If you’re reading this, I’m going to guess that a game night is an absolute blast for you as it is me! It’s one of my favorite social experiences: getting friends new or old together, joking around, playing some of the most fun tabletop games out there — a geek’s paradise.
Not all of us have a large pool of geeky friends ready to go on a weekly basis. And some of us have friends who haven’t really touched tabletop gaming, but we know would love it if they just gave it a chance. And sometimes you want to find a way to spend more time with a certain friend, family member, or significant other and a board game night is the perfect time. But non-geeks can be pretty reluctant to commit to a board game night. They tend to bolt at the sight of an instruction manual with more than 2 pages.
Over the years, I’ve perfected my technique for luring in the uninitiated and making sure they have a good time. For all of you out there who just can’t seem to pull together their loyal gaming group, these tips and reminders just might make the magic finally happen.
#1: Put Thought Into Your Invitations
The number of people that come to a game night is actually very important. Since we’re talking about non-geeks here, you can’t really run more than one game at a time. A lot of tabletop games tend to top out between 4-6 players, but if you end up too short of the maximum, the games usually aren’t as fun. This means that you can’t invite too many people, but every invitation you do send out is very important.
Let your invitees know that! Make them feel special and integral to the night, because they are. Get a solid and definite RSVP from them ahead of time so you have a chance to invite someone else if they aren’t coming. Actually, even making paper invitations and getting them to your invitees in person isn’t a bad idea. It’s a lot of effort, but it shows you’re serious and care that they show up.
#2: Customize For Your Guests
Since you know exactly who’s coming, you can tailor your party to their tastes. Make it a theme night, with all zombie games or all high fantasy! This can even extend to the decor and the food if you make the time. I really think it can make a difference- imagine if TableTop didn’t change the set decorations for every episode.
Other ideas: for the Star Wars fan, pull together some of the many Star Wars games. If you have a friend who likes telling stories, see if you can find Gloom or Once Upon A Time. Your funniest friends are a good fit for Say Anything or Superfight. It’s easy to prepare the perfect games for your guests if you put a little time and research into it! (Oh, and don’t get ambitious- stay away from the complex stuff like Arkham Horror and Battlestar Galactica when hosting first-time players. You’ll just be in for pain.)
#3: Memorize The Rules In A Smart Way
Those who don’t play a lot of tabletop games have a lot of apprehension about rules- explaining the games is easily the hardest and most depressing part of game nights. Make it easier on them and on yourself by really knowing how the games work, inside and out. It’s so easy to confuse “I know how to play this!” with “I know how to explain this!”- trust me, I’ve done it so many times. You should read the rulebook cover to cover; twice if you have to.
Don’t just parrot back everything you read in the order you read it. Think about how when and why certain situations come up in the game. You might be able to skip over that part of the rules until the situation arises, and then explain it as needed. Sometimes, as much as it pains us geeks, we can also completely cut the most complex parts of the rules out for our new players. Even in the best-designed games, there can be ways to simplify things without losing too much of the fun, and it’ll make better converts of our non-geeks.
#4: Set The Right Mood
After hosting quite a few, I’ve learned that game nights tend to be best when they’re all about playing the games. Start the games as soon as everyone has arrived and don’t make everyone anticipate the games ending by planning something afterwards. As fun as watching movies or stargazing can be, this kind of “bonus event” tends to cut peoples’ focus. There’s one exception to this rule: you can promise everyone a nice dinner after the games. Everyone will feel at home, they’ll be more tempted to stick around, and they won’t have to think about what they’re doing for food that night.
This will help to create that low-key but familial feeling that the best game nights will have. You can set this mood in other ways, too. Fix everyone their preferred hot beverage as they arrive. Don’t set out too much alcohol. Have everyone help you set up the games so they can feel involved and get intrigued by all the components and artwork. Most of all, be welcoming. It can be easy to lose track of the human side of game night in your excitement to have anyone to play with. Make their fun your first priority, and I promise you’ll have fun too.
If you are looking for a good board gaming night without the mess of cleaning up after all your guests, make sure you check out Geek & Sundry’s Game Night where you can try out new games or test out your skills with some old ones. You might find some friends to invite over to your next board game night.
Featured image credit: Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr