How to Host the Perfect Game Day or Game Night 0 Comments
Spending an afternoon or evening playing games and watching sports with friends can be a lot of fun. The economic downturn taught all of us the value of a dollar so tickets to the big game aren't always feasible for everyone in our social circle. And speaking of being social, a night at the movies can take us to some wonderful places but there's not a lot of opportunity to really talk to and get to know each other along the way. Gathering on the coach to celebrate the game on TV can get a little more rowdy but it can be hard to drum up a proper rivalry when everyone's cheering for the same team. And when it comes to bragging rights, wouldn't it be nice if the sweet taste of victory was actually tied to your own actions rather than just your favorite athlete? So it comes as no surprise that game days and game nights are becoming an increasingly popular pastime.
If you've never been to a game day or game night celebration, you're really missing out. I'll walk you through everything you need to know to host an event of your very own but, if you prefer to dip your toe in first rather than jumping in with both feet, you may want to consider going to a public game night in your area. PlayDate USA has been introducing fun and games to the nightlife scene for years and Match.com is also getting in on the action now with their new Stir Game Night events. You can also scour the Games category at Meetup.com to find public and semi-public game events in your area. Public game nights will spark some great ideas but be aware that most of them will lack the intimacy that comes with a small group of close friends and the activities. Also, the hosting environment may not be as well-planned or as suited to your tastes as you may like. But don't lose hope - read on and I'll guide you through the process of hosting the perfect game day or game night of your very own.
When it comes to hosting, atmosphere is everything. You want to create a fun environment where your guests feel comfortable opening up and socializing with each other. The best way to achieve that is to select a special theme for your event. Game days are traditionally associated with major sporting events (a local Major League Baseball game, for instance), which gives you a great head start. As this is your first time hosting an event, let's keep it simple and build it around a familiar tradition - your baseball-themed game day will take place on a weekend afternoon when your local MLB team has a televised game. You'll encourage people to arrive half an hour before the game starts, everyone will gather in front of the TV to cheer on the home team, you'll play some fun card games during the middle innings, share a simple meal during the final innings, and people can linger into the evening for more card games and socializing if they desire.
So that gives you a nice, familiar game day structure to work with. To make your event a truly memorable experience, however, you're going to need to up your game and introduce a dash of the unexpected. There are a lot of ways to do this but, for your first event, let's put a 1930s vintage twist on your traditional game day and encourage your guests to dress the part. Vintage looks are making a comeback in women's fashion right now and many of your female guests may already have vintage-inspired clothes in their closets (or will thank you for the perfect excuse to acquire some). ModCloth.com is a great place to go for inspiration or to pick up that perfect piece to complete your ensemble. And for men, the 1930s look is an easy one to capture with a crisp suit and tie paired with the perfect hat - think Chicago gangsters and The Godfather movies and you won't be far off the mark. Used clothing stores are typically well stocked with affordable men's clothing from this era.
It's important to extend the vintage football theme beyond costumes and fashion, however, and into the physical space of your event. Check out our Game Room Decor board on Pinterest for some inspiration, as well as our Vintage Sports board which has some great posters, printables, and ephemera for you - with a little elbow grease and DIY creativity, you can create some tasteful vintage-inspired decor items that you'll be proud to keep on display long after your big event is over. And consider scouring the second-hand shops for a few vintage serving dishes or other items that will help you set the tone. One more tip - while I'd caution you against this for your first event, if the actual football game isn't really the big draw for your group of friends, consider eliminating modern TV from the event altogether. A radio broadcast or a playlist of vintage baseball footage on YouTube playing quietly in the background can go a long way toward subverting the traditional game day expectations and capturing the unexpected vintage vibe you're looking for. Just be sure to fill the time with other activities and socializing.
Aside from the vintage decor, there are some other more functional aspects of the space that you'll want to take into account. If watching the baseball game is a focal point for your event, you'll want to have enough seating around the TV for everyone (depending on the comfort level of your guests, it may be fine to provide some extra cushions and encourage guests to sprawl out on the floor if all the seats are taken). Also keep in mind that your guests will be snacking throughout the event and sharing an actual meal during the second half, so provide plenty of end tables, coffee tables, and other places for people to set aside their drinks and plates. To encourage guests to help themselves (thereby freeing you up to actually participate in your own event), set aside a table at the edge of the room for all the food and drinks.
You'll want people to move to actual tables for the card game portion of the event. Depending on how many guests you've invited and the layout of your home, you may be able to contain the event entirely in one room or you may need to spread out throughout the house. If you are spreading out, keep in mind that baseball doesn't offer a convenient half-time break where card games can be played so you'll want to provide some smaller screens or radio coverage to ensure guests can keep tabs on the game and don't feel like they're being pulled away.
For the tables, keep in mind the amount of surface area actually required to play the games as well as the number of people each game needs to support - as we'll discuss in Step 4, it's always easier to have multiple smaller games underway at a larger table than trying to squeeze a sprawling multiplayer game onto a smaller table. Card tables, folding tables, kitchen tables, coffee tables, tv trays, planks of wood on sawhorses - do what it takes to create the table space you need. It's easy enough to dress up an ugly or makeshift table with a simple tablecloth or swash of fabric so now's not the time to be shy. And if your small bento-box apartment just doesn't have the space for everyone to play, consider scaling down the guest list to create a more intimate event that you can more easily support. Remember, your game day is about creating unique and unexpected opportunities for your guests to interact and enjoy themselves. The card game portion of your event is an important vehicle for that.
Last of all, don't lose sight of the basics. Make sure you have the right mood lighting (not too bright, not too dim) and volume levels (loud enough to be heard but quiet enough that people can talk over it without having to raise their voice). And make sure you have somewhere for people's shoes and coats without the entrance getting too crowded.
3. Food & Drink
Sports and beer share a long history and are an obvious pairing for your game night. Continuing in the spirit of the unexpected, however, now's the time to step away from your usual mass market brands and explore some of the local craft beers available in your area. Involve your guests and invite them to bring their own craft beer discoveries to share with the group. Beer isn't going to be to everyone's tastes, however, and it's important to provide a selection of non-alcoholic beverages for designated drivers and anyone else who's looking for an alternative. Again, break with tradition and seek out some of the vintage-style root beers and sodas from independent bottlers. And, rather than hiding everything away in a traditional cooler, put your drinks on display in an array of bowls and buckets packed with crushed ice so the full range of unexpected and unconventional bottles become a part of your event's decor.
As for food, you're going to want to offer snacks and finger food during the initial portion of your event, followed by some heartier fare once the card games are complete. Avoid greasy or messy foods that will make your guests self-conscious about damaging the playing cards. Stick to snacks that can easily be held and eaten with a single hand so your guests don't have set aside the card game in order to eat and vice versa. Pretzels, candy, mini sandwiches, and food served on short skewers are all good options. Hot-roasted peanuts can be a nice thematic treat, provided guests have a convenient place to discard the shells. Don't worry about tying everything into your vintage baseball theme but have a look at our Game Day, Game Night board on Pinterest for some ideas regarding feature snacks you may want to attempt. Specialty napkins and toothpicks offer another easy way to integrate your theme.
When the card games are done and it's time to gather around the big screen again, consider some classic ballpark fare like hotdogs, bratwursts, soft pretzels, and popcorn, as well as some more unconventional options like a hearty chowder served in a coffee mug. With everyone packed in tight around the TV, you'll want to avoid plates and cutlery which will be awkward and liable to spill in such tight quarters.
4. Fun & Games
Your guests will be used to watching a baseball game from start to finish, but again, your goal is to mix things up and create something more memorable than just another ball game. There's often a lull between the third and eighth innings where the tone of the game's been set and the high stakes pressure of the endgame hasn't yet materialized. Let your guests know that you'll be breaking for some baseball card games at the top of the fourth inning and that you aim to be finished well before the start of the eighth. Put some thought into who will play who, as well - people come to game night to mix it up a little, not just play against their spouse or roommate who they could just as easily share a game with any day of the week.
So what baseball-themed game should you play? There are plenty of options ranging from in-depth simulations like Strat-O-Matic to simpler card games like Harry's Grand Slam to wooden pinball classics like Ballpark Classics. We recommend our very own Famous Fastballs card game, of course, but we have some very good reasons why:
- Complexity - Whatever game you choose, it's almost certain to be new to most of your guests. Detailed simulation-style games like Strat-O-Matic can be daunting to new players but Famous Fastballs consists of only 11 cards, all of which remain face-up through the entire game. It's part of our Beginner Collection and we've specifically designed it for new players.
- Cost - By their nature, most sports games are designed for only two players. Our game is no different but where a single copy of Front Porch Baseball can run you $140 and even a simple card game like Harry's Grand Slam typically costs $25, our World's Smallest Baseball Game sells for only $5.99! In cases like this where you require multiple copies for your event, Famous Fastballs is the obvious choice.
- Fun - There's no shortage of fun games out there but Famous Fastballs is particularly well suited to this sort of event. For starters, it comes with a vintage-inspired look that will perfectly complement your game night's theme. Even better, the gameplay is built around players performing physical hand signals to indicate whether they're throwing balls or strikes, how hard they're swinging the bat, and so forth. That unexpected physical element results in an infectious group atmosphere, full of groans and laughter, that will help you achieve your goal of a memorable afternoon.
Whatever game you end up choosing, it's important that you familiarize yourself with it before your event so you can teach it to your guests quickly and easily. Ideally, you want to be able to teach the game in two minutes or less. I find that the best way to teach a game is to start by explaining the winning condition first and then working your way backwards. Provide a 15-second overview of how you work toward that win, then a 45-second explanation of the actual actions and decisions you'll be making on your turn. Use the remaining minute set up the components and demonstrate a sample round or two. The added benefit of playing a baseball-themed game at your event is that your audience will already be familiar with how the sport itself is played and won, making it very intuitive and easy to pick up.
Also make sure you have all the components you need to play. Famous Fastballs requires 8 pennies, for instance, to help players keep track of scores, outs, men on base, and so forth. For an event like this, consider upgrading the components. Decorative glass beads can be found at your local craft store - see if you can find them in your favorite team's colors. If you're feeling crafty, find some white beads instead and paint stitches on them so they look like little baseballs.
Lastly, consider adding some stakes to the games. It could be as simple as letting the winners take home their copy of the game or you could offer to take the highest scorer with you to the next home game. Or you could encourage a bit of friendly gambling, having everyone put in dollar every time they go out or give up a run.
Remember, the core goal is to have fun and create some great memories - let your guests know that this is just an introduction and they're welcome to stay into the evening after the TV game is done to play some more. Depending on their mood, they may want to continue with the same game you already introduced, settling the score with rematches or an ad hoc tournament. Or they may want to take the opportunity to explore other games in your collection. Whatever they decide, you know they'll look back on this as a wonderful afternoon and evening of fun and friendship.
Congratulations! You've just planned the perfect game day or game night for you and your friends. But don't let the momentum stop here - set a date and start making your game day a reality. When you do host your game event, post a comment below to let us know how it went, send us an email if you need help, and share your photos so we can post them on our Pinterest board! Most important of all, make Game Day / Game Night a habit. Before the night is out, decide on a date for your next event and agree on who will host (now that you've set the example, others will follow). And if baseball season is drawing to a close, keep in mind that there are plenty of other games and sports that you can build your next event around.
Rob Bartel, founder
Famous Games Co.