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What Makes A Good Board Game Night

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Review

So, you have decided to host a game night. In order to make that event a success, there are five areas that you have to think about: time, food, location, people, and games. But before we get into these, let me remind you of the 6Ps – “Proper planning prevents piss poor performance”.

Now you might think that I will just invite the guys over for a poker night and we will order pizzas, so I am done. But on the night, you might suddenly realize that you do not have a pack of cards, and you cannot find that set of poker chips that your brother-in-law gave you for Christmas six years ago. Do not ignore the 6Ps!

Now this article is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; it is just a guide to a game night. There are no wrong ways and right ways to do things. What works for me and my group of friends may not work for you. But I want to make sure that you have thought about some of the things that I know (from experience) can cause a game night to come crashing to a halt, or worse yet, make it drag on like a boring movie with everyone looking at their watches and wondering when they can leave.


You might think that time is the easiest area to deal with, but it is not. For example, you might be up for a four hour game of Roads & Boats, but is it wise to start the game at 7 o’clock in the evening, when you’re the only one who has played the game? How long will it take to explain the rules? How long will it take to set up?

Given what I just wrote, you might argue that I should start with the games category first to see how much time I will need, and then work backwards. Do not do that! Start first with your fellow gamer’s availability. Some of them may have kids and have to leave early. Or some of them have to travel a longer distance (or rely on public transportation) so might arrive late and leave early. Or some of them may simply be tired from a long day at work and do not really want to play a thinky game for four hours.

In my experience, the best time to start a long game night is on a Saturday, either mid-morning (when everyone arrives for tea and cakes) or mid-afternoon (when everyone arrives for tea and cakes). People are usually more relaxed on Saturdays. They have had the morning lie-in, and in the process, they have hopefully managed to forget about those weekday worries. This also helps with giving you more time to play a long game. A four hour game starting at 11 o’clock in the morning is much more palatable than that same four hour game with a 7 o’clock in the evening start.

Once you have an idea of when and how long you want to play, be sure to tell your guests so they are prepared for game night. The last thing you want is someone thinking that you are going to be playing multiple games, so they make plans assuming that they will arrive late for the last few games or play the first few games and then leave early.

You do not have to play a single long game (more about that in the game selection later); you could instead decide to play several short games. This allows some players to sit out (and look after the kids) or simply have a rest from playing games. However, be aware that if you are playing multiple games, some of your friends will take the opportunity to arrive late and/or leave early, so be prepared for the disruptions that those arrivals and departures can cause.

If you are going to be playing a complicated game on game night, send the rules to your guests in advance with links to play-through videos so that they can see what the game is all about. Board Game Geek is a great resource for this and all the games you are likely to be playing will be listed there with rule books, pictures of what game play looks like, video reviews (which usually include a short how-to-play summary) and detailed play-through videos. In some instances, you might find that you can play the game online on Tabletopia or Board Game Arena. Spending some time in advance to learn the game will make the game night more enjoyable. So, my top tip concerning time is to spend some time to learn the rules of the games you will be playing.

Having gone to all the effort of sending out the links and maybe even printing the rules for everyone, try not to lose it when someone fails to do their homework. Try to be sympathetic as they reveal their excuse, and then decide whether they would really do any homework in the future. My wife is someone who refuses to read a rulebook or watch a game video in advance. Worse yet, she refuses to sit in and listen while I explain the rules of a game. Needless to say, knowing that information in advance helps to identify what games we will be playing, and who you will or will not be inviting.


In practice, I keep food and games as far apart as possible. I have horrible memories of game boards and cards being covered in barbeque sauce when food was accidentally dropped onto the table in the middle of a three hour game. When that happens, pieces are moved around and after the clean-up, no one can remember where those pieces went. Game abandoned!

If you come over to my place, I am probably making a starter, a main course, and desert. When the meal is over, we will clear the table and game night begins. However, if the weather is warmer (and we have that early Saturday start), then I will probably have a barbeque, but in any case, all the food is removed before we sit down for game night. And just before we begin, I ensure that everyone has had a wipe to clean their hands.

But let us take a step back. How do you want to approach the food this game night? My dad was a chef, and he told me once that inviting someone over for dinner was effectively telling those people that you loved them. Why else would you willing spend hours in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove preparing food for those people? I would not necessarily agree with those sentiments but if you are having friends over, you have to decide how incidental the food is going to be.

I have been to game nights where the food was almost a pit stop, and the games dominated the evening. At other times, we have had so much fun eating dinner that we never got around to playing any games. On of those nights, the dinner was so late in coming to the table (because the host did not get her oven timings right) that by the time dinner was over, we all had to leave to get back home.

On the other hand, I have a friend who gladly mixes food and games. He sets up a buffet at one end of the room. There are little nibbles (olives, cheese, mini pork pies, cold cuts, scotch eggs, etc), and some small baguettes and various spreads so that you can make yourself a sandwich if you want. He also uses paper plates and plastic utensils. When you are through, you just dump all the rubbish in the big bin next to the buffet table. There are no restrictions on bringing any food to the table, but then again, nothing on his menu would cause a sticky mess if it dropped onto the table. The worst that can happen (and what normally does happen) is that the game table gets covered in breadcrumbs, but these are easily brushed off. He also avoids any oily foods (like pizza) and foods that are covered in any kind of sauce as those are the most dangerous foods to bring to the game table.

Needless to say, be sure to check for dietary requirements. My wife is allergic to gluten, and my sister in laws are respectively vegan, vegetarian and lactose intolerant. So, all these have to be catered for. Worst yet, I do not eat seafood, so those prawn cocktail rings may look good, but I will not be having any…

You could, alternatively, just have everyone bring something to eat, but that is something that I have always found to be randomly hit or miss, with misses occurring far more frequently than they should. Those are usually the times that someone brings something that is difficult to eat with a knife and fork, so you are forced to use your fingers, and inevitably, it gets dropped on your game board. But whatever you decide about food, be sure to tell your guests what your plans are so that they know what to expect. You don’t want someone coming over expecting to be fed, when all you have planned to offer is dessert. Nor do you want someone thinking that all they are going to do is play games all night, so they decide to eat before attending, only to find out upon arrival that you have a prepared a three course meal.

How To Remove Red Wine Stains

You will notice that I have not said anything about drinks. In my experience, so long as there are no children at the table, I do not see spilt drinks as a danger. Having said that, I notice that professional game tables have cup holders, so their manufacturers see drinks at the table as both essential and a threat. My only advice there is to avoid paper cups. Anything that is top heavy or flimsy is easily knocked over.

Glass bottles and most drinking glasses are usually bottom heavy and stable. If you have any doubt, put your empty receptable on your game table and bump it. If it falls over then do not use it. Needless to say, if you have a solid gaming table and bumping the table does nothing to a paper cup, then you are in luck. But if you have a very flimsy table and a bump would knock over a glass tumbler, you really need to reinforce that table… In any case, as the host, you should try and find out what people drink (or will be drinking) and try to stock up on these. And as a guest, just in case the host has not bought enough, always take something that you would like to drink.

For a long game night, your guests will probably need a bit of energy boosting. For this, I provide some fruit (apples and bananas) and candies (peanut M&Ms, a tub of Celebrations, and/or jellybeans). I avoid things like crisps, nachos, and dips because they are eaten using your fingers, and this can often lead to cards that are stained by the seasonings in the crisps, nachos, and dips. I know some people prefer to take a mid-game break for a dessert. If do this, make sure to use your next player marker (if applicable). There have been times when we have taken a dessert break and when we got back to the table, we could not remember who is turn it was.

If it is poker night, we usually open a fresh pack of cards and then throw them out at the end of the night, if the players have been especially rough with them. More specifically, there are some people who try to riffle shuffle cards but mostly just succeed in bending the cards. This is not an issue with playing cards as a badly distorted pack can easily be replaced before a new game begins.

But if you are handling the cards for someone’s (expensive) game, you should be respectful of the deck and only overhand shuffle the cards. I mention this now because, if you are worried about sticky fingers on cards, you should consider buying sleeves for those cards. It makes the cards more slippery (and a sleeved deck may not always fit in the original box), but you can be more relaxed about getting stains on your cards and overhand shuffles are a dream. So, if someone has bought out a game and you see sleeved cards, immediately think that these cards are to be handled respectfully, and do not treat them as disposable.


The location may seem an obvious choice, but which room are we hosting game night? The living room? The dining room? The conservatory? The basement? Many possibilities, but would they all be equally suitable? For example, your dining room might be your preferred choice, but with a big table in the middle of the room, you may not be able to accommodate as many people as the living room. Or the living room might be ideal (as you will not need a table), but there is a Christmas tree and decorations in the way so there will not be as much room there for people to stand up and perform. Or you might use the living room for a party game while the dining room is being set up for the next game.

It might be the case that you are not the one with the biggest (or most suitable) room. So, who is? When I was in grad school, most of us were living in one bedroom flats or cramp student accommodations, but one of us (not me, but a friend from Holland) managed to get a room in a huge house where the kitchen was large enough to seat 20 around a centre breakfast island, and the dining room was perfect for every game that you could think of.

So, game nights were always held at his place (while the owners were away), and the only thing I had to do was make something extra for the owners (usually a cake or quiche). I always took care of the catering and Hans provided the accommodation, and at the end of the night, it was up to everyone else to help clean up. Again, this was effortless as the owners had an industrial dishwasher, so pots, pans, dishes, glasses and all the cutlery went into the machine.

When it was all finished, Hans put everything back in its place. This was an ideal setup, and I loved the game nights that we had there. So let me introduce the first rule that all guests should follow – always leave the place cleaner than it was when you arrived. Never leave without offering to help.

I genuinely do not mind if my dining room is a tip when everyone leaves game night. I simply do not have the capacity or the space to clean up everything and put it all away in one evening. So, after the food has been put away, the kitchen is piled high with used plates, glasses, and cutlery. I have a small dishwasher, so I will need a few cycles to work my way through the list. Some plates are too big for the dishwasher (and I prefer to hand wash my crystal glasses), so these will have to be done by hand.

I will deal with all that tomorrow, but I will be sure to arrange everything so that I have a bit of clear counter space to use tonight. To handle the excess, I usually leave some of the plates in the dining room on a small table, and even though I tell the guests to leave the plates there, many guests insist on “helping” by clearing the plates in the dining room. They bring them into the kitchen and place them in the only available counter space.

Through gritted teeth, I am forced to thank them, but once they leave, the first thing I will do is move those plates back into the dining room. This leads me to revise the first rule - always leave the place cleaner than it was when you arrived, but always respect the host’s requests and house rules.

But the size of the room is only one consideration. Will the table be big enough? There are some games that take up a lot of table space (Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy is one that instantly springs to mind). The image you see here is the space used by one player. Each player will need an area of about one meter wide by half a meter deep. And that is excluding any additional area that they would need to put down their drinks.

Then there is access to all the extras – lighting, sound and any IT requirements. For example, in some games, you will need to read the text on cards, player aids and/or rulebooks and the lighting in the room may not be adequate for all the players to be able to do that. Lighting is especially important if some of your gamers are colourblind. In a well-lit room, colour differences stand out better. For example, there are some games that have orange and yellow meeples, and in poor lighting, that difference in colour can be hard to identify, and I am not colourblind.

Or you may have to play a real time game that has a soundtrack and while that may sound acceptable on your phone’s speakers, it would sound way better if you could push that track through your expensive Hi-Fi system, or at least an external Bluetooth speaker. And speaking of sound, are you going to playing any background music? Can you even play music in that room?

You might be playing a game that uses an app (like Mansions of Madness: 2nd edition). Do you have a tablet handy so that you can install the app, and have you tested it to make sure that it works? How long is the game and how long does the battery last? Do you have the charger? Can you keep it plugged in? And remember, some games just have to be installed on a phone, tablet, or laptop, while others need internet access to work. If you have a game that has an app, make sure you know which of these is the case.

At the other end of the scale, you might be playing a game that uses dry wipe markers. These are terrible to store, and you might find that they work fine one day and the next they are dried out because the cap was not put on properly. So, make sure you have plenty of spares. Extra pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, and post-it note pads are always handy.

Many people will arrive expecting Wi-Fi access and charging stations for their phones. Can you handle that? I usually have a 60w USB charger by the drinks cabinet and it has six USB ports so that multiple users can plug in their phones without having to search for an outlet. I assume that people will carry their own charging cables, but just in case they do not, I have spares (and adapters).

There are a lot of issues to consider about the location of the game night, and hopefully, I have covered most of them. However, you might consider using one of the function rooms at your local pub. In my experience, if you will be ordering from the bar, you can usually hire the rooms for free; it is only if you are going to be providing your own food and drinks that they will charge you. But be sure to check those facilities ahead of time to confirm that they are suitable for a game night. And be prepared for a sudden cancellation! I once had a room booked at a pub, but someone decided to hold a wake in that room, so with less than 24 hours notice, we got bumped.


Up to now, the issues of having people over for a game night are not that different to those of having people over to dinner. But why are you having a game night? A friend of mine considers himself a gamer, but he only has one game in his collection, and when you come over to his place, you have to play that game. But because he is an expert at that game, he always wins. Not only does he win, but he wins by a huge margin. Not only does he win by a huge margin, but he also takes great pleasure in pointing out all the mistakes that people make. I do not enjoy the experience. Who would?! So, if your reason for holding a game night is to play a game that only you are an expert at, then count me out. If we are all experts in the game, then that is different, and I know it is going to be a great night.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, are you getting a group together to play that new game you bought? If so, you really need to read the rulebook, watch the play-throughs and act as a game master (or at least, nominate someone who can take on that role). There is nothing worse than going to someone’s house and watching them open a brand new game and read the rulebook for the first time.

Thankfully, this usually only happens with party games, so the rules are pretty straight forward to pick up. However, I remember once going to someone’s house and they had just bought Root. If you are not familiar with the game, it is a very asymmetric game with one faction (or player) functioning very differently to another. Because of this, the game is exceedingly difficult to get into because unlike other games, you are not all trying to do the same thing and each player effectively has his own set or rules.

Fortunately, when Guy opened the box and saw there was a 16 page rule book (with no pictures), he realized he had made a big mistake. So we did not even attempt to play the game… But explaining the rules is not just reading the rulebook aloud to your fellow players. If you want to see how it should be done, I cannot recommend highly enough the videos produced by Rodney Smith (Watch It Played on YouTube). He is able to explain games in a very clear manner, and he really has set the gold standard for how games should be explained to new players. Watch any of his videos and you will see what you should be aiming for.

But I digress. Why are you having a game night again? Because it will be fun?! YES! That is what a game night should be. You have taken care of the games, the food, the timings, the location, and the players, and you are ready. But all of this can be exhausting (especially if this is the first one you have organized). The key question is how will all these people behave on the night? What will the interactions be like? When my brothers and I play board games you can smell the testosterone in the air. Every move you make is mocked and has to be defended. It is loud and it is all in good fun, and I love that. On the other hand, most of my friends are very quiet during game nights – they almost seem to be afraid to make a mistake.

When sitting at a table for a meal, you get an insight into a person, but they are nonetheless very restricted by the context. So, you may get to see their bad table manners (e.g., I cannot help but want to eat with my fingers and I eat very quickly), but you are not really going to see another side of them. However, when you sit down to play games with people, their inner gamers come out and sometimes that is a genie you wish you had not let out of the bottle. Let us look at some of the troublemakers.

The inseparable couple. In competitive (as opposed to cooperative) games, everyone plays as an individual against everyone else. With an inseparable couple, they naturally play to help one another. For example, taking a card in one round and then later passing it to their partner.

Or not taking a card that they should so their partner could have it. They are not cheating; they are just acting as a team. It is not really fair to the other players, but fortunately, this approach rarely results in either one of them winning. Part of the reason is because their attention is drawn away from their own cards, as they are also trying to think what cards they could give their partner. It’s usually more of a distraction, but if you’re playing something like Bohnanza, then that partnership will ruin the game experience. In general, if you have one of these in your group, try to avoid any games that feature negotiation as a game mechanism. Or at the very least, make sure that they are separated in turn order at both ends by at least one other player.

The couple with very young children. Playing games when the parents are playing but the children are not has always been a nightmare experience for me (and others at the table). Sometimes, the couple will act as a single player, so that the duties of looking after the children is split, and that has less of an impact on the rest of the players. But in most games, this presents a problem because the new player has not experienced the flow of the game, and often needs to be reminded of the rules.

So, just as the game is coming to a climactic end, you have to explain what the icons mean and what the possible actions are. To minimize that impact, you want to avoid long involved games, and rely on shorter games so that one half can play the first game and the other half plays the second game. Or, play games that have frequent player elimination like One Night Ultimate Werewolf so that both players can start the game, but the first one to be eliminated has to go look after the kids. In many cases, when this couple is the host, you really do not start game night until the kids are safely in their beds.

The alpha. Sometimes mistakenly called the bully, this is the person who needs to take control. So, in a cooperative game, he (or she) is the one who tries to direct the actions of all the other players. The biggest problem with this person is the unwillingness to listen to other players. It is even worse when there are multiple alphas at the table. All of them will be vying for control and will often disagree with a choice of action simply because it was not their idea. Who the alphas will be on a game night is not always predictable. I have been at games where one person who had played the game a few times online became impatient with the poor decisions that other novice players were making and decided to take control and tell them what to do. He literally took each player’s hand and told them what cards they should play.

The paralyzed analyst. Analysis paralysis (AP) is the bane of many complicated games. A player can find themselves with many actions to choose from, but they are incapable of quickly deciding which action to take next. Or perhaps worse, they will sit there calculating all the possible results of their action and just bring the game to a dead halt. You could try to avoid games that are known to suffer from AP (Five Tribes is one such game that instantly comes to mind). However, what I have found to be most effective is a little sand timer (90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on what you have available). In the interest of fairness, you have to enforce this time limit for all players. This added pressure will make the decision process more intense and difficult for those that suffer from AP, but at least, it will minimize the excessive dead time that AP normally causes.

The sour puss. An important part of playing most games is going with the spirit of the game. I really like playing games that involve role playing, story telling, negotiation and/or bluffing, and as part of these, I will often wear silly hats (or introduce the wearing of silly hats as part of the game). As an example, take Reigns: The Council. When we play this game, I ask the current king/queen to wear a crown, and all the players have to sell their selection with a story.

I have played games where some of the players simply refused to wear the crown and played their selection to the table with a minimalist description of what was on the back of the card. That just kills the game for all the others who have entered into the spirit of the game. Given that we have gathered to have fun, there is no reason for being a sour puss at the table.

I vividly remember a game of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong where the sour puss kept trying to spoil the game for everyone. Specifically, at the start of a round, the players are all asked to close their eyes, and then the murderer is asked to open their eyes. While this is happening, the sour puss [who was not the murderer] tried to sneak a peak at who the actual murderer was. On a later date, another sour puss tried to sneak a peak at who the werewolves were in One Night Ultimate Werewolf. As a final example, although by now you get the idea, we were playing a game whose main mechanic was worker placement, and this sour puss did not like worker placement games. He spent the whole time complaining and trying to ruin the game for everyone. Do not be a sourpuss!

There are many other player stereotypes (e.g., the phone addict and the silent witness) that I could mention, but these are the major ones that can break a game night. The point is that while the group might make good dinner party guests, they will not necessarily gel as a game night group. So when you are gathering a group for the very first time, don’t be surprised if some games you previously enjoyed don’t go over as well as they had previously.


So, what games should we play for our game night? That is actually a very specific question, and to answer it, I will need a bit more information. In fact to answer your question, let’s go to Board Game Geek (BGG) and fill in their advanced search page.

Here are the categories we need to fill in.

Minimum Age. If some of the players are children, then you will need to know their ages. Sometimes a higher minimum age is required because of the complexity of the game, but other times, it is just the subject matter or graphics that require a more mature player (or at least parental approval). If there are only adults at the table, you can skip this entry.

Average User Rating. Games are rated from 1 to 10, so let us narrow our range to games that are above average. I would advise sticking to a minimum of 6. I also advise that you limit yourself to games that have at least 100 user ratings. Anything less than that and the games are either very new, or at least they are unlikely to be available at your friendly neighbourhood game store.

Average Gameplay Weight Range. In simple terms, weight indicates how heavy (difficult) a game is. But the concept of difficulty is relative. The most complex games are war games, and if you are used to playing those games, everything else is easy. Conversely, if you have only played Monopoly, a lot of games are going to appear very complex.

So, as BGG ratings are input by game players at both ends of the spectrum (and everything in-between), many gamers question the validity of weight as an indicator of difficulty. Nonetheless, it is the best approximation that we have for difficulty. If you have played a few games, you can look these up on BGG and see what their weights are and use those values as a guide. Generally speaking, games below 2 are easier, and games above 3 are harder. So, I would advice inputting an upper bound of 3, but again restricting yourself to games with at least 100 weight ratings.

Number of Players Range. Here input the number of players that will be at the table. Input both a minimum and a maximum number. However, be warned, a game might say “Plays 1-5” on the box (which is what is searched), but most of the community may agree that it is best played with only 2-3. So be sure to check what the consensus player range is on the game specific page.

Min Playing Time. If you want to, input a minimum playing time. Usually, short games are quick to explain, but not always.

Max Playing Time. If you want to, input a maximum playing time. Usually, long games take longer to explain, but not always.

That is all you have to fill in. Now hit the Submit button on the bottom of the page and await your game suggestions.

As an example, I asked BGG to suggest games for four players (max=min=4) that take between 30 minutes and 2 hours to play, that are rated at least 6.0 and have a weight no higher than 3. After a few milliseconds, BGG came back with a list of over 1000 games.

The first thing to notice when you have your list is the ranking. Of the top 25 games on BGG from my search, only three have a difficulty of 3 or less. This was strictly not true as number 19 on the list (which was 7 Wonders Duel) had a weight of 2.22, but that game is a 2 players only game.

Of the 10 games that it had listed for me, I only own Viticulture and the Castles of Burgundy, and I think they are both great games. However, both games have long rulebooks – one is 16 pages long and the other 20 – and they are almost 3 in complexity. In fact, there are only two games on my given list that are not close to 3 in complexity - Wingspan (2.45) and Cascadia (1.84).

This table is only the start of my analysis. You will notice that the list does not show you the game times. So, I would now go to the individual game pages and make a note the playing time, the weights, and the best player counts. That will add three columns to the above table, and then I would have to find out which of these games are in stock at Zatu and at what prices.

However, looking at this list of games, I wonder if it might be a bit too heavy for a first ever game night. So, let me take a step back. Let us do the same analysis as before, but this time restrict the weight to a max of 2. The new list now looks like this

I extended the list to include the top 15 games, as I am much happier with this list of suggestions (for a group of 4). Unfortunately, they are all short games that you can play in under an hour. So, if you want something that plays longer (or a little bit heavier), you know what to do.

I have not gone through all the combinations, but hopefully, I have given you enough information so that you can go to BGG and generate an initial list of games. However, I should point out that this search page has additional options from which you can choose. For example, you can choose a game category (bluffing games, dice games, card games, etc) as well as any preferred game mechanisms (deduction, deck construction, trick taking, etc). And all of these have exclusion options, so you can say you really do not want to play any war games, or games that involve killing or stealing.

In fact, you can start your game search with something that is very specific – a spy themed game with a hidden victory points. Don’t be surprised if some combinations result in a null list. There are certain genres that play better at specific player counts, are more complicated than what you would like and/or run longer or shorter than you would prefer.

Once you have that shortlist, you then have to start looking at the games in more detail. For example, let us say that you were looking for a racing game. On the list I got, you have three racing games – the Quest for Eldorado, Flamme Rouge and Camel Up. I would also add Jamaica to this list.

However, as it only comes in on BGG at 547, it did not make the top 15 list above. Anyway, the next thing to do is watch a video review of each of these games. They will talk you through the game and you can see what appeals to you. You might like slicing through the jungles in the Quest for Eldorado, or prefer the bicycle racing theme of Flamme Rouge, or relish the silliness of camel racing in Camel Up, or have ambitions of sailing the open seas as a pirate in Jamaica.

You might prefer the simple deck building of the Quest for Eldorado to the simultaneous action selection of Flamme Rouge and Jamaica, or the betting in Camel Up. All of these are really accessible games which are very easy to set up and play.

Personally, I like Quest for Eldorado for its deck building, Camel Up for the betting, and Flamme Rouge and Jamaica for the simultaneous action selection (one of my favourite mechanisms). But if I had to choose just one, I would give the edge to Jamaica for it’s artwork and pirate theme. That being said, there’s new car racing game on the market called Heat: Petal to the Metal. I have not played it, but all the reviewers say it is their favourite racing game. And finally, if you want to bet on the races, there’s another new game I would recommend called Long Shot: The Dice Game.

Given a short list, you need to find out how long does it take to set up the game? How much table space does it require? How long does it take to explain the rules? How long does it take to pack the game away? Note that sometimes the take down time is not the same as the setup time! In some games, it is super fast to put the game away because all the components go back neatly into the box; in these instances, the set-up time and the take down time are the same. But in some card games, where the cards begin in separate stacks but end up all together at the end, you have to sort through all the cards to separate them out into their initial stacks.

Even if they are marked on the back, it still takes time to sort them. Do not think that you can sort them out when you next bring out the game, because all that you are going to do is add to the next set-up time, and you really want to keep that to a minimum. If you have the space, you could just loosely put everything back into the box and move it out of the room to be sorted out later, but be very careful as you might lose a piece in the process. The importance of the setup and take down time cannot be understated. There are a lot of good games that just don’t make it to the table as often as they should because it takes a lot of time to set them up.

If you have a large group and you do not want too many people at the game table while you set up [or take down], you could have those who aren’t helping you play a party game in another room.

One of my favourites is Decrypto. The box says it plays 3-8, but BGG says it plays best at 4 or 6. You really just need to break up the group into two teams. One person on each team is the sender and the rest of the team are the receiver. Each team has a screen with four words on it (let us say my screen had disco, finger, pants, and ice). Everyone on your team is aware of the words on your screen, but you have no clue about the four words on the opposing side. As the sender, I draw a code card that gives me a three digit number code that I need my receiver to guess. The digits correspond to the first second third or fourth word on my screen. So, the number 4-1-2 corresponds to the fourth word, the first word and the second word. If my clue was “cold hot gold”, you should be able to guess (correctly) that the code is 4-3-2.

However, before my team can make a guess, the opposing team has a chance. In the very first round, they have no idea what the words are, so this initial guess is really stab in the dark. But we will be using the same set of words for the entire game, so as the game progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to give clues that are not obvious to the opposing team. If you guess the opponent’s code, you get a white token. If your team does not guess the code, you get a black token. Your team wins once they get two white tokens, or your team loses once they get two black tokens.

The nice thing about Decrypto is that you can stop it after each team has had a turn, and you can come back to it and resume the game later. You can then rotate the roles of sender and receiver. There is also a note sheet (not shown above) that allows you to keep track of the words and the codes that have been used so far, so it is easy to resume the game even after a long break. Obviously, the members of the teams cannot switch sides.

In many games, there are player aids to help with the iconography or the actions that you can take on your turn. In some games, these are simply shown somewhere in the rulebook (or on the one player aid that came with the game). To help everyone, I advise that you print out these player aids (or the relevant part of the rulebook) so that everyone has a copy to reference. This allows all the players to read the pages, without having to wait their turn if multiple people ask for it. Be sure to look at the files section for the game on BGG. Sometimes, a game won’t come with a player aid (and you’ll wish it did), but in all likelihood, someone on BGG will have decided to make one up. Moreover, they are usually sized so that they fit in the game box.

Another top tip is to replace any game money with poker chips. Money is one of those things that can take time to sort (especially if it is the thin paper bills that you find in older games). Poker chips are very easy to stack and sort, and they feel great at the table. In some games, the amount of money that each player has is out in the open, but you can’t tell how much they have when it’s just a stack of bills. With poker chips, how much each player has is very easy to see. You can usually get away with 5 colours, but be sure to read the game rules carefully. In some games, the money is strictly controlled, so you need exactly five 10s, twelve 20s, etc, and/or the total amount of money available is fixed.

If that’s not the case, you just need to tell everyone how much each chip is worth. In every game in my collection where I can use poker chips, there is a laminated tent card in the box that tells you the value of each chip (so the picture on the card shows a red chip with a 1 in the centre, a white chip with a 5 in the centre, a blue chip with a 10 in the centre, etc). On the inside of the card is written how much money every player starts off with.

Usually, a specific combination of chips is also mentioned. For those awkward games that come with specific combinations (of more than 5 denominations), you can buy extra poker chips with recesses and print labels to go into the recess. You then store these extra chips in the game box, and you’re ready to go. In my copy of Decrypto, I replaced the black and white cardboard coins with black and white poker chips with matching inserts, and these look great.

But let’s take a step back. As you have been looking through the games, you had specific requirements in mind – number of players, complexity, and time. So now is the time to decide how many games you want to play. You’ve chosen your first one. Is that enough? You might decide you want to work your way through three or four legends of Legends of Andor. Each game will take between 60 and 90 minutes, and you have four people willing to play as well. That’s really game night taken care of.

But what if your chosen game wasn’t a success. Inkognito is one of my family’s favourite games. When my brothers and I play it, there’s a lot of winking and ear pulling (you need to read the rules to understand), and a lot of laughing. But I bought the game out recently for my friends and it just crashed and burned. The people at the table just sat their trying to solve the logic puzzle. I was bored and I could see that they were bored, so after 30 minutes or so (it’s a 90 minute game), I said “This is boring.” and put the game away.

There were no objections as I did that, so my suspicions were confirmed. So, after all the high hopes I had for this game, it was a huge flop. These people weren’t at all being sour pusses, this just wasn’t the game for them. So, if you bring out a game like Legends of Andor and you sense that it’s not going over well, don’t be afraid to pull the plug and dump the game. That’s also why I ask people to look at the rulebook and play throughs. There are many games that sound great and look great on the table, but they are not for me or my game group.

That’s why I chose a racing game as my starting game. It’s light and energizing. Doing something more challenging at the start is a gamble, unless you really know your game group’s likes and dislikes. So, if we sit down to play Legends of Andor, and it’s a flop, then I’m putting it away and bringing out Jamaica, Decrypto and/or Camel Up. Always have a plan B!

The next game could be a step up in complexity, or a change of pace. So after a racing game, the next game could be something like Wingspan or Cascadia. Or you could try something like The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. This is a cooperative trick-taking game, and everyone who had played it just keeps saying “Let’s play again!”

However, I have to warn you (and this is especially true of card games) that you should try and match the trick taking experience levels of the players. If you have someone who is an expert with someone who is a novice in the game, the obvious mistakes that the novice makes will just ruin the experience for the expert. You sometimes get the expert trying to help out the novice by explaining the mistake they just made, but it all sounds so condescending. If you have a novice crew (pun intended), start from the very beginning. If you have an expert crew, start with the more difficult tasks.

As the host of this first game night, you’re trying to predict the composition of your game group. Who is going to cause a problem? How can I mitigate their impact? What kind of games can I play with them? How complicated can I get? How much time do I have? Do I have enough backup games?

But the important thing to remember (above all else) is that you are all there to have fun, and you don’t want to be the one to ruin it for everyone else. So as the host, you have to relax and take everything in your stride. Accept the fact that those people you get on great with at work are just terrible gamers. And as a guest, you need to go with the flow. So what if you lost every game you played. If everyone follows these rules, everyone will walk away hoping that they will be invited to the next game night.

Roll those dice, baby!