Game Night is a regular installment in our house. Sometimes it is impromptu, other times it’s a scheduled event. But you can be assured that if someone comes over to visit, we’re breaking open the game closet. In fact, I’m afraid my wife and I have developed a bit of a social problem where, if we have new guests, and they don’t care to play a game, we don’t know what to do or say.

Bah, that’s not a problem! That’s a litmus test.

I mean, really, if you don’t like playing Ticket to Ride, how long will this relationship really last, am I right?

But seriously, beginning with the rise of Playstations and Xboxes, and cresting with the introduction of smart phones and apps, Game Night has threatened to go the way of Monopoly’s Iron token (may he rest in peace). Fortunately, in the past couple years, the tabletop game industry has been on the rise. I think this reflects people’s natural desire for face-to-face, d6-to-d6 interaction. Launching fat birds at green swine is certainly entertaining, but it’s no substitute for relishing the look of utter despair on your opponent’s face as his last little meeple is ruthlessly exiled from the board.

An evening dedicated to the playing of board games is an evening dedicated to the strengthening of relationships. Whether you’re a family who hasn’t sat at a table together for who-knows-how-long, or a group of friends escaping a long, hard week of work, games offer the chance to operate in a fake reality where the camaraderie built extends well beyond the moment the box lid closes.

Whether you are planning your first ever game night, or your household already overdoses on them (like ours), let’s think deliberately about what types of games, and in what order, will help us achieve success and our friends demanding an encore. You cannot just arbitrarily pull any old game out of your closet and play, and think you will enjoy your evening with your loved ones! … Okay, that’s completely false. You can do that… So! Without any further ado, I present to you (drumroll… spotlight…)

The Over-Complicated Approach to Crafting the Perfect Game Night!

The Perfect Game Night is composed of six phases. The entire evening lasts between two-and-a-half and four-and-half hours (perhaps longer depending on how many people know how to play the games).

Note: The games listed as recommended for each of the phases are from my personal game closet. You may have a great game that fits the phase perfectly, and is not on the list. Awesome! Enjoy it.

The Ice-Breaker (less than 20 minutes)

The evening needs to start with a game that is quick to learn and quick to play. Since it should only take about 20 minutes to play, it won’t be too heavy mentally. The purpose of the Ice-Breaker is to give everyone a chance to learn everyone’s name (if they don’t already know), and to get settled in for the long haul.

Recommended games for this phase:

The Brain-Warmer (15-30 minutes)

Alright, here we go. It’s time to play a game that will force us to think a little bit. Get the juices flowing. And, after this, you will have established two winners. Perhaps even one winner of both games. A precedent has been set, and the stakes are raised for the battle to follow.

Note: If, for sake of time, you need to skip a phase, I would recommend this one. Continue on to The Main Event.

Recommended games for this phase:

The Main Event (45-90 minutes)

Warmed up now? We’re ready for the main course. This is the anchor game. This is the test of skill and strategy that will elevate one player to supreme gamesman(or woman)ship!

Recommended games for this phase:

(or if you prefer the classics):

Snack Break (10 minutes)

Someone did provide dessert, right? Insert favorite desert here, just don’t get chocolate on the cards, please.

Recommended dessert for this phase:

  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Ice cream sundaes
  • Brownies
  • Bowlful of M&Ms

The Friendship-Fixer (45-60 minutes)

Hopefully, if any feelings were hurt in the intensity of that last game, they were repaired over a bowl of ice cream. Even so, we need a game that gets everyone on the same page again. Enter, the cooperative game. In a cooperative game, two or more players are on the same team, pursuing the same objective. The games listed below, in particular, have every player on one team, competing against the game itself. If you do not have a cooperative game in your collection, I highly recommend you go buy one.

Recommended games for this phase:

The Cool-Down (less than 30 minutes)

Game night should end on a game that is light, upbeat, gets people laughing, and is easy to play. You could potentially use a game from the Ice-Breaker list for this phase if you’d like.

Recommended games for this phase:

And that’s it. Here’s to you, Game Night Host-Extraordinaire! That feeling of exhaustion means that you did your job. The battered warriors return to their beds worn, but with smiles of contentment on their faces, ready to convene next weekend. Or who knows? Maybe even tomorrow.

One last note. Though this formula does work to create a natural flow for your game night, the “perfection” is not found here. You want a perfect game night? Then please, gather your kids around the table. Put away the phones. Play. Talk. Laugh. Or, find some folks at work who are just as stressed as you are. Take out your frustrations on a horde of orcs. The perfect game night is the one that simply is.

6 Readers Commented

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  1. Robyn Duff Straubel on January 15, 2014

    Hey Mike, remember me??? 🙂 I loved your article. I smiled, I laughed, I thought . . . I want to be friends with Mike and his wife and go to their game night! 🙂 God bless you and your new business venture. ~ Miss Duff 🙂

  2. Luke Laurie on January 15, 2014

    Another great League post! I’d be interested in hearing other ideas people might have for games that fit into these categories. I know in my own circle, we often make our way quickly to pretty heavy Euro games, or coop/traitor games than can go for 2+ hours.

  3. Peter Vaughan on January 15, 2014

    Great comment Luke! My ideal main course would also be a heavier variety, moving Mike’s main event King of Tokyo into an appetizer category. But then again I’ve never scheduled the friendship fixer or cool down stages, which might be why I have less game nights than before?

  4. Luke Laurie on January 15, 2014

    Here’s how I might choose from my collection (and the collections of my friends), though the games I want to play change frequently as I go in and out of interest in various games and styles of play.

    Ice Breaker: Barbaric
    Brain Warmer: Dominion
    Main Event: Lords of Waterdeep
    The Friendship Fixer: Battlestar Gallactica (more like 3 hours!)
    Cool Down: Cards Against Humanity

    Finally, the

  5. Timo Burnham on March 29, 2014

    Battlestar is your friendship fixer?!? I feel like that will do the opposite of fix, hahaha

  6. Nikolas Rex on May 31, 2018

    Love it! Great list of games that fit well with the slots you’ve created.

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