I’ve said it numerous times. Board Games are fantastic social enablers. They get people talking, laughing, connecting and interacting like no other medium can. Good games engage people, provide hours of fun and entertainment, and can create memorable moments that last a lifetime.
“When we establish human connections within the context of shared experience we create community wherever we go.” ― Gina Greenlee
Holding a Games Night provides you with an opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family alike. These events will bring you closer together. People will undoubtedly bond and relationships will strengthen through the increased interaction and communication that these events afford.
Holding your first “Game Night” can be quite an overwhelming task, especially if you have never arranged one in the past. In an effort to encourage people to play more games, and assist those who are interested in putting on their own Game Nights, I thought it would be helpful to put my experiences and thoughts on the matter down in this blog. If you are looking at holding an event such as this no doubt you will want it to go as smoothly as possible and ensure that all your guests feel comfortable, relaxed and have a good time.
Not all game groups will work the same way but I truly feel that the following tips will help the uninitiated get started and take that first daunting step into the world of table top gaming. There may even be some new ideas below that experienced gamers haven’t considered. If so, bonus!
WHEN TO HOLD IT?
Sure, it’s easy to assume that the answer is in the title. Evenings are obviously the most popular time to hold gaming events but don’t be so swift to dismiss the notion of setting an event over an afternoon or even late morning. Ultimately the biggest factor that will determine the best time to hold your event will be the availability and schedules of those that you are inviting. Some people may not be that enthusiastic to come to a games night when they have to get up for work at 5am the next day. Like it or not, people have many demands on their time. If you have chosen the game or games you are intending to play, consider letting your friends know of the approximate total playing time. Remember, games that people have never played before invariably take a lot longer to get through than the times listed on the box. In many cases this can double! You need to allow time to explain the rules, set up and pack away. I have found that the most important thing regarding date and timing is to set and communicate it well in advance (2-4 weeks).
WHERE TO HOLD IT?
Again, this decision is not always considered. Getting the location wrong can have disastrous implications to your event.
First and foremost, it is important to make sure that your table can easily seat the number of people attending and that the size of the table top is sufficient to accommodate all of the game components. Some games take up considerable play areas and if this only just fits onto your table then you also need to consider what to use to support drinks and snacks etc. In this scenario it may be worth considering using small side tables for refreshments. If positioned next to the main table this can easily give adequate extra space, plus having the added benefit of ensuring your food and drinks are kept away from your components. Spillage damage can be nasty.
Another thing to consider when choosing a place to hold your event, is how many “other” people will be around but not participating? Games that require a lot of intense conversation, attention and/or strategising will just not work very well if there are a lot of non-related conversations, noise and distraction going on. Where possible I would recommend trying to keep extra people to a minimum and try to find a venue or room that will not cause unnecessary distractions.
Speaking of distractions, I would also suggest that it is not a good idea to have other activities going on concurrently in the same room. Having the footy on the TV in the background will practically ensure that there is no way that everyone there will be able to pay attention to what’s happening in the game.
So keep in mind the following when picking a suitable location:
- An adequately sized play area and clean environment
- Enough seating
- No distractions
WHO TO INVITE AND WHAT TO PLAY?
It may seem obvious but different people like different games. Your guests will be much more likely to come back for more if they enjoyed themselves and the games that they played last time.
Selecting the right game or games to play is often the hardest part about arranging these events. Picking games to suit your audience is key in this regard. If your group is an experienced one then choosing the hottest game that has just been released and that people all over the world are buzzing about could work brilliantly. Whilst selecting a marathon styled game that can last over 6+ hours for a group of newly initiated people, such as Twilight Imperium III, might just about seal your doom.
Most people new to gaming would have never played a co-operative game and I have found that this can be a great way to introduce people into the hobby. Pandemic fits this bill perfectly. If your audience is a more competitive bunch then perhaps a game that pits player against player in a light-hearted yet combative nature could fit the bill, such as Epic Spell Wars or King of Tokyo.
I also highly recommend you to have on hand a number of “filler” games. This are short, quick games that you can play in between some longer ones, to break the ice or even fill time whilst you wait for other guests to arrive. Good filler games can be packed with fun, entertainment and just as much strategy as their longer relatives.
If you are committed to playing that one particular game, you should always ensure to communicate this and share the overview and objective of the game when inviting the guests. Include a link to the review on BGG or a ‘how to play’ YouTube video so that those who are keen to learn can do so and research the game before your event begins.
Of course, if you are just starting out yourself then you may not have the widest collection from which to choose. I’d recommend you to check out some of my other blogs for suggestions on fillers, gateway and essential games, so that you have a selection of good quality games to ensure your guests, and you, have a blast!
SET UP AHEAD OF TIME
If you have decided on your opening game it can often be advantageous to consider setting up the game before your guests arrive. I’d highly recommend doing this for games that have loads of components, such as Caverna. Games such as this can often take a considerable amount of time to get ready to play.
Your event might be one whereby each person is bringing along a game to be offered up to play and there are some games in which the set up is integral to the entire experience of the game. In both these scenarios obviously the above strategy wouldn’t work but in the later case there is still time saving to be had by setting up as much as possible ahead of schedule. Having all your components neatly laid out is worth the effort.
I personally have found that small plastic bowls are great for holding and displaying piles of components. For Caverna in particular I have purchased some small plastic tackle boxes that neatly hold all the tokens and tiles. This works great for storage AND game play.
As a side note – I believe that it is worth keeping your different components split up and stored in sealed bags. A small thing but this too can save you in set up as you won’t have to spend time sorting through and separating all the components.
Another tip for this tip: put a small, single hole in the corner of each sealed bag using a hole punch. This will allow the air to escape once sealed but your pieces won’t fall out. Really helpful when you have spatial limitations within the game box.
KNOW THE RULES
Most people will not have fun playing a game that they do not understand entirely. As the host, it is often your responsibility to teach the group how to play the game, therefore it is imperative that you know at least the basics of the game, turn sequence and how to win. The only exception to this would be if your group is all highly experienced and everybody is ready and willing to learn how to play a new game together.
Use your resources, you do not have to spend hours upon hours memorising the rulebook. There are endless sources online that can help teach you how to play. For a new game I will myself, more often than not, watch an online video or two of the game being played and explained to ensure I understand the concept and turn sequence. Of course you should have the rules book handy and there is no problem referencing it during play. To read it for the very first time as people are sitting at the table though, is a cardinal sin.
When I teach a game for the first time I follow the concept of “always start with the end in mind”. I always explain the setting of the game and the objective that we are trying to achieve. In other words how to win. I then explain how the game ends, the key mechanics that the game will employ and then give an overview of the turn sequence. I have found that most people can quickly grasp the concept of the game once they know how to win, how the game ends and what their actions/options are.
Patience when explaining rules is going to be critical. People all learn differently and will take in what you say at different stages. Be prepared to have to repeat yourself and repeat yourself often. If you get snappy or lose your cool you can quickly disengage your guests. Encourage questions and praise your guests when they do raise a query. Comments like “that is a really good question” or “I am really glad that you asked that” will go a long way to peer engagement and attention from your audience. Plus it sure helps build your relationships!
Remember, the rules of a game are designed to help keep the game flowing and fair. It doesn’t really matter if the rules get bent from time to time. If a new player makes a small mistake don’t be afraid to let them off and help them out. You are all there to have a good time and not waste time arguing for prolonged periods over the interpretation of a rule. Disagreements will happen from time to time. However, when these arise and the rules are not very clear, try to talk through the challenge collectively and see what everyone at the table thinks. Once a decision has been made, move on.
Keeping the mood light and having a focus on collaboration when there are questions around the clarity or interpretations of rules will go a long way to keeping the enjoyment levels up.
One final comment here: simple filler type games are also a great idea to consider. They are really quick to learn, teach and play. Many of them have a ton of depth and strategy too.
WHAT TO EAT?
If you are going to have friends over for a few hours to play games then you are going to have to feed them. Quite possibly, the most common issue overlooked, is in the provision of snacks. Most experienced gamers will advise you to stay away from sticky, greasy and messy snacks. These types of foods are highly likely to mess up your components. Snacks that tempt or encourage individuals to lick their fingers can further compound your challenges. It’s not that nice to draw a card that is covered in a sticky residue. The biggest offenders here are salted or dusted foods such as nuts or chips.
I have found that dry snacks are a much better option to consider. Grapes, berries, unsalted nuts, pre-cut cheese, dry lollies and biscuits are good examples. Even olives and other hors d'oeuvres can work if you have tooth picks or skewers handy. Anything really to minimise hand contact with food will help wonderfully.
If you do want to have more substantial food and/or go the greasier options, then I would suggest to enjoy the food over a break in games.
Either way, if you have the space, you may want to consider keeping your food and beverages set up nearby on side tables or benches to avoid spills, accidental damage and table clutter.
I think that it is perfectly fine to ask people to volunteer to bring particular options of food or drink. For my game nights I always ask people to bring their own beverages and some snacks to share. I don’t feel that it is the host’s responsibility to always have to provide this. You can advise your guests of the preferred types of food to bring, and reasons for this, in your invitation message.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t expect to be able to keep your game components in mint, pristine condition. There’s nothing wrong with a game looking like it has been used but by applying just a little caution and attention to the types of food served at your event you can really help prolong the life of your game.
Game Nights are about building relationships and having fun together. Game Nights are about being social. Keep the focus on having fun and try to pay attention to how all your guests seem to be faring.
If you have read this far then I assume that you are quite interested in setting up and holding your own event. I applaud you for this. This article has been written to help you with this but by no way do I claim that my recommendations and tips are definitive. In fact, I am sure that many of you will have other suggestions and ideas that will work just as well, if not better. Please post these in the comments below so that the greater community can benefit from everyone’s experiences.
My vision is to bring people closer together through board games. So I encourage you to give it a go, set up a Game Night and have some fun!