Tips for Running a Great Board Game Night

Even the news outlets are talking about it; board game nights are trending. In an age of digitally-enforced distance, seeing friends and family face-to-face can be the perfect way to renew bonds and rehash old times. But running a board game night can be pretty intimidating, especially if you aren’t an expert in the hobby. Here are some tips to get the games running smoothly.

Delegate Responsibilities

Here’s a secret about the board game hobby: board games are actually pretty expensive. Each game runs you $20 to $60, but you’ll get hours and hours of time out of them (often more than a video game and much more than a movie).

Still, because you’ll probably be picking up a game or two (and you’re hosting!), try not to worry about the rest. Ask guests to bring the drinks and snacks, so you can concentrate on learning the games. Speaking of that...

Learn Your Games Before the Board Game Night

Don’t break open a brand new game while your friends are already there; run through it at least once when you buy it, even if you have to play multiple players. Some games take a long time to learn, while others are very fast -- but you don’t want to have to backtrack because you missed something later on.

Assess Your Space

Board games take up a lot of space. Sometimes more than you could conceivably imagine. Calculate out how many people are coming, and consider that each of them are going to need a chair and enough space to lay out their cards and pieces in front of them. Consider getting a folding table and some chairs to expand on your existing space.

Get a Selection of Games

There are different types of games. Cooperative games, competitive games, science fiction games, fantasy games -- and, of course, general party games. Try to get a good selection, and pay attention to the number of players each game supports. If you’re going to have a lot of people, a selection of 3 to 5 player games will be perfect; everyone can split up. But if you have a small group of 8 to 10, you may want to try to keep the whole party together.

Don’t buy all of the games: ask your friends to bring games, as well. Often they’ll have a favorite game that they’ll be excited to teach. When the games are all there, put them in a big pile, so everyone can look at the ones that catch their eye.

Here are some good options:

  • Codenames. In Codenames, you create two teams. On each team, one codemaster is trying to clue their other team members into choosing specific tiles -- with the goal to reveal all of the tiles before the other group. Codenames can be run with large numbers of people.

  • Two Rooms and a Boom. The big, big game, Two Rooms and a Boom can support dozens of players at once, making it a good “mixer” game for socializing. Prevent the “bomber” from getting in the room with the “president” while trying to figure out who everyone is.

  • Pandemic. One of the standard cooperative games, in Pandemic you’re trying to stop four viruses from spreading and destroying the world. Pandemic is a more involved game, but it’s good for when everyone has split into separate groups.

  • Werewords. In Werewords, everyone works together to try to figure out a word while one person tries to distract and confuse them. This game is great for parties.

  • Cosmocracy. Take on the role of different alien nations and argue in a setting where everything you say can become canon. Cosmocracy is a great game for people who enjoy debate.

  • Captain Sonar. A cooperative game for up to eight people, Captain Sonar is a fast-paced and challenging game in which each player has to fulfill a specific role. It is best with eight people, but it can be modified for fewer.

  • Cards Against Humanity. Even though I prefer Joking Hazard, Cards Against Humanity is nearly always a hit. With simple “fill in the blank” gameplay and extremely risque cards, it’s usually a good icebreaker party game.

  • Abandon Planet. Brightly colored and simple, I like Abandon Planet because it is both cooperative and competitive; you need to collect your own resources but eventually pair up with someone. The interactions between people as these alliances are figured out can be great.

  • Telestrations. Like a game of telephone, in Telestrations you draw something, and then someone else has to guess what it is -- and then another person draws the guess, and someone guesses what that is. And, of course, everything quickly goes off the rails.

Guide, But Don’t Force

When people look like they’re interested in a game, it’s time to play one -- but there’s also no reason to not enjoy some socializing. Many board game nights eventually devolve into talking and chatting, with nary a game to be seen, and that’s just fine. You don't need to be hovering around making sure people have fun. Just let them explore the games at their own pace.

Games can actually be incredibly overwhelming, especially to those who haven't played many of them before. A litany of strange rules and mechanics can just cause people to shut down. When that happens, it's time to take a break.

Get on a Schedule for Your Board Game Nights

Your board game nights will continue to grow larger as long as you’re consistent with your schedule. Running a game the first Friday of every month will eventually draw in more people -- and that means more players! Social media is a great way to organize these events and start getting regular attendance, especially if you're looking for a way to regularly connect with your friends.

Consider Outsourcing

Maybe you don’t want to host, but you still want a game night. Try searching your town for a “board game library” or a “board game cafe.” There are many of them opening up, especially in larger towns. They’ll have a wide assortment of games that you can play, off in exchange for a small fee.

Creating a great board game night is really just a matter of practice and not being afraid to do it. Remember: these are your friends, so they’ll understand if there are a few little hiccups at the start. Many people hesitate before running a board game night because they’re afraid they won’t know the games as well as they should or the people they’re playing with won’t have fun. The truth is that even board game fanatics don’t know all the games, and anything is fun with the right group of people.