So, you want to host your first game night?
Maybe you’ve been stalking the Daily Worker Placement’s fabulous coverage of Gen Con. Maybe you’ve ended up on #boardgametok. Maybe you’re an introvert who finds most going out to be overly stimulating but deeply desire more friends. Or maybe you’re determined that this will be the last year you will fall prey to S.A.D. and are instead preparing to combat the looming decrease in daily sunlight with an intense amount of hygge… or maybe that’s just me.
Whatever your reason, I’m here to share my top 5 tips for hosting your first board game night, drawing from my experiences of both attending and hosting board game nights across the United States.
The first step to hosting a successful game night is to do some quick self-reflection. Why are you hosting? What do you hope to get out of the evening? And who are you going to invite?
Are these friends that you know intimately and trust with seeing your ruthless, competitive side? Are these coworkers that you’re interested in getting to know better? Are you inviting a bunch of friends from different areas of your life in the hopes of forging connections? What’s the energy of the room likely to be – are you just going to get caught up in chatting and catching up? That’s wonderful, but maybe enter the evening with high expectations to start a game of Axis & Allies. If you have a large number of folks attending, especially tick with games that are easy for everyone to learn and get into playing quickly.
Speaking of which, a few of my favorite party games I’ve found to be a hit are Sushi Go Party!, Snake Oil, and the ever popular Codenames. Games that involve teams like Codenamesor Two Rooms and a Boomare great for a game nights with more than six people, especially if most of them aren’t already gaming aficionados. There’s also no rule that says that everyone who comes must play the same game together. If you have the space, I recommend tag teaming with a friend to get more than one game going in different areas.
If you think your audience can handle it, and you want to play a more complex game but are uncomfortable teaching, let me put you onto a hot gaming tip – YouTube tutorials! Just about every major board game out there will have a YouTube video of some enthusiastic geek explaining the main concepts of gameplay in 10 minutes or less. Some games even come with a QR code printed on the instructions (several big game publishers have their own YouTube channels just for this purpose), but if not, a quick search will get you pretty far. Some examples of YouTube channels that provide quick overviews of popular board games are Meeple University, Teach the Table, and The Board Meeples if you want a place to start. And of course – make sure the close captioning is turned on.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a college student will attend just about any event if there is a promise of free food. Now, also I’ve found this to be true of just about any group of humans, whether in college or not. In my particular community, there are a lot of folks who work in the medical industry and therefore work really odd shifts sometimes – you never know who is going to show up hungry! Nothing has to be very fancy – it can be as simple as picking up some single-serve chips and sodas.
My recommendation would be to select foods that are easy to consume while gaming. Nothing that requires two hands or utensils to consume, and nothing that will drip all over the place. Pizza or chips and dips are popular choices, but I find that even those can be a tad messy if you don’t have a large stash of plates to provide. I like to assemble (or buy) a meat/cheese/crackers tray, and a fruit/veggie tray. Folks can pick and choose what they like, no utensils are required, and it’s easy to play uninterrupted. Cookies and brownies are great options for desserts, although potentially a bit crumb-y, but I would caution against something like cupcakes, as the icing might end up in all over your nice game.
I live in a one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen table, and yet I have hosted multiple successful game nights over the years. It can be as simple as plopping some extra pillows around a coffee table, or arranging spare seating (camping chairs, anyone?) in a circle to play games that don’t require huge setups. Social deduction games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or card games like Exploding Kittens can work well with just sitting around on the floor. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have the perfect space or be the perfect host – remember the point of a game night is to have fun with friends!
If you live in a planned community or sizeable apartment building, I’d like to remind you of an amenity you might have neglected to utilize since moving in – the community room or club house. Sometimes there are fees associated with “reserving” a space, but most folks who live in these communities don’t take advantage of these spaces, at least not in the large apartment buildings I’ve lived in. If you are respectful of the space and your neighbors, you may be able to get away with just utilizing the space, as long as you are prepared to share the space and vacate politely if asked.
Another potential venue could be a board game café or bar. These fine establishments will have large tables to play at, a library of games, and food/ drinks available for purchase. They basically take all the stress of hosting off your shoulders. Word of warning, however – sometimes these places may be challenging for large groups to assemble at without calling ahead, and if you are planning for a Friday or Saturday night, you may be out of luck entirely. But if it’s a small group and you don’t mind a busy environment, a board game café can be an excellent option,
If you are rather a paranoid rule-follower like me, don’t feel comfortable hosting in your own home, and lack access to community space or board game café in your area – never fear. Let me put you onto another hot tip – the library! Did you know that your local library probably has community rooms that are free to reserve, and most libraries have board games you can check out entirely for free? If there’s no information on your local library’s website, getting the details can be as simple as shooting off a quick message on their Contact Us. You already pay for these services through taxes, so take advantage! Getting a library card is as simple as walking in and offering proof of address. Libraries are amazing – go check yours out.
Another hot tip for the gaming environment – if you are expecting a large-ish group of folks, intentionally identifying a quiet or introvert space/room/corner for folks who get over-stimulated easily to recharge can help ensure everyone has a good time.
(Note – if you are planning to host in a public space like a community room or library, be sure to check on what the policies are with regards to food and drinks.)
Getting folks together for a hang-out is challenging! Instead of all your closest friends living in close proximity with limited resources or obligations during those college years, adulthood is fraught with the dreaded experience of “we should catch up soon!” closely followed by not seeing each other again for six months. Don’t take it personally if casual get togethers between you and friends never materialize, we all have responsibilities and priorities, but recognize that sometimes more initiative on your part is what is needed to build your own gaming community.
My best advice is to send out an invite at minimum two weeks in advance. Let folks know where/when you are hosting, what to bring, and your expectations. Are you going to teach a new game? Is this just a causal hang out? Are folks welcome to bring their own games to share? I would advise against starting with a game that takes six hours to complete for your first event. But a little heads up, especially if you are wanting to get into a certain game, can be good tease and help build up the anticipation.
As much as I wish everyone used their Google Calendar as religiously as I do, not everyone appreciates a detailed email event invite. That can be a bit intimidating for a newbie. A simple group chat or GroupMe can work best. Plus, you can set up an event in GroupMe that has scheduled reminders. Additionally, personal check-in during the week leading up to the game night can be good to get that final headcount.
Most folks will ask if there is anything they can bring, which is why I recommend at least having some idea of what you plan to do for refreshments. Not a big cook? As folks to bring snacks. Love to bake but at a loss when it comes to drinks? Welcome folks to bring beverages to share. And always – if you are planning to serve alcoholic drinks, it’s nice to have a fun NA option available, so folks who choose not to imbibe can still enjoy a special beverage. There are all sorts of novelty sodas sparkling waters, and even decent NA beers or wine available at most grocery stores nowadays. The extra effort can help everyone feel welcome.
Speaking of helping everyone feel included – providing as much detail as you can up front about accessing the space is very helpful. For example, is there parking nearby? Where is the nearest public transport station? Where are the ramps/elevators? How will they get into the building? This might be too much info to include the initial invite, but as the day gets closer, providing this much information up front can lower the barriers for someone who may be on the fence about coming.
My final tip is a reminder that you don’t have to play every single game you’ve been dying to try all in one evening. I know it can be frustrating when you painstakingly set up Agricola only to find that everyone is more in the mood to play Jackbox games (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything). Once you get the first game night under your belt, it will be a lot easier to plan the next one. And as you get to know folks’ interests and abilities, you can more intentionally plan a specific game night to play that mechanics-heavy engine building game (looking at you, Brass) that you’ve been saving. And who knows – maybe other folks will get bitten by the board game bug and start inviting you to their game nights as well.
You can either let folks know up front about what time you were thinking of winding things down or be the one who recommends against starting a game that takes two hours to play when it’s midnight, unless of course that’s your jam. I personally turn into a pumpkin at 10 pm, so I usually start my game nights around 6 or 7 in the evening to ensure there’s enough time for solid gaming and socializing while still making sure my friends like me come morning.
If there’s any tips and tricks I missed, let me know in the comments – I’m always trying to up my “game” as it were. Bonne chance to all your game night endeavors!