Party Entertainment Ideas
The Character Select Screen of Sonic & All Stars Racing
Hosting a party and want to have fun entertainment? Laugh together, be inspired, or just relax with these accessible entertainment options. I have a few a different kinds of entertainment to discuss today - internet media streaming on the TV, party video gaming options, and physical games.
One of the simplest and cheapest ways of showing media content is via the Google Chromecast. It's a $50 little "dongle" that connects to your TV via HDMI and streams content via your existing home Wi-Fi network. You "cast" media to it using a capable app on your smartphone, tablet or a compatible desktop app. If your friends at your party want to put a funny cat video or the latest music clip on the TV, they can either join your network or they can connect to your Chromecast via a PIN using Guest Mode. The Chromecast device is available most consumer electronics and entertainment retailers.
Chromecast and the included HDMI Extension
Casting media is best done via your smartphone as it's convenient and easy to use on the couch or standing around the living room. You can use the YouTube app to show YouTube videos on the TV, the Flickr app to cast your Flickr photos, and many other media apps to stream different kinds of media (anime or indie video for example). You can put some music on with Google Play Music or the Spotify or Pandora app. There are even some multiplayer games where each player uses their own phone to choose answers or cards, and one phone is the "host" connecting to the Chromecast.
The Chromecast device combined with the official Chromecast app from Google (available for both iOS and Android) has an idle mode called Backdrop which will stream curated photos from around the world and you can turn on the display of your Google Photos albums or Flickr or Facebook photos. Backdrop will also display the weather and time, as well the photo owner and album it's from.
Chrome Cast Showing Backdrop
There is a third party app called Dayframe available for Android which can stream photos as well, but it can also stream Instagram and 500px photos in case you have some photos on those sites as well. Or you can use the official Flickr app which now also has Chromecast support.
If you have a smart TV or networked DVD player or set top box, you can very likely already watch YouTube videos on your TV. For casting YouTube videos, the YouTube will automatically find the "cast-capable" TV and the cast icon will appear. Some TVs or media devices will have apps built-in for YouTube and other internet video sources though you may have to use the remote control. Some high-end TVs have their own smartphone apps to control the TV as well. If your television supports DLNA, you can also stream local media files straight from your Windows PC to your TV or networked DVD player/set top box.
If you don't own a games console but want to have some friends over for a racing game or other party-style game you can actually stream the game from your gaming PC to the TV if you have a laptop that can output to the television. Depending on the games you play you might even be able to play straight from your laptop connected to the TV.
The video game online store and distribution network Steam
has a technology called In-Home Streaming
which streams games between computers on a network. The common scenario is from your high-end gaming computer to a cheaper laptop - the graphics and sound from the high-end PC and the controls from the lower-end computer back to the high-end one. Combine this with some inexpensive USB game controllers or XBox 360 controllers you can easily relax with a game on the couch. Steam also has a specifically designed interface for TVs called Big Picture Mode
which optimises the game selection interface for viewing from a distance away.
The TV Optimised Picture Mode
I like to play a kart racing game called Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed
when I have friends over - it's a pretty casual style of racing with lots of fun, colourful environments. You can play over the internet or a split screen view with multiple controllers. The racing physics is simple with no gear changing or damage so it doesn't take much practise to get in and start playing. If you've played Mario Kart on any of the Nintendo consoles it's quite similar. You can choose different characters from Japanese and classic video games like Sonic (The Hedgehog) and movies such as Ralph (from the Disney movie Wreck it Ralph) plus other pop culture icons. It's around $20 on Steam but you can pick it up on a Steam Sale for around $10 a few times during the year. The game runs well on my five year old Macbook Pro and should run OK on a medium spec laptop.
The Character Select Screen of Sonic & All Stars Racing
If you and your friends are more into adult games, there is always Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
on Steam which is also optimised for game controllers and TV play. It's a rather violent fighting game so you'll need to use your own discretion around children under 15 of course but could be a good choice if you want something more competitive. You can play against each other, in single player, or co-operative against the computer controlled characters (I suppose, if you're waiting for your guests?).
TV showing Mortal Kombat with a semi-closed laptop
For you and your guests to have lots of fun and laughter together, there's something to be said for turning off the TV and playing a real, physical game. Board games from the classics like Monopoly or Scrabble to the new board games like Settlers of Catan are fun way to learn, strategise and simply bond with your friends.
I have had fun with Man Bites Dog by University Games - a card game where you have to create funny newspaper style headlines with the cards you're dealt for points. At the party I brought them to we didn't play for points, we just each made headlines in turn. Among my friends, English isn't always their first language so the game also proved a fun language lesson when some words or concepts are explained. Man Bites Dog is available from Mind Games in The Myer Centre Brisbane (with other stores around Victoria, or see your local puzzle and games store for around $15.
Packaging and example cards from Man Bites Dog
If you're after a more dexterous game to test you and your friend's hand eye coordination, I've got the perfect recommendation. I've been playing "Suspend" by MELISSA & DOUG a few times at one friend's parties. The game consists of a number of "hooked sticks" which you hook on to the also hooked stand. The hook-sticks are divided evenly amongst the players who must place their hook-sticks onto the stand eventually making a precarious structure. The game is over when everyone is out of sticks, or a player's move collapses the structure, which is hilariously often the case.
The Suspend Game in Action
Of course, you could always play ordinary card games using a standard pack of cards, or even ask your friends to bring over their own card games or board games which would create conversation and spread new ideas. You could even make board/card games a central feature of your party, it's all just about having fun with friends.