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Themed Entertainment For Events

The Games People Play

Ever since the Victorians took up parlour games as an after dinner entertainment, there have been rental companies out there satisfying the need for similar services to large functions. If one were able somehow to count these, by and large, small companies - usually one man or a husband and wife team-set ups - one would be surprised by how numerous they actually are on the ground. From the classic casino operators with several gaming tables to the more recent introduction of the giant game collections to the themed game operators, they all fill a very functional need amongst party and event organizers - i.e. what to do with people who do not want to boogie after dinner.

A typical casino operator will have several tables or even duplicate versions of these. Roulette, Craps, Pontoon (or Chemin de Fer as it is more often known), Blackjack, Wheel Of Fortune and others. Whilst this is, due to its popularity, a regular request and therefore an earner, the drawback is the need for trained staff to man the games and hence an ongoing cost. There is also the inescapable fact that during any corporate event, some guests will have imbibed a little too much of the copious free drink and will find the tables a useful prop, both to steady themselves and as a place to stand their glass. Inevitably, therefore, there are cleaning and replacement cloth and chip costs. One nice touch offered by many operators is to personalize the ‘funny money’ which by law must be used in place of the real thing. So the Bank of Company Blah Blah notes on each dinner plate adds a certain cache. The recent rise in popularity of poker both as an online game and amongst the middle classes has meant that this table has now been added to many operators' portfolios. The added bonus is that players now appear to know the rules whereas they may not be familiar with the nuances of, say, craps for example - this having to be explained many times throughout the evening.

One related games scenario that is also offered to bulk out the options for a Las Vegas/Monte Carlo/Casino event are slot machines. These usually operate on a free-play basis, either with tokens supplied or simply working on the press of a button. The disadvantage of the latter is that there is no tangible payout which can be exchanged for something clients can take home. Specialised operators are also able to offer period slots and period amusement arcade machines that would have originally found a home on the coastal piers and arcades in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. One such company is run by Brian Davey and he is a real enthusiast for these classic pieces owning such old favourites as the laughing policeman, love testers, fortune tellers and old-style one arm bandits and allwins.

Nowadays, these old machines have been superseded by complex computer controlled simulators, the themes of which are as extensive as one’s imagination. Current popular ones include paired disco dancing, downhill skiing and any version involving driving. It’s amazing, and frightening! what a couple of drinks do to your perceived ability as a driver! These machines are expensive, very heavy and need to be delivered by tailgate trucks and two delivery/set-up personnel so this is never a cheap option. Indeed, if you were to do the sums (clients please look away now if you do not want to be horrified!) - typical hire £450-£650 per machine. let’s say £500 per machine. Each machine can cope with say one player every 5 minutes, that equates to 12 an hour, totalling 36 players per night. £500 divided by 36 equals £13.88 per go!!!! There are not many punters who would pay that sort of dosh to play a game. Thank goodness for corporate munificence or at least tax deductable expenses!

For a lesser upfront and ongoing cost, one collection of games regularly rented out are traditional pub games. Everything from the skittle alley to dart boards to shove ha’penny and cribbage. Easy loading, no staff to supervise just deliver and collect back at the end of the evening. If only that were true of the other ‘pub’ items we have to include. The very heavy, solid slate beds of pool and billiards tables make the joy of waiting around until 1am or 2am to take these items away all that more exciting-NOT! Give me Bingo anyday, but when was the last time our bingo machine went out? I don’t think I can remember that far back. Time to sell it, I think. That sentiment would not be true for the giant games collection however. Giant Jenga, pick-a-stiks, chess, draughts and downfall are all regular requests for the after dinner games scene. Unfortunately, my favourite, Twister, has not been asked for, for a few years now. That was always good for the non-participating spectator but maybe that is why it is rarely asked for now?

In the theme selection of games, imagination has to reign supreme as there is not always a game or selection of games available to suit the theme. Thus we fall back, when at a push for ideas, to the traditional fairground games as these can be easily adapted to suit another theme. So, for example, the coconut shy when turned to suit a James Bond theme becomes "Odd Job's Bowler Shy" whence we use bowler hats in place of wooden balls and polystyrene heads replace coconuts. In this game, we decapitate heads rather than knock down coconuts. Same game, same outcome but fits the mood better.

Sometimes, there is not even, at first thought, a link to help. I can well remember when a client wanted after dinner games on the theme of the event which was - wait for it! - Back To School. A few bits of lateral thinking later and here’s what we came up with. Firstly we drew a hopscotch pattern on the carpet, and then we created a fake brick wall and gave everyone lots of chalk and told them to create their own graffiti. Out in the ‘school yard’ a few activities organised by the Lower Sixth form were in action. Things like knock the milk bottle off the wall, slingshot, peashooter and some clever art student has carved a block of ice like a nude. Whoarr! Drink flows out of her nipples !!! The things we do to give people games to play!

This article was kindly contributed by Steve Hayward -

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