At one point during the evening Saturday I got up to close the sliding glass door alongside the dining room table. Not necessarily because it was getting too cool (a glorious warm spring evening it was, matter of fact). But out of worry that our raucous laughter might be disturbing the neighbors. One unexpected side effect of finally breaking into that Apples to Apples game  I bought a few months ago but hadn’t cracked open yet. Man, did we have fun.

I broke one of the cardinal rules that I set down in Gourmet Game Night when telling readers how to plan a successful game night. One was not to bring out a brand new, never-been-opened game with guests sitting around the table ready to play. There’s cellophane wrapping to deal with, cards to unpack, playing pieces to figure out (and sometimes assemble), rules to read and stumble through together. But I did have a couple elements in my favor: (1) Apples to Apples takes really just a few minutes to warm up to and (2) one of my friends at the table has played it a bunch and helped talk us through it. If you don’t have either or both of those conditions with a new game, it’s ALWAYS best to break into it and familiarize yourself with the rules before having friends over to join you.

But before long, we were old pros. It’s easy to understand why this game won Games Magazine‘s “Party Game of the Year” award in 2000. Trying to defend the word card you chose from your hand that best matches the adjective card drawn by the dealer….it can get pretty hilarious. In one case the adjective was something like “discouraging” and one player tossed “rainbows” into the mix. Rainbows?! Huh?! When pressed to explain, he quickly replied “hey, you ever tried walking to the end of one?” Well, now that you mention it…. But he still lost out. I, on the other hand, managed to convince a friend that my Georgia O’Keefe card best represented the idea of “fresh” thanks to her unique, creative–sometimes suggestive–artistic representation of the world around her.

Another new game we indoctrinated that evening was also a Games “best party game” winner, if a bit sillier. I think it may have gone over better if either we had a couple eight year olds at the table or we’d all had a bit more to drink. Snortabasically is about making farm animal noises — more specifically making the “right” farm animal noise (based on what cards are played and what animals your opponents have hidden behind their little farmhouses) and doing so faster than the others. Not a lot of strategy or creativity called for here. And you could definitely read the player’s enthusiasm with the game by the way they articulated the respective animal’s sounds, a dynamic “OINK OINK OINK” from one player, a mere whisper of a “moo” from another. Not as universally enjoyed on Saturday night as was Apples to Apples, but always nice to have a variety of games on hand to choose from. I can imagine Snorta will be great with kids in the mix, and for those who are kids at heart. Or just have the attention span of one at that moment in time.

The menu was pretty tasty. I fell back on a favorite from my book, Celery Radish and Parsley Salad with Lemon Dressing, served in one-bite portions on porcelain soup spoons. I was recipe testing for another project that day, had some seafood chowder and gnocchi with bacon and corn on hand. The soup went into ramekins and the gnocchi into individual gratin dishes, like you might use for crème brûlée, with spoons alongside for eating. I also cooked up half a dozen Uli’s sausages, cut them into thick slices, skewered each onto a small pick and set them out on a plate, with Dijon mustard alongside for dipping. And my sister cooked the Polenta Squares with Sausage and Spinach from the book too. We ate pretty well, all of it game-friendly and none of it risked smudging up those brand-new Apples to Apples cards on their first game night outing.

If laughter is, in fact, the best medicine, the eight of us got a good dose of medicine on Saturday night! I think a relaxed fun game night sitting around the table together is–no matter what you’re playing–good for what ails us all.