Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sustaining A Game Group

I get occasional questions from folks about how it is I managed to get a regular group for gaming - and it occurs to me that it really shouldn't be that complicated.  And realistically, it isn't.

First, you need a few things in order to start the group:
  • Games that people want to play.
  • Time in which to play the games.
  • People to play the games with.
  • A place to gather in order to play the games.
You need all of these, and none of them is less important than any of the others. An argument can be made that you don't need to be the owner of the games, but you still need to have the games in order to play them. And if you are relying on someone else to bring the games, then there is a potential weak link in your chain.

Once you have started the group, you need to extend these four things. Because these four things are the foundation of a gaming group - but they're also the components needed to sustain the group, once you get it started.

The first thing you need to extend is the time. By "extend" in this case, I don't mean "run it longer." What I mean is "project it forward down the calendar."  Choose a time and, as the host, make that time sacrosanct.  For me, it's Wednesdays. I have Game Night on Wednesdays, and I do not ever schedule anything against it.  Even though I'm not technically the host these days (as Game Night is held at the Game Store), I still feel a sense of responsibility to the group. And I will not counter-program against it, because Game Night is my priority.

Even before we moved the gathering to the game store, my friends knew not to invite me to Wednesday events, because I wouldn't go. And that hasn't changed. Wednesday Night is Game Night. Period.

To extend the place to play, just make sure that your available place doesn't go away. If it's in your home, don't cover your table with stuff. Ideally, you'll eventually want multiple play surfaces.

If it's being held in a game store or a library, make sure you have reserved the room or table(s).  It's not actually difficult. If your location costs you money, then it's up to you if you want to collect from the group or just shoulder that burden yourself. Just don't spring it on folks - give them advance notice.  And, of course, as the group grows, you'll need more tables and more space.

It's up to you how you extend the people category. You can use social media to invite people over. I've seen groups use Craigslist, Boardgamegeek, Meetup, Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, and Google Plus. And there are more options out there than that, too.  You can also tell people who are already attending that they can invite others.  The reason you need to invite people is so that you can still play even when people can't make it. To give you an idea: at the end of my first year of hosting, we'd had a total attendance of more than thirty people through - but our largest night had been seven people (including me).

Of course, you also need to be prepared for when more than four people show up. Because if all you have is Settlers of Catan, you'll have an issue pretty quickly. This is why you need to extend the number of games you have access to. And, once you get into the six to eight people range regularly, you'll need to start splitting into multiple simultaneous games. This means that you need to own (or at least have access to) multiple games. Do your homework - read reviews. Find a reviewer that you trust. For example, I don't always agree with Tom Vasel, but he always gives me enough information that my decision is informed.

When buying games, pay attention to the number of players they support - it's a good idea to have one or two good two-player games, but you should focus on games that support between three and five players (with one or two larger games).

Don't extend these things quickly. Start by clearing your schedule, and then gradually extend everything else. The rule of thumb I see is that your number of games should be roughly one game per four regulars, with a minimum of two different games. So a group of twelve who usually has six members should have a minimum of three games to choose from.

Don't worry if you don't see explosive growth. In fact, slow growth is ideal - it gives you (and the group) the opportunity to get to know one another and your gaming preferences.

My group is now more than a decade in. These days, we've had several hundred people through at one time or another. And we pull (on average) about 20 folks per week. Generally, there are four or five different games going, and very rarely are people standing around looking for a game to play.

It was the result of slow growth, following the same process I outlined here. I'd like to believe I'm a part of the best group in the country. But - realistically - the best group you'll ever be a part of is the group you grow yourself.

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