One of the simplest parties you can possibly throw is a Game Night. Get half a dozen people together, bring out a stack of board games and some quick snacks, and you're set.
Games are one of a host's greatest allies - perhaps third behind popcorn and a working stereo system. More interactive and engaging than tv, less stressful than trying to revive flagging conversation, they take the pressure off of you as a host. We can't be scintillating all the time! Thankfully games are there to refuel our brain engines.
If you're working on building up your collection, here are some suggestions of games that play well with others. But first . . .
Have some. Make them up and stick to them. You're the boss! The house rules I enforce on Game Night are simple: 1) The youngest person goes first. 2) The winner gets to pick the next game we play and the next snack I bring out, and gets a cocktail or mocktail made to order - in other words, the winner is waited on hand-and-foot for about 10 minutes, and gets to rule the next 30 minutes of our lives. I'm a fan of stakes like these - it keeps things interesting without anyone having to place any money bets.
These are all fine games to crack open on a balmy night, as the sun sets and you sit on your porch with a tall, cold drink in hand, preferably one with mint leaves. They're also great in winter, gathered near a pellet stove with a hot toddy or some spiked hot chocolate. They're perfect for a crowd of old friends, sedated by a big dinner, comfortable enough to trash talk each other.
If you have a bunch of smartypants friends, these games are probably familiar to you. Scene It? is a fun and fast-paced movie trivia game with interactive DVD content. Trivial Pursuit is a classic, but one that should never be played with more than two teams unless you've been taken hostage inside a bank vault and might not be rescued for days. Also, unless you are a senior citizen, don't even attempt to play the original version of this game - it's 32 years old, and boy does it show! This goes doubly if you are a person who has played the original version so many times you have essentially memorized all the questions, because then your friends will openly despise you.
These are games that reward quick thinking and your ability to shout out an answer first. Show off your cultural knowledge, drawing skills, impressions of famous people, and uncanny mind-melding abilities. This is the kind of game to play with extroverts, theatre people, performance artists, and moderately drunk people. This is the wrong kind of game to play with people who are on the verge of an acrimonious break-up. Tensions run high!
Celebrity gets bonus points because it will cost you nothing but little scraps of paper. Follow the link to the rules and you can play this game anytime, anywhere.
These cultural phenomena are perennial favorites. Build a teetering tower out of blocks of wood, or tie yourselves into a big friend-pretzel. These games are jolly good fun, and not in the least bit mentally taxing.
Years ago Jenga released a truth-or-dare version; questions and dares would be written on half the blocks, and the one you pulled determined your task. It's easy to make your own truth-or-dare version - either by writing your own dares right on the blocks - or by writing numbers that correspond with a key, so that you can easily modify your game in the future.
Oft-overlooked, these are some of my favorites. Loaded Questions is a fun, all-ages game, where you guess who answered what. Scruples is a game that requires you to guess how your friends would behave in a tricky ethical situation - and ironically, the game is more fun when people lie. These are great icebreaking games, perfect when you have a few new people in the group; the best strategy is to get to know them fast. These games are also some of the most memorable. It's been 6 years and I can still recall my 10-year-old cousin Neil's answer to the question, What is your ideal pet? Answer: A chicken that will never die.