Hosting a Board Game Night

Whether you’re meeting in person or virtually, hosting a board game night is a great way to spend time having fun with family and friends.

For this guide, I decided to draw on my own experiences playing board games, and especially the lessons I learned from a few mistakes along the way.

Video games may have more of a focus these days, but the board game community is surprisingly large and organized. There’s something that’s simply appealing about sitting down with people you like to focus on having a good time.

In this guide, we’ll look at things to keep in mind when hosting a board game night for adults, kids, families, or virtually. Let’s get right into it.

​​Game Night for Adults

In many ways, board game nights for adults are the best because you have more freedom with the types of games you’re playing.

Adult Board Game Night

Food

Pizza is an eternal favorite for game nights, especially if you bake it yourself or get it delivered part of the way through the night. However, as much as I love pizza, I don’t actually recommend it for most board games. Instead, the best foods are those you can eat without making a mess. You don’t want food-smudged rules and pieces, do you?

In most cases, anything you can put in a foil wrap is good. Alternatively, plates and forks do well enough, especially if you eat away from the game table. Going buffet-style often helps with board game night since you can spend more time playing and everyone can eat exactly as much as they want.

Check out my list of the Best Board Game Night Snacks, for more information.

DIY Board Games

Making DIY board games for adults is hard. I know, because I’ve written and published some rules for board games. Adults have higher expectations for what board games should be like, which usually means making things active and interesting enough to keep their attention.

The best way to do DIY things is by modifying the rules of existing games to suit your players. That provides a firm starting point, and if you enjoy the tweaking, you can use that as practice for developing new rules.

Picking The Right Board Games

It’s hard to overstate how many types of board games are on the market, but most fall into a few categories. Picking the right board game for adults is mostly a matter of figuring out what everyone enjoys doing. The categories are:

  • Traditional: Traditional board games have set rules, and usually an objective that’s the same every time you play. Games like Monopoly and Battleship are good examples of traditional board games. 
  • Narrative Games: Narrative games focus primarily on storytelling. Most have at least a few rules to aid in this, and some, such as Dungeons and Dragons, can have quite in-depth rules even if they’re available for free. Narrative games often have aspects of other types of games.
  • Miniatures Games: Miniature-focused games typically need more space than a regular board game and can have more flexible rules. These tend to be a nice middle-ground between traditional and narrative games, but have little or no meaningful story.

Beyond these three categories, board games for adults can be either one-off games or ongoing, multi-night games. Narrative games tend to run for more than one night.  Make sure you will have enough time to play the game you choose!

Finally, make sure you have enough games for everyone who’s attending. If necessary, split into several groups.

Board Game Tips

The most important thing for keeping regular board games interesting is giving everyone an opportunity to play and engage with the rules regularly. We have busy lives as adults, and few people want to come to a game night just to sit and watch for an hour. As host, it’s your job to make sure everyone who wants to play can.

This can mean that people who drop out, for example going bankrupt in Monopoly, have another board game they can join.

Don’t forget to encourage other people to bring games they’re interested in. You don’t need to be the only one bringing things!

Not Just A Board Game Night (Other Things To Do) 

Other activities for a board game night can include watching movies or cooking together. I also recommend getting up and going for a group walk before it gets dark out. This gives everyone a chance to stretch and refresh before you get back to the games.

Game Night For Children

Game nights for children are a little trickier than games for adults.  You might do them as part of a sleepover or a birthday party.

Children playing a game

Guests

Try to think about what guests you are inviting.  Will they really want to actually sit there playing board games?

As adults, we can better judge our friends, and also ourselves.  We know if someone won’t enjoy a board game night, or if it’s not our cup of tea.  Children won’t judge as well.

But their parents can.  Make sure you talk to all the parents of the children involved and see what if they think their child enjoys board games.

Food

Try to avoid having food at the table. Children, and especially young children, are always accident-prone with food. One spill could permanently ruin a game. If you’re hosting a party night with kids from outside your family, ask them to eat before they come and provide some simple, wrapped snacks.

Don’t forget to enforce hand-washing after they eat.

DIY Board Games

Kids are more open to DIY board games than adults are. Some children are certainly capable of learning complex rules, but if this is anyone’s first time playing, it’s better to keep things simple and easy to remember. Luck-based games can move quickly and rarely generate hard feelings when people lose, so focus on those.

With children, half the fun can be in making the board game.  Check out my DIY Board Game guide for more information.

Picking The Right Board Games

Companies like Hasbro manufacture lots of games geared towards kids. However, I recommend trying to get games that have an educational component to them. That means board game nights will double as study sessions, and other families are more likely to participate if they think their children will benefit from it.

Board Game Tips

Try to have one adult managing things for every 4-5 children playing. The main goal here is to keep kids actively entertained throughout the night. Try to wrap up no later than eight, which gives families plenty of time to get home and get ready for bed.

The trick here is to let kids play long enough that they have genuine fun, but not quite enough to make them fully satisfied. If they want to play more, they’ll ask to come again and that can keep board game nights going.

Not Just A Board Game Night (Other Things To Do) 

Board game nights with children are essentially babysitting, so you can do many similar things. Kid-friendly movies are always a good choice, and you can pay for other entertainments by charging a nominal per-child fee for the night. You can use that money to pay for party food, too, and it’s absolutely worth doing.

I would recommend having some non-board game activities ready for those children who get bored with board games.  Bored children = problem.

Family Game Night (Children and Adults)

Family game nights are the nearest and dearest to my heart. I love nights where I get to play with friends, but even those aren’t quite the same experience as having a board game night with family.

An illustration of a happy family playing a board game at home

Food

Low-prep food is always the best way to go for a family game night. Whether you’re ordering out or just throwing something in the oven, board game night is a time when nobody should have to spend too long in the kitchen. Family members will generally respect the rules of the household, so it’s easy to keep the games clean.

DIY Board Games

DIY board games with families can be great fun. Think of it as an arts and crafts activity where everyone can get involved.

Give people some DIY board game options, have the materials ready, and let everyone get on with it. If you are brave you could turn it into a competition to see who can create the best DIY board game.

Picking The Right Board Games

The biggest advantage of family game night is that everyone lives together, so it’s easy to make this a regular thing. However, that also means it’s important to pick games that everyone will enjoy playing.

Letting everyone have a turn at picking a board game is a superficially attractive idea. Yet if one child hates the other’s favorite game it won’t work.

I recommend making a relatively long list of games. Ask people to pick five favorites from the list, then focus on games that everyone is interested in. If possible, make sure it’s a game you can play for a long time. You can also rotate between games as needed.

Family Game Night Tips

One of the best ways of making family game nights more interesting is giving prizes and rewards for good performance. For example, the first person to get ten wins across all the games you play can pick a place for the whole family to get an afternoon treat.

Having a specific reward beyond winning the game can encourage competitiveness and keep everyone invested.

Also, make sure that the board game night is scheduled ahead of time, with a clear understanding that phones and other electronics will be off during game time. Kids are much more tolerant of this as long as they know it’s coming.

Finally, playing games with children means being more patient than you would with adults, and ensuring they all have a chance to win.  Check out my guide to playing board games with children.

Not Just A Board Game Night (Other Things To Do) 

Outside of games, there’s plenty of things you can do. The occasional movie is a nice treat if you have the time, and if you’re particularly interested, you can make the night competitive with other families.

This is more involved than a regular game night, but broadly focuses on entering each family into a game as a team. Prizes are particularly useful if you’re going that route.

Virtual Game Nights (Zoom, etc.)

I’ll be honest: I strongly prefer in-person game nights. However, as recent things have demonstrated, it’s not always possible to meet up. That’s where virtual game nights come in.

Someone playing board games on his computer

Food

Food is going to be difficult to share virtually.  Yet there are options.  If you all live in a similar area then you could all agree to order from the same place.

Personally, though I think it’s easier to just let everyone do their own thing. 

DIY Board Games

When I started writing this I thought, there’s no way you are going to develop and play a board game virtually unless you meeting a group of programmers.

Yet it turns out that you can.

Check Tabletop simulator if you want to create an online board game without being a programmer.

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, then another approach could be to design physical board games together. A virtual whiteboard can be very useful for this.

You could task different people to make different parts and mail them to each other.  What a great way to design a board game online, as a group!

Picking The Right Board Games

Virtual game nights introduce a new equation for picking board games: proximity. It’s better for everyone to have equal access to the board when possible. Fortunately, you can get pretty close with modern software like Tabletop Simulator, which allows you to play a huge selection of games (or even make your own).

You can also play any number of internet-only games. The main thing to keep in mind for virtual board games is that you should focus on things that let people take turns.

Also, I don’t recommend using webcams and videos while you’re playing, and here’s why. Zoom fatigue is a real problem, especially if people are constantly looking back and forth between the game board and everyone’s faces. You’ll also have to squint intently to make out many of the smaller details and gestures.

This slows things down and makes game nights more awkward. Instead of bothering with that, I recommend limiting yourself to voice chat so you can focus on looking at the game board. This keeps everyone more involved in what’s going on.

Any Tips On Regular Board Games To Make Them More Interesting

One of the best things about playing virtual board games is that it’s easy to keep the pace going. However, unless you’re playing a narrative game, people may get bored and drift away if you just play the same game over and over.

That’s why it’s often better to let each member select the game to play in turns. With that, there’s a constant feeling of freshness and newness in the game, and that means people are more likely to keep coming around.

Scheduling is also important here. That’s true for every board game night, really, but it’s particularly true for virtual nights where people may feel free to skip out easier. Try to make sure you schedule a regular time that everyone can make.

In many ways, scheduling is the hardest part of running any board game night. The sooner you deal with this, the better.

Not Just A Board Game Night

Online meetups work well when there is a chance to both play games and have some general chit-chat.  Break up the session with some to talk.

Different virtual meeting rooms are also great, especially with a large group.  This lets people go off and have a quiet conversation – just like they might if you were all meeting up in person.

Where To Go From Here

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to set up and enjoy board game nights. From casual, one-off evenings with friends to ongoing entertainment with the family, there’s no shortage of opportunities to have fun.
The hardest part is getting everything set up, so don’t wait on that and tell yourself that you’ll do it someday. Start inviting people right now and figure out the exact details later. Once you get the ball rolling, it’s much easier to make your board game night happen.