So an important question I’ve been asking myself is, how does one host a good holiday game night?
I deliberated. I researched. I scoured the web for inspiration.
And I honestly think I’ve cracked it.
There are 2 key problems with any holiday event:
- The stress. Everyone is so stressed out, trying to make the holidays perfect, trying to impress everyone, sometimes even just finding an ugly Christmas sweater. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, there’s some sort of pressure, and that takes away a lot of the fun.
- The food. It’s expected that there will be mountains of food. Major family traditions revolve around food, ESPECIALLY at the holidays. In my family, it’s all about the potica and roskies. For one of my friends, fondue on Christmas Eve has become the tradition. For another, it’s fudge and cinnamon rolls.
Game nights are no different. You still have to get people together, and not everyone may know each other well. Some might bring significant others who don’t enjoy gaming. (That’s perfectly OK, you’re always welcome at my game nights!) Then you have to figure out how to feed everyone without spending a fortune, spending too much time in the kitchen, or risking total disaster.
Like our Friendsgiving post, I’m not here to tell you how to make Christmas dinner for your friends. If you want to go that route, go for it! I am just not going to compete with years and years of family recipes.
I’ve got something better, anyway:
Breakfast for dinner.
Not exactly a novel concept, no, but one that works great for game night, especially during the holidays. I mean who doesn’t love a big Christmas breakfast? So let’s take that concept and roll with it.
Forget ugly sweaters. Why not just have a pajama party instead? Everyone is comfortable, everyone is warm, and then you really don’t have to stress out about finding something to wear. I mean, you could even just have a brunch to kick off a full day of gaming.
It’s brilliant, I tell you. Brilliant!
Let’s talk about how you go about pulling such a thing off. Normally I’d start with games, but in the spirit of gluttony (and also because I love to cook), I’m going to start with the food.
A Breakfast-for-Dinner Menu
I love breakfast. It’s delicious. It’s cheap. And it’s easy. Breakfast doesn’t have to be fancy in the slightest, although you can make it that way, if you prefer. It’s perfect for feeding families and groups of people. And there are just so many ways to go about it! But I have a few key requirements for a proper morning feast:
Pancakes or waffles. Take your pick. You could even do french toast or cinnamon rolls, if so inclined.
Some sort of protein. For me, it’s always bacon, but eggs will go well here. Or why not both?
Something fresh. Fruit and breakfast are a perfect combination. Especially strawberries atop pancakes or waffles. You could also just serve up some fruit juice. If you want something more brunch-like, might I recommend mimosas?
Optional: Potatoes. Hash browns are amazing. And if you’re not keen on gluten or grains, this is a perfect alternative to pancakes or waffles. Me, I’ll take both.
Don’t forget the accoutrements, like whipped cream and syrup!
The nice thing about this kind of menu is you have a good mix of things that can cook in the oven and things that require a stovetop. Pancakes and waffles are mostly hands-off for cooking. Eggs cook fast. And if you’ve never baked your bacon in the oven, you’re doing it all wrong. (Wire baking rack over a lined baking pan, 400 degrees until it reaches desired crispness — anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes usually. You can thank me later.)
Most of these are simple enough. You probably already have your preferred recipes in your head. But if you want to try to dress things up for the holidays, I have rounded up a few fancier waffle and pancake options for you:
- S’mores Pancakes from Chocolate and Carrots
- Red Velvet Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze from Kendra’s Treats
- Gingerbread Pancakes from Live Well Bake Often
- Gingerbread Waffles with Orange Whipped Cream from KitschenCat
- Nutella Waffles from The Kitchen is My Playground
- Pumpkin Beer Waffles from Jennifer Meyering
Most people tend to think of hash browns as something you fry in a pan, but frankly, I prefer these little hash brown cups that are baked in the oven. You could, if you wanted, shred your own potatoes, but you can also just head to the grocery store and get some pre-shredded potatoes. All you need is a mixing bowl and a muffin tin — it’s one thing you can just pop into the oven and let them do their thing!
Christmas Game Night Lineup
Deciding on the right type of games to play was another challenge. I really like the idea of recreating a magical Christmas morning (breakfast, pajamas…see where I’m heading with this?) and I decided that would be my theme for games — magic.
All of these choices here, while not very Christmassy, all tie into the idea of magic to some extent or another.
I think I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy Dominion as a game. (I’m a sucker for deck-building games in general, though) The Dominion: Alchemy expansion expands the world with new cards as well as potions. This isn’t a standalone game, so you need either the base game or the standalone Intrigue expansion to play. You can also combine this expansion with other expansions, based on your playing preferences.
Players: 2-4 (5-6 with a double set) | Playtime: 30 minutes | Ages: 13+
Escape: Curse of the Temple is clearly inspired by everyone’s favorite adventuring archaeologist. It’s a fast-paced cooperative game — while it does require some strategy, every player is rolling their dice and taking actions at the same time. The game is timed, because the whole premise of the game is to escape the cursed temple before time runs out and one or more players are trapped — or worse, killed — by the temple.
Most co-op games require lots of negotiation and strategy, but here the pressure is on to make decisions quickly instead of deliberating.
Players: 1-5 | Playtime: 10 minutes | Ages: 8+
In Lords of Xidit, players become Idrakys, responsible for protecting the kingdom and restoring order. Players travel through the land to recruit defenders and liberate cities.
As a reward, you’ll accumulate wealth, bards will sing your praises, and you can establish sorcerer’s guilds throughout the land! This is the game with the longest play time on the list, and easily the most involved, but the artwork is vibrant and colorful and the premise is so steeped in fantasy I can’t help but love it.
Players: 3-5 | Playtime: 90 minutes | Ages: 14+
Yes, we’re stretching that “magic” premise a bit here, but Tsuro: The Game of the Path, features the ultimate magical creature: Dragons!
Each player has to navigate across the board without crossing the page of another dragon. Tsuro plays quickly, but it takes a bit of strategy because you need to make sure you aren’t your own worst enemy when it comes to deciding which path to take.
Players: 2-8 | Playtime: 15 minutes | Ages: 8+
Munchkin Panic combines everyone’s favorite friendship-ending game with the fun of Castle Panic! The monsters from Munchkin have taken over the castle, and so you must rally your friends to defeat them.
Defeated monsters give you treasure, as with Munchkin. But if you don’t work together, all of you could lose! I love a good mashup, and this is no exception. It takes the best parts of Munchkin and adds a cooperative element, which is a great way to keep tempers to a minimum during gaming.
Players: 1-6 | Playtime: 30-60 minutes | Ages: 10+
Don’t forget, Christmas is the perfect time to break out the classics — Monopoly, Sorry, and Scrabble all come to mind. You can also use it as an opportunity to introduce someone to the world of gaming with a gateway game (like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride or Munchkin). Any sort of party game will do well, too!
A Few Holiday Extras
I really want to keep this game night simple. But if you feel inclined to go above and beyond and do something more, here are a couple easy ways to elevate the experience:
A Cookie Exchange
Cookie exchanges have been increasing in popularity. It’s an easy way to get a good variety of cookies without having to make several dozen of each type. It’ll take some coordinating, but if you’re willing to expend the effort and your friends enjoy making cookies, why not?
There are a few different ways to go about hosting an exchange, so here are some resources for you to look over:
The Art of Simple: How to Host a Memorable Holiday Cookie Swap
My Baking Addiction: How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange
I Heart Naptime: How to Host a Cookie Exchange
White Elephant Gift Exchange
Buying one perfect gift for everyone can be expensive, and exhausting. And I don’t care for generic gifts (a.k.a. every pre-assembled gift basket or gift collection ever). So instead, spice things up by planning a white elephant gift exchange!
A white elephant gift is basically a gag gift. Specifically, one that’s burdensome and hard to get rid of. Now, you don’t need to take it that far — you can just make sure everyone gets something playful. But the point is that it’s funny and fun.
Discuss everything with your guests ahead of time and set a limit on the costs. Make sure it’s something appropriate to everyone’s budget. This doesn’t have to be extravagant. The point is for it to be fun.
The first thing is to figure out in what order people will unwrap their gifts. You could do age, you could do birthday, or something else completely arbitrary. The exchange happens like this: The first person selects a gift. The second person can either steal that gift or unwrap a gift of their own, and so on. A gift can only be stolen twice, and the exchange ends when the last person unwraps their gift. Some variations allow the first person to unwrap a gift to have the option to swap their gift for any other available gift.
What are your holiday game night traditions? What are you doing this holiday? Leave a comment and let us know!
Melissa is an independent writer and editor, as well as a board game lover. When she's not creating or perfecting web content, she's usually playing games with her friends or experimenting in the kitchen.