19 December 2023
Board gaming, at its heart, is about having fun with friends., so join us for the ultimate guide to making your gaming sessions a night to remember
Most of what our magazine covers is focussed very much on the first part of that equation: the games. In this article, we are going to turn our attention to some of the ways we make the latter part — bringing people together — a joy
Where should your Board Game Night be?
Before you can invite people to something, you need to work out where you are inviting them to. There are lots of options that can work for a game night, but the easiest starting point is your home.
You don’t need to live in a perfect Ikea showroom — although you might want to hide the underpants currently drying on the kitchen radiator — but as a minimum you should make sure you have a decently sized table, with enough chairs for your players.
Lighting is also very important; many a play session has been marred by having to peer at dimly illuminated cardboard. If your overhead lights are not strong enough, bring in a few lamps; your players will thank you.
If your home is too small other potential venues include board game cafes, coffee shops and pubs. Be wary that these can sometimes be noisy, busy or poorly lit, all of which can present a problem. Visit them first, and pre-book a table. Some libraries have a room available for groups to use for free, which can be another great option if you don’t have the space at home.
What to Eat on a Board Game Night.
Hungry people are rarely happy people
Sustenance is an important part of game night. Now, it's not vital that you provide food, but you should consider whether or not people are going to be hungry. If you meet at 5pm and play until 10pm, there will be some energy-starved hanger tantrums unless snacks make an appearance.
Times are tough, financially, and you don’t need to provide all the food for everyone – ask people to bring items with them. If you are very particular about the cleanliness and sanctity of your cardboard toys, you might want to avoid messy food, like crumbly crisps and sticky sauces. A cheap and nutritious option is carrot sticks and sliced cucumber; if you can bear the grubby fingers, we find houmous dips a tasty addition. Also, cheap enough are budget supermarket pizzas, thrown in the oven and consumed during an appropriate break between games.
The most important refreshment is fluid – make sure your guests feel able to help themselves to water, tea, coffee and other options. You may wish to have a chat with your guests before the night to discuss alcohol – a couple of beers are unlikely to affect play, but if more significant drinking is planned, steering game choices in a lighter direction might be a good idea.
Who to invite to the Board Game Night
Inviting your friends to a game night is perhaps the hardest decision; both who and how many.
Choosing the right people to bring along can seem a little callous, but it’s not about a popularity contest; it’s about pulling together a group that have similar expectations so that everyone can have fun. A vintage heavyweight game enthusiast might not enjoy an evening spent with someone who has never played anything more complex than Snakes and Ladders; or they might love it — just make sure you’ve had a chat with them first. In the same way, make sure your newbie player understands what they are letting themselves in for.
Finally, you definitely don’t want too many people invited along. For your first night? I’d recommend 4 of you. The vast majority of games play well at 3-4 player counts; hosting 20 players in a game of Two Rooms and a Boom or Blood on the Clocktower would be an incredible way to spend an evening, but might be a little ambitious for your first attempt.
What to Play on a Board Game Night
Finally, the bit we were excited about — the games! Now, I’m not going to try to dictate what games you play. You know what you enjoy, and you probably have a sense of what your friends enjoy. I will give you an example of one of my recent evening’s game choices below, but don’t feel pushed into anything.
People generally don’t enjoy a drawn-out period of learning rules, so if you are introducing anything new or complex, you need to make sure you know how to play it already. I often hunt down a good rules explanation video online and ask people to watch it before they come, so that everyone is on the same page when we start.
It can be good to start with something lightweight, especially as someone is invariably late; everyone can start having fun, but the late player doesn’t have to wait around for a three hour marathon to end. I usually have another easy game in mind for the end of the evening, for those that still have an appetite for play after the main game has finished. To this end we’ve put together an example set menu of what we think is a great way to spend a evening playing games.
GAME NIGHT SET MENU
Starter: Camel Up
This zany betting game is 70% luck, but the 30% of premonition feels rather good. Losing because the camel you thought was going to win is now in utterly last place is funny for everyone round the table. Late players can join in the betting at any point, although they are less likely to win.
Also consider Coup, a bluffing game with hidden roles that lasts about 5 minutes, and is purpose built for multiple plays.
Main game: Ticket to Ride
Simple rules, lots of interesting choices, plenty of player interaction, and a play time that’s enough to feel satisfying without being exhausting. It may not be the most exhilarating choice, but there’s a reason Ticket to Ride is a staple in on gaming shelves round the world.
Also consider Carcassonne. Another classic, one with a little more strategic depth. You can also add in one of the 11 million official expansions to mix things up.
End of the night: Citadels
An interesting competition, with constantly switching roles, and build up your own little empire of cards before anyone else can. The satisfaction of bluffing a player into assassinating whoever they think you are, only to reveal you were actually someone else? Brilliant.
Also consider Galaxy Trucker. Building spaceships out of scrap in real time, then flying your hunks of junk across the universe is a madcap way to end an evening
Written by Chris Lowry