Make Game Night Great Again: Board Games & Cocktail Pairings!

Board games have been a favorite family pastime for nearly a century, purporting to bring parents and children together and teach valuable skills like colors and stuff. But as many families know, what they really do is drive deep, pie-shaped wedges between spouses, create world-conquering rivalries between siblings; and generally scare the bejesus out of the cat. Even on game nights not boiling over with incessant whining and arguing, there’s still the mind-numbing boredom.

And yet, it is our duty as involved parents — nay, as Americans — to subject ourselves and our progeny to these worlds overflowing with candy and ladders and murder weapons and New Jersey real estate.

I’ve found that a little libation makes any activity run more smoothly. Classy folks look to experts for pairings of alcohol with their cheeses, meals, or cigars. You can even find wine to go with Girl Scout cookies. So why not match up cocktails with board games?

board games & cocktail pairings

I polled a bunch of parents to learn their most-hated games. Then I played them all with my kid while I drank a bunch of stuff to see which combos were most fun tolerable. Here are my scientific/strategic/spirited recommendations.


Invented in ancient times as a morality lesson, Chutes & Ladders originally included snakes in place of the slides. SOUNDS FUN! You’d better hope so, because you’ll be playing it for a while.

To dull the monotony of this never-ending game (and the wails of your toddler as she lands on the biggest slide…again), I recommend a classic — Rum & Coke. Easy enough to make (and refill) between turns; plus the caffeine will keep you awake till someone wins or has a meltdown.

RUM & COKE: 2 oz white rum, 4 oz cola • Pour rum into ice-filled highball glass, top with cola, garnish with lime wedge. For a Cuba Libre, add a splash of lime juice.

[Not a fan of rum? Any “&” drink will do. Gin & tonic; scotch & soda; vodka & cranberry. As long as there are two ingredients, it fits the theme of good & evil and up & down and back & forth and OH MY GOD WILL SOMEONE JUST WIN ALREADY?!?]

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Monopoly is the granddaddy of all board games… probably due to how much you age while playing. In addition to being waaaay too lengthy for a youngster’s attention span, it’s also confusing as hell.

And then there’s all the crap. Game pieces and dice, houses and hotels, property cards, Chance cards, Community Chest cards, and of course the money. OH GOD ALL THE MONEY. Every time you open the box it looks like board game salad. Pair this convoluted, mess of a game with a Boardwalk… but pace yourself. You’ve got time.

BOARDWALK: 3 oz vodka, 1 oz dry vermouth, 1/2 tsp maraschino liqueur, 1 tsp lemon juice • Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker half-filled with cracked ice. Shake well, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

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Playing Operation is like watching children perform actual surgery, only way more stressful. Parents can calm their nerves (and drown out that f#@ing buzzer) with everyone’s favorite hangover cure, a Bloody Mary.

And if Mommy or Daddy gets too “calm,” and spills some on the game… bonus points for realistic blood splatter and heightened shock effects!

BLOODY MARY: 2 oz vodka, 4 oz tomato juice, 2 dashes each of Tabasco and Worcestershire, 2 tsp horseradish, 1 pinch each of celery salt, black pepper, paprika • Pour all ingredients back-and-forth between two mixing glasses. Strain into ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with celery stalk.

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For a game with such a simple name, The Game of Life sure is long and complicated. Parents of young children often create simplified versions of games, hoping it will make the activity go quicker. The dumbed-down version of Life is essentially a car race. Ending the game quicker only means you have to start the next “race” sooner, so that everyone — the youngest, the loudest, the sorest loser — gets a chance to finish first.

So please drink responsibly and let the kids drive — enjoy a classic Sidecar on this most classic of family-“friendly” games. After 3 or 4 rides around the track, call a tiny Uber and get yourself to bed.

SIDECAR: 2 oz cognac, 3/4 oz lemon juice, 3/4 ox triple sec • Rub lemon wedge around lip of glass, dip in sugar. Pour ingredients into ice-filled shaker. Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of orange peel.

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Many parents actually enjoy this game, but then ruin it by introducing it to their kids too early. But there you are, your family trapped in a mansion all night, trying to figure out how to keep your kids from murdering each other, or you them.

Slink into the lounge with Miss Scarlet for a sultry and sophisticated Death in the Afternoon. Or for an alternate ending, try a Revolver (made with Bulleit bourbon, natch) as you swap war stories with Colonel Mustard in the study.

DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON: 1.5 oz absinthe, 4.5 oz Champagne • Pour absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains an opalescent milkiness.

REVOLVER: 1-1/3 oz Bulleit bourbon, 1/3 oz coffee liqueur, 2 dashes orange bitters • Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice,  stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed strip of orange peel.

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Apples to Apples is one of those games parents try to play with their kids much sooner than they should. Best-case scenario: dads and moms constantly avoid explaining all the things they’re snickering about. Worst: as with any subjective game, it descends into arguments, mockery, weeping and fisticuffs.

But if you find yourself already embroiled in a game, toss back a few Appletinis to numb the pain. And if the kids accidentally eat a vodka-soaked apple slice or two, count the extra Vitamin C and earlier bedtime as a parenting win.

APPLETINI: 1.5 oz vodka, .5 oz apple schnapps, .5 oz Cointreau • Mix in a shaker, then pour into chilled martini glass. Garnish with apple slice.

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And here we are in Candy Land — the gateway drug of family game night. With just barely enough rules to keep tots perplexed and parents bored to tears, this family conflict starter kit only teaches your kid one thing: MORE CANDY, PLEASE.

Turn your trek through tedium into a sweet, trippy stroll with a Liquorice Stick, made from cola, anisette and absinthe. For an extra bit of candy-coated fun, serve with vodka-soaked Gummy Bears.

LIQUORICE STICK: 4 oz cola, 1-3/4 oz anisette, 1-3/4 oz absinthe • Build all ingredients in an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a piece of black licorice.

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Disclaimer: Please drink/play/parent responsibly. Remember, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s if you can make it through the game without pulling out your remaining hair.

What other games can you not stand… but could stand a cocktail with them? Pop ’em into the comments, and maybe I’ll do a sequel batch!

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