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Game Night Entertaining Made Easy

Serve snackable dishes, amp up the fun and enjoy


spinner image friends sit around a table playing games together
Dmytro Robu/Getty

Entertaining can sometimes feel daunting. Will conversation stall? Are your culinary skills up to serving a full dinner? Will guests stay past their welcome?

Then there’s game night: an evening (or afternoon) with a purpose, where guests are so focused on the game that small talk comes naturally.

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But to achieve that atmosphere of ease, hosts need to do a little prep work. “The secret to the art of hosting is to make it look effortless,” says Barbara Scott-Goodman, author of The Game Night Cookbook. “If you make a game plan and prep as much as you can ahead of time, you’ll have a very successful party.”

It’s not as hard as you might think. Here are a few tips to help ensure your guests are asking “when’s the next one?” at the end of the night.

Create a game night road map

This may seem obvious, but develop a plan of how you want the event to unfold ahead of time. Figure out which game or games you want to play. If you’ve opted for a team game, divide those teams in advance to avoid awkwardness. Then create a menu for food and drinks, and set a time.

“When inviting guests, it’s helpful to give them a flow of the evening,” says Matt Kissane, a comedian who is often booked as a game show host at events.

Let people know your plan for the evening: Kissane recommends starting off with an hour of socializing with snacks and drinks before diving into the games. He estimates the total event should run about three hours.

Serve food that’s easy to eat

Prepare as much of the food in advance as possible so on the night of the event you can engage with your guests. Decide whether you want to serve a full meal or stick to appetizers and snacks.

Hors d’oeuvres and finger foods are perfect for game night because they’re easy to eat while socializing or playing a game and chatting. “Think about dishes that can be made well ahead of time and stored in the freezer, refrigerator or airtight containers weeks, even a month before the event,” Scott-Goodman says.

Her suggestions include:

  • Flavored olives (will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month)
  • Pickled vegetables (will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks)
  • Dips or spreads (can be made 2 or 3 days ahead of time and their flavors often improve after some time in the refrigerator)
  • Snacks like homemade Chex Mix (can be made and stored in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks)
  • Flavored nuts and cheese straws (can be stored for up to 1 week)
  • Easy desserts like brownies, blondies and biscotti (can be made up to 1 month ahead of time and frozen). Just remember to defrost that morning.
  • If you don’t want to cook, an antipasto platter or charcuterie plate is always a hit with guests. Pick a few meats and cheeses; raw, cooked and pickled vegetables; fresh and dried fruits; accoutrements like jam, chutney, mustard, olives, and pickles accompanied by lots of fresh bread and crackers.

Keep drinks simple

Of course, you’ll want to serve a few drinks along with these snacks, but don’t make it overly complicated. If you are feeling festive, find a signature cocktail that you can batch ahead of time (i.e., sangria, margaritas), so all you need to do is pull it out of the fridge.

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Otherwise set up a bar with a few mixers, spirits, beer and wine (or some of the above). You’ll also want to make sure to have nonalcoholic choices — lemonade, iced tea and water of course. And remember, “There is no such thing as having too much ice,” Scott-Goodman says.

Pick the right games

You can choose to hire someone like Kissane to host games like Family Feud or Name That Tune if your budget allows — that way you aren’t in charge of keeping the momentum going.

If you’re looking for something more low-key, simply gather a variety of board games — old classics or new favorites. Some popular options are time-tested games like Scrabble, Risk and Trivial Pursuit. But also consider newer options like Phase 10, Scattergories, Telestrations, Settlers of Catan and the racy Cards Against Humanity, which is aimed at mature audiences.

Matt Hendricks, owner of Thirsty Dice, a board game café in Philadelphia, recommends a few picks you may not have heard of, including Wingspan, a tabletop game that he describes as “calming with a competitive side.”

“Players are bird enthusiasts who aim to score the most points, which players do by filling habitats with birds, laying eggs or using birds’ special abilities,” Hendricks says.

He also recommends the game Super Mega Lucky Box, a fun spin on Bingo.

Card games can be a fun pick too — Euchre, Canasta, Poker, to name a few. Just make sure you are opting for interactive games that the group is either familiar with or a new game that is easy to learn quickly.

Whatever game you play, Scott-Goodman has some sage advice for hosts: “When the party starts, be in it.” After all, you’re there for a good time, too.

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