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Theming a Board Game Night

I talk pretty often about how I have a board game night, and while they have recently been digital, I want to talk about the concept of theming a game night and what you might want to think about.

Theming a board game night can be a lot of fun. It gives people a good idea of what games might be played. It helps focus in a collection which games come off of the shelf. I know that I have enough board games where it is tricky sometimes to get them to the table, but if I theme the night, then I play games I might not get to otherwise. What I want to talk about is how to pick a theme, but before that, I think we should talk about how to pick games.

Picking the Games for Board Game Night

Now, you might just want to pick games that go with the theme ,and keeping things on brand for the theme is important. But it is easy to end up with a lot of the same types of games, if you pick something like fantasy, you could end up with four big games ready to go. A game night should provide some more diversity in what is played and that’s less because some people don’t like big games, but more because people will come in late. I am working on coming up with a methodology of what works well.

I think that starting out with a party or lighter/faster game is good to do. People will show up throughout that game, they can either sit down and chat with you while you play or hop into the game if it’s a party game as the points don’t matter. Then have some medium or heavier games to go after people have arrived. This can often have you splitting into a couple of groups, get a heavier game and a medium weight game going. Then as the games wrap up, you go back to lighter games again and pick ones that can end whenever or can be played multiple times pretty quickly as people will slowly drop out for the night. I’ve found that this strategy works well and the games played generally will give everyone something that they like, for those party game players or those heavier gamers.

Picking a Theme

Keep The Theme General

So, with that in mind, it makes a collection clearer for what themes might work. You’ll be able to see what games you have that fit a given theme. And when I say pick a theme, I mean give yourself a broad category. For examples, instead of 18XX go with games with trains. Instead of Lord of the Rings go with fantasy, instead of chickens go with animals. Give yourself enough to work with and a wider breath of games to pick from. It will also make the game night more inviting, because you might have three games about chickens, but if I hate chickens, I might not come, but add in animals of any sort, I would come for games about cats. That’s a silly example but helps make the point. A broader theme is more interesting because someone who doesn’t like fantasy except Lord of the Rings can still come to game night. I always try and say what games I’m looking at as well when inviting people.

Vary The Themes

And vary the theme as well. If you flip back and forth from sci-fi to fantasy and back with maybe a horror thrown in there, it’ll limit what games you can do. It’s fine to stretch a little bit to fit some of your favorite games into categories, but by theming you can also encourage other people to bring games as well.

Image Source: CMON
Stretch The Themes

Now, I am a strong proponent of stretching the theme as well. You do want to play your favorite games, so make themes that they can get into, maybe just barely. It’s a food themed game night, what games have food in them even if they aren’t about food. If you love Agricola, you can make that work. Ice Cool is about flicking penguins who want fish. Or if you’re doing a theme about a school or learning, Ice Cool works for that, or about animals, Ice Cool again works. You can get games into a theme to give yourself more options to play, if you really try.

Theme To The Season

Finally, pick themes that go with the season. At the holidays, make it about party games, if you do it on a weekend evening like I do, that means around Christmas and New Years that people might have other parties as well. Make your game night something easy to drop into. Or in October go with horror games. In July, go with games about food or fireworks or about the United States of America. That’ll help you get variety in your themes as well.

Themed Game Set Examples

Food
  • Sushi Go/Sushi Go party – This is a nice starting game, it plays fast and offers time to chat. It’s also enough that groups can continue playing if they want.
  • Homebrewer, Foodies, and Heaven and Ale – This is the second wave of games that I’d use in my collection. They are bigger games with more going on, but Homebrewer and Foodies are pretty light weight and easy for someone who might not know the game quite as well to teach. The people who want to play a heavier game, Heaven and Ale covers that crowd.
  • Point Salad and Ice Cool – Point Salad is a great wrap up the night game. It plays a decently large group, it plays fast. So a good one for the Homebrewers or Foodies players to play while Heaven and Ale players finish up their game. And Ice Cool plays a big number and is silly fun.
Horror/Halloween
  • Zombie Dice – It’s a very simply push your luck dice game about zombies. Sure it’s not actually scary, but it has a horror related theme which is really what you’re going for more than something too scary.
  • Dead of Winter, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Marrying Mr Darcy (with Zombie expansion) and Deranged – There are some lighter and some longer games in here, but it gives you a variety of options. And three of them handle a larger group of players.
  • Deception: Murder in Hong Kong – Sure it’s not really a horror game but it’s about a murder which has a Halloween feel to it. And it’s a nice bigger group game where the games don’t last too long, people can leave between them and it can wrap down the game night.
Image Source: Board Game Geek
Sci-Fi
  • King of Tokyo – So this could fall into the next category of games, but the games of King of Tokyo are fast and the Cyber Bunny is definitely sci-fi. Plus since the game is simple, chatting with people who arrive while you’re playing is easy.
  • Xenoshyft: Onslaught, Alien Artifacts, Clank! In! Space!, Cry Havoc – All of these are bigger games, though some of them are more complex and drier to play. They give a good variety from area control, a 4x-ish card game, two deck builders, but one cooperative and one not.
  • Not Alone or Lazer Ryderz – Now, Not Alone is for if you still have a larger group. But you could do Lazer Ryderz in teams as well which is just becasically the bike game from Tron. A some good goofy fun with that game. Not Alone gives you more of a game but still plays a big play count.

Those are just three examples of what you could do. And that is how I’d build it from my collection. I also like it when people bring games that gives even more variety as to what to play.

Have you themed a game night? What’s your favorite theme?

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