not your grandmother's dinner party...

games

So you know you're having a few friends over, maybe more than a few, and you know you're going to be eating at some point, but now you have to decide just what kind of dinner party you're going to have. Will there be games? Is it the season finale of your favorite show? Or are you hosting the ultimate Guitar Hero showdown? If you invited your high school friends to catch up on the good old days, you probably won't need to plan beyond good company and good conversation, but if you're bringing together a mixed group of acquaintances, who don't know each other well, some ice breakers can keep things from getting awkward.

fun and games.

Never let anyone tell you that you're too old for board games. Meaningless competition is acceptable at any age. As a game night aficionado, I have found it's better to stick to games that don't require too many pieces or rules. If a game takes too long to explain, even the most loyal of guests might lose patience and turn on you.

If you have a game you like that's a little too involved for a big group of people, see if you can modify it. Just use the trivia cards and divide your guests into teams to answer them, or play games like Cranium without the board, and just make people do the silly acting challenges. Newer versions of DVD trivia games, like Scene It, have a party play feature, which shows back-to-back questions based on movie clips without all of the rules and complicated score keeping. Word association games, like Taboo and Catch Phrase, are also good standbys.

If you're on a budget, there are plenty of alternatives to overpriced board games. Author and party planner Diane Warner has a couple of interesting games that you can play with stuff you already have lying around. Instead of shelling out $25 at Target for Balderdash, a game of fake definitions, try Warner's Dictionary Game, for the price of a cheap dictionary. For something a little unusual, try The Communication Game, and see how effectively friends and couples can get a point across.

luau

have a theme party.

Break out your leftover social organizing skills from college, and make it a theme night. Themes give people a chance to show off their creativity and celebrate common interests. Have an international potluck to take some of the cooking stress off of yourself, or let your guests do the work with a 'roll your own sushi night.' If the weather is nice, have a luau in the backyard. If it's freezing outside, turn up the heat and move the beach indoors. Movies and T.V. shows can also be great inspiration for themes. During the summer off-season, get out your Grey's Anatomy DVDs, tell everyone to wear scrubs and have a drink whenever their favorite intern gets yelled at.