Playing board games has become an entertainment staple across the planet today. Educational institutions across the globe talk about the intellectual benefits board games have for children (greater memory, better organizational skills, improved communication and social skills, et al), scientists are constantly publishing articles about the health benefits of games (preventing dementia & memory loss, lower blood pressure, improved immune systems, greater dexterity and better reasoning skills to name a few), and the economic benefits of board games are touted by ‘experts’ throughout the world (The cost of a board game is less than dinner and a movie and can be played over and over).
With all the benefits of board games, we can see why the industry is growing every year. Even when other forms of entertainment are declining, board games continue to increase in popularity. Whether a casual gamer, a serious gamer, an old pro or a newbie to board games, it’s important to understand how to pull off a successful game night. This guide is written towards families, but is applicable to friends, colleagues, or anyone interested in building memories around a game table.
To make your game night successful, there are 12 steps to follow:
1) Plan Ahead
- Planning ahead helps to create anticipation and excitement.
- Even if it’s only an hour or two ahead, it gives everyone something to look forward to.
- Decide the game(s) you’ll be playing and talk about it ahead of time (“Are we getting out of the Forbidden Desert today?”, “Who’s gonna be the traitor at the House on the Hill this time?”, “Who gets to name the town in Farmy Men tonight?”)
2) Clean Up. Before and After.
Game nights are about having fun and relaxing. From an emotional standpoint, clutter causes stress. In spite of the seemingly countless studies about cleanliness relating to our emotional well-being and the long-term effects of blah blah blah clutter and yada yada yada organizing, we really don’t need scientists to tell us what we already know: Less mess = less stress. A cleaner area means a more relaxed setting. It also helps you not lose pieces that fall off the table. Some tips to help with this often-overlooked step:
- Pick up the area where you’ll be playing beforehand.
- Wipe off the table! Nothing will make you wish you’d applied this information more than setting up your 7 Wonders cards or Kingdom Builder tiles on something left over from dinner. Do this far enough ahead that it will be dry by the time you start.
- You can use this as an activity with your kids – “As soon as we get the living room picked up, we can start playing Flash Point (or whatever you’re going to play).
- Clean up afterwards. Make sure everything gets put away before you’re finished. Not only is it easier to clean up a mess sooner than later, but you’ll be able to make sure you have all the pieces for the next game night.
3) Remove Distractions.
In order to get the most out of a game night, it’s important to pay attention to not only the game, but also the people you’re playing with. Some of the main distractions to be aware of include:
- Cell Phones. Ask everyone to turn off cell phones. A phone call or text during a game is distracting to everybody, will cause the mood to dissipate, and is frustrating when the group is waiting for you to finish the call so you can take your turn. It also makes the others feel like a second fiddle to whoever is on the phone, and will diminish the overall fun of the evening.
- There is an inclination to put younger kids in another room to watch a movie while the older kids play games. There are several reasons NOT to do this, including the possible distraction to those playing the game and the missed opportunity to have the younger kids participate. Younger kids can sit on your lap or at the table and enjoy the game with the whole family, even if they don’t know how to play. Consider this: A child on a lap is excited to be ‘on your team’; even if that means just watching you take your turn.
- Household Jobs. Finish other tasks before starting the game. When a dryer finishes drying or a kitchen timer goes off and you get up to take care of it, the frustration of waiting for you is similar to waiting for someone answering a call on their cell phone (See b above). Besides, that was already taken care of in step 2…
5) Be Involved.
Once you start playing, stay involved with what’s happening in the game and around the table. Instead of taking your turn and acting bored until your turn comes around again, PAY ATTENTION TO OTHERS’ TURNS. It makes them feel important enough that you stop to see what they’re doing, and this will mean a lot to kids and spouses. On top of that, you won’t need a recap of what resources were rolled in your Star Trek: Catan game when your turn comes around again and you might even learn a new way to play a favorite game. Building memories is more likely to happen when you’re involved, and your family will appreciate it.
6) Be A Good Loser.
Nothing turns a fun game night into a bad memory like someone brooding or pouting. Comments like “you only won because you got lucky” serve no purpose, don’t build positive memories and label you as a poor sport. Remember that your self-worth has nothing to do with someone filling up the cotton boat in Puerto Rico and leaving you with a field full of un-sellable cotton on your turn. Even if you lose the game because of it…you’re going to be okay. This is even more true in co-op games (games where everyone is on the same team competing against the board), as nobody likes to hear over and over how everyone lost at Flash Point because one firefighter carried a victim into a smoky room that exploded in a fireball. If you can be a good loser and laugh at games, your kids will follow suit.
7) Be A Better Winner.
The only thing worse than a sore loser is an obnoxious winner. Even if you came from behind in Dominion and somehow played 9 witch cards in a single turn to give you the win…let it go. Nobody wants a recap on your amazing victory, nobody wants to know that you were planning it all along, and (if you keep yammering on about your amazing win) nobody will want you joining the next game night.
8) Laugh. A Lot.
Remember that this is a game. Remember that these are people you care about and who care about you. Nobody is going to think less of you if you lost the dog in Robinson Crusoe, your promotion at work will not depend on if your crew was wiped out by an epidemic card in Galaxy Trucker, and your happiness in this life has nothing to do with how many settlements you place near rivers in Kingdom Builder. Games are about having fun, and you’ll remember the games where everyone was laughing and hysterical far more than games where you mercilessly destroyed all your competition…mwa-haa-haa-haa-haaaaaaaaaaa! (Any time someone uses a word like ‘mercilessly’ in a paragraph about laughing, it would be wrong to not follow it with evil villain laughter, right?) Relax and have fun.
9) Watch the Clock.
With game nights, shorter is almost always sweeter. Even an entertaining movie will start to bother people if it runs too long, and games are no different. There’s a fine line between the perfect length of time and waaaaay too long. Err on the side of less time and you’re better off. Games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple, 5-Minute Delivery and King of Tokyo are great games with a short time stamp on them. If a game is fun and short, you can play it a few times or you can leave everyone with a desire to play it again. Everyone is different, but games under 45 minutes are almost always a safer bet.
5) Comfort Zones = Danger Zones.
Try something new. Especially if you’re playing games with more casual players or new (younger) players who might not know the game(s) as well as you do. The intimidation factor is high when you’ve mastered a game and you’re playing with someone’s who hasn’t played it before. If you’re new and you lose in a game like this, your chance of wanting to play that game again is approximately 3,720 to 1. Trying something new also helps you to broaden your horizons. You’ll find a few duds along the way, but you might also find a gem like The Village or Takenoko.
11) Remember it’s Just A Game.
This may be the most important part of creating positive memories with the people you care about. Remember this. Whether or not you win a game is irrelevant compared to a child or spouse remembering a fun night. If your daughter cuts off your food supply in Agricola and you end up with 5 Beggar Cards at the end, laugh about it and congratulate her on her strategy. Even if your family teases you about being a professional beggar for the next week, your children are better off with a memory of ‘Beggar Dad’ than a memory of sulking or angry dad.
12) Leave The Game At The Table.
When you’re done playing games, leave them at the table. Not literally – you still need to clean up your mess when you’re done – but figuratively. Don’t gloat about your wins, don’t be upset afterwards, and don’t keep rehashing a disputed rule. When the game is done, LEAVE IT AT THE TABLE. Don’t search through rule books to prove you were right in a rules dispute, don’t complain about how the first player is at a disadvantage and the designers need to fix that, and don’t grumble about everyone ganging up on you just wasn’t fair. LEAVE IT ALL AT THE TABLE! You’ll teach your loved ones to enjoy the time together, and everybody can look forward to your next game night together!