Only once had my kids ever had a proper Birthday Party With Friends, and it was a joint one (their birthdays are five days apart), and simple, populated by about three other kindergarteners and preschoolers.
The birthday parties they’ve been to have been destination events at bowling alleys and trampoline parks and Chuck E Cheese, or at least a rented hall, so those were their first suggestions when I asked what they wanted to do for their birthdays this year.
As a Highly Sensitive Possibly-ASDed Introvert, can I just point out for the record that Chuck E Cheese is Hell? And I didn’t want to shell out the money for a destination event, either—though I wasn’t watching my budget on putting together this at-home party all that well, and I probably spent nearly as much when you factor in all the colored printer ink I used.
Besides, I wanted to put together a good old-fashioned at-home Theme party, like my third grade Castle party. I thrive on matching activities to a theme—it’s one of my favorite parts of my job as a children’s librarian. Last summer I went kind of nuts planning our library’s Back to Hogwarts party.
Looking ahead to this summer, when the national Collaborative Summer Library Program theme is “Build a Better World,” I’d collected a pile of Minecraft party ideas and suddenly knew how to tempt my oldest away from the trampoline park.
When I say I’d collected a pile of ideas, I mean I’d barely spotted the iceberg, let alone dove under. If you Google “Minecraft party ideas,” your only trouble will be narrowing the ideas down. I was a little surprised that GeekMom had never posted a full-blown Minecraft party plan, though I found some bits and pieces that I did incorporate into my idea stew to simmer, along with the countless blogs and Pinterest boards* from sources parenting, gaming, and librarianing.
This is what I came up with: some ideas direct from other sources, some adapted, and some for which my brain went somewhere entirely new. I’ll try to link to my inspiration sources, but I’m aware that there may be many others who’ve done the same projects who did not get named.
First, decor. I saw countless doorways turned into Nether Portals by hanging black and purple streamers. I love the idea of an immersive entrance-into-the-experience, and it’s super easy and cheap. It also gets tangled in the door and caught in the wind if you do it on your front door as we did, though.
When I saw these ghasts on Pinterest, though, I thought, why stop there? Any number of Minecraft creatures can be made with boxes, streamers, construction paper, and a little colored duct tape (I found a bunch of cheap but pretty rolls at the dollar store—not as sturdy as your name brands, but all you need for adding details to cardboard decorations). The pile of boxes left in the corner since Christmas wrapping suddenly became giant spiders, Mooshrooms, and Endermen.
I confess: I don’t actually know why Endermen are holding blocks all the time. But what more important blocks are there at a birthday party than presents? I thought I’d get the kid a Minecraft Loot Crate for his birthday, and have the Enderman holding it for him to open with his friends. Wouldn’t that look awesome? But wouldn’t you know it, this month’s crate got delayed, and I had to substitute a less obviously Minecrafty box instead.
Food! Another fun and endless browse of Pinterest, etc., is to see all the different ideas people have come up with for themed snacks. My snack table leaned a little healthier than a lot of the ideas out there,** but I couldn’t skip licorice TNT*** because it looks adorable.
And when I saw bunny marshmallows in the grocery store I had to get them without knowing exactly what I was going to do with them, but luckily “rabbit” is a Minecraft food item, too. “Carrots” and “melon” are obvious. I was charmed by calling green grapes “slimeballs,” and strawberries really do look exactly like the icon for “redstone.” I’d already bought a bag of pretzel “sticks” when the boy protested, “but we need square pretzels for trapdoors!” So those were butter flavor, for variety. “Golden [delicious] Apples” rounded out our snack table, but while everyone thought their existence was awesome, no one touched them to eat. I think grabbing a whole apple that you need to bite and chew just wasn’t comparatively snacky enough.
I downloaded the free printable food labels here at the blog Delicate Construction, then adapted them to the food I had with the help of the block and item lists on the Minecraft Gamepedia Wiki, and this handy free font. I kept the snack table to “items” and saved the “blocks” for pizza construction, because, construction. What is Minecraft without building things, and what better kid-friendly meal to build than pizza?
My usual pizza crust recipe, which makes two twelve-inch round thin crusts, makes a dozen 5″x5″ square crusts if you roll each half of the dough into a 10″x15″ rectangle and slice it before you bake. Since I wanted to name all the pizza toppings out of bricks, “bedrock” was the obvious choice for the crust, since you built everything else on top of it. But when I saw the icon for “bread,” I quickly pasted it on top of my bedrock icon. Pizza crust is BREADROCK!
You groan, but I’ll have you know that every single kid who saw my little pun thought it was hilarious.
First order of business when the guests arrived was for them to build upon their breadrock as desired, with sauce lava, cheese sandstone, sausage cobblestone and pepperoni brick, olive coal, pepper emerald, and parmesan snow. Only a grandma and I took the pesto grass, but that’s everyone else’s loss. (Oh, and it went against the “everything is a block” rule, but italian seasoning=”seeds.”) Every kid came up with a different combination. I gathered the crusts up to stick them in the oven for a quick cheese melt, though one kid was happy enough to eat his creation as is.
For drinks, everyone online recommended potions but extra fun is the potion-brewing station I first read about here. Problem: everyone said use seltzer water and flavored syrup, but my kids can’t stand carbonation. Easy solution: Kool-aid. Two tablespoons of ready-mixed Kool-aid powder in a typical 500mL bottle of water works about perfectly. I had three ready-mixed flavors and four additional packets that had to be mixed with sugar. Rather than mix them completely, I mixed each with half the sugar, and then wrote the brewing recipes so that those potions took one scoop flavored powder and one scoop sugar (since “sugar” is an actual potion ingredient, it seemed easier to just use sugar for it, and less wasteful if one flavor turned out less popular than the others, too). I made the ready-mixed lemonade powder “glowstone dust,” because it was yellow and really would increase the potency of (or at least give a little citrusy kick to) aby other potion it was combined with. And the negative-making “fermented spider eye” was grape. It made for some interesting combinations.
When I saw one party planner moan that she really should have included funnels at her brewing station, I thought, why not incorporate funnels into a model of an actual brewing stand? So with two funnels, paper plates, more cardboard boxes and colored duct tape, I rigged up this contraption. “But Mom,” said the kid, “brewing stations have THREE spigots, not two.” “This balances better,” I retorted. Look, if you can make one that works with three funnels, more power to you!
In retrospect, I should have used half-size (one cup) water bottles (and half the powder along with), as none of the kids came anywhere near to finishing their bottles, and they all wanted to try new mixes before finishing the first, anyway.
You will also find lots of cute Minecraft cake ideas online, but my kid had other plans. You see, in his lovely book Stampy’s Lovely Book, popular Minecraft-playing YouTuber Stampy Cat has included a recipe for his very own “Special Cake,” and that’s the one my son wanted. And this is a serious cake, not just an excuse for decorating. It calls for nearly three cups of butter (if you count the perfect buttercream frosting) and six eggs, and has a layer of an entire jar of strawberry jam in the middle. It is SO not Weight-Watcher’s friendly but is totally worth it.
It was also my first attempt at using fondant, and it wasn’t half bad, although Stampy’s recipe called for coating the entire cake in white fondant and I hadn’t bought enough for that. I went for a nice Minecrafty green background square instead.
I figured ice cream would be easy to Minecraft up, too: it’s already rectangular-prism shaped, just cut it up in cubes and stack them, with some figurines for fun. But it turns out most ice cream doesn’t come in those fold-apart cardstock boxes anymore. The first store I went to didn’t have any ice cream that didn’t come in a sturdy curved tub instead, and I found just one brand in a rectangular box at my second stop. The final product may not have been worth the trouble, looks-wise, but it was easier to actually serve each kid a few cubes from the pile rather than scooping right from the container on the spot.
Games and Other Entertainments: After we convinced the kid that “letting all his guests watch him play Minecraft” was not a good entertainment idea, we moved on to the Throwing Things and Knocking Things Over ideas. The easiest idea involved taping faces on the punching balloons I picked up at the dollar store on this whim. I don’t have any pictures of those, but you can use your imagination.
I always recommend a good themed beanbag toss, and there were ideas for Creeper Toss boards all over. But because my kid is kind of a Creeper nut as it is, I had a feeling we’d over-Creeper the place if we weren’t careful. Besides, what did Creepers have to do with throwing things? “Are there any Minecraft weapons that you throw?” I asked my kids. “Snowballs,” they said. “Oh. Can you defeat any monsters with snowballs?” “Just Blazes,” they said. So I made a cardboard Blaze, with a section in the middle to aim for, and a lot of simple**** white “snowball” beanbags.
I’d seen Creeper Bowling on a library blog, the object being to knock down a set of floral-foam Creepers. But she’d linked to a post which had used a toy bow and arrow set instead of a ball, and I thought, that’s cooler: you actually can use a bow and arrow to take down mobs in Minecraft, and my kid had gotten a Nerf bow this past Christmas. And yes, his guests did find that very cool. “You think that’s cool?” he said. “I also have a Zombie Strike Brainsaw!” And at that point… well, we’ll get back to this in a minute.
Because actually, my kid doesn’t care all that much about beating up monsters on Minecraft—he’s in it for the building. We had to have at least one creative, not destructive, activity. I love these light-up torches, for example, which I did make available for our guests, but proved a little complicated for the situation and attention spans of those gathered. Much more successful and adaptable was the Minecraft Sticker Block Craft I found among library program ideas here. Print the templates at the link on label paper, slice them lengthwise, and stick them in pictures. The link above contains its own link to another page with four basic block templates, but she’s also included a few of her own templates here. (Unfortunately, the link to the very most important template—the one with the bookshelves*****—doesn’t work. I found the file the roundabout way, so here’s that link: http://kerryannmorgan.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/printable-minecraft-stickers-library-and-crops.pdf BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT).
Here’s where I drew on this old GeekMom post: those Creeper treat bags were cute. Why not expand on them, and use the block stickers to decorate green bags any way they wanted? You’ll note that one kid—not even my kid!—used the block stickers to make a Creeper face on his bag anyway!
We had to decorate bags, so we had somewhere to put the loot from the piñata! Once again, there were lots of suggestions online for mob-shaped piñatas, but I thought, wait a minute, this is MINEcraft. We need some mining! We’ll mine for treasure!
So I taped a bunch of boxes onto a double-layered paper bag full of candy. The idea was that they’d have to knock off all the outer boxes before getting to the piñata proper: it would be easy, but take awhile, so everyone would get the opportunity to hit and everyone would make a little bit of progress.
And for the most part, that’s exactly how it worked. Except when the last kid took their turn, the string broke, and the remains of the piñata fell down without breaking through to the candy. Then half-a-dozen kids fell upon it like jackals and tore it apart by hand before anyone could attempt to hang it back up.
When it became clear there were no more scheduled activities forcing their attention, someone claimed the Nerf bow, someone else claimed the Brainsaw, someone else commandeered all the beanbag Snowballs, and everyone else grabbed every toy weapon, shield, helmet, or improvised approximation of the above that they could find, and a spontaneous and intense game of Capture the Flag—or in this case, Capture Henry-the-Creeper or This-Stuffed-Rabbit-Named-Lemon—broke out all over yard and house for the last whole hour of the party.
My husband glanced out the door and turned to me. “You put in all this work, and all you really needed to do was give them a backyard and a couple of sticks.”
“THIS IS THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD IN YEARS,” a ten-year-old yelled then from his stakeout at the top of the stairs.
We all had fun, kid. With all of it.
*Confession: I don’t get Pinterest. It seems like it should be an awesome way to find a lot of ideas all at once, but instead I find a lot of broken (or non-existent) links and confusingly contextless images. Yes, I did find ideas there, but it seemed like more effort to get what I needed, not less.
**I mean, it’s not like they don’t already have cake, ice cream, and a piñata full of candy (plus all our guests had Easter baskets coming a few days later). But mommy-trying-not-to-let-Weight-Watchers-drive-her-nuts may have had something to do with it, too.
***One of the little-known side effects of planning a Minecraft event is the tendency for AC-DC songs to take over your entire mind every time you so much as glance at the Twizzlers.
****My first idea was not at all simple. I wanted to give them pixelated-looking edges. But assuming you CAN sew it so that the edges still look pixelated and also still hold in the beanbag filling… well, by then it’s ceased being simple by a long shot.
*****”Who needs bookshelves?” one guest said. I had barely given her my own offended gasp when my own kid jumped in, “EVERYONE needs bookshelves!” That’s my boy.