For as long as I can remember, my gaming groups have broken bread together — whether we were playing board games, miniatures, or RPGs, we always have shared a meal sometime during the session. After more than 25 years of regular tabletop gaming, it is something I still look forward to, though not necessarily because I just like to eat. Instead, the main draw of the “game meal” for me is the social aspect of the whole process – it is a chance to get caught up on what everyone is up to, discuss geeky topics, and settle in to the evening’s activities. To me, it is an integral part of the whole social experience and something I would not skip — it is the social glue that binds us together.
However, more practically, game night meals also mean that as a working adult with a family, I am able to integrate the rest of my household in to the evening’s activities — we (i.e., my gaming buddies and my wife and children) all eat dinner together before “the guys” and I retreat in to my “Geek Cave” for our gaming session. For me personally this is particularly important because it helps include my non-gamer wife in to the social circle of gaming friends and thus makes them more like family to her rather than just a bunch of loud guys who like to fight vampires, dragons, and Cthulhu. It also means that my children are exposed to not only gaming culture, but also to the idea that it is built around a meeting of friends, not just playing games. After dinner, my oldest son – he’s nine – typically sits at the gaming table with us until his bedtime arrives and I know he (and I) are just counting the days until he can join us. Thus, the communal meal is a way to make a bi-monthly ritual that my wife might see as a nuisance into something she enjoys and usually looks forward to each month. Was it Confucius who said “Man with happy wife get to game more often”? If not, he should have.
Of course, the type of meals ingested have changed as we have aged. As a pre-teen, it was typically ramen noodles & instant iced tea. In high school we used to take a break during our Sunday night games for a trip to McDonald’s. And let’s not forget the ubiquitous chips, soda, and candy that often finds their way on to the gaming table. However, as an adult who is much closer to 40 than 20, those kinds of meals are no longer appetizing nor medically advisable. While we occasionally order pizza, even that does not appeal to most of us anymore since it is not exactly cheap, not to mention gets old fast when you’re getting together a couple times per month. Instead, a few years ago I decided to experiment with cooking for the group and it was a big hit. Nowadays, every session I simply choose something different, working from a list of easy to prepare, inexpensive staples everyone enjoys. The rest of the group chips in to some money to cover the cost (typically $3-4 per person) and I stock the fridge in the basement with a selection of drinks ranging from bottled water to soft drinks and beer to wash it all down (if you’re a bit more adventurous, you might also be interested in creating a few geeky cocktails). In the past year, one of other player’s wives has started baking a dessert for our group — she even comes along to share dinner so the communal meals’ benefits have spread beyond my own family.
In my experience, the two best pieces of equipment to own when it comes to cooking for a group are a grill and a slow cooker (aka a Crock-pot). When the weather is warm and dry, the grill gets fired up and I serve pork cutlets, chicken breasts & legs, hamburgers, and bratwursts. There is something very visceral (though not so healthy) about copious amounts of meat and beer just prior to gaming. Throw in some grilled vegetables (cheap and easy), a few salads, and, yes, even some chips and you have a pretty inexpensive feast that everyone enjoys.
When the weather turns cold or is raining (quite often where I live in Germany), my slow cooker starts seeing a lot more use. I typically spend 30 to 45 minutes prepping a dinner in the morning and then let it simmer all day. The best part of using a slow cooker is that you can leave the meal unattended throughout the day and take care of other responsibilities while it does all the work. Most of the time I’m cooking things like soups, stews, chili, and spaghetti sauce. Once in a while I turn on the oven for a change and make some sort of casserole or baked dish: macaroni and cheese, shepherd’s pie, and lasagne are always popular.
Regardless of what is on the menu, the meal — including the preparation — has become part of my gaming ritual and something I think anyone struggling to figure out how to put together an adult gaming group should consider including (GeekDad Jonathan Liu has written an excellent series of articles about putting together a game night). What about your group? Got any staple foods? Want me to share some of my group’s favorite recipes? Have a recipe of your own you’d like to share? Let me know.