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How to Plan the Ultimate Board Game Night header

So you’re planning a game night and you’re not sure where to start? Having a group of friends over to play games goes back decades, but how can you make sure your friends have a good time while they’re at your place? Our guide to planning the ultimate board game night offers suggestions on picking a night, preparing tasty snacks & drinks, setting the mood, curating the right games, and even how to teach those games. Read through the entire guide, or jump straight to the parts you want to focus on.

Meeple Mountain knows game nights!

Game Night Planning TL;DR

We’d love for you to read this entire piece, since it’s full of extremely helpful tips for planning a gaming event at your house, but we get it…time is short. If you’re looking for some quick ideas, take a look at one man’s journey for the perfect game night. Complete with food, game selection, and even some swanky hand-crafted cocktails meant to impress!

But if you’ve got time to plan, then keep reading.

Who, Where, and When?

It’s not enough to know what you want to do, you have to know the who! Understanding your friends’ preferences will help you tailor your event to the attendees. You know that Terrence doesn’t enjoy heavier games, while Allison thrives on social deduction. And don’t even get me started on Jon and Susie…they’ll argue incessantly over any games where drawing is involved.

If you’re planning the event, it’s a good possibility you’ll have the event at your house, or maybe your office. That means you’ll need a good space for it. Make sure you have enough room for people to move around, comfortable chairs, an appropriately sized table, and maybe light some candles in the bathroom just in case.

When selecting a date and time, be prepared to offer several options. A free service like Doodle can make short work of the invitation process. Pick some dates and times that work for you, then send out the invite to your friends and see what works best for the group.

When do we want to game?

Food & Drinks

These days everyone knows at least one person who has gluten allergies, or is going paleo, keto, or some other form of custom diet. This can make finding quality snackage for your game night quite a challenge. But don’t fear, there are tasty treats that can please almost any palate.

Chips & Dip

You can find chips that will appeal to any diet including white bean tortilla chips, sweet potato chips, carrot chips, and crackers made from all sorts of flours. Grab some hummus, the salsa of your choice, and maybe even whip up some green goddess dip, and you’re ready to host!

Chips and dip setup

See, my solution works flawlessly!

Fruits & Veggies

If you’d prefer to lean towards the healthier raw food spectrum, then a fruit and veggie tray is essential. Sure you can buy them pre-assembled at the grocery store, but cutting up some carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and other veggies is super easy. Bonus, you can also dip the veggies in the green goddess dip…if you made enough that is.

Cut up some apples, pick some grapes off the stems, or maybe peel some mandarin oranges. If you’re feeling adventurous, slice some bananas into ¼ discs then sprinkle them with some chopped peanuts or brown sugar. If you’re concerned about messing up your games, give each guest a cocktail fork. Not only are your game nights fun, they’re fancy as hell!

Cocktail fork

Check out Kathleen Hartin’s great ideas for more top 6 game night snacks, including her famous salsa recipe. Yum!

Picking the Right Games

So you’ve got the location, the food, your friends, and now you need some games. If this is a casual event then you’re probably safe breaking out some of the old favorites. Ticket to Ride, Catan, Pandemic, Sushi Go!, or maybe Telestrations. But if you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you want to curate the entire night. That means knowing your crowd, and picking games that your guests will enjoy. David doesn’t like games which are highly dependent on luck, while Shayla really enjoys randomness and chaos. How can you please everyone, including yourself?

Board gamers have asked that question for years, and while there’s no one right answer, there are ways to get close. Using a tool like the Board Game Menu could be a good place to start. It asks a few simple questions, then offers up games in the “Appetizer”, “Light Fare”, and “Main Course” categories. The nice thing is that it pulls from BoardGameGeek so it appears the suggestions will always be current.

If you want to make a game out of picking a game, then check out this handy dandy flowchart that’s been floating around the internet for a few years. It might be not be as up to date as other suggestions, but it’s got some absolute classics.

If you’d prefer the scientific method, try the board game motivation survey from Quantic Foundry, a 3-4 minute quiz which provides some interesting insight into your play preferences and habits. Here’s mine for example…looks like I’m a big fan of strategy…just don’t step to me with social deduction games.

My motivation profile

Crowdsource the Answer

In 2016 we posed a question to our social media following: What are your top 6 games for a perfect game night.

We had lots of responses and, after compiling the results, it turns out that most of our followers thought the perfect game night games were actually heavier titles like Castles of Burgundy, Power Grid, Terra Mystica mixed in with lighter games like Codenames or 6 Nimmt. It just proves that people can surprise you.

So while you can do your best to pick games your friends might like, throw them a curveball every now and then. You might be surprised!

What About a Game Night for Two?

On the other hand, if you’re only planning a game night for two then you might need some different suggestions. Elijah takes a narrative approach to describing his perfect board game date night, and includes some great two player game recommendations, along with some bad jokes.

Setting the Mood or Picking a Theme

Certain times of the year demand a little more…commitment in your game night planning. These special evenings beg, no demand, some extra effort. Decorations, food, custom playlists. and even different outfits. No I’m not talking about a bat mitzvah, I’m speaking of course about nights like Halloween.

Sure you could have a Halloween game night without going to the extra effort, but your friends will really appreciate the time you’ve spent. Pick your favorite scary game like Dead of Winter, Letters from Whitechapel, or Arkham Horror and bring on the creepy snacks.

Finger food anyone?

Finger food anyone?

Background Music or Not?

As you might expect, to listen to music in the background or not is a hotly contested topic. Some people prefer the quietness of their own thoughts, so that they can strategize in silence. Others love having something in the background. Melodice.org has fan submitted playlists for thousands of games. Of course you can always just pick your own music via YouTube, Soundcloud, or Spotify.

If your guests don’t want to get distracted by actual music, consider some ambience background audio courtesy of Tabletop Audio. They’ve got over 150 different tracks that are sure to help you set the mood for your next game night.

Teaching Games

Some gaming groups love playing the same few games. There’s a lot to be said for that approach…everyone knows how to play, no downtime while you read the rules, and there’s likely to be few arguing over the rules. But you…you seem like a gamer of discernment…I’ll bet you like the newer games, and that means that you’ll need to teach your friends how to play a game. While that can be a rewarding process, it can be also be a ticking time bomb. If Tiffany had a bad day, she might not want to learn a new game. Or what if Donald had a great idea for a strategy and he really wants to try it out?

If you do offer to teach a new game to your guests, make sure that you’re prepared. Reading the rulebook to them is a total buzzkill. Consider using the night before to learn the game. Read the rulebook, and make some notes about potential trouble spots. Maybe even play a sample round or two so that you can see how it plays. Have your friends help you set up the game so that they learn the names of the pieces as they go along. You’re teaching them and they didn’t even know it…sneaky!

Be aware that some types of games are hard to teach. Depending on your gaming group you might consider staying away from those to begin with. Just remember that the most important aspect of game night is to have fun with your friends. Win or lose, time spent together is the best victory there is.

Building up Your Gaming Group

Of course the perfect game night plan is nothing without friends. Everything so far has been focused on gaming with friends you already have. But what if your friends are busy, or you just moved to a new town and don’t know anyone? A little effort up front will eventually help you build a gaming group that you can enjoy.

Gamers are everywhere these days: they might be your coworkers, or the barista at your local coffee shop, or maybe even another parent at your kids’ school. Don’t be afraid to talk about your love of board games. You might even be the one to spark a love of board games in your new friend.

What if Your Guests Don’t Show Up?

Should the disastrous happen, and your game night is a bust, you can still get some gaming in on your own. A discussion about the reasons for solo gaming is beyond the scope of a piece about game night planning. But should your best laids plans for the ultimate game night fall through, perhaps these 6 solo games might be a good way to “get your game on” as the kids say.

Taking Your Planning to the Next Level

So what happens when your board game nights are a hit? Maybe you’ve got a knack for event planning, and you want to take your talents to the next level. Consider planning a public event for a larger group. That’s how I got started organizing Nashville Tabletop Day, the world’s largest International Tabletop Day event.

In Closing

No matter how you choose to plan your event, whether you go over the top, or low key…the important thing is to play some games; and most importantly to spend time with your friends and family. If any of these tips helped you in YOUR planning, consider leaving a comment about your successful event. If you’ve got suggestions on how you planned your own event, add them to a comment as well!

Now go forth and game!

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Andy Matthews

Founder of Meeple Mountain, editor of MeepleMountain.com, and software engineer. Father of 4, husband to 1, lover of games, books, and movies, and all around nice guy. I run Nashville Game Night, and Nashville Tabletop Day.

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