December 19, 2010

Board Game Party

One thing I love almost as much as planning parties is playing board games.  After seeing this segment from party diva Alisa Bangerter on a local TV show, Studio5, I came up with a Board Game Party for my extended family.

We have done it for two years now.  These photos are from the second one held last year on New Year's Eve at my brother's home.  The first one was a learning experience, but everyone had fun.  The second one went better, with only a few hangups, most notably me forgetting a tag for one of my nieces - she became me for the evening!  It ended up being good that I wasn't playing though since I spent my time teaching everyone the games and helping out younger kids on certain rotations, not to mention taking a few photos.

So hopefully after working out most of the bugs I can recommend my method for a board game rotation that you can try for your next group party!

I created these rotation tags and scorecards last year with a Monopoly property card theme. Each team had a different color of card, and their name at the top with the order they play their games.

I've include free printables here for you to use.  You could also use the printables for invitations, decorations, food labels, etc.  Click on each photo to make it full-size then right click and save.  Open in your favorite publishing program and add text.  I used the font Lucida Console in all caps for mine.

Make sure you have a location to handle a crowd and a lot of tables.  Brandon and Amy's house was perfect (I want it!) for having enough room to set up all of the games in adjacent rooms.  We had two games on their dining room table and four smaller tables set up in the living room.

Now, hang in there as I try to explain how this works!  You can adjust the number of games you play depending on how many players you have.  The younger kids that needed help from a parent also got a tag, a duplicate of one of their parents' tags, so they stayed with them through all rotations.  If a single player needed a break, we used some of the younger kids to fill in for them for a while.

The very first thing I did was make a spreadsheet with the players names, assigning them teams.  You really need to know who will be at the party ahead of time.  It's not something you can just show up and do.  I tried to break up spouses and siblings into separate teams as much as possible.  I also mixed up everyone so that they played with different people at each rotation.  Yes, this step took me a while.

There were four teams: Red, Blue, Yellow and Green.  This will work with any number of players (in groups of four) and with any number of games (with four people per game).  We had six games going so that everyone was always playing.  Each person played each game one time, and we rotated about every 12-15 minutes.  We played for almost two hours if I remember right.

Each game had a scorecard for each team in their color to keep track of the points for each rotation.  Each person had a name tag with their team color and the order of their rotation.  Each table had a scoring sheet that explained how many points they got for each rotation.  Some games just totaled the points they earned during the game, some got a score based on what place they were in at the end of their rotation.  When it was time to rotate you just pick up where your previous teammate left off on most games.

Game choice is most important.  We've had some winners and some losers both times we've done it.  Most card games work great, but it's fun to have variety.  I'll post what I thought of this years' games below each photo.

This photo should help explain the whole concept (I hope).  In case you're wondering about the dinosaur, each table had one to use as a marker for what team's turn it was next after each rotation. Why plastic dinosaurs? We have a lot of them.

Sorry sliders :)  Works great, fun game.
Scattergories :(  Fun, but hard for those under 12 and not enough time in each rotation for this game.
Skip-Bo :)  Works perfect. Quick learning curve also, but everyone knew how to play. 

Pirates of the Caribbean LIFE :(  Funner than regular LIFE, and the concept was to just get through the game once during the night, but the learning curve took too long.  I spent most of my time helping with this game.  I scored it with whatever team ended up with the Black Pearl at the end of their rotation got tons of points, so that became everyone's goal.
Blockus :)  Wonderful game that I highly recommend.  My youngest son loves that he can always beat Grandma in this game.  Works great and most rotations got through it twice.
Pictureka :)  New game we got for the party.  Worked best if you just played with everyone looking for items all of the time and then getting points for how many cards you collected.  The little kids were better than the adults at this one and loved it for that fact.
Games we used before that didn't work:
Clue :(  I wasn't sure how it would go, and it didn't.  This game works best if you read facial clues from the other players as you go.  Hard to do when you are picking up the cards from someone else in the middle of the game.
Rummikub :(  Works, but only if the players know how to play it.  The little kids had a hard time with it, but I love this game.

I made a sack of candy for each team.  After totaling the points from each game and each team color overall, I then awarded places from 4th to 1st.  I let them switch candies if they didn't like the kind they got.  Some candy ideas are Payday, Snickers, 100 Grand, Smarties, Dum Dums, Zero Bars, chocolate coins, Nuggets, and Skor Bars.

In addition to the game rotation we also had a Pinewood Derby, so we had plenty to keep us busy until the new year came around.  A fun night and I love spending time with my family.

This is a great way to play with a large group, but it does take quite a bit of planning if you want organized chaos instead of total chaos.  It really isn't bad now that I have it all figured out for you!  Please comment if you have questions or need further explanation, or if you've done a party like this.  And be sure to check out the link at the top of the page for tons of great ideas on food, invitations, and decorations for many types of game parties.

June 10, 2010

Pirate Party

We celebrated Evan's 7th birthday with a Pirate theme.  Since it's the most popular party theme for boys there were tons of supplies available and a lot of good ideas on the internet.  Even girls are getting in on the pirate theme lately thanks to Miss Elizabeth Swan.  Being the frugal Mom that I am, much of ours was made by me, or borrowed from my friend Amy who is an even bigger party person than myself.

Although I have three sons, I hadn't done another Pirate party since my oldest son was 4 and we were living in Japan.  It was way before the whole Pirates of the Caribbean movie had come out, so it wasn't such a big thing back then.  We had a little treasure hunt in our tiny apartment and decorated his cake with a Playmobil Pirate set (I love Playmobil).  What's more fun than being a bad guy with weapons, tattoos and treasure?  I think that's what makes the pirate theme so popular.

Evan is my youngest son, and quickly getting too old to really enjoy this fun theme, so it was high time to have another Pirate party, and finding a party keg of Virgil's Cream Soda was the clincher.  Most of my party ideas seem to start out with a cool supply or prop I've discovered that gets my creativity flowing.

Invitations and favors.

I got the invitation idea from here.They were made in Photoshop with an overlay to make the edges look burnt, and printed on parchment paper.  Then I tore the edges of the paper off to make them look rough.  I got the effect I was looking for without having to burn the edges of every one.  The skull and crossbones I found on the internet and the fonts are free ones that I downloaded.  I would love to share what they are, but I can't seem to find my saved invitation file anywhere on my computer :(

I rolled the invites up, tied them with jute and put them in bottles.  I didn't want to use glass bottles because my son had to take most of his invitations to school to deliver to friends.  Plastic A&W rootbeer bottles were clear and had smooth sides, plus my kids were thrilled when I handed them each a couple of bottles and told them to drink up (okay, they had 2 days to do it).  I spray painted the lids lightly with black spray paint to make them look older.  I also 'hid' the ones he was taking to school in crumpled brown lunch sacks tied with jute.

The labels below were made with freeware clip-art from the New York Public Library digital library, (awesome - you must go there) and Photoshop effects, so feel free to use it.  Just click on it for a larger image and right-click to save.
I wasn't sure what I was going to put the favors in until I read an idea from the blog Party Planning Mom (got other great ideas from her too) about how she made little treasure chests out of paper bags and black electrical tape.  She didn't have a photo, but I understood the concept and they turned out really cute.  The lock was also clip-art found on the internet and printed onto gold cardstock.  They were really easy to make with one person holding the bag in the air while another adds the tape.  Just fill, fold over without creasing, and tape.  Then glue on the lock.

We filled them with pirate blow-outs, Lifesavers, Rolos, root beer barrels, fizzy taffy, skull whistles, gem-shaped Fruit Gushers, clip-on earrings, mini telescopes, mini finger hooks, and plastic pirate finger puppets.

The decorations.

Thanks to my friend Amy and her big bin of pirate decor, I think this was the most decorated party I've done in a long time.  She had banners, hats, flags of several sizes, red bandannas that we tied together to decorate the swing set, paper treasure chests, backdrops that we couldn't get to work outdoors, and this awesome old trunk that we used for the treasure chest.  I filled the chest with empty boxes, then covered it and put in all the treasure that myself and Amy had like coins, necklaces and plastic gems.  My husband screwed two scrap pieces of wood together and we painted them for the X, and I draped a fish net over the top.

I purchased the big Jolly Roger flag that we hooked onto the swing set and we used our worn out trampoline net to make it into our Black Pearl.  My Halloween skeleton had a makeover to be hung up as Shipwrecked Sam (more on that later).  Tarps became water under the rope swing and the plank, and I purchased black plastic tablecloths for the food and eating tables.  For the signs my daughter and I just tore up pieces of cardboard and used markers to get our point across.  My luau parrot even found a place to hang out.

I did this the easy way.  I went to and did a search for pirate music.  It not only had the soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean, but Evan's favorite, 'The Pirates Who Don't do Anything" from Veggie Tales too!  I just mixed up the songs I found in a playlist and then stuck my speakers in an open window so we could hear it outside.  It worked great since we were only using it as background music.
Games and activities.

First we had to get everyone looking like pirates.  I purchased a dozen bandannas at Zurcher's party store so every boy got one tied on his head.  Then they picked out some tattoos and while they were being applied they got to pick a beard and mustache for their faces, and even a scar if they wanted one.  We got this idea from Party Planning Mom's site also.  My daughter came up with these ideas and drew them on the boys with a brown eyebrow pencil.  She did a great job.  Evan chose various tattoos and had them all over his arms and legs.

Sharks and Minnows: We put two ropes about 20 feet apart and Evan stood in the middle as a shark.  After a countdown, the minnows had to run from one side to the other through shark-infested waters.  If Evan touched them then they became sharks and had to help catch the rest of the minnows.  We played this several times because they wanted turns being the first shark.

Peg-Leg Pete: They had to stand on one leg for as long as the could and see who could do it the longest, then tried it on the other leg.  To make it harder sometimes they had to hop in a circle.

Escape the Acid Water:  I didn't plan this one, my boys came up with it themselves.  They put a gray tarp under the rope swing and you had to swing across it without touching the 'acid water'.  All of the kids had a ball doing this and went back to it whenever they weren't doing something else. There's a great photo of Evan above from this game.

Tick-Tick-Tock:  Like Duck-Duck-Goose but with the Tick-Tock after explaining what happened to Captain Hooks hand and how he could tell when the crocodile was coming again.

Walk the Plank:  The kids loved this.  We took two cinder blocks and tied a 10 foot long 4x4 post to them.  First they went across regular, then backwards, then blindfolded.  If they fell off everyone yelled "Shark bait!"

Spin the Bottle:  For opening gifts.  Have the kids sit in a circle and the birthday boy spins.  Whoever it points to gets to have his present opened next.

Cannonball Toss:  I made four cannonballs out of wadded up paper wrapped with clear packing tape and painted them black.  The boys had to take turns sitting at the top of the 'ship' and firing the cannonballs into the enemy ship (a small laundry hamper) to sink it.  If they didn't get any in they were 'Shark bait' and had to go walk the plank, for 1 in they were promoted to 'Cabin boy', 2 was 'Ship's cook', 3 was 'First Mate', and all 4 in they were promoted to 'Captain'.  Got this idea from Party Planning Mom's ring toss game.

Treasure Hunt:  We saved this for the end of the party for them to find their favor bags.  We started out by saying that a message had washed ashore and having my husband read the Shipwrecked Sam story.  I have tried and tried to find you the link to that story, but I can't find it anywhere!  Frustration.  I swear it was on the Family Fun website, but not now I guess.  They have some other fun pirate activities that you should check out though.  So I'll post my copy of it here since it was so cute - and if I ever find the link I'll add it.  It was like a Mad Lib, so we had the kids draw word strips out of a basket and hand them to my husband as he read.  They really cracked up, but then any story with the word 'underwear' in it will make little boys laugh!

Here's the word list: the largest hill, tree leaves, a wild pig, some shoes, piece of land, drums, underwear, a ship, a few belongings, a loud noise, BoraBora, my fingers, wild cats, a fish, some berry stew, a large plank, a hat, home, cannibals, my family, my lips.

The story had clue #1 included with it and the kids followed all of the clues to the treasure.  It was hidden in this little chest that I found at Deseret Industries thrift store.  My dear daughter is a great poet and helped me come up with these clues for the treasure hunt.  We got the pirate jargon from here.  Since I couldn't find anything like this out there to copy and we had to come up with our own, I've included them as a help to someone else.

Clue #1: If ye be a pirate peek if you dare; but if ye be a chicken, ye best beware! (Hidden on the lid of our chicken's nesting boxes.)
Clue #2: In a chest of treasure lies a secret beyond measure! (In big treasure chest.)
Clue #3: Shiver Me timbers! Yer bouncing around.  Pillage and plunder underneath to be found. (Under the trampoline.)
Clue #4: Beware of Kracken and Davy Jones below the flag of skull and bones. (Hooked to the Jolly Roger flag pole.)
Clue #5: Dead men tell no tales.  Look fer Sam under the sails.  (Tied to the skeleton's hand hanging from the swingset.)
Clue #6: Avast me hearties, I did depart.  Take 10 steps North to the chicken cart.  15 men on a dead man's chest, X marks the spot and you know the rest!  (Treasure chest was under our portable chicken pen.  We marked an X on top of it with sidewalk chalk.)

I already mentioned cream soda keg that I found.  We also had hot dog 'ships' with flags that I made with wooden skewers and a digi-scrap kit from called VRA Buried Treasure.  I found a fish ice cube tray at IKEA so you just have to be sure to notice them in the photo.  The kids got to spear 'fish eyeballs' (grapes), 'monkey brains' (pineapple chunks), and 'bleeding hearts' (strawberries) on plastic sword picks, and have a scoop full of 'shark bait' (Goldfish crackers) along with their hot dog.  I thought it would be fun to order a bucket of just chicken legs from KFC, but hot dogs were much cheaper especially when kids this age waste a lot of food.

I found this little pirate guy cupcake topper on the Hello Kids website.  It came with one for you to color, but had a little one at the bottom already colored.  That was the one I wanted, so I just cut it out in Photoshop, did a reverse image of it, and lined it up like the black and white one.  Then I printed them on cardstock, cut them out and cut a slit in the center.  I glued them onto wooden picks from the dollar store and they worked great.

Have to give a plug for Duncan Heinz cream cheese frosting because it is the best canned icing out there.  Love it.

It was a fun party and my little pirate had a ball.  He still wears his pirate clothes around the house a lot, and we decided to leave the net up over the swing set.  I'm a little sad that my boys have pretty much outgrown this theme now, but happy to have the ideas and photos to pass along. I'll end this post with a shot of my pirate.  Do I need to tell you that Evan is a bit dramatic?  I didn't tell him to pose like this.

January 13, 2010

Tiny Party

My oldest son's and my daughter's birthdays are 2 days apart.  When they were younger this meant combined parties with a theme that I made unique to fit a boy and a girl.  Of course the combined parties went away as they got older, but this year it was fun to make their themes somewhat match.  My son's 13th birthday party was Friday night with the Super-sized party, and my daughter's 11th birthday Tiny party was Saturday.

I found some really cute tiny pink and white envelopes at a scrapbook store.  They were about 1 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, so that's the size we made the invitations.  The trick was to get all of the info on it without getting the text so small you need a magnifying glass to read it.

My daughter picked the tablecloth and pink placemats to match some napkins that she liked.  We asked a local party store to make helium balloons for us out of mini balloons, but they wouldn't because apparently they aren't made the same and will only hold helium for a couple of hours.  They showed us a sample of the cute mini balloon bouquet that you see as a centerpiece on the table, and that's what we went with instead.  But how cute would it have been to have mini helium balloons tied together!

As the girls showed up we made Shrinky Dinks keychains.  I had a table set up with all the supplies and patterns for them to trace.  They outlined the design with Sharpie markers and then colored them in with colored pencils.  Don't forget to punch holes before you shrink!  Then the girls had a ball watching them shrink in the oven.  Most of them had never even heard of Shrinky Dinks before.   We ate dinner while they cooled down, then later added ribbon for the ties.  You can see their designs above.  So cute!

Cupcake Boxes
We also decided instead of party favors, to make little decorated cakes for them to take home.  I used craft store coupons (and found some on Sale) to get 12 Wilton cupcake boxes that hold 4 cupcakes.  I took out the cupcake dividers and made circles of cardboard to fit inside each box that  I covered with foil.  This made it easy to decorate the cakes and then get them into the box for transporting.  I found some small cake pans and baked 12 little cakes and then froze them to make them easier to decorate.
So after we ate and opened presents the girls had a ball decorating their mini cakes until parents came to pick them up.  I had white frosting for the bases and then mixed up pink, green, yellow, purple and blue icing in bags with an assortment of decorating tips for them to ice with.  I did a small demo of how to make leaves and flowers with different tips, but for the most part they just got creative and had fun.  I also had some little flower sprinkles for them to use.  I forgot to get photos of their finished cakes, but a bad quality photo (but the only one I had) of my daughter's finished cake is above.

We set the table up with the placemats and kid's dishes (3 sets) from IKEA.  They come with little plates, bowls, cups and silverware.  We used tiny straws that I cut to fit the size of the cups.

I spent a month searching for tiny foods, and found some really cute ones.  I had bowls of mini M&M's, crackers, cookies and Oreo's sitting on the table.  For the food I cut refrigerated crescent rolls into smaller triangles with a pizza cutter and wrapped them around Lil' Smokies to make mini pigs-in-a-blanket, and heated up Bagle Bites mini pizzas.  We also had a Jello salad and veggie tray with baby pickles, baby carrots and little celery sticks.  We had lemonaid to drink, but when your cup only holds about an ounce you have to refill it MANY times to quench your thirst.

I also bought some cute little shot glasses at IKEA that worked perfect for making tiny sundaes.  I used a small metal scoop to put in a couple tiny scoops of ice cream and the girls had fun adding their toppings.

I made mini cupcakes dipped in glaze with colored sugar on top.  I found a tiered tray at the DI thrift store that in displayed all the cupcakes on.  I made several for each girl.  You can see them in the top photo also.

You have no idea how many times I heard squeals of "Oh, cute!" during this party.  The girls really enjoyed it and it proved that it's a great theme for girls of any age.  You could also combine it with American Girl or other dolls for a younger girl's party.

January 7, 2010

Backyard Campout Party

THEME:  We were originally thinking of a spy party, but my son then got invited to one a month before his birthday.  I know it doesn't really matter, but we also go for originality.  So we changed plans and thought the Backyard Campout theme would be perfect since we have a big backyard and a fire pit.  Luckily the weather was just getting warm enough to be outside, and not so warm that we'd be crazy to stand around a fire pit.

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INVITATIONS:  I read about some S'mores invitations and thought that would be really cute, but I wanted them to be puffy.  So I turned to my new favorite invitation supply - craft foam.  For the crackers, I cut them the size of real graham crackers (which I measured) on light brown foam, punched holes, scored the break line in the center, and chalked the edges.  The marshmallow was just a free-form shape and brown chalked edges (and a touch of black like real toasted marshmallows would have), and another free-form shape for the chocolate.  I glued the marshmallow to one side of a cracker and chocolate to the other, then I punched holes and hooked them together with a piece of yarn.  It really didn't take that long to make them after I had a pattern because I only needed 7 of them.  My daughter had to help me come up with the saying because I was having a hard time working the word "S'more" into a sentence.

DECORATIONS:  This was easy since we were outdoors, and that's part of the theme.  We pulled our trailer out onto the lawn in the backyard and put up the canopy with our picnic table under it.  This gave us a sheltered place to eat, and the trailer helped block some of the chilly wind.  Then we set up benches around the fire pit and camp chairs and coolers for everyone to sit on.

ACTIVITIES:  As the boys showed up we had them decorate a foam visor with foam camping stickers and letters.  We had 4 red and 4 blue visors, so that automatically split them into two teams for the games.  But after making their visors we sang camp songs and my husband and older son told campfire stories while we waited for everyone to show up.  A great website for songs and stories is Ultimate Camp Resource.

Then we divided into teams and I gave each team a list of items to find on a scavenger hunt in the backyard.  They were: a rolled up blanket, a flashlight, bug repellent, a camp plate, water bottle, first-aid kit, and small cooler.  It was all just stuff we had in our camping gear except the first-aid kits were small boxes wrapped in white paper with FIRST AID and a big + on them in red marker.  I wrote the items on a piece of torn brown paper bag that I crinkled up, smoothed out and rolled into a scroll.  We gave each team a backpack to collect the items in.  Each item had either a blue or red ribbon on it so they knew which team it belonged to.  After the scavenger hunt we had a backpack packing relay with the same items.

At the end of the party we played tug-of-war, freeze tag and animal charades while we waited for parents to pick them up.

FOOD:  I know it's not necessary to feed kids dinner at a 2 hour birthday party, but when it goes with the theme so well, you just have to!  We had hot dogs, which of course they got to roast over the fire on sticks.  My BIL made us some awesome roasting sticks a few years ago, so they worked out great - and they aren't sharp, so we didn't have to worry about puncture wounds.  I had a bunch of plastic baskets from another party, so I lined them with napkins and the boys put their hot dogs and chips in.

To drink I mixed up some lime and lemonade Kool-aid mixes in a clear pitcher (makes a good lime green color).  I washed some plastic bugs and put them in the bottom for "Bug Juice".  The boys loved it, and I made sure I squished them up a bit before pouring into their cups.  While half of the boys roasted their hot dogs, the other half went to the "Trail Mix" station where my daughter and her friend scooped up some favorites into baggies that I had pre-labeled their names on.  They got to choose from M&M's (I found some Indiana Jones ones with adventure pictures on them), Teddy Grahams, peanuts, raisins, mini marshmallows and pretzels.

Then, of course, we made S'mores.  I was worried that at this point they wouldn't be hungry anymore, but they are boys.  They each ate at least two and had a lot of fun perfecting their roasting techniques.  Some boys definitely had more practice than others!

CAKE:  The cupcakes were chocolate cake and frosting with crushed Oreo's for the ashes, pretzel logs for the logs and Fruit Roll-Ups for the flames.  They don't make orange Fruit Roll-Ups so I used red and yellow, wet them slightly and stuck the two colors together.  Then I just free-hand cut out the flames with a small paring knife.  They didn't turn out exactly as I pictured them, and my flames kept flopping, but they were still cute.

My daughter made this cake the next day with the extras from the party.

FAVORS:  These are always one of my favorite things to come up with for a theme party.  I got water bottles from the dollar store (found them cheaper later at Walgreens), and filled them with a whistle, glow stick, Milky Way candy bar, gummy hot dogs, fire ball candies, pop-rock gum and tied them off with a compass. A flashlight would have been a great favor also, but at the time I couldn't find any inexpensive ones that would fit inside a water bottle like these 3-in1 toys do! I kept the water bottles hidden in a cooler until it was time to hand them out.  I always suggest labeling everything with the kids' names.  They always set things down again before leaving, and then you know who it belongs to (again and again)!

My other kids enjoyed helping, and my youngest, who was sick, got to sit in the trailer and watch without getting near anyone.  It was such a fun party for the guests and our whole family.

The end result... happy camper!