Fantastical Dirty Deeds


Sometimes you just need to escape – escape from the necessity for realism. Sometimes you just don’t want the dried, crusty blood to tarnish your sword as a shocking reminder of the real consequences of the game that you play. Sometimes you want a break. Sometimes you want to remember the magic.

Sometimes you want to achieve this without having to play Mario. Again.

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How to Host a Board Game Party: Dinner and Sweet Uno


(originally posted to GamingAngels, 27 August 2010)

I love board games. As a research employee who sits in front of the computer for close to eight hours a day, sometimes I want to hang out with friends and play games that are do not require staring at another screen. Board games and card games fill that void.

Despite this desire, you have to make sure that you accommodate the needs of your mates. Say you want to have a board game party, but you have quite a few friends who prefer very different social interactions. So what do you do that will fulfill their social needs as well as your competitive desires?

This week, we are going with a nice, casual option – inviting over another couple for dinner, drinks, and a sweet helping of Uno. This is what I like to refer to as the “Dinner and Sweet Uno” model.


The Setup

The Dinner and Sweet Uno model is best suited to dinner couples, or people who do not play a lot of board games at home. The expectation of other’s people’s ability should be kept to a minimum, and the emphasis should be placed on fun, not competition.

In comparison to a regular gaming party where video and tabletop games are at the forefront of an attendee’s attention, the Dinner and Sweet Uno model places the gaming component on the backburner. You will not be talking throughout dinner about how severely you will kick another person’s butt at Carcassone (making people cry while eating roast lamb is a complete mood killer, let me assure you!). It is important to emphasise that the gaming time is considered as a fun after-thought to a meal in the dining room and a hearty helping of conversation. The board game can even be considered as a good way to keep conversation going.

So, like a sweet dessert or an after-dinner mint, your choice of game should suit this mood.


The Menu

With the board game being the last item on the menu, it is usually a safe bet that your game of choice should fulfil two important criteria: quick to learn and quick to play. Of course, there will be the occasion where you and your dinner friends may have played a game together during previous parties. But for the majority, you should raid your library and select games that you can describe very quickly (or at least have a “trial run”) and also play through a few times to reinforce the rules and allow opportunities for various winners.

For our evening, we selected a popular favourite, a new taste sensation, and a simple concluding delight.


The Popular Favourite: Uno

We started with Uno not only because a majority of us had played it before, but also because it is a game that is very easy to learn. An added bonus is that you don’t feel so bad if you help other players to the point that you get your butt handed to you by a Wild Draw 4 card.

Uno is one of those games that brings those happy, fluffy, sweet qualities to board games. It imparts the wisdom of good sportsmanship and strategy that is imperative for any game. It also demands that the player does not take herself seriously. You have to laugh at yourself in Uno – it is a wonderful test of friendship and self confidence. In the end, we did laugh as often as we muttered expletives describing our annoyance at a player who played a Wild card and destroyed our winning chances. It is evident that “good sportmanship” is very important when “strategy” is thrown completely out the window by dumb luck. After 3 games, we decided to move on to the next game.


The New Taste: Absolute Balderdash

This was a game brought to the dinner by friends, and was a wonderful addition to the evening because it takes the laughter in Uno and increases it fourfold.

The object of the game is to think up clever definitions for words and subjects that are written on game cards that are drawn each round. For example, if the “Dasher” (the person in the round that draws the card) gives you the date “January 7, 1971″, you as a player have to write down a creative response, describing an event that could have happened on that day. You are awarded points by coming up with believable answers that attract the votes of your fellow players, or your intuitive abilities to discern the correct answer that is buried amongst the false answers of your opponents.

Some people might feel threatened by a game that requires you to be so creatively inclined. However, no matter who wins, it is quite a lot of fun. Sometimes the real answer is enough to get people laughing, but often the answers that players make up themselves leave the rest of the players in stitches. Enjoying the creativity (or lack thereof) of your friends furthers the relaxed environment of the evening.

Also, it is educational. Apparently.


The Concluding Delight: A Pack of Cards

Why include a pack of cards? While the idea may sound boring after such a creative and exuberant menu, there is one reason why I included a card deck at the end of the evening:

The variations are endless.

It is like having a lovely dinner, and then giving your guests the choice of dessert: chocolate, ice cream, or a cup of coffee.

It was interesting to see how many different games my friends wanted to play with a simple deck of playing cards. Someone wanted to play poker, another wanted to play Go Fish. A deck of cards should be a staple of your party design, simply so that everyone has a turn to suggest a game, and everyone has the opportunity to win a game that is their strength.


The Final Word

By the end of the evening, everyone had not only sat down to a lovely roast dinner and a good bottle of wine, but had also consumed a few simple and enjoyable games. No one felt threatened or highly competitive, and there was a small learning curve before people enjoyed the rest of the evening.

Overall the Dinner and Sweet Uno model was a complete success – certainly not without the pre-game jitters and a couple of hiccups – but still a good way to introduce some of your friends to an interesting dinner party alternative.

So what are you going to do this weekend?