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‘Game Night’ Party on the cheap — and (relatively) easy.


My son turned 18 last week and requested a party.

I was happy to oblige, but a bit stumped as to what to do. While a milestone birthday deserves more fanfare than slapping some take-out pizza on the counter, an overly themed party for high school seniors could well be the kiss of death.

Plus, since most of my budget was slated for gifts for the birthday boy (no way I’m ready for ‘man’), I wanted to do the whole thing as economically as possible.

Getting Started.

While going through some files, I stumbled upon an idea for a game night party I’d clipped from an In Style magazine back in 2003. One look at the domino brownies and I knew I’d found my theme:

After getting approval from the guest of honor, I pulled the color scheme from a pack of playing cards – red, white and black with a pop of yellow:

By incorporating dollar-store items and stuff I already had on hand, the entire party – decorations, entertainment and food – cost less than $60.

But the true measure of the party’s success came later that night with my son’s Facebook status update:

“Greatest birthday ever.”

Here’s how it came together:



Luckily, mycolor scheme allowed me to use much of what I already owned as far as vases and serving pieces. Everything else was readily available from the dollar store, Target and Costco.

Inspired by my friend Anneliese’s Fiesta Forty birthday party,  I used this tutorial to make tissue-paper flowers to dress up the tables and hang from the ceiling.

For the smaller flowers, I raided my pantry — red napkins from IKEA and basic white dinner napkins from the grocery store – and wired them to bamboo skewers. The 20” square tissue paper from the dollar store was the perfect size for the larger pom-poms. (Each pack of 40 makes 5 pom-poms.)

Although I intended to use fishing line to suspend the pom-poms from the ceiling, I ultimately opted for a much easier route — hanging them directly from my pot rack and light fixtures.

Dollar-store checkers games completed the tablescape – the game pieces became vase filler, and the checkerboards worked great as mats. (After trying a couple different options, I found that packing tape worked best to secure the checkerboards in back and keep them flat — apparently with $1 games, you get what you pay for.)

For additional vase filler, I used playing pieces from a full-size backgammon set and Connect Four game we already owned. Playing cards displayed on place card clips also helped promote the theme.

Total cost for decorations: $19. Cost BreakdownDollar Store: 5 Checkers games ($5), 2 packs red plates ($2), 1 black tablecloth ($1), 3 40-sheet packages of 20” x 20” tissue paper (red, white, yellow, for pom-poms) ($3), 1 “Happy Birthday” banner ($1); Discount Store: 1 pack playing cards ($1), 3 packs popcorn boxes ($6)


The party started at 7:00 p.m., and although it didn’t officially include dinner, I wanted to make sure there would be enough ‘real’ food for those who hadn’t eaten yet, and a balance of savory and sweet, healthy and junk. Since my son is a pescatarian (and several of his guests are vegetarian) he specifically requested a no-meat menu.

To save time — and budget, I used a combination of packaged mixes (brownies) and homemade (cupcakes) and chose mostly items I could prepare in advance.

Total cost: $35

The spread included a candy/popcorn station — of course! — to accompany the movie screening.

‘Official’ Game Night Party Menu:



One of the great things about this party theme is that it’s so easily adaptable to different age groups and interests. Since this particular party was for about 30 older teens, traditional board games wouldn’t have worked; instead, they pretty much made their own entertainment with a few improv-type games.

We also set up a movie screen and projector and had “Casino Royale” and “21” DVDs on hand for viewing as the party wound down.

Total cost: $6 for movie purchase and rental.


Additional Ideas.

Rather than sending formal invites, my son opted for setting up an event on Facebook. The original article has even more suggestions, including ideas for invitations and games. Click on thumbnail photos (below) to open images / read full text.


Image sources: All party images by Christopher Halloran Photography; Domino brownie image and article thumbnails via InStyle April 2003

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Dorothy permalink
    02/15 6:39 AM

    so perfect. I can see myself using this great idea. P. S. “Happy Birthday Chris!”

    • Jennifer permalink*
      02/15 6:49 AM

      Can’t wait to see your version, hostess extraordinaire!

  2. 02/15 10:04 AM

    Fabulous ideas – and, of course, perfect execution. The domino brownies are my favorite … I might actually like that game if the pieces were made of chocolate fudge … ;o)

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/14 7:39 PM

      True — everything’s better when chocolate’s involved. Come to think of it, I never learned how to officially play dominoes; always just set ’em up and knocked ’em down…

  3. 02/21 4:46 PM

    WOW O WOW!! You are amazing and I’m thinking a cake from costco is good right? Way to put so much love and attention into the details. Admire your energy. Tell Chris Happy Belated Birthday and glad it turned out so fun. I better get busy – Molly turns 18 in less than 2 weeks, shoot I haven’t even ordered that costco cake. hhahah

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/01 8:48 PM

      Had a Costco cake for the Eagle Court of Honor, and used a brownie mix for this party to cut corners — enough to make it special without killing myself in the process. And happy birthday to Molly Lolly! Can’t believe our kindergartners are going to college…

  4. Michelle McGill permalink
    03/01 8:17 PM

    Wow, Jen! I absolutely love this! I knew you threw a fun party for Chris, but had no idea of the details until now. I have been pondering Kylie’s 16th birthday in May, and I think I may copy and adapt. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jennifer permalink*
      03/01 8:50 PM

      So glad you liked it! Happy to send any/all of it your way for Kylie…

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