[originally posted on A Year of Frugal Gaming]
As I mentioned before, I plan to hold more Games Nights this year than I have previously. Here’s what I’ve found that works for me, but I’m refining my process continually and if anyone else has any advice I’d be happy to try it out next time.
Know Your Audience – “What Do I Do Again?”
Not everyone games like a wargamer games. Wargamers are a little scary, they can assimilate any rules system almost on contact, and be playing the game without the rulebook in under ten minutes. However, not everyone has this ability. They need a little more time to pick something up, and maybe a couple of practice runs.
Knowing what sort of people have come to your games night is important, unless you want to be a speaking rulebook all evening!
Know Your Audience – “Has Someone Won Yet?”
Some games take a long time. Everyone’s been part of a 30-hour Monopoly marathon, where four players are gripping onto their last mortgaged properties in the face of the last two players, who’ve neatly divided the board between them. Being one of those destitute four is not fun. Games with clear end goals are best – ones that state that ‘the winner is the first to grab the McGuffin’ are better than ‘the last one standing’.
If you know what games you’re playing in advance, get an A3 pad and some marker pens and make some quick bullet-point notes to remind people of key rules. Good things to put on these reminder sheets are the win conditions, the order of actions in a turn, or the options available to a player. As noted above (“What do I do again?”) if you need to use too many bits of paper, you might have picked a complicated game!
Bit of Fun
One thing we ask people to do is to bring along a token or pawn for themselves to use in the games. Wargaming friends are likely to bring a painted model, whereas normal people usually bring more interesting or unusual things (a bolt, small crystal, box of staples, etc). I recommend limiting to things that generally balance themselves and are no more than an inch square at the base. I reserve some goblins for people who neglect to bring their own.
This is less specific games advice and more basic party etiquette – you should have a selection of sweet and savoury snacks, and drinks around. We normally ask people to bring their own beer, and stock up on cheap colas ourselves. Popcorn will go a long way. Another good practice is to appoint someone as Pizza Prefect. It is their job to memorise a takeaway pizza menu, calculate available offers, sort out what each individual wants and then make the order. If you happen to be ordering a lot of pizza, you may get an additional discount.