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Author Diary: How to Host a Game Night

Erik Arneson
United States
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Author of HOW TO HOST A GAME NIGHT (available now!) from Tiller Press
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From gallery of arneson
I love game nights.

This is BoardGameGeek, so that comes as no surprise, right? Pretty much everyone here loves game nights.

For me, a great game night (or game event) can be a quiet evening at home with my wife Beth, a few hours at the local game cafe, a daylong get-together where several dozen friends compete in our self-proclaimed Battleball World Championship, a weekend with a couple hundred like-minded gamers, or a massive affair such as PAX Unplugged or Gen Con... I love them all.

Beth and I have organized everything from small game nights up to ten-day events in which our gaming group took over an entire bed and breakfast. Each kind of gathering has its own charm and its own challenges, and sometimes it would've been very helpful to have a how-to guide nearby.

Which brings me to October 2019, when I started talking to Tiller Press about the project that would become How to Host a Game Night: What to Serve, Who to Invite, How to Play — Strategies for the Perfect Game Night.

Quick aside: Tiller Press is a cool imprint at Simon & Schuster that publishes books like these, with both of the following titles due out in 2021: Planning Your Escape: Strategy Secrets to Make You an Escape Room Superstar by L.E. Hall and The Cheap Handyman: True (and Disastrous) Tales from a Home Improvement Expert Guy Who Should Know Better by B.S. Harris.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
My editor at Tiller Press, Hannah Robinson, and I brainstormed about what How to Host a Game Night would include, how it would be organized, and who I should reach out to for interviews — basically, all the things you have to do before writing a nonfiction book. (Hannah is terrific to work with, and she's very familiar with the gaming world; she's as comfortable talking about Gloomhaven as she is word counts.)

We decided to structure the book by the size of the group that the reader would be hosting for game night, so the first few chapters focus on issues you're more likely to face when organizing small groups — things like setting expectations, explaining game rules, ensuring group chemistry, and preparing game-friendly food and drink. Later chapters get into the nitty-gritty of organizing game days and small game conventions in which you need to do things like find a venue and negotiate a contract, collect entry fees, and establish a code of conduct.

While How to Host a Game Night includes plenty of practical tips and advice about hosting game nights, we agreed from the outset that it should be much more than that. It's also packed with stories about game nights — many humorous and some serious.

And although I have a lot of experience with game nights, both hosting and attending, we didn't want the book to read like a monologue; it needed to include many voices. To accomplish that, I reached out to people here on BoardGameGeek (including forum discussions and GeekMail), on Twitter, on Facebook, and by email.

I also created a Google Form where people could tell me what they love about game nights — and what they would be happy to never see at another game night ever again.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
In all, I heard from more than 100 people, including gamers from places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Seattle, Washington; Cleveland, Ohio; Lafayette, Louisiana; West Lafayette, Indiana; Burlington, Vermont; Omaha, Nebraska; Salem, Massachusetts; Peachtree Corners, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Boise, Idaho; the Twin Cities in Minnesota; Vancouver, British Columbia; Derby, Ipswich, and Sheffield in the United Kingdom; Dublin, Ireland; Melbourne and Sydney in Australia; and so many others.

Nearly all of the survey responses were received before COVID-19 was officially classified as a pandemic. Bearing that in mind, and recognizing that this was a non-scientific survey answered by a self-selecting group of gamers, I think the answers are fascinating.

When asked how often they host game night, 34.9 percent of respondents said at least once a week, 44.4 percent said several times a month or once a month, while the remainder said less than once a month.

How many people attend these game nights? Glad you asked. The single most popular answer was 4 people, although the range was from 1 to 120. This was an open-ended question, and most people provided a range — the bulk of the ranges were between 2 and 10.

All this gaming has to take place somewhere, and it's mostly at home. A full 84.1 percent of respondents said they host game nights at home. (For this multiple-choice question, people could choose more than one answer, and they had the option to add their own.) Game stores and game cafes were the second most popular answer, followed by libraries and community centers. Other answers included churches, hotel conference rooms, and local restaurants.

My favorite survey question was this: "What's your favorite game night memory?"

The responses were all over the lot, and I loved them all. Some were game-specific ("The successful completion of a scenario in Journeys in Middle-earth because we all worked together and there was a great feeling of teamwork.") while others focused more on the relationships that game nights can build. ("I met many of my best friends at a Halloween game night back in 2007. I knew right away I'd be friends with them for a long time. We still get together regularly.")

Many people said they couldn't pick only one great memory. You can count me in that category, although playing all the way through Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 over the course of a single weekend was unbelievable fun, I've never played a game of Time's Up! that didn't result in uproarious laughter, and if you set any of the Betrayal games on the table (Betrayal Legacy, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, and Scooby Doo! Betrayal at Mystery Mansion), I'll practically beg to join.

Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill
Board Game: Betrayal Legacy
Board Game: Betrayal at Mystery Mansion
How to trap an Erik...

For the chapter on two-player game nights, I reached out to relationship experts, including Dr. Karen Melton, a Baylor University professor studying the impact of playing games on interpersonal relationships; Dr. Terri Orbuch, known as The Love Doctor and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great; and Bonnie Winston, a well-known matchmaker who told me a killer story about one time she played Monopoly.

I'll confess that when I first started thinking about writing How to Host a Game Night, I was a little nervous about filling an entire book with advice about game nights. By the time I turned in the manuscript to Hannah, I wondered whether we could make the book longer. (We didn't do that, but we did cut back on the number and length of the game reviews in the book so that we could include more tips and stories about game nights.)

Finally, I need to mention the cover: I love it.

I've heard authors tell horror stories about how they hate their book covers and had no input. My experience with Tiller Press was the complete opposite. I loved the concept from the start, and they wanted my thoughts. We made only a few minor modifications. First, the color of the invitation card was originally pink. Given the other colors on the cover, that felt like a little too much, so we changed it to light gray. Second, the number combinations on the 8-sided die and the 20-sided die had to be adjusted to match real-world dice. That's it.

I had a blast writing How to Host a Game Night, and I hope you have just as much fun reading it. Game on!

Erik Arneson
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