By Ward Batty
Atlanta has an active gaming scene and supports a number of gaming groups. Getting together with friends to play games has been a particular pleasure of mine for many years. In addition to my weekly group that has been playing for over twenty years, I host thirty public gaming events in Atlanta each year. My wife recently counted them all up.
Of course there's no reason to re-invent the wheel, so you should check to see if there is already clubs, groups or stores that have organized play in your area. There are a number of sources on the internet and many game companies have information on locations of organized play at their sites. Try entering the name of your favorite game and your city's name into Google and see what it yields. I maintain a list of public boardgame groups at Boardgamenews.com.
But let's say, for whatever reason, you want to organize your own group. The first thing to decide is do you want it to be a public or private group. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. You can always do both, I do. Private groups can be easier to organize, since you only need two or three others who agree to meet on a regular basis. My group meets every Thursday from 8-11 PM and we rotate who hosts. If the same person or persons are hosting most of the time, maybe the others can bring snacks. The way it works with my Saturday group, I provide sodas and the guests bring the snacks. The main thing is to set a schedule and try to stick to it. Agreeing to decide later when to meet usually won't work out as well.
The same is true for a public group. The most important thing is to schedule regular sessions and show up for them. For boardgames, you only need three to play, fewer for most CCGs and only a few more for RPGs. So you and two friends can be the foundation for a very successful group.
I love getting together with friends for my regular sessions, but the public events are very satisfying as well. I enjoy meeting new folks and hosting these events has greatly increased my social circle. We meet the second Wednesday and last Saturday of every month. We get slightly different crowds for each one. It started with maybe eight folks and we now get between sixteen and thirty at each event.
The two things you need to make a public group successful are a good place to meet and ways to publicize the group. Game stores are a good place to consider. Many already run gaming. Some also have "open" gaming. Even if you decide not to play at a store, that may be an excellent place to find players (assuming you aren't playing at another store, of course). I don't recommend having "open" events in your home. You want to be able to freely promote the event online and in flyers around town and you can't do that safely if it is your home address. Have your friends to the house, do your public gaming in public.
My group plays at a local pizza restaurant and that has worked out very well. The trick is to find a place that is interested in having you there. The local area has a lot of office parks, so there are a number of places that do more business at lunch than dinner. They need to have the space for the lunch crowd but tend to be much less crowded in the evenings. Having 15-20 of us come in for four hours and play games hasn't been a problem, and most folks buy food and drinks while they are there, so it works out well for them as well. Tell your group to be cool and not bring in outside food or drink. Assuming you patronize the place, they should be happy to have you there. A restaurant may not be best for RPGs, but it works fine for boardgames and should be fine for CCG players as well. You want to be aware you are in public and not be loud or profane. Playing in public has also allowed us to expose others to the hobby. Other possibilities for meeting space can be libraries (if they have a separate room); churches, community centers and local social organizations can also be worth exploring.
Public game events are a chance to play, of course, but they are also social events. A games group is like a puppy, train them right early and you'll get years of enjoyment. Two small things can make a big difference in the experience. First, at the beginning of the game, introduce yourself to everyone and get his or her names. I'm terrible with names and am as likely to forget them as not, but the act itself puts the game into a more social situation. The other thing is when you are finished playing, stand up and check to see where the other players are at in their games. If something is finishing up around the same time, wait so the folks in both groups can reconfigure for another game. Getting folks to mix can be difficult, especially if folks show up together, they tend to want to stay together, but if you can get everyone into the spirit of changing partners, it really works out well. You get to see more of the group each time and if there are folks who aren't a favorite to play with, it gives you a chance to play a minimum number of games with them.
Introductions and mixing, especially if you can get everyone in the habit of doing it, will go a long way to creating a fun and social atmosphere. It is also helpful in creating a situation where the group will be more self-sustaining. Because of travel I had to miss both the October sessions, but they still happened and went fine without me. It's more fun when you feel that, even as the organizer, you don't have to be there.
In terms of publicizing your new group, local shops (if you are playing in a restaurant and nobody is selling games to the group) should probably be willing to hand out flyers about the group. Online, meetup.com is a good resource. They may already have a group in your area, if not it is easy to start one and we get one or two new folks each session. But it costs money to run a group there, which will diminish the appeal for many, I'm sure. Starting a Yahoo group is a good idea so members can communicate in between sessions and you can contact everyone.
Good places to announce the group include Yahoo and the newsgroups. A search for key phrases such as the name of a popular game will yield a list of groups that might be good candidates for announcements. For other resources online, Erik Anderson has a couple of good articles on starting a game group at Boardgames.about.com.
I encourage everyone with an interest to find a group or consider starting one if you feel the need. As a result of my Atlanta group, friendships have been formed and even romances. Who knows, someday there may be a new gamer in the world because of the gaming group. That's a pretty good deal for two days a month!
Author's note: This column originally appeared in Scrye magazine #94.
Ward Batty is a long-time game-player who has been with the same weekly game group for over twenty years. "I understood there was a pension." is his excuse. He writes a monthly column on the business of board games for Comics & Game Retailer magazine and has written articles and reviews for The Games Journal, Scrye, Knucklebones and Games International.
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