Score! How to Host a Great Game Night

by Mikey Rox on 1 February 2012 6 comments
Photo: Rich Moffitt

When it’s cold outside, all you want to do is stay inside.

I do, at least. I hate the cold weather. I live in New York City, but I long for Los Angeles. I say bring on global warming. Al Gore and Mr. DiCaprio will just have to deal with that statement.

In the winter, there are few things to do inside besides cook, clean, and watch movies. The problem is, the comfort food makes me fat, the constant cleaning makes me tired, and I’ve seen just about every movie playing On Demand that I want to see (plus, it’s not cheap).

Game night, however, is another way to pass the time (and have fun) while others are shivering their butts off on the slopes or whatever else people do outside when it’s below freezing.

Hosting a good game night isn’t an art form, but there are certain criteria you need to follow to ensure a great one. Here are my tips on making the night one to remember. (See also: 5 Fun Family Friendly Games)

Invite Your Guests According to Games

Personally, I pick the games that we’re going to play according to the guests I’ve invited. Some of my friends are wordsmiths, so Scrabble may be in order, while others like video games. Even still, you may be inviting over guests whose preference in games you don't know. In that case, if you're unsure of the players' skill levels at certain games, choose games that are based primarily on luck, like Yahtzee, or at least have a wide selection on hand so the group can make the decision on what to play together. The point is, you want to choose games that everyone will have fun with — and have an equal chance of winning. Also, some games are good for small parties, like Scattergories or Taboo, while other games, such as Apples to Apples, are much more fun with a big group. I once played the latter in a group of 12 one Thanksgiving night, and I don’t think I’ve had so much fun or laughed so hard since then.

Send an E-Invitation

I’m a big fan of Evite. I like that it gives your gathering — large or small — a semi-formal feel even if it’s super low-key; it just seems more organized than an e-mail exchange. Your guests will know the time, place, and theme instantly, and they can visit the link at any time to find out the information, which means that you won’t have to field e-mails or phone calls asking for updates.

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Prepare the Food

Don’t spend too much time in the kitchen on game night unless it’s dinner and game night. There are two reasons for this: 1) If you spend all day cooking for your guests, you’ll be tired by the time they arrive, and 2) it’s game night — guests expect junk food. Pick up some frozen appetizers, a few bags of chips, and soda, or order pizza or Chinese from your favorite restaurant. If you want your guests to pitch in on the food costs, let them know ahead of time in the invitation. I generally pick up the tab for the food, but I did ask my guests to pitch in $5 each for pizza and drinks for an Oscar party once. They weren’t offended at all, and I saved some cash.

Provide the Booze

Game night is never fun if it’s alcohol-free — at least for me. The fun and laughter (and ridiculous answers) increase when everybody’s had a few. Provide the booze yourself or ask your friends to BYOB; that's totally an acceptable request. Most of your friends will probably arrive with a bottle of wine anyway (a small gift is protocol when inviting someone to your home for an evening that would otherwise cost them more money than a bottle of wine), but suggest in the invitation that if they want something special, they should bring it. I always have liquor, mixers, and wine on hand, and I’ll pick up beer for a game night. Be sure to tell your guests what will be available, so they’re not left dry because they don't like what you provided.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

There’s competitive, and then there’s over-competitive. I’m competitive — I enjoy winning — but if I lose, I don’t throw a tantrum. Nobody likes that guy who gets pissed because he lost. A night can go down hill very quickly if anyone in the party is aggressive about winning and not a team player. Game night should be an occasion to relax and have fun. Keep that in mind, and don’t be afraid to calm down a guest who may be on the edge. You’re in charge, so there’s no harm in reminding everyone that this isn’t a game show and there’s no pot of gold at the end. Likewise, just because you’re the host of the party doesn’t give you authority to make up rules in your favor. Play fair and honest and have an excellent time — especially if you ever want your guests to come back again.

Have other game-night tips to share? Let us know is the comments below.

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Meg Favreau's picture

It's been waaaaay too long since I've had a good game night. I've been talking with some friends about playing Settlers of Cattan. Need to make it happen!

Guest's picture

For years, we had friends over to play trivia games on our Wii. Those were seriously fun times. Now that we have small children, it's much more complicated.

Your ideas are great, though. I'm thinking we might spring for a babysitter and have a game night one day this spring. Thanks!

Meg Favreau's picture

Wii Sports get-togethers used to be my go-to winter activity. The only downside was that I got so good at Wii bowling that I became really annoyed with myself when I was still mediocre at real bowling. =)

Guest's picture
Sean H

Try the game Mad Gab!!! It is hilarious. ima lub muh sheen!!!! (I'm a love machine)
That's what the game is. You read a phrase of sounds and you have to figure out what the correct phrase it. If you're like me, I could literally be saying it perfectly yet have no idea that I'm saying it, and sometimes can't figure it out!!!! Has anyone hear played it?

Mikey Rox's picture

I've never played that game, but I remember the I'm a Love Machine commercial. I'm always looking for new games to add to my collections, so maybe this will be the next one. Thanks for the tip!

Guest's picture
Mike J

I am hosting the second annual game night at my church in a few weeks. Great way to get people out of the house when its cold. Make a few pots of soup and have them bring their favorite game and dessert and instant party!