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  • Essays
  • Food For Friends - Eating and Drinking at the Board Game Table

Food For Friends - Eating and Drinking at the Board Game Table

O Updated
(Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

It's been a question that I've tried to tackle a few times before and that has been ongoing in board game circles for decades (probably): whether food and drinks should be allowed at the board game table. There are many different opinions and they range from wanting to keep everything pristine to only caring about having fun with friends. Everyone will have to decide for themselves, but in this article, I want to look at a number of possible approaches. (This article was inspired by a discussion on my Discord.)

So let's start at one end, where someone always wants their games to remain pristine. They probably sleeve all the cards, maybe have special inserts to keep everything safe and cushioned and they generally value their games a lot. It's not surprising, given the cost of some games these days, so keeping it in perfect condition means you can possibly sell it later on, maybe even at a profit.

In those situations, chances are that having drinks or any kind of food at the table is going to be limited. Sure, the cards are sleeved, but even the sleeves need to remain clean and neat, so they don't leave stains when they're put back in the box.

It might sound extreme, but I do understand the reasons. If you spend a lot of money on a game, or even if it's not a lot of money, but it's a lot for the person, then you probably want to ensure you get the most out of it. You want to extend the lifetime of the game and keeping it pristine aims to achieve that. Maybe you need to be able to sell one game to be able to afford the next.

However, not allowing any drinks or food at the board game table can be off-putting. It may seem anti-social and make others feel they're not worthy, even though that's not the intention of course.

So, as a compromise, it might be a good idea to eat and drink before or after the game - or maybe between games. That way people can talk and socialise, while they have their favourite food, that can be as sticky as they like. Having a break is also a good idea anyway, if the game you're playing requires a lot of focus and isn't conducive to conversation.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who don't care about their games one bit and only value the social element of playing board games. They don't mind if you have sticky finger food while you play. They don't mind if you spill your soft drink over the table. As long as nobody is intentionally trying to leave as much mess as possible, they accept that accidents happen and don't mind the odd stain on a game board or some sticky cards.

They want people to have fun and will have a selection of drinks and food at the board game table for people to help themselves to. It's about being a good host who makes everyone feel comfortable and at home. Drinks and food are just as important as a good board game, as long as everyone happily talks and has fun.

After all, most people will be careful and not intentionally wipe their dirty fingers all over their deck of cards or tip their glass of sugary soda over the fancy game board. So chances are that everything will pass without much of a problem and if there is a little spillage, than that's fine and not much of an issue. Wipe it off and carry on.

To be honest though, I think many of us are somewhere in between. We probably don't mind if people have a drink at the table - as long as they're sensible and don't hold their drink over the game board or wave their glass about to point out their strategy. We're probably happy with snacks at the table, as long as people quickly wipe their fingers on a napkin before they take their turn or pick up their hand of cards.

After all, food and drink oils the conversation and makes people feel content and comfortable. I think most of us want to have fun with friends or family when we play games together. We want everyone to enjoy themselves. The odd accident here and there isn't a major issue, but maybe let's just remove the stickiest food from the equation and just ask everyone to be sensible. That way we can have fun and enjoy the game as well.

Chances are, the people we play with regularly do know what we expect and will respect our choices - just as we will do our best to be a great host. So when it comes to regular games evenings, your group will have sorted itself out over time and everyone will behave accordingly.

So how do you deal with food and drinks at the table? Do you have rules at your house or in your group? How precious are you about your games? Are some games more valuable to you than others? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #321711 06 Apr 2021 11:24
Arkham Horror 2nd edition was the game-changer for me. It was a big hit with my gaming friends, and we loved playing all expansion boards at once, which meant that there was eventually well over $150 worth of game on the table. That's when I came up with a house rule that people had to leave their food and drinks off the table. My girlfriend and I have this really nice set of wooden folding tv trays that just happen to be a couple of inches shorter than my gaming table, so players put their food there.

Even so, a friend managed to spill a large glass of water all over my Arkham boards. He kept his glass on the side table during the game, but while we were putting the game away, he inexplicably moved his big glass of water onto the table. Almost everything except the boards were already safely in boxes when he bumped the glass, and it turns out that the odd texture on the Arkham boards is water resistant. I had a roll of paper towels close at hand, so we saved Arkham again.

Aside from that, I have a total ban on Cheetos on game days. I don't need sticky orange crud coating my cards and other components. Fortunately, my girlfriend is the only person that I know who likes Cheetos, and she rarely plays board games.

When I game at open venues or other people's homes, I tend to leave the expensive games at home unless I know that the host has similar rules to mine. This was especially true with my monthly hipster board game group, where everyone had to bring food or drinks to share, and most of the players enjoyed craft beers while playing. The host paid top dollar to pick up 1st edition Heroquest at a GenCon auction in 2018, then accidentally spilled a beer on the board during our first game, so I now call that game Beerquest.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #321729 06 Apr 2021 15:58
I'm fairly chill about food and drink. I think a little common sense goes a long way. As far as drinks, I only drink water and use a Hydroflask with a flip up drinking spout, so spills are not an issue. Most of the people I game with prefer to take a break to eat vs eat at the table. Maybe some cookies or light snacks. And whether by chance or maturity, I can't remember the last time anyone I gamed with ate Cheetos. If I am playing an expensive OOP game I'll be more mindful to be sure. But esp with light filler type games , IDGAF.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #321731 06 Apr 2021 16:25
Back in the first year or so of Magic: the Gathering, I had a friend who acquired a reputation for accidentally spilling drinks on cards. After the second time it happened, we made him sit at a separate, adjacent card table. Even then, he still sometimes spilled, but at least it was only his own cards getting wet. He moved away before the invention of the card sleeve.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #321741 06 Apr 2021 23:30
I can tell you that the Puerto Rico board is VERY susceptible to breast milk.

Not that breast milk is a common game night snack, but when momma wants to game, mommas gonna game :P
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #321745 07 Apr 2021 04:47
I agree that this debate has existed for decades, but it shouldn't have. The owner of the game gets to decide if food/drinks are allowed while playing. No, you're not allowed to try to convince/shame them otherwise. Yes, you are allowed to buy a copy of that game and play it instead.

Where's the debate?
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #321751 07 Apr 2021 11:22
I don't think that's the direction the conversation generally goes, or even should. It's a social contract so social rules apply, and in social settings there's always going to be some level of negotiation, either verbally or through actions. My attitude is always this -- if I damage your game (or your table) I'm responsible enough to make you whole. I'll buy you a new copy. The good news is that I very rarely sit down to can't-replace-it-because-it's-kickstarter-limited-edition-bullshit titles. Another reason to avoid that crap.

On the rare occasion I've played games with one copy in the world, generally playtest copies at mini-cons, I keep my drink on the floor next to the chair leg so it can't spill onto anything not easily replaceable. Nobody has ever asked, but I don't want them stuck without a copy for the remainder of the weekend because their computer and plotter are in Phoenix.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #321753 07 Apr 2021 13:12

Greg Aleknevicus wrote: I agree that this debate has existed for decades, but it shouldn't have. The owner of the game gets to decide if food/drinks are allowed while playing. No, you're not allowed to try to convince/shame them otherwise. Yes, you are allowed to buy a copy of that game and play it instead.

Where's the debate?


It pops up on BGG fairly regularly.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #321755 07 Apr 2021 13:25
It is also a fairly regular guest on the Boardgames subreddit.

We will usually eat before we play. Food during games is like trail mix, M&Ms, licorice, and the like. sometimes chips, but my group are pretty cognizant of shit being on their hands before handling the game. I would have stricter food rulings if I were playing with strangers.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #321756 07 Apr 2021 13:51

Sagrilarus wrote: My attitude is always this -- if I damage your game (or your table) I'm responsible enough to make you whole. I'll buy you a new copy. The good news is that I very rarely sit down to can't-replace-it-because-it's-kickstarter-limited-edition-bullshit titles. Another reason to avoid that crap.


I think that's a great attitude and I would do the same if I was the cause.

Most of our game playing is at my house with my games though, and if a good friend ruined a game, I would have a very difficult time accepting their money to replace it (I suppose if they showed up with a copy of the game I wouldn't turn it down). I'd probably just re-buy it myself or live with the damage.

I'm a bit OCD with my stuff and condition admittedly, which makes this even more of a conundrum.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #321759 07 Apr 2021 14:22

charlest wrote: I would have a very difficult time accepting their money to replace it


And the social rules would apply at that point as well. The fact that you offer is often sufficient, and I'd likely tell them to buy a case of beer for game nights as suitable penance for the sin. Honestly, the few messes I've seen were not game-ending events, just a need for a cleanup.

I appreciate that some people are sleeving their boards now (which frankly, is absurd), but I don't play with anyone like that. Best guess is I never will considering I just dumped half my game group.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #321760 07 Apr 2021 14:33

charlest wrote:

Sagrilarus wrote: My attitude is always this -- if I damage your game (or your table) I'm responsible enough to make you whole. I'll buy you a new copy. The good news is that I very rarely sit down to can't-replace-it-because-it's-kickstarter-limited-edition-bullshit titles. Another reason to avoid that crap.


I think that's a great attitude and I would do the same if I was the cause.

Most of our game playing is at my house with my games though, and if a good friend ruined a game, I would have a very difficult time accepting their money to replace it (I suppose if they showed up with a copy of the game I wouldn't turn it down). I'd probably just re-buy it myself or live with the damage.

I'm a bit OCD with my stuff and condition admittedly, which makes this even more of a conundrum.


Agreed - none my games, if suffering a spill, would ruin me financially TBH, I'd just write it off as a cost of doing business so tp speak. If its at your house and you allow food/drink, I think your tacitly accepting any potential fallout. About the only time I raised a stink was at a convention once when a douche sat at my table with fucking sticky buns to play a card game ( Atlantic Storm which was OOP and going north of $100 assuming you could find one ) and the guy in question was a known douchenozzle so I took the opportunity to rip him one.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #321761 07 Apr 2021 16:10
I remember M:tG tournaments would provide you with a view of both ends of that spectrum, often at the same time. I've seen cards resleeved after every match, and I've seen players that looked like toddlers after eating a birthday cake with both hands, handling hundreds of dollars worth of cards.

Didn't see this, but the best story I heard was about some asshole at a Type 1 tournament (don't know what they call it now) asking to randomize his opponent's deck. Perfectly legal. So he takes the $1000+ worth of cards and starts smearing them all over the table, like I've seen done in Vegas to randomize a poker deck. Asshole's opponent just about started throwing punches over that.
KingPut's Avatar
KingPut replied the topic: #321976 12 Apr 2021 23:44
I learned most of my social skills and hospitality from my Italian mother. If you come to my game night you better be prepared to eat and drink. Typically I start game night between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. I usually make sausages or meatballs and some kind of pasta dish. Or maybe I'll switch it up and make Beef Stew or Jambalaya. We'll play the first round of games in the afternoon and then break for dinner around 6:00 pm before starting the evening gaming. Dinner isn't eaten during gaming. It is eaten away from the games. It's a time for us to socialize and interact with out cardboard in front of us. It's a time to get to know each other outside of the games we play.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #321999 13 Apr 2021 12:02

KingPut wrote: I learned most of my social skills and hospitality from my Italian mother. If you come to my game night you better be prepared to eat and drink. Typically I start game night between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. I usually make sausages or meatballs and some kind of pasta dish. Or maybe I'll switch it up and make Beef Stew or Jambalaya. We'll play the first round of games in the afternoon and then break for dinner around 6:00 pm before starting the evening gaming. Dinner isn't eaten during gaming. It is eaten away from the games. It's a time for us to socialize and interact with out cardboard in front of us. It's a time to get to know each other outside of the games we play.

That's awesome. I should do something like that the next time I have the relatives over. Game early, break for burgers/dogs/taco bar, and reconvene after supper.
KingPut's Avatar
KingPut replied the topic: #322009 13 Apr 2021 14:21
Grilling works well for spring / summer game afternoon-nights.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322015 13 Apr 2021 15:55
Three years ago, I tried to host a combination board game/grilling thing. I have plenty of grilling experience, plus a perfectly good croquet set gathering dust. But one of our players brought a board game (Relic) that turned into an all day slog, and we finally agreed to just quit after nearly five hours of play. I set up the grill and bring out the burgers and brats, only to find that one person is a vegetarian and also won't allow her husband to eat meat either. And they need to leave earlier than our end time, but can maybe fit in a short game. So nobody plays croquet, and they all stand around the grill impatiently. I rush putting the food on, which leads to some slightly crispy results. And quite a bit of the food ended up going to the freezer. The married couple left just after we finished eating.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #322020 13 Apr 2021 16:21

KingPut wrote: Grilling works well for spring / summer game afternoon-nights.


Wrong. There is no "season" for grilling - it is a year round activity. Hell I dug a friends grill out of 18" of snow awhile back to grill 10 steaks I brought to a gaming weekend. Beats using a fucking broiler.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322023 13 Apr 2021 16:25

Msample wrote:

KingPut wrote: Grilling works well for spring / summer game afternoon-nights.


Wrong. There is no "season" for grilling - it is a year round activity. Hell I dug a friends grill out of 18" of snow awhile back to grill 10 steaks I brought to a gaming weekend. Beats using a fucking broiler.


I once successfully grilled burgers in subzero weather. The trick is not waiting until the flames die down into coals. You need to cook over active flame to get enough heat to cook the meat.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #322099 14 Apr 2021 15:16
At my home we always have drinks and snacks while playing, but we keep them on little side tables. Sometimes people feel a little insulted when I tell them to keep their drink off the table and say something like, "I'm really careful and never spill." I tell them, "I'm not and I will knock it over." It is almost never the person whose glass it is that knocks it over, because they are aware of their glass and where they put it. It is almost always someone else who knocks it over, because like 2 seconds ago that glass wasn't there.

At public venues I know a couple people who think nothing of eating a meatball sub or a fat burrito over a game board. There have been tears and recriminations. So, when they head my way I just point to a different table and tell them, "Finish your food over there."
oliverkinne's Avatar
oliverkinne replied the topic: #322927 07 May 2021 03:10
Again, it's great to see so much variety in opinion as to whether food and drink are appropriate at the game or not. Thank you.