So you’ve started playing these new fangled board games and have somehow convinced your friends to come over and play them. How do you stop the night from turning into a horrible mess? I’ve hosted literally dozens of board game nights and there’s a very real chance that I’ve bumped into an expert on the subject at some point in my life. That makes me the ideal person to tell you how to have fun with your friends. Fairy Bread image via Shutterstock
Know Your Friends
It seems obvious, but different people like different games. Your friends are much more likely to come back for more if they enjoyed the games they played last time.
Got a friend that’s a manipulative, scheming bastard? A game with a traitor mechanic would be right up their alley. Got another friend who is sick of zombies being shoved into everything? Avoid Dead of Winter and Last Night on Earth. Busting out Twilight Imperium will scare off all but the bravest of board gamers while the same brave board gamers will self-defenestrate rather than play Munchkin.
Choosing games can be tricky. Especially when you’re a fledgling board gamer and don’t have a wide range of games to choose from. Games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Splendor - often referred to as ‘gateway games’ - are always a good idea to have on hand. These are the board gaming equivalent of fairy bread. Everybody loves fairy bread. Filler games like Hanabi or Love Letter are never a bad idea either. They’ll give you something to play while waiting for everyone to show up or help get things started.
As for other good games for your group, board game communities love to give out recommendations. What Should I Get (WSIG) posts are so common on Reddit that there’s a sidebar link with most of the common responses.
If being told what to play isn’t your style, you can always do your own investigating. The surging popularity of board games means that the internet is flooded with reviewers that cater to a range of audiences. Shut Up and Sit Down has a preference for games that encourage social interaction and Dice Tower likes games where you can play nice. Find a reviewer that likes what you like for the same reasons that you do and you’ll have no trouble finding games that suit your taste.
Know Your Games
Playing a game you don’t understand isn’t fun. As host, you’ve got a duty to teach your friends how to play whatever it is you plan on playing. Luckily, Shut Up and Sit Down have posted this handy video on how to handle rules explanations.
You have to understand a game fairly well in order to teach it, which means that you’ll have to do some homework. For some people, this means poring over the rulebook until they’ve memorised every line then playing dummy games. You don’t have to do that.
Many games are much, much simpler than they appear if you take a structured approach to learning the game. When I’m trying to figure out how to play a game, I tend to focus on several key points and then work out the rest of the details from there. The most important detail to learn about a game is how to win. When you’re working out how to win, you’ll also need to know how the game ends. Then, I want to know what players can do. Once you know how to win, what you’re doing and when it ends, it’s easy to relate all of the rules back to one of those points.
Playing some dummy games is still a good idea though.
There’s no shame in cheating on your homework either. Countless resources exist online to help teach players how to play board games. From Watch it Played’s Youtube tutorials to the Esoteric Order of Gamers and their cheat sheets. Don’t rely entirely on these resources though, mistakes happen. Even after you’ve mastered a game, it’s always handy to have the rules nearby.
Feed your friends
When you’ve got a handful of people in your house for several hours, you’re going to have to feed them or they’ll get cranky. Nobody likes cranky board gamers. Tables get flipped, pieces get scattered. Feed your friends.
There are people who loathe the idea of food and drink being anywhere near their games. If that sounds like you, set up something nearby so that players aren’t taken out of the action while still maintaining a spill-free zone. Otherwise feel free to scatter plates of cheese and whatnot* wherever there’s space. Spare chairs and coffee tables are useful as extra surfaces to scatter upon.
More substantial food is also an option but one that you should plan for. Having the delivery guy show up in the middle of the game with nowhere to put the food is just going to make you feel silly. Have the food ready when there’s a break in play. If you’ve just finished a game, you’ll even have a conveniently empty table that you’re all gathered around to eat at. Games in progress can be slightly trickier to deal with. Not eating at the table is one way to handle it. Another is to take photos of the game in progress with your phone, put everything aside and hope you can piece things back together when you’ve finished eating. The latter option has yet to work for me but good luck if you’re willing to give it a go.
This is not a definitive guide on how to host a board game night. If you have your own tips, or want to point out any grievous errors, post them in the comments.
*Fairy bread is one of many possible whatnots.