Starting your own board game club: Part One

Starting a Board Game Club - Location
Starting a Board Game Club - Location

Post’s arrived! Another brand new board game from Zatu, all shiny and dazzling, with that alluring straight-outta-the-box smell. You’ve punched the pieces, know the rulebook inside-out, and now there’s just one thing missing… Erm, actual people around who want to play said amazing game with you.

You’ve suggested the idea to your work colleagues, but all of sudden, mysteriously, they seemed to have realised how busy they are. You’ve given up on your partner – you love them to bits, but they’re simply not into games and no amount of persuasion from you is going to change that. Your kids, meanwhile, worship Wi-Fi. You’re left desperate not to become the person that resorts to playing 7 Wonders with their cats (and, worst of all, ends up losing to Mr. Fuzzytail).

What you need are fellow board game enthusiasts. You need people like – well, people like YOU, really. People that share the same passions. Sounds like you need to start a local board games group where people meet up on semi-regular occasions, where they can bring along a bag full of games to play and try out a over the course of an afternoon or evening. Where they can chat, laugh, have a drink or two and in general, just have a fantastic time.

Sounds great? Sure does! We’re going to take you through the process of how to start your own board game club, step-by-step. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that. But, as Kevin Costner found out in Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. So let’s take a look at how you might go about creating a board games meet-up, starting with finding the perfect location to host such an event…

Is there anybody out there?

First things first; do a search for local board game clubs that might already be in your area (type something like ‘board games [name of your town]’ into the search options in Facebook, Google or the forums of boardgamegeek.com). You might be pleasantly surprised to find one already up and running. If so, brilliant! The hard work’s already been done.

Drop the people that run it a message, and ask about their games night/event. There’s a strong chance someone will reply – they’ll be equally delighted to hear from you. All it takes now is for you to be brave, take the plunge and turn up.

We appreciate meeting new people can sometimes be intimidating, but remember: you already have the same interests as these people; you’ve got lots in common to chat about. Bring along a game or two you like playing – whether it’s a gateway game modern classic like Ticket To Ride, the latest card craze such as KeyForge or the latest hotness like Architects of the West Kingdom. In no time at all you’ll be part of the gang!

Starting a Board Game Club - Pub

Location checklist: Do a recce

Okay, no club already present in your area? No problem: time to create your own! The first thing you need to think about is a suitable location. The bare minimum you’re going to need is:

  • A medium-sized table and, say, four to six comfy chairs.
  • Ideally it isn’t going to cost you too much (or anything, at all)…
  • …But somewhere people can buy food and drink.
  • Good lighting. Underestimate the power of wattage at your peril. Trust us, it can make or break a games evening!

If you’re simply asking friends, colleagues or amiable neighbours to join you for a games night, then this location might already be in existence… Your dining room. However, if you are looking to meet new people or if you’re looking to host three to five (or more) tables worth of games, then we would recommend safety first and finding a public spot.

Once you’re established and have a solid number of regular attendees, then you can worry about out-growing your venue (that’s a ‘good’, almost enviable problem to have – it means you must be running a successful club!). For now, let’s work with the logic that you might start out by attracting, say, four to 12 people to your board games club. That’s up to three tables going at the same time, all accommodating four-player games. This could be somewhere such as a pub, a village hall or community centre, or a games cafe.

Option One: The Pub

Pubs are ideal places for people to meet and relax, anyway. However, their ambience and atmosphere can differ in rather stark contrasts. From a games night point of view, there are a lot of things you’ll need to consider. You should absolutely visit potential places before you plan on holding a games night there: Does it fit your criteria? Talk to the landlord or the head honcho behind the bar about your plans – as potential customers (and possible repeat ones, at that) they’re not going to turn you away.

Depending on location or popularity, consider booking a table or two. Each pub will differ of course, but some don’t require a deposit. However, we would not recommend having your games night in a pub on either Friday or Saturday nights. (Nor should you pick pubs that are in prime, city locations where every night is chock-a-block.)

Chances are the pub will be busy, loud, and full of – how can we put this politely – ‘enthusiastic’ drinkers. Not a good combo – the latter crowd, in particular, might become a nuisance if they pester your gaming corner of the pub. Rarely do alcohol and board games make for a good mix (unless you’re playing Viticulture: Essential Edition, that is, in which case, get the shiraz out).

Talking of drinks, make sure that the pub has beer mats (top tip: do not confuse the lovely components in Skull as coasters!). If you’re anything like us, then you’ll take great pride in your games and want to keep them in top nick. A refreshing pint might hit the spot after a hard day’s work, but it’s going to leave irksome condensation rings behind – and that could permanently ruin cards or components.

Also, remember that most pubs think very carefully about their ‘mood lighting’. More often than not the establishment will be partially rather than fully lit. While this might create a dreamy atmosphere for date night, it doesn’t make squinting at board game pieces much fun. “Argh,” you might lament while playing the likes of Hanabi, “I keep mixing up the green and blue cards!”

Board Game Club Location - In the Pub

Option Two: A Local Village Hall

On the other hand, maybe a village hall, community centre, or maybe an area at your place of work (such as an office room for hire?) sounds like more your cup of tea. Maybe you or someone you know has a good relationship with the folks that run the hall, or maybe they live in the village and can get it for a good rate (or maybe even free, if you’re very lucky).

Assuming it has a fee, you’ll need to work out a rate that you feel is fair per person – it has to be enough to cover the costs, of course, and also not so high that it might drive people away.

It could be worth having someone keeping a log of the finances. If, for example, you have a busy session and have excess cash in the kitty, this can be put towards the next session in case it’s a more quiet affair. Sometimes life gets in the way for all of us, and therefore for every quiet week you might have a busy one. But if the venue has to be paid for, try to keep on top of the pennies. Making a log or spreadsheet on Excel might be worthwhile.

Some village halls (or community centres) allow people to bring their own food to the venue, some don’t. Some might serve food/drinks, some won’t. It’s worth asking questions like this in advance, because this could be a real selling point for you – people get hungry and thirsty, and if your club is an evening one, some people might be coming straight from work. If they can’t eat or buy a snack while gaming, then you’re making it tough for them to warrant coming.

Option Three: A Local Games Cafe

A games cafe might end up being a logical choice for you. After all, there should be tables, chairs, good light and food and drink available (otherwise, it doesn’t sound like much of a decent cafe!), and, of course, a selection of games. However, we appreciate that not every city has a games café – let alone every town. Therefore, this is more of a ‘luxury’ option!

Board Game Club - Village Hall

So, to Summarise…

In conclusion, all of these places require a spot of reconnaissance in advance. Check the lighting – no one wants to squint at cards in a dingy environment. Are the tables big enough? (Not every table is going to be big enough to fit larger, ‘big board’ games along with player boards such as Scythe and Great Western Trail).

Try to create and maintain a solid, respectful relationship with the staff at whichever venue you opt for. It’s in both yours and their interest that your club is successful. Is food/drink available? Is this a deal-breaker?

And lastly, consider the time and day of the week. This option might be limited due to availability, but if you have options, think carefully. If the only night people can make is Tuesdays, for example, but the pub you’ve picked is a sports pub that shows Champions League matches across its four screens on that night, it might be best to pick another spot. The same goes for live music. sport and gigs are both fantastic entertainment in their own right, but again, like alcohol, cheering fans or guitar solos are going to deafen the more tranquil environment required for board games. Sunday afternoons might work better than Sunday evenings, for example.

Finally, accept the fact that no location will be perfect, geographically. Most people will have to travel to this place by either car or public transport, so check there is suitable parking or that it’s near a train station or bus stop.

Finding the right location is the hardest part. We can sense you wincing, thinking that starting your own board games club could be a tad more tricky than you anticipated… But don’t be put off. Once you find the right spot, you’ve got a launch pad for something amazing.

Starting your Board Game Club - Next time…

In Part Two, we’ll assume you’ve found yourself a location. This means that the next challenge will be putting word out on the street: How do you go about publicising your games night? We’ll look at using the power of social media to the max, how to reach out and appeal to your fellow local board game aficionado. And later on in Part Three, we’ll look at running the club, itself…