Welcome back to the third part of our series on how to create your own board games club. In Part One we looked at the importance of finding the right venue to host such an event. Meanwhile, in Part Two, we analysed the various methods you could use to promote your club – whether by social media channels, or by good ol’ fashioned print posters in prime locations.
You’ve done all the hard-prep work. But now the day has arrived: Tonight is games night, and it sounds like people are actually going to show up! Problem is, now everyone’s looking to you, the Event Founder, to run things smoothly. So, what are the tricks to actually running a games club?
Have someone be ‘The Greeter’
It’s vital to remember that walking into a room and meeting new people can be intimidating for even the most confident of people. Luckily, this can be alleviated somewhat, because in theory, everyone who attends your club will have an interest in board games. Conversation should flow easily, because you have mutual interests.
For the very first games night, make sure you arrive early – first, ideally. If you’re sitting at a table in, say, a pub on your own but with a bag or stack of board games on your table, then other people who have seen your poster or social media post will know they’ve come to the right place.
After the second, third, or 15th meet-up, don’t forget that it will still be someone’s first time coming. Have one member of your group, if not you, be the unofficial ‘Greeter’ for first-timers. A simple, “Hello, here for the board games?” is all it takes, and conversation will shoot off in a heartbeat. Waiting for others to approach you might result in a nervy stand-off, where the new folks are too shy or intimidated by a ‘clique’ atmosphere to join in.
For my games group, every couple of weeks I write a Facebook post in our private Group, 'Welcoming’ any new members. I tag them in the post as a friendly way of acknowledging them joining the community. It also gives them the opportunity to reply, spark conversation, and ask questions. They are, of course, more than welcome to simply ignore it. By saying hello to them in this manner, it’s like an e-introduction of sorts. What I don’t do is push, push and push people to respond – that is stepping into ‘creepy’ territory, and not welcoming behaviour.
Set a start time… But give it some leeway
You can pick a designated start time, but regardless, everyone is likely to turn up at different, staggered times. What you could consider is playing shorter, ‘filler’ games for the first 45-60 minutes (fantastic games such as a Deep Sea Adventure, Rhino Hero or Skull – all easy to teach and light in strategy) while you wait for everyone to arrive.
It might be tempting to jump in straight away with a heavy board games such as Arkham Horror or Power Grid, but what if someone arrives just 20 minutes later, and you and everyone else is already set-up and mid-game? Is the late attendee just supposed to watch you all play for 90-plus minutes?
This is a tricky one. Yes, it’s partly down to the late arrival’s time management, but if they have a long distance to travel after work, for example, and simply cannot arrive any earlier, this is something to consider. It’s only polite. Just imagine if you were to arrive late at a games night and there were no tables with spots left for you to join in…
In Part Two, we suggested creating a Facebook Group for your games club. Perhaps on this Facebook page you could suggest that you’ll ‘start’ the longer/bigger games at x o’ clock, so people have an idea of what time they could arrive and get a game in, or otherwise it could end up a wasted journey for them, and their chances of coming again might be that little bit slimmer. Maybe they’ll post something like they’re running 10 minutes late, so you know they are en-route.
Leave no gamer behind
However you decide to run your games night – be it a first-come, first-served affair, or more of a Musketeer approach (“All for one and one for all!” where you’re all in it together), as the host/event organiser, you might want to consider ensuring everyone has a game to play. Even the most extroverted personalities might be a tad intimidated by a clique; you’ll find that human nature will often result in new attendees being quieter and more reserved when it comes to picking a game to play. It might be that you end up suggesting games to them, grouping them together with other (more experienced gamers who can teach and make them feel comfortable).
What our gaming group does, when it comes to breaking off into smaller groups, is we do a head-count and work out the total number of people present. Then we work out what sort of approximate player counts that leaves us with.
For example, if there are 12 of us, we could have three tables (therefore three games), each with four players. Or, four tables of three. Perhaps a five, a four and a three? Two sixes? What you don’t want is to plan the perfect five-player game and a six-player game when there are 12 of you, because that leaves one person without a game.
Bring games with variable player counts
On a similar note, as host/organiser, we’re going to assume you are going to bring some, y’know, actual board games. While it’s a safe bet you can rely on someone to bring their own games along to a board games night, if everyone leaves it to someone else, your games night might not even have any games!
While it might sound tough, it’s best that you accept that you can never really rely on having an exact number attending your games night. Sometimes there will be late cancellations; sometimes there will be spur-of-the-moment folks who decide to show up! However, picking a smart choice of games in advance can easily mitigate this.
Think about bringing some ‘old faithfuls’ each time. Games that can play certain player counts, in case you have awkward player totals. Plenty of games can take four or five players, but sometimes six and above is tricky. But don’t you worry about that! We’ve even got a list of some recommend titles that we think work great in a games night environment with larger player counts:
Games for a six-player count
- Jamaica – Pirate racing, treasure-hunting.
- Ethnos – Fantasy set-collection, area control.
- Scotland Yard – Criminal on the run one-vs-all, hidden movement.
Games for a seven-player count
- 7 Wonders - civilisation-building card-drafting, set-collection.
- Welcome To… - Californian suburbia roll-and-write.
- Shadows Over Camelot: Arthurian legends - Semi co-op (with a possible traitor).
Games for an eight-player count
Are you throwing people in at the deep end?
Moving smoothly on, if possible, try to gauge the other gamers’ tastes and comfort with regards to game weight. (By weight we don’t mean how heavy the box is… But rather, how crunchy the gameplay is!) This runs parallel to our earlier tips on trying to ensure that nobody has been left out of a game.
If someone has come along to your games night for the first time and they tell you that they’ve just tried out, say, Ticket To Ride and really enjoyed it, but haven’t really played anything else, have a quick think. Would it be fair to chuck them straight into a game of Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar or Agra? Probably not. Maybe if they want to try a worker placement game for the first time, usher them towards a gateway variant of the mechanic (you can’t go wrong with Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep for this category).
You don’t want to put these people off coming back again because they didn’t understand (or enjoy) what they were playing. You might want to consider games of a similar weight (or just a tad above what they’re used to) for newcomers, to aid them in having a great time.
Already know the Rules
The hardest part of the board game hobby is mastering the art of teaching games. Even if you’re teaching to grizzled board game veterans, trying to translate a 20-page rulebook to them as briefly as possible can be tough. Doing this to newcomers of the hobby can be even harder, because you might not be able to rely on reference points. (“Okay, so in Dice Settlers you’re going to be allocating your dice faces, kind-of similar to how you would in Roll For The Galaxy. Hang on, have any of you played Roll For The… Ah. Never mind.”).
We could write another blog piece entirely just on teaching games, so we’ll try to steer back on topic! The point is: make sure you know the rules to the games that you bring. You are the host of this game night (or, at least you will be seen as this figurehead for the initial few meet-ups), so if you are Chief Game-Bringer, it will be down to you to walk people through the set-up and rules of the game.
We wouldn’t recommend slapping a literally brand-new game down on the table. You might have experienced something similar at a different game night – the new shiny box is still in shrink. It has ten zillion punchboards that need to be popped, and a crisp rulebook that will need to be read out loud, cover-to-cover, before you can get started. And even then, nobody really knows what it is they’re supposed to be doing. This can frustrate some people, and a negative vibe might then be associated with that game (or you/your club). We’d suggest at least reading the rules at home, first.
Digesting the rules and getting through that part of set-up can really make or break the hobby for some folks. We appreciate it’s time-consuming but trust us… Underestimate this at your peril!
A group chat for you and your trusted lieutenants
Every sheriff needs a deputy. No, we’re not talking about BANG! The Dice Game – we’re talking about spreading out the responsibilities, once your games group begins to grow.
Don’t feel like you have to take on everything, just because you are the group’s ‘leader’. In time you’ll find other gaming regulars within your group that you can chat to, perhaps via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or ye olde text messages. Between you, together you can bounce ideas off each other, decide on things such as ideas to tweak the group’s format, or maybe solve social or practical problems if – and when – they occur. (Again, this is another topic for another blog post…)
The Power of Social Media
We spoke in Part Two about creating a Group on Facebook to act as a hub for your board games club. Because you can post here, create (and invite members to) Events and, maybe most important of all, post pictures, you can really gauge a sense of excitement about your club.
I always take a photo of the games I’m bringing to the games night, and post it on the day of the Event, saying something along the lines of, “Anyone fancy a game of Five Tribes, Heaven & Ale, or Santa Maria tonight? I’m more than happy to teach any of them!” This allows group members a chance to garner interest in those games in advance, maybe alleviating the awkward ‘nobody knowing what to suggest to play’ part of the evening.
Enough waffle… Let’s get playing!
Your game night does not need to be a military operation, with a strict itinerary that runs like clockwork. However, if you introduce some basic ground rules that we mentioned above, it should feel organic and welcoming to newcomers. And that’s the most important thing, after all – the ultimate goal is that everyone is having an amazing time. As Bill and Ted put it, “Be excellent to each other.”
It will take a bit of effort. You’ll need to work some social media magic to get it up and running. You’ll have to manage proceedings to a degree, once people start coming along. Not everything will go according to plan, but if you really want it to work, you’ll find a solution to make it work. Accept that you’ll learn as you go.
Remember, most clubs or communities can be judged not by how often new people come along – but by how often they come back. That’s the real sign you’re doing something right. And that’s when you can stand back and bask in glorious satisfaction: your board games club is alive and kicking.