Two Types of Game Nights

My friend Jeremy and I have been hosting board game nights for quite a while now and I’ve come to a realization lately that there are two different types of game night. There is the type of board game night where you get a bunch of people together and struggle to decide what to play based on number of players, difficulty to learn, setup time, etc. Let’s call this the “Big” game night. Then there is the type of board game night with only a few people where you choose to play the heavier, deeper, more intense games that typically can’t make a showing at the first type of board game night. Let’s call this the “Level 1” game night.

Today I’m going to examine the ups and downs of each type! Note: I’ll write about Board Game Days in a separate article.

Big Game Nights

Big, as in a large number of games. Not as in the size of the game!

Big, as in a large number of gamers. Not the size of the game!

I love big game night. But that’s partially because I love any game night! It’s great to get a bunch of guys (note: I’m not sexist… my group is just all guys) together for some board game awesomeness. But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some downsides to the Big game night, at least compared with the Level 1 game night. Let’s look at the good things first:

  1. You’re playing games, perhaps enjoying a nice brew, and escaping all the other junk of life.
  2. You might even be enjoying some nice refreshments.
  3. With more gamers you often have more games to choose from.
  4. Robo Rally. Chaos embodied in a board game can be quite entertaining!

There you go… the upside to the Big game night. What downside could there possibly be?

  1. You might wreck your budget trying to buy games for 8 or 10 players.
  2. Nuns on the Run, a hide-and-seek nun game, just doesn’t have the right theme!
  3. Players might get sick of finishing the night with a lap of Bisikle every time (gasp!).
  4. Indecision enters the gaming arena. Players struggle to agree on what to play.
  5. It’s often more difficult to break out new games. It always feels like you’re teaching new people old stuff.
  6. It’s often more difficult to break out heavy games. Big game night is more open to the casual player.

An 8-player recommendation!

When our group was getting to 8 regular attenders I really did a search for 8+ player games. At one point I was ready to pull the trigger on Nuns on the Run. I ultimately went with Robo Rally, which ended up being a great choice. I also looked into Formula D, but never bought it. One of the issues with a larger board game night is that it is hard for everyone to play a game together. One 8-player game that I’ve found to be a lot of fun is VivaJava: The Coffee Game by designer TC Petty III and published by DiceHateMe Games.

The problem is that most games are not 8 player games. That means what was a big group of people is now split in two or three. That’s often less fun. You’ve got cross-table banter. People feel left out of the other table’s conversation, and a disconnect forms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of fun… just not as fun as the “Level 1” game night!

Level 1 Game Nights

Several of us in our group use the phrase “Level 1” to refer to each other as awesome, tight, “I got your back” type of friends. On occasion we have an impromptu “Level 1” game night where it’s just a small group of us getting together. I wanted to refer to these game nights as “Intimate” but that just didn’t feel appropriate with all the finger-bending. These nights include the kind of friends you never hesitate to play any game with. These game nights also have an upside and a downside. This time let’s start with the downside:

  1. Less beer options to choose from.
  2. Fewer refreshments.

3 hour games are acceptable at Level 1 Game Nights!

While those two can be tough to swallow, the Level 1 game night can make up for that in the quality of the games that hit the table. Here’s the upside:

  1. Heavier games make the table. Enter Uwe Rosenberg and Stefan Feld!
  2. New games can be played since there is usually a high willingness to learn together.
  3. Playtesting of prototypes happens more freely.
  4. You’ve learned what to expect from the other players.
  5. Inside jokes, Jerks!
  6. You never have to split into multiple games.

There’s a lot to enjoy with a Level 1 game night! But the bottom line here is that any game night can be fun. Go into them with the right expectations and you’ll have a good time. And remember, playing to win and playing to have fun are not necessarily the same. So get to your local game night and have a great time!


Posted on May 7, 2013, in Board Game Night, Board Games, The Boards and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. If I were gaming once a week with a group, I would probably opt for a 4:1 ratio of “Level 1” to “Big Game” nights. I love the focus of “Level 1”, but it is nice to kick back and introduce newer gamers to some decent fare once in a while too.

  2. I myself will sometimes pick the games first and then invite around the required numbers. I often attend bigger game nights, and they can be a lot of fun, but they’re also responsible for my very probably unfair loathing of citadels and some others. I can see all of the pros of citadels, I can see the appeal, the strengths, but it also became the game that always got played for hours, the game we played instead of games I love, and the game whose random factors had the most opportunities to fester in my brain. I remember thinking after my first couple games that I’d have to keep my eyes peeled for it; at this point I’d rather play almost anything else. Wow, that rant happened suddenly.
    Point should have been that my big groups never want to split off and play different games, which leads to a few big games getting overplayed. Especially when everybody knows them already. That said, formula de can be lots of fun with a large number, as long as people are up for trying something new.

  3. Thanks for the comments! Brian, I agree that a 4:1 ratio sounds pretty ideal! Rexlogan, remind me to bring along Citadels if we ever meet! Just kidding. I have enjoyed the nights where we specifically chose a game in advance and requested people to read the rules. Those have always worked well.

  4. Snuck in from the BGDF discussion about pretty versus ugly prototypes. Really enjoyed this post, too. I think it’s spot on, and I find that “big game nights” usually become Cards Against Humanity, Telestrations, or Resistance nights fairly quickly. (Which all fill the same kind of “reading people” niche and get old for a while for me.) I suppose Citadels has that aspect, too, but I haven’t played it as much, so I’m not sick of it yet.

    Love to see the “game day” breakdown, too!

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