on almost any date night; these include, Hanabi (which plays surprisingly well with two), Jaipur, Patchwork, Battle Sheep, Carcassonne, Biblios, Can’t Stop, Doodle Quest, Roll for the Ages, and Bruges.
I have played each of these games on a number of dates (all with the same person, but still) and loaned them out to my younger and unattached friends, many, many time. I have yet to hear anything but rave reports about any of these titles and many I have been forced to replace when they became the favorite game of the couple to whom they were loaned. In fact, a few of these games were eventually given as wedding shower gifts.
In the end, if you are planning a board game date, success derives from making the night about your partner. Keep the mood light, let the conversation flow, be prepared to laugh at yourself, and most importantly let the game provide the backdrop for what really matters, finding shared joy with the person you love.