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Let the Wedding Games Begin


Meredith and Andrew Shackleford didn’t want their wedding to have an ordinary cocktail hour. Instead of having their guests sip drinks and eat canapés, the couple divided everyone into six teams to compete in a series of games that included croquet, ladder ball, and blindfolded wine tastings. The winning team took home bottles of champagne and a trophy.

“The games were a way to prevent people from staying glued to their phones,” said Ms. Shackleford, 34. “We wanted to create something where people could really get involved and interact with each other.”

The Shacklefords, who are from Vancouver, British Columbia, and married in 2014, and own the wedding planning blog Love & Lavender, aren’t the only ones breaking away from traditional cocktail hour fare. In recent years, a number of rental companies have cropped up to meet this growing demand for wedding games that can be played both indoors and outdoors.

Ian Samson an owner of Rustic Charm Event Company in Charlotte, N.C., started his side business three years ago, after seeing how much fun guests had playing cornhole, giant Jenga, and giant Connect 4 at his outdoor wedding in Mason, Mich. “We try to bring back classic games like Yahtzee and tic-tac-toe and KerPlunk,” Mr. Samson said. “You can tell people are going back to a different time in their lives when they played these games.”

Erin Fogg and her mother, Elaine Mee, founded Power of Love Rentals in 2013 in Portland, Ore. They offer lawn games in addition to table linens, place settings and other wedding décor.

Wedding games, Ms. Fogg said, allow guests to mingle in a way that dancing doesn’t. “People can socialize and chat when they’re playing games, and oftentimes that’s not possible when people are dancing to loud music,” she said.

Bea Rue, 33, and Tyler Alan Mason, 32, who are from New York City, drew inspiration from older games — some from as far back as the 1500s — when they started Upstate Jamboree, a wedding game rental business that operates in New York’s Hudson Valley and New York City. “We have a maze game that dates back to the 17th century, and it was created in Switzerland,” Ms. Rue said.

Ms. Rue and Mr. Mason, who are engaged, started the business last year, after lending out their personal set of cornhole boards for a friend’s wedding. “They had a little gaming corner during cocktail hour, where they also had ladder ball and croquet and it was really fun,” Ms. Rue said. “We became quick friends with these far-flung family members of our friends who we had never met before, people from Canada and England and Spain. That’s when the light bulb went off.”

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Upstate Jamboree offers four-hour rental packages that cost $900 to $3,200. The basic package provides lawn games like cornhole and croquet, while more expensive ones also offer the couple’s signature games, which Mr. Mason, a carpenter, builds by hand. Other companies, like Power of Love Rentals, let customers rent each game for three days for a flat fee, though customers are sometimes responsible for picking up and returning the games themselves. (Power of Love offers delivery and setup for an additional fee, starting at $100.)

Ms. Rue says that her packages come with more than just instructional cards. “All of our rentals include an attendant who is there to teach people how to play the games, reset the games, and get people excited about them,” she said.

Nina and Nicholas DePalma, both 29 of Olivebridge, N.Y., said having games at their wedding in Wallkill, N.Y., last year made it easier for guests to socialize with new people. “We had several groups of friends and family that had never met one another, so it felt really important to have some sort of icebreaker, besides the bar, that would allow people to feel comfortable and really get to know each other,” said Ms. DePalma, who is a project manager and coordinator for a research organization. “Our wedding was also a reunion for a lot of friends who hadn’t see one another in some time, so it was cool to see those old friends come together and get in on some friendly competition.”

Katie Test Davis and Dan Davis, both 34 of Raleigh, N.C., said the lawn games at their 2017 wedding in Charlotte, N.C. — Jenga, Connect 4 and cornhole — were a hit with guests, from toddlers to baby boomers. “Even before the ceremony started, we had kids from both sides of our family find the games and start playing,” said Ms. Davis, who owns a public relations firm. “During cocktail hour, we gathered up a group of friends, grabbed drinks, and played a fairly competitive game of Jenga. That remains one of my favorite memories of the day.”

Garland Middleton, 31, and Maxwell Johnathan Lasky, 29, of Crested Butte, Colo., are big fans, too. The couple’s wedding, which took place this summer at the mother of the bride’s farm in Denver, N.Y., in the Catskill Mountains, had a barn and a rustic atmosphere that paired well with lawn games, Ms. Middleton said.

“Guests went nuts for the games,” she said. “It was a great way to have people interact, and it provided a whole other area of hanging beyond where the reception was happening. People were thrilled and played all night long.”

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