I have mentioned numerous times on Facebook and Twitter about helping a friend host a game night at his church and then hosting a game night at our church as well. Each time I post about the events, I get asked for recommendations for hosting a game night, but I have not felt comfortable responding until now. I would also say I was still learning myself and would give my recommendations later. Well, I have now helped with four church game nights and feel more comfortable with what elements I think can lead toward a successful community game night at your church, library, community center, or other public venue. Here are my ten recommendations for hosting a game night:
- Venue – You need a location to host your game night, one large enough to hold as many people as you think might attend. One that has tables and chairs available. Community Centers and Churches often have great large spaces that can be reserved for little to no cost. Other options are libraries, school gyms, YMCA, and service club buildings. I have also heard of game nights being hosted in Fire Stations and Barns. Be considerate of the location, as you will likely want to return. Show up early to set up and stay after to clean up.
- Advertise – If you want people to attend your game night, you need to let people know it is occurring. I highly recommend flyers that you post on community bulletin boards, at the local coffee shop and restaurants, and at your church or school. Always ask for permission before posting flyers. See if your local fire station, library, or bank sign allows messages to be posted. We posted on the community sign in front of our fire station, which really got the word out in our small community.
- Greeter – Have a greeter at the door welcoming people and offering assistance. The greeter can show where restrooms are, ask attendees to fill out name tags, point out the game tables and snacks, and introduce the attendees to others who already arrived. You will be amazed how much impact a friendly face opening a door has on attendees. They feel much more welcome, especially if this is their first game night or first time in this building. So the greeter gets to play games as well, have people rotate in and out of that position if possible.
- Name Tags – Like the greeter welcoming people, name tags help people feel more comfortable. Attendees do not have to know everyone’s names, they can just read the tags as they meet new people. This also makes games more friendly, as you feel you know someone when you know their name. It does not feel as much like playing with strangers.
- Signage – Put signs all around. Have signs on the doors welcoming people to game night. Have signs at the snacks and beverages so they know what is being offered. Have signs on the game tables labeling what types of games you are offering so people can find what they enjoy. Having the games organized into labeled categories with signs will help people get into game night. Once they see games they are familiar and comfortable with, they will relax and might even be willing to try other types of games they haven’t before. The signs help them find games they know they enjoy.
- Games People Are Comfortable With – Along with those signs making people comfortable, have games attendees are familiar and comfortable with. You may not enjoy Rummikub, Scrabble, Monopoly, Cards, etc., but lots of people do. Game Night is about having fun and building friendships through games. Have games people enjoy playing, even if they are not your favorites. Our game night saw dominoes, Uno, and Dutch blitz being played at tables along side Bang, Dominion, Forbidden Island, Dixit, and Lexigo.
- Teacher/Player Wanted Signs – Though not necessary, I found this also helped make people more comfortable at the game night. We had standing signs you could take to your table for Teacher Wanted and Players Wanted. Only a few were used, but it helped me as a host know what tables to wander over to and teach a game or introduce attendees to others I knew who also would enjoy the game. Having those signs also helped people feel more comfortable trying a game they had not played before. I had an enjoyable time teaching Forbidden Island to a group who had never played it before.
- Game-Friendly Snacks & Beverages – Even my game nights at my house, I tend to lean toward more game-friendly snacks. Pretzels, Cookies, Crackers, Cheese, Grapes, and other non-dusty and non-greasy snacks are the way to go. You don’t have to worry about a mess or your games being damaged by snack-covered hands. I recommend avoiding snacks like nachos, Doritos, chicken wings, chip dips, etc. You are just asking for an incident with such messy snacks. Drinks, well, those are always a risk but one you need to take. Have wide bottom cups and mugs that do not spill easily and have paper towel at the ready if they do. We had catered cookies from the local university cafeteria, pretzels, popcorn, lemonade, coffee, and pop at our event. My only regret was the popcorn, and I will not do that again. It got all over the floor and made a mess that had to be cleaned up. Next time, will likely replace the pretzels with grapes or veggie platter.
- Share Your Games – A successful game night needs games, duh. Well, where are those games going to come from? Unless you host your game night at a game cafe or a library that offers games, someone has to bring the games to game night. If you really want to host a community game night, then you should really think about sharing your game collection. If it gives you the shakes thinking about random, unknown people playing your games while they eat and drink, then perhaps you shouldn’t host a community game night. If you are passionate about games, you likely own a lot of amazing games, and your friends do also. By sharing your games with a community game night, you get to share your hobby with lots of new people who could become life-long friends. I know, sharing your games is a risk. They might get damaged, pieces could be lost, or they could even be stolen. That is a risk you have to be willing to take for a successful community game night that uses your games as the library for people to enjoy. Over time, your church, library, or school might build up a game library that can be used for community game nights. If so, that is wonderful! Until then, if you have the passion to host a game night, you should be willing to take the risk with your game collection. I have now shared my game collection for four community game nights and have not lost one game to damage, lost pieces, or theft. You can mitigate some of the risk by labeling your games with your name, sleeving cards, and not bringing games with pieces that can easily be misplaced or damaged.
- Be Willing To NOT Play Games – This is probably the hardest recommendation I have to make. Very likely for your first few community game nights, you will not get to play many games at all. Someone needs to be a gracious host, game teacher, greeter, janitor, snack re-filler, and game library organizer. If you are lucky, some of your friends will volunteer to help with some of these jobs, but in the end you are hosting the game night. You want the evening to be a success and for attendees to have a wonderful time. You want to have another game night in the future and have people return. A community game night is not about you getting to play games but a time for you to share the gaming hobby with others. If things are going well later in the event and you are not needed, then you might get to sit down and play a game or two. Even then, be ready to jump up and assist as needed. Make sure those who sit down to play a game with you know that you might have to step away on a moment’s notice for a little while to teach a different game, clean up a mess, or assist with some issue that has arisen. They will understand since they have chosen to play a game with the host. They will appreciate that you are taking a leadership role, helping others have a fun time at the event. Remember at all times, you are the host. Your role is to help others have fun so this community game night will succeed.
I hope these thoughts and experiences of mine help you host a fun and successful community game night. If you have attended or hosted a community game night, I would love to hear your stories and what suggestions you have for a successful event. I am really looking forward to hosting another event at our church soon.
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