Get a 'Clue!' 

No need to go out in the cold this time of year. When the temperature drops, brighten the mood with a fun, cozy night in.

Better yet, host a fun-filled game night theme party, complete with comfort food, your favorite board games and, of course, good company. You're sure to bring back childhood memories with games like charades or Monopoly.

GET THE PARTY STARTED
CREATE THE ATMOSPHERE
FOOD AND FARE
PARTY MENU
GAME NIGHT

But don't just think you can dust off the dominoes box, pop some microwave popcorn and call it a party. Take these simple tips to make your game night a celebration your friends will remember for years to come.

Watch out: They may just ask you to make a tradition out of it.

GET THE PARTY STARTED
Get the word out with simple, yet creative invitations.

"There are so many ways to customize invitations today," said Carolyn Williams, owner of Special Events Oklahoma, an Internet resources company that helps Oklahomans find vendors within the state.

But if you're planning a last-minute get together, save time and money by sending a theme-specific Internet invitation from one of the many e-card Web sites. They are easy to personalize, and the best part is that you'll have an immediate RSVP list of who can attend.

CREATE THE ATMOSPHERE
With fun as the main ingredient, sprinkle your home with playful decor to match the game concept. Display antique checker and chessboards around the living room and serve snacks on old game boards or checkerboard-patterned dinnerware.

Don't be afraid to get creative. If you're choosing to play one particular game throughout the evening, such as Clue, decorate with the game's premise in mind by stringing yellow "caution" tape across the front door and setting a table with black tablecloths and a detective hat filled with flowers as the centerpiece. Feel like a night of Monopoly or Life? Set the stage in each room to resemble Boardwalk or Jail. Send guests home with a gold chocolate coin favor for passing "Go" in Monopoly or landing on "Pay Day" in Life.

"It's all about a theme," Williams said. "As soon as you pick the theme, everything comes alive."

Props and linens help set the scene of the party and make it unique. Incorporate colors and music, as well as the appropriate glassware, recommends Marijane Veazey, owner of Bill Veazey's Party Store, 1640 W. Main in Oklahoma City. Props for a casino party, like larger-than-life dice and playing cards, are easy to find and match perfectly. By renting decorations, you are able to stay within an affordable budget and still make a huge impact on guests.

Bringing the kids? Set a children's table with popular youth games like Candyland, Twister, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Connect Four. Many adult games, including Monopoly and Pictionary, also have "junior" editions with easier directions and larger game pieces for the little ones.

Nothing sets the mood like the aroma of soup simmering, a casserole baking or desserts coming out of the oven. The pleasant smells of a cozy home are very inviting to guests " especially when the winter winds are tempting you inside. If your food is already prepared, light a few candles throughout your space with universal essences like vanilla or aromatherapy scents of mandarin, mint or lemon.

FOOD AND FARE
"To make any party fun, it's the food and decor that count," Williams said. "And, you don't have to spend a lot of money to make it happen."

Set the table with true place cards. Use an old deck of playing cards, fold and pen guests' name on each. Keep the food simple and homey with a delectable easy-to-prepare winter menu. Start with an appetizer spread for guests to nibble between games and before dinner. Bowls brimming with pita chips, crackers and veggies, paired with store-bought hummus and ranch dips make the perfect crowd-pleasing snack. Bite-size sandwiches adorned with an olive and toothpick for easy eating, pretzel sticks and snacks on skewers can be displayed around the game table, so you won't have to skip anyone's turn.

Now, for the main course. Easy to serve and uncomplicated, a soup-and-sandwich combination with a baked potato bar are ideal for a winter evening shared with friends and family. And don't forget dessert. If you have the time, mix up a batch of sugar cookies and design each cookie to resemble a game piece with the help of a little frosting. Better yet, contact a local bakery with your idea and most often it will design what you are looking for: cookies in the shape of dominoes, game-themed cakes or cupcakes garnished with game pieces.

"Even your local grocery store can create your desires in the bakery," Williams said.

To wash down all that food, serve guests a signature cocktail for the evening " the perfect escape from the frightful winter weather. A steaming cup of cider or hot buttered rum would hit the spot. Or, concoct your own special recipe and name it appropriately. Having a trivia night? Mix a martini and call it the Pursuit Potion (named after the famous Trivial Pursuit).

Game nights are just another chance to spice things up, conjure a few laughs and encourage interaction, not hibernation.

PARTY MENU

Snacks

Bite-size sandwiches: Prepare a batch of chicken salad, spread on regular bread, cut off the crusts and slice into squares. With a toothpick, top each sandwich with an olive. Salad skewers: Marinate mozzarella and tomatoes in Italian dressing. On a skewer, alternate squares of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil leaves. Fruit skewers: Chop assorted fruit and alternate on a bamboo skewer. Accompany with a side of fruit-sweetened yogurt.

Main Course

Vegetable soup: Sauté assorted vegetables (like green beans, peppers and squash) with garlic, onions and olive oil. Add vegetable broth and cans of stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce to desired consistency. Add a cup of pasta and can of pinto beans. Toss in a few bay leaves and tablespoons of Italian seasoning. Stromboli sandwich: Look for bread dough in your grocers freezer section. Thaw as directed and spread one loaf onto a greased baking sheet. Line sliced deli ham, provolone cheese and one cup shredded mozzarella down the middle of the dough. Top with one tablespoon each of basil and oregano. Fold sides in to form a long pocket and flip over so folded edges are facing down. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. Baked potato bar: Wrap baking potatoes in foil and put on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour, or until potatoes are soft to the touch. Set out a spread of condiments, including sour cream, shredded cheese, bacon bits, green onions, chives and salt and pepper for partiers to jazz up their potatoes.

Dessert

Game-piece cookies: Prepare your favorite sugar cookie recipe. Using a rectangle cookie cutter, cut several cookies. Bake as directed and use black frosting to make each rectangle resemble a domino.

GAME NIGHT

Couples Games: Bring out The Newlywed Game or compete guys versus gals in Battle of the Sexes. Pair off with your significant other in teams for group games like Guesstures and Pictionary. Ladies: Host a girls' night in with rounds of bunco and provide prizes like a manicure or pedicure. Guys: Bring out the card tables for some poker. Add some hot wings to the menu and you've got yourself a bachelor bash. Occasions: Theme your wedding shower, engagement party or birthday festivities into a game-night affair. Not only will you be honored, your guests will be having a blast, too, which is much better than sitting and watching you open presents for hours.

"Valerie Kramer Davis

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