Lawn games add a dose of fun and elegance to outdoor summer parties
Sunshine, food and Champagne abounded at Joni Klippert’s birthday party at Chautauqua Park last summer. But it was the novel lawn games beneath shady trees that made the celebration memorable—and tons of fun, with guests throwing balls, tossing bags and balancing wooden towers.
“This was the first party I’ve thrown that I thoroughly enjoyed,” says Klippert, whose lawn games included bocce, cornhole, horseshoes and jumbo Jenga. “I just liked the party’s feel—simple, but elegant.”
“A lawn party is a bit more formal than a barbecue,” agrees Honey Ahijevych, owner and lead consultant of Seize the Day Event Planners, who says lawn-game parties generated appreciable business in 2012. And though paper plates and plastic cutlery and cups would certainly suffice, you could class it up with china and stemware, which would elevate a lawn party to something akin to an English garden party, Ahijevych says.
“It’s summer, and we have extended daylight and warm evenings,” she notes. “People just want to be outside and enjoy the weather with family, friends and neighbors.”
Lawn games amp up the fun factor by giving partygoers something active to do, and they kick-start conversations.
“It had a natural flow in terms of people getting involved with things,” Klippert says of her party. “They could come and go as they pleased within brunch hours, play games, and connect with one another.”
Of the four games Klippert planned, jumbo Jenga was the biggest crowd-pleaser, she says. Her game was based on the popular smaller version of the game. But Klippert constructed a jumbo Jenga set by hand from 2-by-4s, although commercially designed sets are available online. Two players or teams took turns removing a wooden game piece and placing it on top of the tower without toppling it, but toppling it was obviously exciting.
“What’s great about Jenga is that it creates a crowd, so people are cheering and getting involved. There’s some smack-talking,” Klippert says. “It’s a great game for bystanders to enjoy.”
Dud games for her are horseshoes, which are heavy and can be intimidating, and lawn darts, which are impossible to track down in the first place. Ahijevych says other games to avoid are those that require too much explanation, creativity or time commitment. “Cricket and Frisbee have been the most unpopular. I always thought Frisbee would be great, but no,” she says. As for rule-laden cricket, “You don’t want to feel like you’re in school when it’s supposed to be a party.”
Ahijevych says her clients have had great success with cornhole, the more colorful name for an old-fashioned beanbag toss: “It doesn’t require a lot of structure, and that’s more fun. You can have anyone from little kids to Grandma playing.” Beanbags and a wedge-shaped platform with a bag-sized hole are all the equipment required. Players compete head to head for points, and as a bonus, can indulge in the game’s colorful language by throwing “sliders,” scoring a “swish” or experiencing “cornfusion”—a debate between teams that can’t agree on scoring.
Ahijevych and Klippert both advise against croquet, which is rigid in structure and requires extensive set-up. Klippert chose the Italian game of bocce instead, but the French have a unique take on that game in the form of pétanque, which begins by drawing a circle of less than 2 feet in diameter. A bit like a grass version of the sport curling, a marker called a jack is tossed out at random, and then players attempt to toss their balls closest to the jack from the starting circle. The winning team scores a point for every ball it gets closer to the target than the closest of the opposition’s balls. The game then travels around the grass as a new starting circle is drawn around the previous round’s jack.
Overall, “I haven’t heard a single negative thing from (lawn-game) guests,” says Ahijevych, who adds that the novelty of including games creates a more relaxed party environment. But because of the unique circumstances of lawn games, hosts face certain challenges.
“You have to make sure you have first aid available, as well as shade to prevent sunstroke. Also, make sure you have hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and lots of water,” Ahijevych says. Plus, “Warn people it may be cold, that it may rain as much as it may be sunny,” so they can be prepared, clothing-wise.
Otherwise, the sky is the limit. You can rent a posh tent, outfit it with sofas and hire a live band. If a collegiate party is more your style, go potluck, award prizes for high scorers and add a game of tug-of-war. Or go vintage with a costume theme and specialty cocktails.
“It’s just a delightful way to spend an afternoon,” says Klippert, who found the lawn games allowed everyone, including herself, to let down their hair. “It is sort of about the heart, about hanging out and laughing hysterically. It’s simple fun, and I think people crave that.”