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Cardboard Children: The Perfect Games Night

Hello youse.

With it being Halloween tomorrow, many of you will be organising a special board game night, and inviting some friends round for some horror-themed games. I could have used this column to write about the best of those horror-themed games to play on Halloween, but there would be precisely zero point, because it's not like you'd be able to go out and buy them in time. Instead I want to use this column to talk about the “board game night” itself. How to hold one, and how to make it go smoothly.

I wrote about this before on my old website, so I'll be re-using a little bit of that material here, because it all still applies, and also because I like it and I want all my new pals to see it. I'm sorry, I love you. Most of this is hot and fresh out the kitchen, though, like R Kelly's Ignition.



The game has got to be right for your group. For example, if your group enjoys good games, do not put Risk on the table. Gauge the interests of the group by phoning them at 3 in the morning every night in the week leading up to your games night. A person asked a question at 3 in the morning will always answer truthfully, although the truth will probably be screamed at you and will be wrapped in lots of swear words. Find out what type of thing they like and then pop onto http://www.boardgamegeek.com to find the ideal game. Once you've done that, just decide to play a game you want to play anyway. It's your house. Fuck 'em.


For God’s sake learn the rules. Whatever game you decide to play, make sure you have those rules DOWN. Study them. Commit them to memory. If, on the day of your games night, you are going for a shit without taking the rules with you to read on the pan, you are not doing your job properly. Another option is to print out copies of the rules (usually the website of the board game’s publisher will provide downloadable rulebooks) and send them to the players in advance. Just be aware that NONE OF THEM WILL ACTUALLY READ THEM BECAUSE THEY HAVE LIVES. So it’s down to you. Learn the rules, idiot. It's often worth setting up the game beforehand and playing through a dummy game yourself, to make sure you have it all worked out. I've never done this, though, because I am not mentally ill.


Modern board games often take an age to set up. The average set-up time of a modern board game is 17 Passings of the Moon. You need to shorten that set-up time, because no-one likes waiting around while you get your stuff straight. (Am I right, ladies?) Consider the terrible sport of Grand Prix Racing. In that world there is a pit crew. And those guys practice getting shit done FAST, so that they can enhance the careers of spoiled rich kids whose machines do all the work. So you can certainly put in the time to enhance an evening for your friends, right? With games like Arkham Horror, it's helpful to have all the game components stored in special containers of some kind. Tackle boxes and stuff. Keep your shit organised. Then it's just a case of pulling all the stuff out and popping it into the wrong places, and not being able to fit it all on your table, and getting annoyed at the sadists who designed the game.


The rules explanation. The whole night can be won or lost on the rules explanation. If it turns into a lecture, you’re screwed. No-one came to a games night to hear you talk. Nobody actually likes you. So be as brief as you can feasibly be. There’s nothing worse than explaining the rules of a game and seeing people’s eyes glaze over and their drool starting to drip onto your unsleeved cards. Start the game as soon as you can. You can demonstrate a turn and explain any details as you go. Believe me here, no-one can go long on a rules explanation and survive. If Barack Obama himself took an hour over the book-keeping details of Arkham Horror, your group would be screaming for impeachment. (That Obama gag is one from the old column, but I'm leaving it in as a tragic reminder of how everyone disappoints us in the end.)


Board games are long these days, and that means you have to make sure your friends are fed and watered throughout, in case they expire. I like to arrange some candy cakes, biscuit bars, chocolate relics, fried crispings and other such snacks on a side-table, so that people can help themselves whenever they feel the need. I also like to make sure that alcohol is available, because a drunk mind is less likely to anticipate one of my trademark backstabs. Of course, once you have laid out all these snacks and drinks, it is vital that you express annoyance at anyone eating or drinking because their hands are greasy and might ruin your cards, and they might spill a drink on the board.


Going all night is usually a good thing (right, ladies?). In board games, it ain't. I used to be bad for this. When I used to play Descent, a game that had me as an evil Overlord trying to kill every player that came into my dungeon, I would get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from spawning kobolds in front of the exits. These monsters will rarely kill a player, but they will slow a player down. I could keep those poor players in that dungeon until five in the morning. I could watch them grow pale and weak, and listen to their despairing pleas for sleep. I actually used to do this. I would never do it now. It's a terrible, evil (hilarious) thing to do. DO NOT GO ALL NIGHT. Leave people wanting more, not wanting bed.


If people are hating the game you're playing, make it clear that they can say so, and that you can stop. Games are games. It's all supposed to be fun, not a slog, or a job. Don't take it all too seriously. Sure, it's a kick in the balls when a board game you've paid fifty quid for is stinking up the table, but that isn't your friends' fault. It's probably Knizia's fault. (I AM JOKING, KNIZIA-FREAKS) Always make sure you have some short games on hand for those times when a game bombs big time and you only have an hour or so of the night left. It's nice to bust out a cheery little game of Say Anything or Buzz It! on these occasions. Particularly if you're all single, because these games have the potential to lead to some serious fucking.


This is the one I have a problem with. I am a terrible loser. I hate to lose. On your special games night, you need to follow this rule: DO NOT FLIP THE FUCK OUT. You have invited some friends for a fun night playing one of the many amazing board games out there. It is a positive experience. No-one wants you ruining it all by starting to flip the fuck out when things don’t go your way. There are different ways of flipping the fuck out. There’s the TOTAL FUCKING FLIPOUT, where you will flip the board in the air, kick things over, call someone’s wife a slut and someone’s husband a manslut, and eventually wake up in jail. There’s the MILD FUCKING FLIPOUT, where your voice gets that annoying nasal sound to it, and you moan and whine about how “imbalanced” or “cheap” the mechanic of a brilliant board game is, and all because you fucked up. And then there’s the type of flipout that might be the worst – THE FUCKING STEALTH FLIPOUT.

This flipout is deadly. You fall silent. You smile and keep up appearances. You pretend you don’t care that the whole table just ganked the hell out of you. You pack the stuff away and see everyone out, wishing them a good night.

You go to bed. You lie there, in the darkness, seething. Your eyes are wide open, staring at the ceiling. You can’t even blink you’re so angry. Your eyeballs start to dry out. In the morning, you get up and go to the bathroom. Your eyeballs have turned black by this time. You take some lipstick and draw a dice symbol on your face. You get in the car.

You visit each of your friends’ homes in succession. And you kill them all, in a board game style.

Friend 1: you roll dice down his throat until his stomach ruptures.

Friend 2: You hack him up and bury his parts in two shallow graves, one marked “Draw Grave” and one marked “Discard Pile.”

Friend 3: You strip him, cover him in wool and take him to an abattoir. You find the conveyor belt carrying lambs to the slaughter and swap him in for one of the animals. You watch as he is killed and hung, having successfully traded him for sheep.

Friend 4: You throw him into an incredibly elaborate and enormous Dice Tower you’ve built, letting his body tumble to the bottom, his bones smashing in a satisfyingly random manner.

All that said, I’d state again: DO NOT FLIP THE FUCK OUT. Just have fun. It’s great to play games with friends.


Seriously, don't give me that “I don't have anyone to play with” shit. I could put together a 12-player game of something tomorrow if I had to. People who will happily play board games are out there. They're everywhere. It's not as niche as you think. If you know people who like to have a drink and talk shit, you know people who'll happily play a game of Zombies!!! If you know anyone who would play a game of Truth or Dare at a party, you know someone who would play Buzz It! or Werewolf. It's a tiny step from games like that to a big session of Warrior Knights, with “that girl from work/college/school” voting through a law that limits your military expansion. It's a great thing to get into board games, because it encourages people to be social. It encourages people to ask people to come up to the house and be entertained. Since I started doing these columns at RPS, I've seen so many comments by people saying things like “no-one I know would do this with me, though.” It's bullshit. YOU DO IT. Actively find the people who would be up for it, organise a board night, and have the time of your life. I guarantee that some of you will end up with a new best friend or a wife through this. I guarantee it. I do not want to hear this shit ANY MORE.

Remember to use http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to get on board. There will most likely be somewhere helpful nearby.

See you next week, and have a happy Halloween. Can't wait to tell you about next week's game.

Remember, I don't want to hear any of this poor-me shit ANY MORE.

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About the Author

Robert Florence