Thanks for all the tips guys. In light of your observations I'll definitely pick up some cheap used gear until I'm sure it will get some regular use.
While my friends and I are more or less from the video game generation, I'll see if I can add a pinball to the mix - are there any tables considered "classics" that any pinball junkie would know and want to play, and what sort of price would you be expected to pick one up in good condition?
It also seems like the electronic entertainment is more popular than I expected. I've given some more thought to the MAME arcade and while it would be cool to have all those games available, many of them are really focused on solo play and in a party situation would involve one person playing while multiple people stand around and watch.
I took a look around and found this
article, which lists the best 2-player/multiplayer games as polled from Slashdot readers, in other words die-hard video game nerds. As you can see there are some real classics on the list like Gauntlet and Warlords, however many of them are from platforms like Nintendo, Playstation and so on which a MAME machine wouldn't be able to handle.
. GameEx is a front end to multiple emulators, ranging from MAME/arcade to Atari 2600, Nintendo 64, Playstation and everything in between. So far after playing with it for 10 minutes I've managed to play arcade Gauntlet, Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 and Herzog Zwei from Sega Genesis, tons of fun. Of course the challenge will be finding controllers from those old systems that will work on the PC, but from makers like X-Arcade
it looks like I'll be off to a good start.
I'm also considering a Wii, X360 and PS3 to the mix, so that I can have access to the huge library of games available for the GameCube/Wii/PS1/PS2/PS3/XBox/X360 platforms, including all kinds of great multiplayer games like Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, Super Monkey Ball, Halo, Karaoke Revolution, Mario Kart Double Dash and the upcoming Rock Band. If I focus on only popular multiplayer games and buy used equipment and games, I should be able to get a great setup for maybe $1500, or about the same savings I'll make from getting a used pool table versus a new one!
While I'll have to wait for the house to be ready to get all the console gear in there, I'll be working on the GameEx setup and I'll be sure to post my results once I have everything figured out and working. Wish me luck!