Party Games: How To Host Your Own Multiplayer Party

Every month, we dispatch Brendan to some of gaming’s best blowouts to schmooze and play games with the partygoers. In part four, some lessons for holding your own shindig.

We’ve been covering a lot of party games at different events over the past few months but what if you don’t want to go out? Let’s say you prefer to sit in your cosy house and have pals over instead. Picture the scene. You’re sipping on a spicy bourbon next to a nice warm fire with a few special friends, enjoying the flow of easy-going conversation and, wait, now that you think about it, you don’t have a fireplace. FIRE. FIRE. SOMEBODY PUT OUT THE FIRE. See, it’s not so easy, is it?

What you want is some sort of RPS guide to party-making, based on our own recent experience. So here you go: how to host your own party without suffering deadly immolation.

1. Keep it simple

The best party games all have something in common. It only takes one or two matches to understand how to play. This isn’t about setting up a bunch of old PCs and playing rematch after rematch of old Quake III Arena maps. That’s a LAN party. This is a party party (with games). For the RPS bash (pictured above, below, all over the place) we saved ourselves the hassle and simply set up one PC where everyone could get to it and hooked another laptop into the telly. It took about 30 minutes. Then we cycled which games were on according to our own impatient whims. Starwhal saw a lot of action early on, TowerFall was a crowd pleaser for a long time and Tennnes rounded out the night with some intense pong-y action. Even just in terms of controls, none of these games goes beyond four buttons and a single directional stick. This means everyone can get playing without having too much to learn. This is important, keeping in mind there may be guests for whom gaming is only a dabbling pastime, or not a pastime at all. Which brings us to our next point.

2. Keep it tight (but not too tight)

As ever, only invite people who won’t urinate on the couch. By that I mean, people who are OK. A lot of people like a crazy session, huge noise, big choons. But when you’ve got a fair bit of expensive kit lying around it may be wiser to stay on the chilled-out end of the party scale. Nobody wants vomit in their HDMI port. Then again, it can go too far the other way. At our shindig we perhaps kept it a little too small and insular. Almost everyone was either a big games fan, games journalist or game maker. We tried to open the pool a little by encouraging folks to invite their friends or love-conspirators but largely the flat was full of people who Know Their Shit. This is, simultaneously, a good thing and a bad thing. Games are quick ’n’ fun to play and everyone has good chatter and something in common. But it also means there’s a lack of outside influence. I should have remembered that this is a party first and a games thing second. If I host another similar party, I would be keen to fill the place with all sorts, just so that the conversation doesn’t go too inward. Also, as a result of this small clique, not a single person hooked up at our party. Which means, on every level, it was an abject failure.

3. Have a focus

In this case, Nidhogg. Throughout the party we ran a tournament of the greatest dueller that ever graced a computer screen and we were not disappointed. Well, some were, but only because they lost to Telegraph games journo Phill Cameron, a man who probably should have been disqualified on grounds of unfair height advantage. Here he is accepting his trophy and battling a swarm of light bulbs.

Congratulations, Phill. For everyone else, there was Prosecco.

A tournament like this helped to give the night some purpose – a central screen where there was always something going on, a continuous brawl that everyone has something invested in. The only conundrum here is how you fashion the rules. Our swordsmen and swordswomen fought according to the Swiss system. This is non-elimination tournament, so it has the benefit of giving everyone multiple fights, as opposed to a knockout-style tourney where players might just suffer a single unlucky match. For the most part, it worked. Competition organiser Tom “O’Bedlam” Sellick went around poking people and saying “You’re up!” like some hyper-focused murder instructor from the Hunger Games. Meanwhile, folks fought valiantly in the way that only Nidhogg allows, tossing their rapiers at each other’s heads, cracking necks and running the wrong way in a panic – all sorts of acts noble and despicable.

The only problem with Swiss rules is that the winner is determined in a somewhat oblique way. Once all the matches were over, the maths was done and we announced Phill as the winner. It was something of an anti-climax. Although it was definitely a fair system (Phill won every match he played, the monster) there was no “final” as such. No moment when everyone crowded round to cheer as two rivals fought to the death, no last-minute bets on who would get first blood, no cries of anguish or triumph, no ceremonial shaking of the hands, post-carnage, with the losing player unconsciously bowing their head. If I could change only one thing about the night it would be to add a couple of knockout games to the end of the Swiss, as a kind of murderous addendum, just to see the bloodlust in people’s eyes.

4. Have the right gear

If you’re keeping your party as simple as ours, you’ll have no trouble with equipment. We did have to order four Xbox pads off the ebaynet to make sure everyone could play but there’s no reason you can’t also ask your mates to bring round some controllers. This has the benefit of not paying £9.99 for a 360 controller with no ‘X’ on it that looks, quite frankly, Well Dodge. But the downside is that someone will inevitably forget what they brought and leave their joypad behind (thanks, George!) Even after all this hullabaloo we still had folks who preferred to use a keyboard for Nidhogg and so had to sit with the computer balanced awkwardly on their lap. With a bit more planning, you can probably create an effortless setup where everyone gets everything they need.

5. Have fun

Like I’ve said, this ought to be a party before it is anything else. It wasn’t a problem with us, since everyone attending RPS’ bash was part of the perfect gamer audience, but if at any point it looks like enough people aren’t responding to the game(s) or are looking kind of bored by a tournament, then it is probably best to either switch things up, or switch them off. It is one of my golden rules for board games and it applies equally here. If you detect boredom from multiple quarters, there is no shame in abandoning the game for something else. Above all else, you do not want to force anything beyond its limit. That’s just bad for everybody. If the games start to lose their “audience” and people just mill around chatting and drinking, then that’s what’s going to happen. No worries. Don’t be that person who tries to herd everybody back to the screen, like some crazy-eyed Border Collie. If someone wants to drop out of the tournament, no questions asked, don’t push them to stay in. Even a couple of people in our party started to weary of Nidhogg’s dominion of the big television. Unfortunately, Swiss rules meant this lasted a lot longer than a knockout tourney. By the time it was usurped by Sportsfriends, people were glad to see it go, feeling the kind of relief usually reserved for seeing despots overthrown.

So there you have it, a list of things we learned while hosting our own local multiplayer games party. But maybe you’re planning your own hootenanny? Or maybe you’ve already hosted one. Whatever the case, if you have any of your own tips to give, please do. I won’t be here to moderate, however. I have to go and clean cigarette butts out of my houseplants.

56 Comments

  1. Shardz says:

    I’d say a trash can would definitely be in order from what I’ve seen. Perhaps some sort of referee to tone down the party fouls might in order, as well.

  2. Dale Winton says:

    Needs more cocaine and less beards

  3. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    Rampant trendy facial hair aside, I secretly would love to have gaming parties like that if I’m being honest.

    Probably need more friends though. Like more than just one.

    • jezcentral says:

      Back in the day, you broke out Rock Band and every party party became a party party (with games).

      But LAN parties FTW. Preferably 4/5 day ones. LeachLAN, epic.LAN and uLAN are especially good examples.

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      Our facial hair is mainly down to being a) self-employed and b) lazy.

  4. Zankman says:

    Eww, Xbox controllers.

    • sinister agent says:

      aka still the overall best basic controller going.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        I still refuse to believe this nonsense that the X-Box controllers are better than the Playstation ones. That d-pad is useless, the left analog stick is in the wrong spot and the sticks are concave so your thumbs don’t stay in place. Way more comfortable and intuitive if you ask me. Also, batteries.

        Getting a Dual Shock 3 or 4 to work on a PC is a bit trickier than a X-Box one, but there are patches that trick your computer into thinking the DS3/4 is a 360 controller. The touchpad even works on the DS4 for controlling the mouse. Handy if you use your PC for videos. One problem is they don’t connect very well over Bluetooth if you’re running Windows 7. USB works fine.

    • Wytefang says:

      So this is how hipsters party. Got it. I think I’ll stick to my beloved LAN parties instead. PC games were meant to be played with K/M, not controllers. If you want that experience, get a console.

      • sinister agent says:

        Bless. Keep trying, you’ll get there one day!

      • padger says:

        If playing Gang Beasts = being a hipster, then I don’t want to be a not-hipster*.

        *I wear clothes from Marks & Spencer, have no beard and a proper job.

      • Alice O'Connor says:

        I mean, the ones made to be played with keyboard and mouse are, sure. The hundreds that are intended to be played on controller, and clearly control better that way, are sorta not. Keyboard and mouse is a bad setup for games which benefit from fine and fast analogue movement. Would you e.g. insist upon playing a fighting game on keyboard, or would you simply refuse to play it?

        And they’re an awful setup for people drifting around playing games shoulder-to-shoulder in a room in a room clearly not big enough for a dozen PCs.

        This petulant pouting of “NUH UH NOT GONNA TOUCH A CONTROLLER” is so weird to me. What’s so wrong with them? Where does this baffling territorial mentality, this silly snobbery come from? I dislike it immensely.

        If you’re not interested in such a party, okay, but poo-pooing interest in it based on the presence of controllers is baffling. Do you like games or just really like mice?

        • bstard says:

          Those devices make my hands hurt, and screw up the UI of games. On the good old Fifa tournament evenings, I was the only one picking up that KB. The world is pretty simple sometimes: us, and the kandy krush kontrollers people. Take it as an poor attempt to self identify PC gaming (sub?)culture.

          • Alice O'Connor says:

            “The world is pretty simple sometimes: us, and the kandy krush kontrollers people.”

            I don’t follow. Please could you explain what this means?

          • Gap Gen says:

            As far as I can tell, “kandy krush kontrollers people” should refer to anyone with fingers, given that it’s primarily a smartphone game. Unless that’s what the KKK are calling themselves these days.

          • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

            I’ve always found this line of thought so weird. “You’re not a real PC gamer if you game using a device designed for gaming! Real PC gamers game with a device designed for writing!”

            Even more so in the present situation. My guests can just barely be expected to bring their own pants, and you want them to bring an entire PC?

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            Neurotic says:

            It’s very old-fashioned, this ‘no controllers’ thing. I think when the Xbox came out 14 years ago, it was a sort of PC snobbery thing, putting down the upstart console that we were frightened would steal our good games away. But people forget that most of the history of home computing has been accompanied by a joystick of some kind. I *think* that only my very first computer, an Acorn Electron, didn’t have a joystick of some kind. But as soon as I progressed to a Commodore 64, I had a whole series of joysticks (those big black ones with giant red buttons), my Amiga had Zip Sticks, my 386 PC had some kind of joystick (first bought for X-Wing), and on and on. The whole anti-joypad thing is total bullshit, in my honest opinion, largely invented by those too young to know better or too old to remember.

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        Henke says:

        Why would you play something like Nidhogg with K/M? Just keyboard would be enough, but that’s really just like an unweildy version of a controller. One of the benefits of PC gaming is that we get to choose the most appropriate peripheral for any given game, instead of being stuck with just one.

      • Fellhuhn says:

        Well, games which really need a Mouse & Keyboard are seldom the type you want to play with a beer in your hand as they need more concentration and a lot of time. Having a gaming machine ready for a fun tournament and some pass & play & drink beer is sure a nice thing if everyone is okay with that. Forcing “Mount your friends” on people who don’t like such stuff never ends well…

    • LionsPhil says:

      Eww, Xbox controllers.

  5. v21v21v21 says:

    Paul, Paul, I see Paul! Hey Paul… Paul, yoohoo, Paul

    and that weird angry guy too…

  6. Conehead The Barbarian says:

    I’ve been to a few similar sort of events over the festive period, and have played / discovered some great games.
    Starwhal : Narwhals going around stabbing each other in the heart, the slow Mo at key moments led to some (a lot) of shouting.

    Gangbeasts: Played this last night for the first time, each map is so different from each other with some great hazards. Particularly the level with the moving trucks with the camera slowly panning round to see (or not to see) the upcoming signs that could mean your imminent death. Can’t wait to see where this game goes in the future.

    Vertiginous golf: This is a more relaxed game (less shouting more stress), the levels are interesting and are your standard crazy golf courses but with a steam punk style. There is also a rewind feature that allows players to try out different strategies instead of being penalised. These two things combined meant that towards the end it was getting very competitive.

    Thief Town: This game all comes down to how good the other players are at hiding in amongst AI, like Assassins Creed except with more stabbing if things go wrong. Throw in several game modes, like drunk town where a sheriff has to pick out the players from the drunks, but they can’t attack and the sheriff has limited bullets. Thanks to this its become a firm favourite with plenty of replay ability.

    Sonic & all stars racing: transformed: A racing game with nice levels, fun power ups that can change the standings very quickly. Not really much more I can say about it except it being fun.

    These are perhaps my favourite ones that I’ve played so far for this sort of thing, can’t wait to see what other great games are out there. (Sorry if this is a pain in the arse to read)

    • The First Door says:

      Vertiginous Golf is ace! I’ve been playing that a fair bit with some of my local gaming pals. Having said that, I think the normal levels are a bit too long for 4 player bouts, but the Median and Mini-Putt courses have gone down really well.

      One thing though: It isn’t all relaxing. There are certain levels, like when you get stuck on a roof with no rewind, that sometimes cause quite a bit of swearing!

  7. Synesthesia says:

    Yes! I’ve been doing this. Every time there’s a bigger-than-boardgame meet up, i hook up my gf’s laptop to the jumbotron, and just leave samurai gunn or towerfall up. It doesn’t take long for the stragglers to grab a controller. I do recommend wireless though! Beer, cords, and expensive equipment dont mix well.

  8. demicanadian says:

    POINT 1: Have friends.

  9. Shadow says:

    I’d say it’s a much larger problem to have a gaming party with too much partying and too little gaming than one with too much gaming and too little partying. “Party” is not the operative word, but rather just the mandatory socially acceptable term to characterize what’s actually a ritual.

    BRING ON THE GAMING RITUALS!

  10. Hexagram says:

    We’ve been doing this for the last year in Madrid, always great fun. Gang Beasts, Nidhogg, Towerfall, are some of the easiest for people to get into, but we’ve also had Space Team tournaments and street Johann Sebastian Joust tournaments.

    You can see some highlights here: link to goplaythat.com

    and our top 10 local multiplayer games of the year here: link to goplaythat.com

    • Shadow says:

      Critical thing missing from the Top 10: links! Don’t just mention the games, link to them. It’s a lot more user-friendly.

      But it’s a good list, overall. I also believe Towerfall is pure gold. Easy to pick up and great for all sorts of players.

      • Hexagram says:

        Yep, bit of an oversight on our part, we normally love linking! Sorry!

  11. felisc says:

    Ok who’s in Paris ? I want to do that this saturday. Playing games with random nice people would close this damn week pretty nicely.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Hmmm, I could be tempted. Steam name’s Gap Gen (I think), although I have someone staying until Friday so may be slow to reply to messages, otherwise I’ll try to check back here.

  12. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Is that supposed to sell PC gaming? I was doing that 20 years ago, huddled around a tiny screen, feeling uncomfortable. All the while you ignore the massive TV and couch. Odd.

  13. Canazza says:

    Did this over the holidays too.

    Cards against Humanity (physical game) to warm up (my mate just bought some expansion packs). Towerfall for our tournament, Mount Your Friends was the climax. Ending on Mount Your Friend’s Joust mode.

    Tried to sneak a bit of Magicka in there, but it wouldn’t run on the laptop :(

    This is coming from guys who used to do monthly LAN parties (UT classic, SWAT 4, Left 4 dead etc). We prefer this now.

    • Gap Gen says:

      LAN parties are good, but we regularly spent half our time patching even with the best will in the world to show up with the same versions. It’s possible that Steam and its ilk make this a thing of the past, I suppose.

      • Alfius says:

        Yes, when those involved can be bothered to read the pre-LAN email and install the correct games ahead of time. There’s always one who doesn’t.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Even online. “OK, still patching Company of Heroes, looks like I’ll be done in… March. 2018.”

  14. Knaarfje says:

    Me and my friends play a lot of couch multiplayer games. My PC is hooked up to my television with a giant 15-meter hdmi cable and over the past year friends ‘forgot’ their controllers often enough for me to have at least four lying around. Speedrunners is a big favorite right now. Other favorites are Gang Beasts, Nidhogg, Crawl, Magicka, Thief Town and Broforce.

    Steam’s Big Picture mode is pretty great for playing games. discovering new and fun local multiplayer gems, not so much.

    • Fellhuhn says:

      Uuuuh, Magicka with Controllers? Tried that and it changes the game completely. Spamming spells is nearly impossible then. But still, dying is fun. :D

  15. Rizlar says:

    Love that header image. Welcome to PC gaming, hope you like slouching!

  16. sabrage says:

    I’m starting to see why your parties work out and my slightly-crazed demands for King of Fighters duels at any and every moment are refused.

  17. Inertiaman says:

    1992 WANTS IT’S AWFUL BENCH BACK.

  18. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    Pro tip by someone who shouldn’t be giving pro tips on this: Sophie Houlden’s BANGBANGBANG is a pretty excellent game that’s rarely mentioned in these things.

  19. babbler says:

    Use to have these back in college before everyone went their separate ways. It makes me sad to think about.

  20. Fellhuhn says:

    One of the biggest problems for us was to find out which game even supported the right amount of local players AND coop (which we mostly play). Right now I have 1000+ games on Steam and played as good as none of them (at least if I take a look at the percentage it feels like none) so it is hard to find the right game.

    The good thing is that there is an android app that shows you which of your games support which game modes for how many players. But since I developed it I would feel bad (and most likely risk a ban) if I would link to it or name it. But if someone is intrigued I might be convinced. ;)

    It really is a shame that Steam has no real support for this feature (showing which game supports what). The tag like system they have is quite broken as a lot of developers misunderstand them. And there isn’t even a category for “local versus”.

  21. alvysingerUK says:

    “Dan! Dan?! Dan!”