The Bringer of Games: What I've learned from Attending and Hosting Game Nights
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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To celebrate being active on the Geek for a full year, I thought I'd share the few things I've learned from my reasonable stock of Game Night experiences.

Feel free to add your own pearls of wisdom if I've missed anything!
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1. Board Game: For the People [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:497]
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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"Watch, but do not govern; stop war, but do not wage it; protect, but do not control; and first, survive!" - Cordwainer Smith
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A Matter of Taste: Know your Audience

If you're as lucky as I am and have a handful of different gaming groups, then it's important to gauge what people like and don't like. As a bit of a worry-wart, I always ask for feedback during and after a game, and tend to be a bit uncomfortable if it seems like people aren't having fun. The result of this is twofold:

- I satisfy myself that people are actually enjoying themselves, which is what a Game Night is all about.
- I get to know what sort of games people like and don't like.

It's this second point that's most important. I can't tell you how many times I've lugged around a giant bag of games only to have the group insist on playing another round of Bang! while 90% of my other offerings languish.

By getting an idea of what each group likes to play, you can save yourself the trouble of overloading yourself with games. And by getting to know what each group likes to have as standbys, you can make more informed decisions about what new games to float their way.

Case in point, I was surprised to learn that a few of my good friends weren't all that hot on Citadels after a game or two. Though I was a bit saddened, it helped me to *not* try to introduce them to the similar Witches Brew (also an excellent game) and other role-selection games, and as a result we've had many good game nights exploring other avenues (Biblios has been a big hit, to my satisfaction).
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2. Board Game: Events [Average Rating:4.48 Unranked]
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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A Matter of Taste: Know your Event

If the night in question is one that you're not personally hosting, there are a number of questions you should ask: What kind of gathering is this going to be? A group of small friends? A large one? Will the focus be food and drink? Socializing? Hard-core cube-pushing Eurogames? Getting answers to all of these questions will help you pick games accordingly.

As a hardcore gamer, one of my pet peeves is a host/hostess who insist that everyone should be involved if we play a game. This is fine for a small gathering, but once your numbers grow beyond 6, then your choice of games becomes limited in scope.

This is by no means a bad thing, as there are plenty of great party and social games that support a large group (Werewolf/Mafia, Charades, Wits and Wagers, Telestrations). But while you may be ready and willing to get a game of Puerto Rico to the table, remember that you are a guest and be prepared to go with the flow.

Again, getting info on the kind of gathering can help with what games you bring. If it's a more social gathering, bring games with high player interaction or low complexity (such that guests can enjoy each others company without frying their brains). If it's a large group of gamers, break out the auction or negotiation games. And if it's a small group of dedicated gamers, then roll out the Dominion or RftG expansions without fear.
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3. Board Game: Pack & Stack [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:1241]
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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A Matter of Time: Pack Accordingly

This ties in again with bringing games: know that even the most hardcore gamers get tired. It's like shopping when you're hungry; Sure, Hansa Teutonica, Caylus, El Grande and Power Grid all look like a lot of fun right now, but after playing one or maybe two of them, you'll want to take it easy.

Most of the more hardcore game nights I've attended have rarely gone beyond 4 hours (N.B., I am not a wargamer). By then, most folk are winding down for the night. At the absolute most, bring one heavy, one medium, and one light game, especially if others are planning on bringing their own games as well. That way, you'll have something to fall back on if, say, Joe just got a copy of Arkham Horror and really wants to get it to the table. Or if Jane really, really wants to try Alex's copy of Coloretto. Or if Ezra has never tried Ra: The Dice Game and you have a spare 20 minutes between games.

By having a small variety of game-lengths to choose from, you have a higher chance of getting something of yours to the table. Much like the "Know your Event" point listed above, be prepared to be flexible. Just because you didn't get to play your shiny new copy of Caylus Magna Carta tonight doesn't mean you wont get to play it next time! And besides, you might find that you really, really like Fairy Tale, which is something you wouldn't have done if you'd just sat glumly in the corner.
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4. Board Game: Time's Up! [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:235]
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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"Watch, but do not govern; stop war, but do not wage it; protect, but do not control; and first, survive!" - Cordwainer Smith
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A Matter of Time: Plan Accordingly

As in the previous point, know that people get tired. I know that sounds like a "No duh!" statement, but when you're initially high on the idea of 3 or 4 heavy Euros, you tend not to think about the fact that you expend energy to play games.

New and Heavier games should always be first on the docket. That way you get folk when they're fresh and eager and not drained after a particularly taxing game of Battlestar Galactica. Remember to add on a half-hour to 45 minutes to the playing time of a new game to account for getting people familiarized with it, and always lean on the longer side of listed playing times when planning ahead.

Be in favor of reducing game complexity as the night wears on, as people's energy levels will drop and brain function decline with fatigue (or drink, depending on the gathering). The Alameda Games group that I recently joined up with has the excellent practice of finishing up a game night with something like Wits and Wagers or Telestrations. This has the wonderful effect of bringing everyone back together for one last hurrah and giving folk a chance to unwind and laugh before calling it an evening.

In short, pay attention to those playtimes. You can only do so much in a Game Night, so plan accordingly.
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5. Board Game: Mindflex [Average Rating:4.98 Overall Rank:10037]
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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"Watch, but do not govern; stop war, but do not wage it; protect, but do not control; and first, survive!" - Cordwainer Smith
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A Matter of Fun: Be flexible

I know I've been harping on this for the past couple of entries (especially "Know your Event"), but I can't emphasize it enough. Keep your pulse on the group and be prepared to try different things.

By all means, if you've been waiting a while to try a new game, feel free to push your choice. People are interested in new games, but if you're part of the Cult of the New (like me), it won't be as often as you may like. You'll find the time and the people; be patient.

Until then, be flexible in the group's choices for games. Sure, you might play a few that you're not fond of, but do so in good humor, as other times you'll most decidedly find some awesome games you'd never thought of playing. You'll find yourself having more fun as a result.
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6. Board Game: Factory Fun [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:544]
James Keith
United States
San Leandro
California
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"Watch, but do not govern; stop war, but do not wage it; protect, but do not control; and first, survive!" - Cordwainer Smith
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A Matter of Fun: Don't get discouraged!

Not every game night is a sizzling success. Bad things can (and do) happen. One person's in a foul mood. Another complains through a game. You teach a new game to people but flub it (causing mass confusion), you teach a new game to people and nobody likes it, everyone leaves early due to carpooling issues. Point is, you'll have some stinkers: game nights that ended poorly, that petered out after an hour, or that never got off the ground.

Don't worry! You aren't a magical being who can whisk away troubles and make everything better. Just a guy (or gal) who likes playing games, along with your other friends and acquaintances. In general, the bad nights are infrequent, and for every hair-pulling experience, there's many more of discovering great games, wading deeper into beloved classics, and unforgettable "You remember that time when...?" sessions.

So be confident! Just because you had one failed or rocky game night doesn't mean the others will be the same. Keep at it and you'll have plenty of good times, great memories, and good friendships. Board gaming is a great social activity, and you'll be glad for all you get out of it the more you do it
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7. Board Game: A.B.C. Educational Cards [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Caitlyn Paget
Canada
Toronto
ON
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A Matter of Learning Curve: Plan for Repeats

Different people require different numbers of plays before they're understanding a game enough to create their own strategies. And different games also have varying learning curves.

Most players don't enjoy a game until they have the "aha!" moment where they figure out how to play to win.
So, make sure everyone gets enough plays of each game before they have to learn another.

For example, if you're only going to play a game once, then Agricola is a bad choice because it requires a few plays for player to get into it.
Or if you have a player that takes a long time to understand games (my inlaws are good examples of this), then you need to pick a game that you can play many days in a row without getting tired of it.
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8. Board Game: Patience [Average Rating:4.67 Overall Rank:10629]
Caitlyn Paget
Canada
Toronto
ON
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A Matter of Patience: Consider Your Teachers

Usually I do all the teaching of new games. So if it's a larger group that requires multiple games at once, then I need to select some games that everyone knows already, because teaching two games simultaneously is much more difficult!

A better solution is to bring games that other people can teach too, so that there are multiple teachers available.
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9. Board Game: Titan [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:508]
 
Peter Collins
Canada
Kitimat
British Columbia
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A MATTER OF ME: How about this one!

Now you need to start a geeklist entitled: "How to get the Friday night game group to play the game that I brought."

Great list, btw.
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10. Board Game: By the Numbers [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Marc Zukerman
United States
Rockville Centre
New York
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Too often I have hosted or attended a game night with a mix of games similar to the suggestions above and realized that I've brought a ton of games that all support the same number of players! "Hmm, so we have 5 people that all want to play together and I have Automobile, Lords of Vegas and Dominion (without extra cards). I have recently made an effort to take in number of players in addition to all of the above factors.
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11. Board Game: Fan Tan [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Marc Zukerman
United States
Rockville Centre
New York
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Know Your Venue

This goes in a number of different directions.

1. If the place you are playing has a bunch of smallish card tables, then don't bring those sprawling games like dungeon crawls and giant boards like Tales of the Arabian Nights.
2. If you are playing in someone's home or if you are playing in a public place such as a church or community center, bring games whose themes don't conflict with the venue's belief center (i.e. Hitler's War in a Jewish synagogue is probably in bad taste).
3. If you are playing in a public setting (e.g. a coffee house or park), beware of games with fiddly bits or those that might be subject to the elements (like cards in the wind).
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12. Board Game: Funny Friends [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1152]
Brian Peace
United States
Marietta
Georgia
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If you are hosting, you often need to sacrifice your needs for the needs of the group.

I have a friend who teaches games really well and I love playing games with him. The problem is that we sometimes have 6-10 people at our bi-monthly game day. I am the host, so if he and I are the only people who can teach the requested games, we can not play together for fear of leaving newer gamers hanging.

We get to play if there is a low turn out or if half the people want to play an easier game that one of us can teach and let go or that others have played and can handle explaining, but as host, the enjoyment of my guests must take precedence over my own personal wants.
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