If not all guests know one another, a little entertainment can get the ball rolling—sometimes literally.

By Real Simple Editors
June 26, 2019
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Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

A last-minute party might sound like a good idea—until you realize that, after setting up the logistics of the gathering, the task of keeping all the guests entertained falls to the host. (That little chore might have fallen off the party planning checklist.) To host a party well, you’ll need to create a comfortable atmosphere and energized ambiance using everything from the music to how the guests interact. The goal is to make guests comfortable and familiar with one another; once that happens, they’ll be able to entertain each other, leaving you to enjoy yourself, too.

Need a little help? Try these tips, and pick up a few party games and activities to have on-hand for the next soiree. With this guide, your guests are sure to have a ball.

Pick Your Playlists

Music-streaming services make it simple to keep a playbook of playlists. DJ Taiga of Remixologists, an events company in New York and Philadelphia, recommends the playlists “Indie Dinner Party,” “Jazzy Dinner,” and “Feel Good Dinner” on Spotify. You could also try Pandora stations like “Hipster Cocktail Party,” “Classic Soul BBQ,” and “Brunch Cafe.” Spotify even has “The Cleaning Playlist,” which is full of sing-along classics that make pre- or post-party cleanup more bearable. If you don’t have time to queue up a playlist, ask a willing guest to play DJ, suggests Michael Smith Boyd, an Atlanta-based designer and the star of Buying It Blind on Bravo.

Break the Ice

Help get the conversation started by setting out some games. A deck of trivia cards left on an ottoman can spur discussion. “Someone will draw a card and ask, ‘Who was the 40th president of United States?,’ and then it just draws people in,” says San Francisco designer Allison Pickart.

Your smart home hub may also have crowd-pleasing games to choose from. On the Google Nest Hub Max ($229; store.google.com), try a classic such as Truth or Dare or a trivia game such as I’m Feeling Lucky. Or check out Alexa’s true-crime games (for mature audiences), in which your group solves a murder together. Bosch: A Detective’s Case is exciting and just challenging enough.

Seat Smarts

When it’s time to eat, don’t be afraid to ask people to sit next to or across from at least one person they don’t know well. The directive feels impromptu, but guests will appreciate the opportunity to branch out.

For party games and activities for all ages, try one of these entertaining finds:

amazon.com

1
Ridley’s Classic Backgammon Set

For quieter parties, a low-key board game offers easygoing fun that can entertain a group of almost any size. Anyone who doesn’t know how to play can take the opportunity to learn, too, helping guests build rapport while having fun (and letting you focus on pouring drinks).

To buy: $23; amazon.com.

amazon.com

2
Ridley’s Games Room Tumbling Blocks

Rowdier guests will love turning this compact game into a friendly challenge. The tension of the game will captivate everyone in the vicinity, and extra rules—the first person to knock the tower down must return to the kitchen for the next round of drinks, for example—can be added depending on the audience.

To buy: $24; amazon.com.

amazon.com

3
Ridley’s Bizarre Facts Quiz

As a game or an ice breaker, nothing works quite as well as trivia cards. Best of all, this type of party activity can easy be paused, resumed later, or added to, so guests can come and go as they please without disrupting the game too much.

To buy: $9; amazon.com.

wolfum.com

4
Alma Teal Domino Set

Casually placing an accessible game in a pretty container—like this domino set, which comes in a decorative birch box—out in the open is a low-pressure way to offer guests an activity. If they’d rather chat, they won’t feel obligated to play; if they’re dying to busy their hands, they can start up a game without needing to ask permission.

To buy: $68; wolfum.com.

wandpdesign.com

5
Switch Board Game

An extended, complicated game can suck guests in, keeping everyone from mingling together or enjoying the full spread of tasty party foods available. A quicker, non-intense game, like this colorful twist on Connect 4, lets people stop by, play a few rounds, and move on to chat with someone across the room.

To buy: $25; wandpdesign.com.

target.com

6
Sun Squad Lawn Sports Bocce Ball Set

For a party that drifts outdoors or a backyard party, bocce is a fun, classic game that nearly anyone can play. Best of all, it’s a one-handed game (for casual players, at least) so guests can keep their refreshments close by.

To buy: $20; target.com.

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