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Thoughts on Creating and Growing a Gaming Group

There seems to be a number of threads on BGG focused on creating and growing gaming groups. I figured this would be a good means to collect thoughts on the subject and hopefully explore various options and ideas.

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Community Musings - Part III

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
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This article is taken from The SaskGames News Bulletin July/August 2015 Edition. It is part of a series of articles that explore the creation and growth of a healthy & vibrant board game community.

Download the Full Newsletter for free HERE / Subscribe for free HERE



In the first article in this series, I explored some of the vision building questions we had for creating a weekly public boardgame night. We looked at the WHAT, WHY, WHO, WHERE, and WHEN to get an idea of what our event should be and develop a vision. The second article focused on HOW to execute the vision with some key ingredients for success. In this issue, we will explore mentoring good behaviour and dealing with problem behaviours.

VALUES
It is very important to have a clear set of values that the leadership team understand and adopt. It is the common ground we share for these events and the broader community. A solid set of values that guide words and actions is crucial for the health and growth of a community. Some of this may sounds cliché, but we feel they are important to not only discuss, but put into action. These include: Games are fun and playing them should be fun, be polite, be welcoming, be engaging, be helpful, be compassionate, be sincere, be passionate, and be inclusive.

MENTORING
These values are reinforced at our events every week. The leadership team models this behaviour and it becomes contagious. Attendees that feel welcome and included in the community want to come back. It is important to be gentle and helpful in teaching new games. We often give hints and strategy tips during initial play sessions. People do not enjoy being overwhelmed or feeling like they “don’t get it”. People will often not be able to recall what you said to them, but they will be able to recall how you made them feel. They also begin to emulate the behaviours of the community. Just like people have values and a code of conduct, so do communities. Once the community is strong, the values of the community will shine through and act as a guiding light for new members.

PROBLEMS
As a community grows, you will undoubtedly encounter some problem behaviours. Some of these are minor and easy to correct, some present more of a challenge. It is very important to deal with all behaviours that are counter to your values. Some of the trouble spots are easy to spot: Overly competitive behaviours that end up being too aggressive, sore losers, sore winners, cheating, inappropriate language, misogynistic behaviour, body odour, people being generally inconsiderate, the person with a favourite game that forces it on others, and any bullying or other disruptive behaviours that make anyone feel marginalized or uncomfortable. It is very important to figure out how these things will be dealt with before you host your first event. Having a plan in place will make it much easier to deal with and help to de-escalate the emotions we sometimes feel when dealing with situations.

REMEDIAL ACTION
This is where words and deeds become important. Most of us do not enjoy discussing uncomfortable things with people, but these “courageous conversations” are necessary. It is also necessary to have them soon after the errant behaviour if not immediately. In our group, the task of having these conversations normally falls to me. It is not something I enjoy, but it needs to happen. Quite often, having a non-threatening gentle conversation about the behaviour is all that needs to happen. This is best done privately. You do not want to make a public spectacle out of these things and everyone deserves the dignity of a private mature conversation. Usually, the person was not aware of their behaviour or the impact it had on others. That one gentle conversation is all that is needed.

Occasionally though, the person will become defensive and a bit confrontational. This is where some mediation and facilitation skills come in. It is vital that the discussion targets the problem behaviour and not the person. The person is not bad, just the behaviour, and when they understand that there is an opportunity to resolve the issues at hand. That is the goal. In rare cases, the behaviours are too deeply ingrained in the individual and you will need to decide if the person should be excluded from attending you events. These are never pleasant things to do, but the ongoing health of your community depend upon these actions.

I do not want to end this article on the dark side of community management, so I will re-inforce that these situations tend to be rare. Do not assume this happens all of the time, only when it is needed. That is enough for this installment. When I pick up the series in the next issue, I will discuss some of the next steps in growing and shaping your community. How to handle growth. Until next time, keep calm and game on…
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Tue Dec 15, 2015 4:15 pm
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Community Musings - Part II

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
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This article is taken from The SaskGames News Bulletin May/June 2015 Edition. It is part of a series of articles that explore the creation and growth of a healthy & vibrant board game community.

Download the Full Newsletter for free HERE / Subscribe for free HERE



In the previous SaskGames News Bulletin, I explored some of the vision building questions we had for creating a weekly public boardgame night. We looked at the WHAT WHY WHO WHERE and WHEN to get an idea of what our event should be. In this issue, we will explore the HOW.

One of the clear objectives that emerged from the early discussions, was to create a very warm, friendly, welcoming event. It can be very difficult to grow a community and even more so when it is centered around a hobby that attracts a large number of introverted people. It can be hard to show up at an event on your own and see people engaged in an activity with no clear idea on how to get involved yourself. Generally, you either feel like you are a part of a community or that you are on the outside of it. That creates a social barrier that we wanted to remove. We came up with a few things to help people become part of the community as quickly as possible.

AMBASSADORS
Every week, one of our leadership teams takes on the role of ambassador. It is the role of the ambassador to engage new people as soon as they arrive and welcome them to the event and the community. The ambassador helps demystify the event by explaining what to expect and how easy it is to get involved. This includes getting an idea of what the new person might be interested in and matching them to a game that is about to start. The ambassador role is a very important ingredient to the success of the ChewsDay Challenge series of events.

NAME TAGS
Another key ingredient to making events friendly and engaging is the use of name tags. All attendees wear name badges with their first and last name. Friendship starts with a name and it is our sincere hope that friendships form and deepen at our events. When a new attendee shows up, the ambassador for the evening gets them outfitted with a name badge. Additionally, if the person is a member of the SaskGames website, we indicate their online username on the name badge. The online community is just an extension of the face to face community so connecting those dots is just another means to strengthen those bonds.

ENTRY LEVEL GAMES
When a person shows up and they have very little experience with modern boardgames, it is important that their initial experience is a favourable one. We have a number of entry level games that we can use to introduce people new to the hobby. Sure, someone may desire to have that sixth player join in their game of Dominant Species, but that is not practical for entry level gamers. We want initial experiences to be favourable. If people have fun, they will come back and their interests will likely grow into playing longer, more involved strategy games.

PLAYERS WANTED SIGNS
Another effective tool for breaking down social barriers is the use of “Players Wanted” signs. We have a handful of these on hand that attendees can grab and place on their table if they are looking for additional people for the game they want to play. It makes the environment more approachable with these subtle invitations to join in the fun.


ANNOUNCEMENTS
Every night there are some verbal announcements. These are generally very short and serve a few important purposes. It is another way to engage the community. It lets attendees know that there is leadership and purpose to the event and increases the level of dialogue. Rules and guidelines are regularly communicated so the expectations are clearly understood by attendees. A consistent framework for the event makes for a consistent community. Additionally, the announcements can encompass special items that we wish to communicate about upcoming events.

DRIVE ACTIVITY TO WEBSITE
Another one of our guiding principles is to drive all traffic and inquiries to the website. We keep all of the weekly ChewsDay Challenge events on the site up to date. More importantly, many of the attendees pre-schedule games on the site and other members sign up in advance. This provides an important thing missing in many communities; the ability for members to get involved in the planning and execution of their game night. Members get to know each other online as they do face to face and the community is thus strengthened. The SaskGames website is the central hub that all of the events and activities branch out of. The hub is the focus.


As people get familiar with the website and the calendar they can explore many of the other events and gaming activities that are hosted by various stores, clubs, and groups. This enables people to be more empowered within the community and reduces the reliance on printed materials or other forms of communication. That fact that they can post and interact with all of the events puts them in control of their own gaming destiny.

That is enough for this installment. When I pick up the series in the next issue, I will discuss the importance of mentoring values for the group and the necessity and tools for having a system in place for dealing with problem behaviour. Until next time, keep calm and game on…
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Tue Dec 1, 2015 4:29 pm
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Community Musings - Part I

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
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This article is taken from The SaskGames News Bulletin March/April 2015 Edition. It is part of a series of articles that explore the creation and growth of a healthy & vibrant board game community.

Download the Full Newsletter for free HERE / Subscribe for free HERE



I have been asked a number of times to share my thoughts on what it takes to build a regular weekly public game night. I have also been asked to share thoughts on what is needed to run a successful mini convention such as BixCON. The answers to these questions are not simple and are certainly not brief, hence, I decided to write a series of articles for the SaskGames News Bulletin that explores aspects of running successful events. The title for this series is no accident. I believe very strongly that successful events are built on top of a strong foundation, and that foundation is a healthy community. My articles will mostly be me spewing a stream of consciousness as I explore what makes a healthy and strong community. If this sounds like your cup o’ tea then settle in and join me in the journey.


As I stated above, I feel strongly that community is at the heart of the success of SaskGames and all of the events and initiatives that have been spawned through the website. SaskGames will be having its fifth birthday this summer and it has grown a lot during that time. In the early days, it was just a website, nothing special, just one in a large number of websites devoted to the hobby of gaming. Over time, the number of members grew and it was time to harness the membership growth and start hosting public events. You could say that the seeds of a cohesive gaming community were starting to sprout, but they needed some watering. During the summer of 2012, the idea of having a weekly public gaming event at Boston Pizza was discussed and we decided to move forward with the event. We took three months to plan and scope out this event prior to even hosting the first one which occurred in October of 2012. Why three months? Well, we had to ask ourselves a number of questions first. You cannot have a successful event without going through some soul searching discussion of what you want the event to be first. I will kick off this series with a few of the questions we pondered before the launch of ChewsDay Challenge. I find it very helpful when defining a vision to go through the exercise of asking WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW.

WHAT?
We wanted to create a weekly public board game event that was welcoming to people new to the hobby and would put a very friendly approachable face on our hobby. Our thought was to create an event that would help grow the hobby and the community.

WHY?
We felt that there was an opportunity to grow the hobby and help people connect to not only board games, but other people interested in board games. There are many established groups all over Saskatchewan, but most of those groups were either insular or not really performing an outreach like we envisioned. Not that the existing groups were doing anything wrong, just that we felt an entire demographic of people were being overlooked.

WHO?
Anyone interested in the hobby. Long standing veterans of the hobby along with people who may only have a curiosity about board games. The more the merrier. I think at this point it is worth noting that we decided we wanted to target the non-competitive social board game hobbyists as we felt that the event should develop an air of camaraderie and social bonding. When we started, we honestly felt that we would start out with 10-12 people and maybe grow attendance to 20-25. Little did we know…

WHERE?
Ideally in an environment that is family friendly, has comfortable seating, decent table sizes, sufficient lighting, conducive hours of operation, and is reasonably ease to get to. In our case, the Boston Pizza Restaurant on North Albert Street in Regina was an ideal location. Not only did it meet our above needs, the venue has a dedicated space our group could use. Additionally, they were very happy and eager to partner with us.

WHEN?
Considering Boston Pizza was providing the venue free of charge, we asked them what nights would be good for a weekly public event. Tuesday was suggested and thus the name ChewsDay Challenge was born. Our group has use of the dedicated area EVERY Tuesday of the year from about 5:00pm to 2:00am. We have committed to the venue, and they have committed to us. That consistency is very important for building trust with attendees, as they know the event will reliably run each week.

HOW?
This is where we really got down to business and had many discussions. To address the vision of What, Why, Who, Where, and When, we had to make sure we created a solid “How”. I will explore this topic in the next article. Stay tuned and game on!
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Thu Nov 26, 2015 4:25 pm
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Difficult Dealings

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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It has been a long time since I have posted in this blog. I want to keep it as a topical information repository rather than a lot of my ramblings. That said, onto the subject at hand.

"the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one"

This blog posting is about having uncomfortable, but necessary conversations. As groups grow and flourish there will inevitably come a time when someone joins the group and begins to create disharmony. It is probably not because the person is a bad person, it may simply be because they perform differently than the behaviors and values that the rest of the group hold dear.

One of the ways to mitigate this is to have a published "Code of Conduct". The sound of this conjures all sorts of images of a draconian society with myriad rules and red tape. It does not have to be that way. A Code of Conduct can simple be a distilled list of values and etiquette in place for a group. It can be a great resource for new comers; a means to establish and manage expectations. Here is the Code of Conduct we have printed off and hanging in our game room. Again, I would like to state that this is just a set of guidelines to let people know what we are about. (I cannot take credit for these Code of Conduct items, I copied most of this verbatim from a thread on BGG).

Remember, this does not need to be a draconian charter of rights or need to be signed in triplicate. A little communication can go a long way to making sure people are on the same page.

CODE OF CONDUCT
(1) I will always finish the games I start and assist with the clean up when the game is done. This includes bottles, cups, cans, and other things around the game table.

(2) I will not consistently take longer to decide my move than everyone else at the table. It is better to make a suboptimal move and consider it a lesson learned than to hold everyone up. It is okay if occasionally I say, "Oh man, I'm going to need a minute to think about this one" when I hit a really interesting puzzle. But that's the exception, happening maybe a couple times per game, not the norm.

(3) I will not eat foods that make my fingers messy while playing. I recognize that games are a dear possession and that my pop stains and "cheesy" prints may not qualify as adding value to a prized possession.

(4) If you are teaching a game I already know, I will not interrupt you. It is your show. If you've overlooked something, and it becomes clear that you've moved on and are not just going to come back to it, I will politely remind YOU, "remember the rule about ...." and you can explain it. I won't just jump in and add my own commentary whenever I want.

(5) If you are teaching a game I don't already know, I will be quiet and listen. If I have questions that seem like the kind of questions you'll get to in due course, I'll try to hold them.

(6) If I decide that I no longer have any chance of winning, I'll play for style points. I mean, for place, or for score. If you decide that you no longer have any chance of winning, you can do whatever you want (just please don't leave). If you decide to knock me out and crown player X the winner just for the fun of it... I will be disappointed, but that is your choice. As Reiner Knizia allegedly said, "the goal is to win, but it's the goal that is important, not the winning." Whether I actually won or not is irrelevant, except that it provides feedback about whether my choices were good ones or not. The feedback helps me improve my game, which is one of the finest pleasures of gaming. And here's the thing: the feedback I'd get is the same either way whether I won a game or I lost it only because of douchebaggery. In either case it is evidence that I probably played well, and should probably keep doing more of that.

(7) I will try to contain my compulsive habit of straightening the pieces on the board until everything is so nice and perfectly straight. I'll try, really I will.

(8 ) When you make a play that hurts me, I won't take it personally, and I will never try to make you feel bad for it. Sure, I may moan and groan a little, but it is all in good fun. Conversely, I pledge to always make the best moves I can think of; whether it hurts you specifically or not. That's my job as a player. I hope you deal with this well, almost all real gamers do.

(9) If I realize I made a blunder, and the next player hasn't gone yet, and I know exactly what move I want to do instead, then I'll ask you if I can change my move. I won't try to change the past if the next player's already gone. And I won't ask to take it back and then make you wait while I decide all over again what to do. Better to just accept it as a lesson learned and move on. It's good to make sure that when I lose I'll have something to blame it on.

(10) If I realize you've made a blunder, I'll ask you: "Are you sure?" I don't like game outcomes to be determined by who blunders the least. The exception is if fixing your blunder is injurious to a particular other player (not me). I think that would be very irritating to said player. If others at the table express that they prefer we not help each other in this way, I'm fine with keeping my mouth shut. I'll probably move tables after this game, though; it's just not the kind of vibe I like.

(11) If you are new to a game and you ask for advice about what to do, I'll offer you my best advice, and make sure to point out the fact that, actually, I almost always lose, so you might want to take my advice with a grain of salt.

(12) If I realize I'd forgotten about my staffed quarry when I built two turns ago, I might ask, "Hey. Is it okay if I take the extra doubloon that I should have saved?" I won't assume that you'll say yes. And I will NOT say, "If I'd known that, I would have bought this building instead, so when we crafted I should have an extra indigo meaning that the boat should have been full when...."

(13) I will perform my actions in the open. I won't just drop my hand into my discard pile and announce "and I buy a Province!" Or, when paying five blue cards to build to Miami, I'll fan the cards, not stack them. I assume that you'd like to be able to see for yourself that my actions are legit. I think it's totally reasonable for you to want to see this -- we all make mistakes. I know I have accidentally "cheated" many times and I definitely want to get caught if I do!

(14) If we realize a rules error was made, that benefited player X or hurt me, I will vote that we just let it stand. It can be very difficult, and often impossible, to reconstruct what the game state "should have been". Better to just move on, even if "it's not fair." If we realize a rules error that helped me, I will apologize and volunteer some penalty that seems appropriate. We can agree on a penalty, be it money, points, or whatever, and move on. Finally, if a rules error hurt a particular player, we can volunteer some simple compensation to that player and move on.

(15) Sometimes if we realize a rules error, it may make sense to just decide as a group that we're playing a variant, and stick to that change. But this is for the table to decide! I won't whine, "That's not fair, you let HER add a guy there even though it was full!"

(16) I will not complain that "You never told us that rule!"; even if you really didn't, (but you probably did).

(17) I won't get mad at you if you don't adhere to the same code of conduct I do. If your behavior is *really* far from it, though, I might just quietly decide to try not to game with you again. Fair enough?

(18) I will shut my cell phone off as to prevent interruption unless I have a VERY important call I am expecting and that is quite rare. I will also refrain from constant texting or playing games on my smartphone as I realize that may be distracting and can be considered disrespectful by some. I promise to give my attention to the game and its participants.

(19) I will not cry "I never get good dice" just because my first die roll in a game was not what I wanted it to be. Wine is best served from a bottle, so I will not whine.

(20) I will try not to pass judgment on a game until it's completed. I will also try to comment on the good parts of the game, or the parts that I liked about it. I will not use this as an opportunity to expound on all the reasons the game sucks. I have an opportunity to express my tastes in game ratings.

(21) I will show up at the designated and agreed time frame so the game can start on time. I recognize that by being late I am inconveniencing all of the other players that have given up their time to play this game. If I am going to be late, I will call the game organizer and let them know. I will not be offended if they decide to start without me. Their time is obviously as valuable and important as mine.

(22) I will be open to trying new games and playing what the organizers and other players are proposing. I understand some people may not be as enthusiastic about my favorite game in the whole world. If the game being proposed is not one I enjoy, I will resolve to try it and be positive, or excuse myself from playing the game. I recognize that my attitude can have an effect on the other players and their enjoyment of the game.

(23) I will be very respectful of game components. Most board gamers are somewhat protective of their games, especially collectors. Not only do they want to keep their games in good condition, a lot of them are hard to come by and can be very expensive.

(24) Most importantly, I commit to having fun. Games are a leisure activity and should be engaged in with a sense of fun and adventure. I hope that my commitment to the fun and social nature of gaming is contagious enough that I encourage this behavior in others. I want to be an ambassador to this rewarding and entertaining hobby.



It is entirely possible though, that even with a published Code of Conduct, you will have a player that is creating disharmony in the group. It is best to have a conversation and deal with this early, before it causes damage. Otherwise, some of your regular game night attendees may start showing up less and your group can enter a state of decline.

These conversations are never comfortable and can often lead to hard feelings, but the cost of not having them could be more dire. Have a conversation with the offending party and let them know about their behavior. It is quite likely that they are not even aware of their impact on the group. If this is broached gently and respectfully, you are likely to achieve the desired result.

On the off chance that this is not received well, it is likely an indication that your next course of action may be to remove the person from the group. The people who play games and their motivations are just as varied as the games we play. It is quite plausible that the style of play or motivations of the person are quite different from the established group. There is no right or wrong, just different. Perhaps that person needs to find a group that is more in line with the style and values they project. I have had to remove a few people from my gaming group over the years. I have a very large group and we have a great atmosphere for gaming and I protect the group cohesion fiercely.

When I see signs of disharmony, I have come to realize that quick and decisive measures can keep my group healthy and strong. A couple of times it has led to some hard feelings, but that is beyond my control. A game night host should always feel that they have the right to control the invitation list for their game night events.

Difficult dealings are never fun and can be unpleasant, but being a group organizer confers a certain responsibility to look after the well being of your group. An ounce of prevention can be worth the pound of cure.

EDIT: Something I meant to do earlier and forgot. The Code of Conduct is the brainchild of
Kevin Bourrillion
United States
Mountain View
CA
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I have taken the code of conduct from his original thread, added to it here and there, and kind of adopted it for our group. I have been remiss in not attributing the source earlier. Here is the thread:
http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/356571/my-informal-board-gam...
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Tue Nov 1, 2011 10:14 pm
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Time to Get Organized

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
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Groups that are well organized seem to be more stable and experience steady growth. One of the things you want to do for your group, is settle on some organizational tips & tricks. Whether you are an organized person or not, the use of a few tools in a consistent manner will assist you in sheparding your group.

I organize a lot of events and activities for my friends and family. I always find myself looking for better ways to do things. (Perhaps this is a by product of being a Process Improvement guy by trade).

My own use of tools for organizing events has evolved over the years. Back in the day, I use to use phone trees for informing people of events. Then, when email communications became mainstream, I started using email as my primary organization tool. These days, I am using a website for most of my event planning.

This is an exciting time to be a group leader / organizer. There are so many tools available to ease the burden. I will list a few and also, share what I am doing.

eVite - http://new.evite.com/#home
eVite is a site that is used for event planning. You can prepare invitations and send them out by email. People can indicate they are attending or not and the eVite site keeps a running tab on who will be attending. It has provisions to allow you people to pass on your invitation to others or bring guests if you allow it. I personally do not have much experience with eVite, but it looks like it has many event planning features that would be helpful.

FaceBook - http://www.facebook.com/
I do not need to explain what Facebook is, go see the movie.
Facebook has provisions for event planning and capturing who will and willnot attend for events. I find that facebook is very cluttered, with, well being Facebook. It has some capabilities for event planning and organization, but I caution agianst having your game nights getting lost in the greater sea of social networking.

BoardGameGeek - http://boardgamegeek.com/
This site is rich with content and features, but event planning is not one of them. I know a number of people use the calendar feature in Guilds. BoardGameGeek is not for the feint of heart. In our group, probably only 10% of the members are active on BGG. Another 30% have accounts and do not use them. The remaining 60% are just too intimidated to use BGG and do not wish to spend the time grasping the interface. I do not see BGG as a viable option for group or event planning. Game collections, certainly, but not full group organization.

Google Calendar - http://www.google.com/
I have not played around with the Google calendar features, so I will be upfront and explain that I cannot highlight the virtues and vices of using it for your group. I know that some groups use a shared Google calendar for their collaboration efforts. Perhaps it warrants further exploration.

Meetup - http://www.meetup.com/
Many people are using Meetup for their group organziation tool. There seems to be a high success rate and steady growth on the meetup groups I have been a part of. It is what I would consider one of the better options at this point, at least in North America. There seems to be enough momentum with Meetup, that it has become a place people go to search for things to do or groups to join. There are good calendar tools and provisions for event night planning. One of my only concerns on Meetup, is that the whole group gets to see everything the whole group is doing. When communities grow to a certain size, there is a need to be able to manage sub-communities without having them splinter off from the main group completely. I will touch on this further in a moment.

Personalized Site - http://www.saskgames.com/ (As an example)
A few years ago, I found myself at a saturation point of organizing events, leagues, and groups. I decided I wanted to move away from using email as my primary tool for communicating events, inviting people, and tracking attendance. It was becoming too onerous. At the time I was point person for:
...Paintball Outings
...Casual Poker Games
...Poker League
...Weekly Road Hockey
...Board Game Nights
...Dinner Nights Out with Friends
...Canoe Trips
...Camping Trips
...Mountain Biking Trips
...Fundraising Events
...Other Miscellaneous Events

I registered the domain www.bixby.ca and decided to run my own website. I use GoDaddy to host my site because I wanted to have a fully hosted solution where I did not need to worry about anything technical. I run open source applications out of the box with simple "1-Click" installation scripts. I know there are many technical people out there who would poo-poo my approach, but I want to spend my time using the site as a tool. I have seen far too many highly customized sites fall by the wayside, because the administrative burden became to much. Also, I can easily involve others as needed as we run a "zero-programming" site. Just install and use.

Once I had the domain name registered, it was a matter of choosing the application. I went with Simple Machine Forums:
http://www.simplemachines.org/

I know what you are thinking... Another Discussion Forum Website?!?! Yawn!

The magic in what we did in those early days was using the forums in a way that most people were not using them. We centered our efforts around the calendar in SMF and the discussions were minimal. In short. The discussion threads were mostly events that were linked to the calenar. This became very successful and our groups grew and others started using the tool for their own events. The fact that everyone went to one site has the benefit of crossover. The road hockey friends saw the poker events, the poker group got exposed to the boardgame events, and so on. It worked so well for getting people involved that I was prompted to set up a public site for the boardgaming to help get others involved. Our members saw the need to make a public version of what we were doing for friends and family.

Hence, in August 0f 2010, we launched www.saskgames.com

The use of the calendar for all events is a great feature. All events are linked to the calendar and are categorized in specific areas to keep events organized. With this feature, security can be implemented to keep forums/events open or closed for various member groups. Great security model for planning public and private events.

This is where I pick up the torch that I lit above when I was discussing my reservation of Meetup. Groups will grow and prosper, and at some point, not everyone in the group will know or feel comfortable with everyone else in the group. Inevitable.

The cycle I have seen in the past is that groups splinter and fragment into smaller groups at that point. Small sub-communities form. Perhaps, there is a Wednesday night D&D group with 5 people, a Flames of War group with 4 people, a Euro game group with 11 people, a Magic: The Gathering group with 7 people, etc. When groups splinter and start using their own organization tool, you lose the benefits of crossover. An umbrella site like www.saskgames.com can address that.

At this point, I want to be clear, I am not trying to use this blog entry as a billboard for our site, I merely want to illustrate how a tool can be used effectively to keep group cohesion, even when the group is large and there are different personalities involved. The key for us, has been the use of venues. Simply put, venues are physical locations where games are played. There are basically two types of venues: Public and Private.

All game related events on the calendar will be tied to a venue indicating where the event is taking place. All of the public venues are open to all members. In addition to the public venues, there are many private venues which mostly represent private residences for groups of friends. These venues will NOT show up to the membership at large. You will only see these venues if one of the people hosting games at a private venue recognize your user name or somehow know you personally. They will likely then have the administrators give you access to events at their venue. Then, when you look at a calendar, you will see all public events and all private events that you are invited to attend. The Calendar button at the top of the web page will display a standard calendar view and all events you are authorized to view will show up on the calendar. If you click on the event name in the calendar, it will take you directly to the event thread where you can learn more about the event details and register to attend.

You can turn on event notification for any venue. Event notification will instruct the site to email you whenever a new event is added for a venue. It is an easy way to keep informed of upcoming events. All game events are posted in their respective VENUE section on this site.

The use of venues is an effective way for sub-communities to form and flourish without having to create their own site.

Again, I would like to say that this is an exciting time to be an organizer. There is a virtual cornucopia of tools to assist you. Go forth & organize.
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Thu Feb 17, 2011 2:54 pm
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Communicating Events & Managing Expectations

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
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There is something that I notice a fair bit on BGG; the need for better communication when planning and hosting gaming events.

Players come to a game evening with different wants and expectations, it works a lot better for everyone when the expectations are established up front and managed accordingly.

For instance, I really want to have a few friends over to my house to play Railways of the World this coming Friday. I call a few people to let them know I would like to play games on Friday Night. Next thing I know is that we have 8 people and we are breaking into two groups to play Tichu all night. ARRRRRRRGH! Additionally, we are now going to be playing at Larry's place and my wife really doesn't like Larry that much. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent).

I lament this turn of events and the fact that my plans have been hijacked. I feel victimized. Wah!

The main problem here is my lack of clarity; I was complicit in this crime of communication.

It would have been much better had my communications been more detailed and more clear. In that manner I would have given everyone the necessary details to make the evening occur as I originally intended.

Currently, I use a website to plan all of our game night events, but before that I use to send out an email to friends. I will write about the merits of using a website for game event planning in a future blog entry, for now, here is a sample of an email invite that properly establishes expectations.


BOARD GAME NIGHT
What: Railways of the World (Click Here to learn more)
Where: Matt's Place (123 Anywhere Street) *Google map link*
When: Friday, February 18th, 2011 (Show up at 18:00, games start at 18:30)
Who: First 4 people to respond saying they would like to attend. Kathy & I are both playing as this is one of our favourites.

Notes:
All of our game nights are beginner friendly, so if you have not played many games or played this particular game, no worries. We will teach you.

Bring your own booze, but do not drink and drive. Break this rule and you are off the invite list.

This is not an open game night, it is for the scheduled game indicated above. Seating is limited.

Please park on the right side of the driveway to allow vehicles access to the garage.

We have a cat, in case you have pet allergies. We also have Seldane and Reactine should you need it.

This is a non-smoking home. A smoking can is located outside if you are a smoker. Brrrrrrr!

Look forward to the evening, this is a great game!



I used to send out email like this all of the time. Everyone knew what to expect and expectations were well established. I think one of the main sources of contention I see in game night planning is the dichotomy of open game night vs. planned game night. A clear communique to the prospective attendees can eliminate much of the angst around this. There can also be provisions for both. You can plan an open gaming evening with a few scheduled games that people resgister for in advance.

Many years ago, someone told me that there are rarely problems; there are mostly only problems in communication. Take some time to establish some clear communication practices around your gaming events and you will certainly reap the rewards.
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Mon Feb 14, 2011 11:19 pm
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Engagement Strategy for New Members

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
mb
Once you feel that you have a solid foundation for your group and you are really ready to kick the growth into gear, it is time to get the word out. This entry is focused on advertising your group and attracting new members. Be sure you have the ability to handle the growth. It may be that you outgrow your venue or game collection in a hurry. In other words, be prepared for success.

Let's touch on a couple of things before we look into specific avenues to engage the public.

There may very well be established game groups in your area already. It is important to develop a collaborative relationship with groups that are in place. Some groups may feel threatened by your new group and you will need to let them know there is plenty of gaming opportunities to go around. New groups do not need to diminish the stature or attendance of existing groups. Sometimes, gamers can be a competetitive lot, and this is not an area to compete. Fragmenting the hobby is not a good thing. Presenting a cohesive friendly image to the public is a better way to sustain growth in the hobby.

Many of the avenues for engaging the public will need you to have prepared printed materials and flyers. Take some time to design these with your audience in mind. The images and description for a family friendly Euro game night will certainly be very different from a World in Flames monthly campaign. If you are trying to attract people that are new to the hobby, you will need to focus on making your marketing materials look very inviting and non-threatening for somebody new to gaming. Make sure they understand beginners are welcome and full instruction will be given. Something else that is important on any communications is clarity of message. Be very clear on the all important W's when you prepare your materials:
WHAT is the group or event about?
WHEN does the group or event take place?
WHERE does the group or event happen?
WHO is welcome to attend.
Your flyers and printed materials are important for getting new people to take that first step, prepare them well.

Game Stores
This is a logical place to start. Try to develop a rapport with local game stores and talk with them about your group. It is important that they do not feel threatened by your efforts. They likely have a good sense of what games have been selling in the area and the demographic of people buying them. Get a sense of how large the community is and possibilities for your group. This is a good place for your flyers. The game store may also have a website where you can post information about your group.

Libraries
Libraries are another great location for posting flyers and engaging the public. Scott Nicholson has some great suggestions and thoughts on games & libraries. You may be able to run game demos at your local library and be part of a regular community curriculum. This is a very safe and friendly place to introduce families to the hobby.

Churches
This is a popular venue for hosting game nights. They are safe family friendly places and quite often have ample room for a good size group. Lots of Churches look for additional ways to engage the community and bring people together. Regardless of your religious views, a Church is quite often a central rallying point for people in the community. A gaming group is a very good sub-community. The Church may also advertise your game club to their congregation. Be sure to honor any wishes they may have pertaining to certain types of games. Communities work best when they are harmonious.

Book Stores
Book stores usually have a bulletin board for community events. This is a good option for your flyers. I think a book store is often one of the first places people go when they are contemplating a new hobby. Give them the option to try yours.

Colleges & Universities
Another great source for finding gamers. Contact the student union and see if there are any clubs that are currently in operation. They may let you post your flyers and advertise on their student bulletins.

Small Print Publications
Are there any specialized newspapers or periodicals that would be a good avenue for an advertisement? Many of these papers are focused on community events and are often regarded as a good source for finding out what is "going on". They may also have a website or blog where you can post information.

MeetUp.com
There are many Meetup groups running today. Meetup has certainly been a very useful tool for planning group boardgame events. Enough people know about Meetup to make it a good way to catch new members who might be seraching for various activities in your area.

FaceBook
FaceBook and other social media sites can be effective in getting the word out. Create a specialized page that outlines what your group is about, where you meet, when, and who is invited. It may draw in some of your non-gamer friends. The trouble with social media is that your information can get lost in a sea of, well, social media. I think using these tools is a great way to supplement your engagement strategy; I don't know that it would be very effective as your main tool for growing your group.

Event Websites
If your game events start to gain traction, you may want to consider posting on event sites such as Eventful.com and other sites that have a calendar of events. Some of these sites may require that you are a registered non-profit organization to use them.

There are numerous additional avenues for you to use. Find out where locals go physically and virtually and try to harness those locations to let people know about your most awesome group. The sky is the limit.
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Thu Feb 10, 2011 2:34 pm
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Slow Growth

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
mb
Once you have 2 or 3 people that have met a few times to play games, you are probably ready to consider growth. Remember, Rome was not built in a day and neither should your full fledging gaming mecca.

By now you should have established your venue with the style and personality you want to foster.

Make sure you have given consideration to where your attendees can park, let them know what the options are for smoking if they need to. Your gaming area should be large enough to accomodate the amount of attendees with comfortable lighting and seating. Let your attendees know if there are pets around as there are an increasing number of people with pet allergies.

You will also want to pay attention to your rules and guidelines for snacks and beverages around the games. (There is ample discussion on that subject, so I will not open pandora's box here).

All of these points are just to emphasize that you should have a clear idea of what your venue rules and guidelines are so you can communicate them to new members. I find that most people coming into a group are eager to learn the protocol for the group and honor the established decorum.

This is one of the main reasons I think that growth should be slow and rationale. It is much easier for the group to absorb 1 or 2 members and have them assimilated into the group dynamic than growing rapidly only to find out that the personality and values of your group get shell shocked by a large number of new attendees. I have seen a number of established groups get absorbed by the attendees rather than the other way around.

Slow & steady wins the race.

Make sure you have the patience for the slow growth; it can take a long time to create a large community around your hobby. Your level of success may well hinge on your level of patience.
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Wed Feb 9, 2011 10:49 pm
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Start Small

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
mb
Quite often, we start too big. I think game groups are best when you start small. Small groups are easier to shape and form into the vision you have for the group. You can work out the kinks and deal with issues more nimbly.

This also lets you groom and nurture the style of your group. Groups and communities take on a personality and style and in the early stages you want to make sure you pay attention to how you want your group to function. For instance:

(1) Do you want a family-friendly environment where children are invited to attend?

(2) Do you want to focus on a particular type of game or would you like all types of games included?

(3) Do you prefer tournament style gaming or more social gaming.

These are just a few of the questions you should ponder. It is easier to start your group and mold the personality of the group when it is smaller then try to shift the focus once the group has been established.

Starting small also lets you perfect the logistics. You can hone how your events run prior to inviting new members and have them turned off because things do not run smoothly. First impressions can be important for creating a sustainable community so work out the kinks before hand.
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Wed Feb 9, 2011 4:43 pm
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Starting a Game Group

Matt Robertson
Canada
Regina
Saskatchewan
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Life is Short; Play Games!
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Check out www.saskgames.com for gaming clubs, stores, and events in Saskatchewan.
mb
There are lots of posts were people are seeking guidance to create a sustainable gaming group. I have participated in many interesting threads and forum discussions on BGG where ideas were presented and debated. The trouble with forums is that these conversations end up being transient gems lost in a sea of discussion. Perhaps this blog can serve to distill some of the ideas into a resource that others may find useful. I encourage others to contribute in a constructive manner.

As ambassadors to a wodnerful and rewarding hobby, it feels like the right thing to do is to assist others in their efforts to build the community.
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Wed Feb 9, 2011 4:31 pm
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