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.