These days, a slap up meal isn't enough to please your diners - to really impress you have to tickle their fancy as well as their taste buds. Charlie Cottrell tries out games to get your guests going
This is an excellent ice breaker between guests that don't know each other well. Write a different sentence on pieces of paper you slip under each person's plate. Off-beat examples like 'I recently ate a wheel of cheese' or 'I'm genuinely worried by turtles' should keep relative strangers guessing. When your guests arrive, get them to secretly read their phrase. At some point in the evening they have to get their comment into conversation and pass it off as fact. Over coffee have everyone guess which phrase they think was phoney.
Perfect if: Your 'swinger' suggestion gets everyone giggling.
Problems if: Your 'swinger' suggestion gets everyone reaching for their car keys.
Fancy yourself as a bit of a smarty pants? Fire up the grey cells with this frustrating party game. You start with the phrase 'I'm going on holiday...' then pick a secret rule to decide what you can and can't bring with you, so if the rule was 'only yellow things, you'd say, 'I'm going on holiday and I can bring a banana but I can't bring an apple. I can bring the sun, but I can't bring the moon'. Your guests' objective is to guess your rule and join in suggesting items they can and can't bring until the last person gets the gist or gives up in a mood. Other good rules to try are: things with double letters in them (poodle, llama, buttons) or making a sneaky action (such as coughing) before saying a permitted object.
Perfect if: You're sharp as a tack.
Problems if: You're often the last to know and embarrass easily.
Depending on how gregarious (or saucy) your guests are, this could be more of an ice breaker than an actual game. You'll need a teddy bear that you introduce to your guests as 'Cutie'. Pass the bear around and invite everyone to kiss Cutie, wherever they like. Loosened up by a few glasses of wine and poor old Cutie can get some very suggestive smooches. Once all the guests have had their turn announce the second round - you have to kiss your fellow guests where you just kissed Cutie. Ha Ha HAAA.
Perfect if: You want to watch their faces drop.
Problems if: They really go for it.
This is a good one for filling the time while you're putting the finishing touches to your dinner. Lay out a table with craft materials such as fabric, ribbon, glitter and glue. Get your guests to bond over making a spectacular crown. The glamorous headgear is brought to dinner and whenever a guest is particularly witty or fantastic, they are awarded the crown. This brings out a surprisingly competitive edge - and occasional revolts.
Perfect if: You've always wanted to be prom queen.
Problems if: The glue hasn't dried.
This intellectual take on Chinese whispers works well if you have a rusty grasp of French and works brilliantly if you're blessed with the sort of guest who feels the need to affect an accent when buying croissants. At the top of a piece of paper write a short sentence in English. Pass the paper to the left. The next person translates the sentence into their best French and folds the paper so that only the French shows. The next player translates the sentence back into English and folds the paper so only the English shows. Repeat until you run out of paper and read out the hilarious results.
Perfect if: Someone uses it to say Je vous trouve tres beau
Problems if: Someone uses it to announce le divorce.
Like a drinking game, but less taxing on the host's purse strings and more likely to help your guests preserve their dignity. You'll need a few sheets of red spotty stickers and some place cards set up at each guest's seat with a made up name - such as Captain Stupid or Jason Face. If you catch anyone addressing another guest buy their real name and not their pseudonym, shout 'Measle!' and stick a spot on the face of the person who said the name. Also works if you introduce other drinking party rules like thumb rule or only drinking with the left hand.
Perfect if: You want to cover up some acne.
Problems if: You want to cover up some acne but you've got a great memory.
Give everyone a strip of paper and a pen. Each person has to write a question about one of their fellow guests, such as 'Why is Katie so giggly? ' or 'Why didn't Janet finish her food? '. Gather up all the questions and randomly redistribute the strips. Without reading the question they now hold, everyone must write the answer to the question they asked on the back of the strip. All the strips are gathered again, everyone picks out one at random and reads the question and the answer on their paper. You get amusing insights like; 'Why is Katie so giggly?', 'She thinks everyone is too fat' or 'Why didn't Janet finish her food? ', 'She was remembering what she got up to last night' - tee hee.
Perfect if: You can dish it out.
Problems if: You can dish it out but you can't take it.
You'll need a camera with a flash and a self-timer. Set the self-timer and pass the camera to the person on your left. Each player must hold the camera at arm's length and point it at themselves very briefly, before passing it on. In a scenario you'll recognise from pass the parcel - but without the music - panic sets in as the timer runs down and someone is left gurning into the flash. You can get added value from this game by uploading the pictures to a social networking site and going tag crazy.
Perfect if: You know which is your good side.
Problems if: You drop the camera into your soup.
Once the ice is broken and everyone has a rosé glow, it's time to inject your evening with an element of competition. Empty a bag of peanuts* on to a plate and give each guest a mug and a drinking straw. Set a timer and give everyone a minute to get as many peanuts into their mug using just the straw. The guest with the most peanuts is the winner. Obviously.
Perfect if: You're a bit of a sucker.
Problems if: You blow.
*Check for peanut allergies amongst your guests before playing!
As featured in Come Dine With Me, a box is placed in the middle of the room and guests have to pick it up using their teeth. Every round, a strip is torn off the box meaning your guests will have to get low to stay in the game. The winner is the last player standing who hasn't thrown their back out. Best played on an empty tum, unless you really want to add an element of danger.
Perfect if: You've got a flexible spine.
Problems if: You've got a plunging neckline.
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