What cruel joke is it that tabletop gaming attracts the painfully awkward among us, yet requires a group of us in virtually every instance? If you don’t live in a bustling metropolis, where local meetups are around every corner, what’s a desperate gamer to do? Harassing your family or the neighborhood kids only works for so long before your relatives dread visiting you or you’re labeled as the neighborhood creeper who “just wants to show you kids his Potion Explosion…” So…WHAT DO? I’ll tell you “what do” – start a meetup your damn self!
Finding the Space
I’ll keep this first bit short, because this will depending so specifically on your own situation. Ask around at local restaurants, bars, libraries, etc. The one important thing I want to emphasize, though, is to make sure that you’re not a burden on the place that hosts your get together. Even after all this time, I still make a point to email the bar we play at and ask permission to come each week. The owner can decided if they want to tell me I don’t need to do that, but consider that they are busy people who don’t have time to check the schedule for conflicts each week. You will get replies every so often like “ah, we actually have a party in the dining room tonight, but we will set you up in the back corner.” and they will be happy to accomodate if you make it worth their while.
Our group meets on Mondays, a day when the restaurant would normally be quite slow, and I encourage the players to buy something while they’re there. Finally, be clean! Don’t leave a mess for the servers, put the tables back the way you found them, and tip generously, especially if you haven’t bought anything. Keep your server happy and they won’t complain to the owner about what a general nuissance you are.
Understand first that building a game group to a successful place is a tremendous commitment, especially if you have a professional life, a family, and basically any standing obligations outside of pushing cubes. It will require you to be there every single time, ready to teach and facilitate the good times of others. There’s a bit of curating that goes into it, it will require patience, it will require you to basically market it as if it were your job. The leader of a game group is likely doing four times more work than it looks like she’s doing. If you can’t handle this commitment, consider splitting the work with a friend – if one of you can be there every time, it splits the strain on your schedule a bit more evenly.
This brings us swiftly to our next point – don’t drop the ball. As an attendee, there is a lot of anxiety about just showing up. “Who will be there?”, “what will I say to them?”, “what should I bring?”, and all that endless chatter that happens inside the brain of anxious souls, such as we. That’s why the last thing you want to do is create inconsistency. If this person psyches themselves up to come to your game night…and the host isn’t even there…you can bet that’s gonna leave a sour taste in their mouth.
You can offset this by using MeetUp or creating a Facebook group, but understand that your group members will not always indicate if they’re coming or not. I do a good bit of follow-up with my attendees to gauge their interest, day of, but it’s never a solid count so don’t count on it. Even if you are the only other attendee, plan for this! Bring a two-player game and be just as enthusiastic to be there.
Energy and Momentum
Yes, you’ll be responsible for your enthusiasm. Though you can’t force people to have a good time, you can definitely do your part to keep the energy levels high. Let everyone know how glad you are that they came out – people are busy and if they aren’t necessarily wanted, it will bump your meetup that much farther down their list of priorities. So show them how much it means to you that they chose your meetup and tell them how much you’d enjoy seeing them again.
One of the biggest obstacles here is that your group size will fluctuate. We had anywhere from twenty to three in the first year of our game group. New people would show up and never return, people will flake, etc. Don’t let this sap your energy level because it is totally normal. As time goes on, your core group will stabilize and you can relax, but during the infancy of your group, these emotional responsibilities will fall to you.
Yep, it will take time and you need to really focus on the end goal. During the early stages, you’ll be playing games you aren’t thrilled about, you’ll be giving up your seat to be the odd man out, you’ll be checking in other players to see if they understand rules. You are the host of this event and you may not have a ton of fun at first, but the sooner your build a core group, the sooner others will begin to take some of these responsibilites off of your plate.
Some among us will argue that this is absolutely not worth it and that you shouldn’t make concessions for people or games that you don’t want to play, but if you feel that way, you probably shouldn’t be hosting a game group. It took about a year or so before I could finally step out of this role a bit in our game group, but you will really learn to feel out your new friends quickly.
So what do you bring? What can you play? How complex can things get in a bar? You’ll really need to feel out your group, but this is a skill that you will absolutely develop. You will even find yourself buying games you don’t necessarily be eager to play, because it’s will go over really well with your group or in the specific place you meetup.
First, consider your setting. If you play in a loud and rowdy bar, your table will get bumped, it may be hard to hear, or perhaps the lighting isn’t great. Pay attention to that and make it work!
Next, consider your audience. How quickly could you get them right into a game? We generally play shorter games in the first half hour to hour of each night, while folks trickle in. By 8pm, we’re locked down into anything more robust that we might play. If your attendees show up and can’t get a game, that will be a buzzkill. I’ve also started to carry a “classic” like Scrabble in my bag – basically something that everyone knows and can occupy any down time before the next game can get started.
Some people say to pick the games ahead of time, but we’ve never had success with this. I’ve met new friends through this group who play the heavier stuff on non-meetup nights, but at this point, I reserve my most accessible games for meetups. Choose something with a short setup time, easy to teach, very little downtown of overall analysis paralysis, and keep things moving.
This may sound bizarre, and that’s sort of why I saved it for last. You really need to sell your group hard. I make a flier each week with a funny meme or something eye catching and I post it in our FB group, our Meetup.com group, public FB wall post, tag everyone who could possibly come, etc. etc. I’ve also done outreach on BGG itself and found local users. This works better if you’re more rural, like me. Ask the space you play in to promote it as well, but don’t expect that they will or even should. Again, you’ll be doing most of the legwork here so make it easier on yourself by spreading the word among friends and encouraging them to bring their friends.