So, you’ve reached out and been your own charming, outgoing self and made some friends who share your interests (either online or at your local game store.) In a moment of madness, you decide to invite everyone in this group to your place for a night of fun, frivolity, and seemingly most important: gaming! After you hit send on the group message (or send out the invites to the event you’ve created on Facebook) the realization hits you: you’ve never hosted a game night before! Well never fear, dear reader, as I am here to be your guide for what I believe are the four main components of any successful game night- don’t be scared, there’s a handy acronym to help you remember: C.R.A.G. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
The “C” in C.R.A.G. stands for cleaning. Now, I know this might seem obvious, or possibly dull, but bear with me. If you are having people over to your home for the first time, you want to make sure that that home is both clean and welcoming. Just a few small tasks can make sure that people feel comfortable in your home- the result being that they will more likely come back next time! Are people going to be getting refreshments from the kitchen? Then make sure there aren’t any dirty dishes around, any counters have been wiped down, and that there are enough clean dishes available for use. Are you hosting any smokers? Make sure that in your designated smoking area (preferably outside or in the garage) any ashtrays or butt containers have been emptied and that they are easy to get to. Do any of your guests have allergies to any of your pets? Then thoroughly vacuum your carpet to remove any pet hair (which you should be doing any way, allergies or not). The anticipation of your guests’ needs will make you an excellent host, and what’s more: it will show that you have put some effort and hard work into this. Your guests will appreciate it and it will be sure to impress them.
However, while some of these can be permissibly missed (perhaps you ran out of time to prepare or your guests all are exceedingly close friends who won’t mind a dirty dish or two) there is one item that’s cleanliness is vital to a successful game night: the table. The table you use must be both clear of any clutter and be cleanly wiped down. No gamer wants to play a game on a table covered in crumbs, detritus, sticky patches, or random debris. Furthermore, if one of your guests brings a game to play, the last thing they want is to be laying out cards or a board and feel the crunch of crumbs being ground up beneath. Players will forgive an errant dirty dish or an un-vacummed carpet, but what they will not forgive is damage to their own games because of your dirty table. Take the time, clean it off, wipe it down.
This is of course, assuming that you don’t have your own, exclusive game room with a dedicated game table and instead host in your dining room like so many gamers (and myself.)
Refreshments and Atmosphere
The “R” and “A” in C.R.A.G. stand for refreshments and atmosphere, respectively. Let’s tackle refreshments first. The choice of what to provide your guests to eat and drink is an important one. When it comes to food, you want something satisfying, but not greasy, tasty but not too complicated. Do yourself a favor and stay away from any urges to provide an actual meal- try to stick to snacks. In my own experience, veggies and dip, tortilla chips and hummus, pretzels, or Cool Ranch Doritos are perfectly acceptable choices. (To answer what you’re probably thinking: the Cool Ranch flavor leaves considerably less residue on the fingers compared to other flavors.)
Drinks (or more accurately, alcohol) can easily fall into both the categories of refreshments and atmosphere. To properly gauge this, you need to consider two aspects: the constitutions of your guests and the type of game night you are hosting. If your group consists of heavy drinkers, hard liquor or mixed drinks are perfectly viable. If your group is composed of members who are a little less experienced in the Bacchanalian arts, you might just want to stick with beer and cheap wine (for group gatherings, remember: boxed is best for those on a budget.) The type of game night can also be a helpful indicator in this matter. Is this going to be an intense night of rule heavy, complex games with many interwoven mechanics? Or perhaps are you playing a game with which a majority of your guests are unfamiliar? Well, then it may be best to be wary of involving hard spirits. However, if you’re pursuing a more beginner-friendly or party-style of game, stronger drinks can help players loosen up and get out of their usual comfort zone. Just remember that if the drink is flowing heavily, rides home or spare bedrooms may be called for. You’re the host- you have a responsibility to make sure that people leave your home safely (even if they need to leave it the next morning.)
A last aspect of atmosphere that is often overlooked would be music. You want to have something playing in the background audible enough to give a buffer for any silences that pop up between conversations (especially if several members of the group are meeting for the first time) but not so loud that people can’t hear each other or feel the need to sing along. Personally, I find that what works best is that I have a Spotify playlist in which I have all of my other music. I hook my laptop to my television, turn on shuffle, and play it throughout the evening at a low volume. The random mix of music of different styles means that there will most likely be something in there that everyone can enjoy- that means it’s one less thing for me to worry about during the course of the evening.
And finally, that brings us to the last (and most important) letter of C.R.A.G.: the letter “G” for gaming. Funnily enough, this seems to be a place where many stumble. As a host, it is important that you have a short list of games in your collection that you think would be suitable for your group of guests as a whole. Once again, knowing the tastes and constitutions of your guests is key (see the section about drinks above.) But here is the important thing to always remember: do not set your heart on playing one specific game. Things will go wrong. Either the number of people won’t be right due to someone arriving late in the evening (or not at all), it won’t fit the mood of the evening- or maybe your guests just won’t be interested in the one game you want to play. What’s more, your guests may bring along some games of their own that they want to share with the group. Gauge the feeling of the group, figure out what everyone wants to play, and then go from there. Nothing leaves a bad impression on a guest like watching a host sulk because no one wants to play the game that they wanted to play that evening. Like I said, have a shortlist of games ready that you think will fit your group of players best, but be prepared to happily throw it all out the window, if need be. There will always be another game night and that means another opportunity to play a game in the future. The important thing is that your guests enjoy themselves. The measure of a successful game night isn’t what games are played, rather the memories that are made between you and your friends.
And there you have it, dear readers, the four components to any successful game night: Cleaning, Refreshments, Atmosphere, and Gaming. Be mindful of C.R.A.G. and you can’t fail as a host. I can’t guarantee that your game night will be perfect, but it will be successful. End a game night with happy gamers and you are assured to have more in the future. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of a couple of letters before I host my next game night. Happy gaming!