If there are three things that are dear to my heart, they are playing games, hanging out with friends, and eating! That makes a blog series on snacks for board game nights a little obvious, but what can I say— I know what I’m about.
First up, probably the most popular topic, and the first question people always ask— What kind of beverages?
BOOZE AND BOARD GAMES
I’m not much of a drinker, but many people do enjoy it, so one of the first questions I sort out when planning a tabletop game night, board game party, or roleplaying session, is whether we’re going to have just soft drinks, if we will have any booze, and if so how much.
Sometimes, the answer is obvious. If you or a guest are uncomfortable around alcohol, or around people who have been drinking, a “dry” party is the obvious answer. Likewise, if there will be a lot of people younger than the drinking age, anyone who you know can be problematic around alcohol, or it’s just not your group’s thing, stick with soft drinks.
Otherwise, it probably just comes down to what helps your group have fun. Do you have a group where most people want to focus on playing games, and drinking would be too loud or too much of a distraction? Finding the balance between playing games, and socializing, is something any host should be aware of, but there’s no right answer.
When I’m hosting, I like people to be able to focus on the games, and find a more quiet and sober atmosphere to be more relaxing for me and my friends. However, I know some people are more comfortable when they can have a drink or two. That means I usually have drinks available, but make it clear it’s not going to be a wild party.
The two best ways I know to do that are similar, but look completely different. In either case, to keep the party from going wild, and the drinking moderate, takes a mix of direct communication and clever framing.
KEEP IT CASUAL
Some groups are most at home with a casual night with friends. If you’re looking for a low-key night, where people are free to have what they want, but drinking isn’t the focus, here’s what I do:
To set that up ahead of time, announce that you’ll be providing soft drinks, but if they want to drink a little, they can bring their own beer, wine, or mixers for soda. You can even say the party will be “discreetly damp” or set the expectation that “drinking should be moderate”.
When you set up for the party, lay out a space for drinks away from the games, with soda and juice taking up most of the real estate, and not a lot of room for alcohol to fit. Put out your favorite light drinks, but nothing strong (even if you have it). Provide soda cups, ice, and wine glasses, but not shot glasses. Don’t lay out the corkscrew or bottle opener until they are asked for.
During the party, be an example and an open communicator. When you get your own drink, ask if anyone wants a soda. Leave it to others to suggest another beer. If anyone seems to be going a little faster, chat with them sooner rather than later, so it can be a gentle reminder of expectations rather than an awkward conversation. Keep the focus on the games and chatting throughout.
The other way to keep your party quiet and cozy is to set a classy, upscale tone.
Let people know ahead of time what the night will be like— maybe even put together an invitation. “An evening of board games, hours d’ouvres, and bubbly” makes your expectation clear without having to spell it out.
Instead of having a drinks station or bar set up, have a wine glass at everyone’s place at the table. Keep the lights low, make sure the snacks fit the mood— cheese boards, crudités, hours d’ouvres— put out the good napkins and set it up like a dinner party with the game in place of plates.
When the time comes offer everyone their choice of red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, or a soft drink like sparkling cider. By occasionally getting up to offer people another drink, you can control the pacing, and set the tone.
Sometimes, when I only want a little drinking at a party, I only put out soft drinks at first, but after the icebreaker game, we do little mead tasting, bringing out the whole collection with mini glasses so people can try a sip of each. It’s memorable, and relaxing, but doesn’t give anyone a chance to overdo it, and doesn’t compete all night with the games.
Whether you will have drinking or not, a great host offers as much variety as they can, to make sure everyone can find something they enjoy.
Make sure you have regular sodas, options without caffeine, low-calorie or diet options, tea or coffee, and/or fresh juice, tilted towards whatever is most popular with your group. Be mindful of allergies and other dietary restrictions, and don’t be afraid to ask for them in advance.
PUBLIC GAME NIGHTS
Most of these tips apply to everyone, but are written for the perspective of someone hosting a board game night at home with friends.
If you are hosting a game night in a public place, or inside a business, make sure you know ahead of time what the relevant laws and policies are around alcohol. Laws vary by state, county, and city, and each venue may have policies on top of those— but the short answer is that you should never assume that you can serve alcohol, or that your guests can bring it, without checking.
If you’re a business hosting a board game night, you probably less control over whether or not drinks are available. If you do serve drinks, I recommend creating a specials menu for your board game night. That will give you a chance to include theme drinks based on gaming and pop-culture terms, and focus on less-potent drinks that might lead to things getting a little too wild.
(The same goes for a selection of appetizers, entrees, or coco deals that might be more fun, but less messy around the games.)
PROTECT YOUR GUESTS
If you are hosting a party with drinking, take responsibility for everyone’s safety, by setting the stage that you expect everyone to be safe, and offer to help.
Make sure you openly ask everyone if they have a plan to get home safely after drinking— A designated sober driver, public transit, or a place on your couch to sleep.
If anyone has trouble, don’t be afraid to prevent them from driving. I recommend the overwhelmingly nurturing approach— Make it about what you will do, how you will help, and take any pushback as pushback against letting you be a good host. “Oh, I don’t mind calling you a cab. That’s what a good host does!” or “You won’t refuse a place on the couch, will you? I’d feel so bad.”
PROTECT YOUR GAMES
Much less urgently than your fiends— you also want to look after your games. Beverages are by definition liquids, and most have some combination of sticky sugar, dark colors, and alcohol (a solvent).
The classy approach above lets you put out your fragile wine glasses, and set a generally quiet and careful tone for the evening.
Giving everyone a coaster will also protect your stuff, while reminding everyone to be mindful of their drinks. Being openly careful with your own drink— “Oh, I’d better not put it there,” can be a clever hint.
Finally, don’t be afraid to say, “Everyone be careful with your drinks and food, I don’t want to have to replace any games or furniture” is totally fair— especially if said early on, as a kindly warning, rather than too late as a rebuke.
Full disclosure here, we also sell a solution to this particular problem. Our (Game Night Ready)™ line of upgraded editions of popular games all come as well-protected as we can at a reasonable price, as do our game collections. Pieces are in extra (resealable) baggies, fragile papers have been laminated, cards are in protectors, and so forth. It won’t protect from everything, but it should stop a small accident from ruining an expensive game.
NEVER PLAY ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
Of course, just deciding what to drink at your game night is hardly enough on its own. Keep an eye out for the rest of this series, where we will dig into snacks, meal ideas, theme parties, take out techniques, and more.