Over the past few months, I've met up with colleagues several times for work board game night and even had my first experience of Dungeons and Dragons with a group of them. It turns out that board games are something that a lot of people are willing to have a go at and running an evening can create a fantastic social space for getting to know colleagues in an engaging alternative to a meal or an after-work pint.
However, getting from the idea phase to actually running a successful board game night for your colleagues can be a bit of a daunting prospect. I'm not claiming to be an expert, but I've learnt a few things over the past few months of organising multiple evenings. My hope is that, after reading this article, you'll be encouraged to give it a go.
The first step in planning a game night is to put out feelers to see how many people you could expect to turn up. At the end of the day, numbers will have a significant impact on the kind of event you can put on and the kind of games you'll likely end up playing.
For me, it was enough to have a conversation with just one other enthusiastic colleague to get the ball rolling. From there, we sent a Doodle poll round all the staff in our company of around 30 people to gauge wider interest and availability. With a date chosen by the majority, we then sent an all-staff invite.
In my workplace it was easy to do all that as it's a pretty relaxed environment and a random all-staff email for a social event wasn't weird. If you're company is a little more structured or you don't have a convenient messaging system, you may have to do a little more of the leg work yourself.
Whatever communication route you go down, my main tip here would be to be inclusive. Several people turned up to our first game night who I would never in a million years have expected to come, and they enjoyed it! If you want a good turn out, you can't afford to count people out, and you may be surprised by who comes along.
Choosing a Venue
With some idea of numbers in mind, the next step is to choose a venue. You need to look for somewhere that will comfortably hold everyone that wants to come along and give all of you space to relax, have fun and play games. Let's look at a few possible options.
If you work in an office where you have out of hours access, this might be a good option to consider for a larger group. Of course, you'll have to check with your management to make sure you won't be stepping on any toes and it won't work for every company, but for some people this will be the perfect option. While you might be limited on your capacity for food and drink and you'll probably have to arrange to bring games to work, the convenience of the location may encourage more people to attend who otherwise might have ducked out.
A Game-Friendly Pub or Bar
More and more pubs are friendly to board games nowadays, but you'll have to factor in the practicalities. If you have a place in mind, is it going to be big enough for everyone to play games without disrupting everyone else that's in the space? And is the environment clean enough that people will be happy to bring their own games?
If you're happy with the answers to these questions, then a pub can be a great venue, and will encourage many people to come for a drink even if they're unsure about the games.
A Board Game Cafe
This is the option I chose for my first work game night, as we have a great board game cafe five minutes from the office that's big, clean and serves great food and drinks. We booked in advance to make sure that our group of around 12 people could fit, and had all the games we could ever want at our disposal for a small price. The disadvantage is that everyone will need to pay for their time and, of course, not every place has a board game cafe local, but if you do it saves the hassle of having to provide games yourself.
The final option isn't one that we chose for the first board game nights, but it's happened since. Depending on the size of the group and how comfortable colleagues are with each other, meeting at a house could be a viable option. It means that someone, probably you, will have to shoulder the responsibility of hosting and letting work colleagues into your private space, but it's also likely to be a welcoming and comfortable environment.
If you're not sure about opening up your house in this way, however, don't feel like you need to. One of the other three options will be more than adequate in most cases.
Choosing the Games
The final key ingredient to a successful game night is choosing the right games. Depending on where you are and what your collection's like, you may have a wide choice or you might be quite limited. Either way, it's crucial to consider what your group might enjoy.
In a typical work group you might have a few people who are into heavier games, but you're much more likely to have people who are completely unfamiliar with the hobby. These are the people that you need to engage if you want the evening to work.
Party games are great to ease people into it, and don't be afraid to play familiar, mainstream games like Articulate to start relaxing people and having fun. These games might not be the favourites of people like you and me, but they work for big groups and help people to start having fun with one another.
There are plenty of great party games for groups. Social deduction games like The Resistance can work really well, especially if people are quite chatty, and other well-known games like Dixit and Codenames can also work really well.
Also, don't be afraid to split your group up into smaller chunks if you have a lot of people. This can be a way for heavier gamers to play something they enjoy, or it can make regular party games more manageable. If you're going to try this strategy, however, make sure there are people in each group who know the games that they're playing and can keep people on track.
This leads me onto a related point: the teaching. I don't have the space to go in-depth on teaching games to non-gamers (maybe I'll write another article on that at some point) but teaching the games well is really important. Whoever is teaching the game needs to be as clear and concise as possible, avoiding gamer jargon if there are non-gamers there.
Don't talk down to people and don't worry if you have to go over things a couple of times. If you think your group is ready then jump in as fast as you can, but don't be afraid to take it slower if that's what's needed to keep everyone on board.
Finally, try to relax and have some fun yourself. A work gaming night shouldn't be another stressful thing to slot into your calendar, it should be something that you can enjoy as much as everyone else who's there.
If you have other gamers at work, get them involved as much as possible to support you and remember that your plan for the evening is not the most important thing; what really matters is that everyone has a good night out.