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Subject: 10 to-dos to build & sustain a game group rss

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Ragnarokkr
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I was recently asked suggestions on how to revive a game group that has seen reduced levels of activity from its heydays. From a predictable attendance of 30-40 each session, it has now fallen to a fourth of that.

Recollecting my experience in founding & co-hosting Waterfront Board Gaming – a non-commercial, personal game group that I managed for over a year – here is my list of 10 things for group organizers to keep your gaming group active.

These tips are more suited for open game groups (rather than a closed, small group of gamers) that invite new members to join on an ongoing basis. When I use the term new members I mean someone who is new to the group, though they could be experienced gamers and the term newbies refers to those who are new to the gaming hobby.

1. Have a regular schedule – Whether a group meets weekly or monthly, it is critical that there is a regular schedule. Only when sessions are (reasonably) regular will members make plans keeping game sessions in mind. Announce sessions at least 4-5 days (and send a reminder 1-2 days) in advance so that members’ have it at the top-of-mind.
Bottom line: Everybody has a ton of things to do and many events competing for their time, so make it easy for members to know when the next session is and notify them about it well in time so that they can plan accordingly.

2. Have an assigned host(s) to welcome new members – Each session must have a host who greets new members, understands their prior gaming experience, and explains how the group works. Give new members a quick overview of the different kinds of games your group plays, and in addition, explain commonly used terms (e.g., filler game, gateway game etc.) to newbies.
Bottom line: Getting out to explore a new hobby / meet with a bunch of strangers isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. Make those who actually take this first step feel welcome and excited to join you.

3. Decide the spotlight games beforehand – If the group / venue has a large collection of games, members can spend considerable time in deciding which game to play. If your group has members with varied levels of gaming experience, the discussions can become even more endless. My preferred option is for the spotlight games for a session to be pre-decided and announced. That way, anyone who wants to watch a tutorial video or read an online rulebook can do so. It also prevents the paradox of choice - the inability to decide / anxiousness stemming from an overwhelming number of choices.
Bottom line: Get people playing quickly.

4. Have a designated game master present – For all pre-decided spotlight games, have at least one person present who is reasonably conversant with the theme, game flow, and rules to teach the game without continually referring to the rulebook. Even more optimal is if the game master himself plays the game so that any questions that crop up can be handled at the table itself with minimal game interruption.
Bottom line: You want members spending their time gaming rather than reading rulebooks or interrupting other games in progress with rules-related questions. A good game master helps that cause tremendously.

5. Recommend newbies to play light or gateway games – While it’s not impossible for a newbie to play Game of Thrones, it is most likely going to be an overwhelming experience for him and an underwhelming one for the veterans. Recommend newbies to play games that are suitable for their gaming experience so that they have a good time and want to come again to play.
Bottom line: If your session is likely to have newbies, you should have at least some games that are newbie friendly (and people willing to teach & play that game!)

6. Spice up the sessions – For example, you can have sessions with a theme (fantasy games, light games etc.), combine weekend travel with gaming (we called it Go & Game), marathon gaming sessions that last longer than usual sessions.
Bottom line: Occasionally, add some flavor to how game sessions normally work.

7. Make the RSVPs matter – Would you like it if you turned up for an announced session only to find out it isn’t happening? No. Similarly, it is important for members to honour their RSVPs and as a group organizer / host, you want to nudge members to take RSVPs seriously so that you don’t have wild swings in your attendance, which can disrupt your planned spotlight games. If you are a commercial group, you can offer some sort of discount to those who honour their RSVP. In the case of non-commercial groups, you can offer those who RSVP a confirmed seat at the game of their choice based on first come first served basis.
Bottom line: Make session notifications a commitment to host and RSVPs a commitment to attend.

8. Get to know members personally – One reason gaming is enjoyable is because it satisfies our innate need to socialize. While you don’t want to be intrusive, feel free to get to know a little more about your members – what they do for a living, other hobbies etc. We used to have a scheduled break during a game session when we’d serve light refreshments and engage / encourage chit-chat.
Bottom line: Members are more likely to regularly attend game sessions which they view as a gathering of friends.

9. Engage regularly with non-regularly attending members – You can upload photos or write a session report to engage even those who missed a session. Doing this regularly will (hopefully!) get more first-timers to drop in and become regulars. You can create a Whatsapp / FB group for regulars to interact and chit-chat even on days when there are no sessions.
Bottom line: Don’t let a member’s physical absence become a reason for not engaging her.

10. Curate the game collection over time – Unless you are a specialized game genre group (e.g., war gamers), you will want to have a wide variety of games suitable for different player counts, gaming experience, and play time duration. However, that pursuit can easily morph into an obsession with cult of the new and binge buying games that rarely get played. I suggest keeping a log of which games have been played, how many times, and general reception of the group to the game so that you can make more informed decisions when buying future games.
Bottom line: Procure only new games that you think the group will enjoy and sell those that aren’t likely to get played again. (Tip: Unless the game is exceptionally bad, someone is likely to purchase even those games which weren’t a hit with your group if priced attractively)

What are the other ideas you’d recommend to revive and sustain an open game group? Do share - I'm eager to read!
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J J
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Cull when necessary, and without mercy. Some people do not fit well with some game groups; worse, they ruin those game groups. Identify these people, and remove them before they can do too much damage.
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Most of this is good advice but #8 is dubious. Many people value hobbies as an escape and want their relationships with fellow hobbyists to be about the thing they have in common. Perhaps it would be better advice to just provide opportunities for social interaction without directing the course thereof. don't think interrogations make people feel at ease.

In my experience one doesn't learn a lot about the lives of other participants when one attends other kinds of hobby groups. I've known a few people for more than 10 years in connection with other hobbies and still know next to nothing about their day-to-day lives. Let people be as forthcoming as they want to be.
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Ryan Feathers
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In general I think this is very good advice. Thanks for sharing.
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Ragnarokkr
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JasonJ0 wrote:
Cull when necessary, and without mercy. Some people do not fit well with some game groups; worse, they ruin those game groups. Identify these people, and remove them before they can do too much damage.


That's good advice. Fortunately, we didn't get any such members at our sessions ever. We did have a few newbies who seemed overwhelmed that game complexity was higher than that of Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, and therefore didn't much enjoy their experience possibly and never returned - much to our relief.

But yes, the no assholes rule is a good one to implement.
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Ragnarokkr
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Kiraboshi wrote:
Most of this is good advice but #8 is dubious. Many people value hobbies as an escape and want their relationships with fellow hobbyists to be about the thing they have in common. Perhaps it would be better advice to just provide opportunities for social interaction without directing the course thereof. don't think interrogations make people feel at ease.


I dont mean an interrogation; I think you expressed it correctly that people can be as forthcoming as they wish. That said, we'd create an opportunity for casual chit chat during our game breaks - everyone would introduce themselves (if there was any first timer) and based on what people said (hometown, occupation, other hobbies) others may have asked 1-2 questions or expressed commonality.

To sum up - you are right, any such attempt at integration of new members must be done at a pace that everyone is comfortable with and in a natural manner - nothing should be or seem forced.
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maf man
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well posted.
I'd also add food and drink rules. No matter how lose or strict the rules are on the subject it helps to have everyone on the same page.

I went to a public group once where there were a few in the group that got jimmy johns and are during their 2nd game. They were respectful to the games as they played one of their own games and did so at a table more off to the side but since they were kind of the core of the group it felt not as inclusive as it should have been. A small thing but it made people feel like outsiders not knowing the rules.

You do have varying levels of concern with damage to the game. Some would feel if your eating your not focused enough on the game. Some would simply get jealous and be thinking about food through the whole game.

edit add:
and the cutting out the bad apples, it helps to have a leader type that can deal with the problem. I've seen caustic people in groups, some get cut, some leave by their own accord of not feeling welcome, some get talked to and fixed, and some just game with specific people who can handle different types of people.
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To me, this seems way too hands-on, overly personal, and awfully specific for a gaming club or private membership group that has designated roles and a sign-in sheet. Many of these ideas would drive me away from such a group.

For a group of 30-40 (or even 10), it seems that all you need is a regular time and place, bring some games and start playing.
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Steve C
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JasonJ0 wrote:
Cull when necessary, and without mercy. Some people do not fit well with some game groups; worse, they ruin those game groups. Identify these people, and remove them before they can do too much damage.

When culling, remember that there are two methods that seem to work the best:

1) Old Yeller. Just take them out back and let them know it's not working out.
2) Play games at a location near a swamp. Makes for faster removal, and can generally be taken care of in between turns.


On a serious note (or another serious note!?) #8 is hit or miss. I would say try to do that if the members in question are willing to engage. Some people just want to show up and play games, and go home. Others are interested in social chat and getting to know others. Figuring out who fits what mold is key.

Another note in terms of "Know Your Audience"...Don't play Tigris & Euphrates with players that have only ever played Risk and Monopoly. It's not fair to them, and not competitive for you. Be willing to have gateway nights and find thematic games that appeal to them, and see what depth they're willing to reach. Don't throw them in the deep end and say "Too bad, you drowned. Get lost."

You grow a game group by getting more people interested, and I don't think it's a safe bet to assume that heavy gamers magically exist and will gravitate to your group. Instead, work with what you have, and try to get them to advance!

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Under the paving stones, the beach
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ragnarokkr wrote:

That's good advice. Fortunately, we didn't get any such members at our sessions ever. We did have a few newbies who seemed overwhelmed that game complexity was higher than that of Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, and therefore didn't much enjoy their experience possibly and never returned - much to our relief.

But yes, the no assholes rule is a good one to implement.


It's not even necessarily about people being assholes, just about their fit with the group.

My group is a private invite only group, so it's a different situation then yours. But it's definitely the case we'd never recruit anybody who primarily wants to play low conflict Eurogames or who hates negotiation.

Which is no judgment on them as a person, it's simply that they wouldn't enjoy being part of the group.
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Mike Smith
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Akado wrote:

When culling, remember that there are two methods that seem to work the best:

1) Old Yeller. Just take them out back and let them know it's not working out.
2) Play games at a location near a swamp. Makes for faster removal, and can generally be taken care of in between turns.

In regards to the cull process, these comments are hilarious. Just do not play any simultaneous action games otherwise you will be out of luck!

In reality though, I am fine culling games, but not okay with culling players. More often than not they just need etiquette lessons. We are already a niche hobby, so we do not need to ostracize those trying to get into it who are a little bit socially inept.
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Under the paving stones, the beach
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Msmith10000 wrote:

In reality though, I am fine culling games, but not okay with culling players. More often than not they just need etiquette lessons. We are already a niche hobby, so we do not need to ostracize those trying to get into it who are a little bit socially inept.


I'm not their etiquette tutor. I play games for enjoyment and life is too short for me to bother with those people who still haven't picked up basic social skills by the time they reach adulthood.

But then, I'm quite happy with being a niche hobby anyway.
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J J
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
Msmith10000 wrote:

In reality though, I am fine culling games, but not okay with culling players. More often than not they just need etiquette lessons. We are already a niche hobby, so we do not need to ostracize those trying to get into it who are a little bit socially inept.


I'm not their etiquette tutor. I play games for enjoyment and life is too short for me to bother with those people who still haven't picked up basic social skills by the time they reach adulthood.


This, but I wasn't simply referring to those who are "socially inept". There are plenty of people who, when it comes down to it, are arseholes of one form or another (some of whom are extremely socially capable), and you need to remove them from your group as soon as you become aware that they are, in fact, arseholes.
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Trent Boardgamer
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Good advice in the OP.

I do wonder why he left chains and floor shackles out though.
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Martin Law
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Thanks for this -- my workplace gaming group has been struggling with poor attendance for a long time.
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Mike Smith
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
Msmith10000 wrote:

In reality though, I am fine culling games, but not okay with culling players. More often than not they just need etiquette lessons. We are already a niche hobby, so we do not need to ostracize those trying to get into it who are a little bit socially inept.


I'm not their etiquette tutor. I play games for enjoyment and life is too short for me to bother with those people who still haven't picked up basic social skills by the time they reach adulthood.

But then, I'm quite happy with being a niche hobby anyway.


In the words from the classic cartoon The Hobbit, "Each to his own boys, each to his own." Like the trolls arguing over how to eat their mutton, we can simply agree to disagree.
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Nick Shaw
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mafman6 wrote:
...and some just game with specific people who can handle different types of people.


Great advice. If your group has at least a few people who will happily play (and teach!) anything with anyone, it greatly helps, especially with new people to the group, those new to the hobby, and those who are, <ahem> "challenging" to interact with.
 
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Susie_Cat
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Lots of good points, though (having been through some of this relatively recently), some people really don't like being micro-managed. Our group consists of a lot of this sort of people and one who isn't (apparently). In general, our group like having a "spotlight" game, but they don't want to be organised too much and they really don't want to have to choose games by some organised structure, or be sorted out in advance.

They are mostly social games players, rather than hard-core gamers and for the most part are not too picky about what they play so long as they have fun. In general, they seem to trust the person who chooses the Spotlight Game, especially as there are usually alternatives if they don't want to play it. They are a very agreeable bunch who seem to believe in the give-and-take philosophy and seem happy to play something they aren't keen on this time as feel they will probably get the chance to play something they want next time.

So, they are all quite chilled out, but the one thing they are quite definite about is that they don't want to be forcibly organised. As one said, they "Don't want it to feel like being at work." For this reason, when one gamer suggested having some sort of organised rota for choosing games etc., it very definitely fell on stony ground. Strict RSVPs would probably receive a similar response for our lot.

Moral? All groups are different and some things suit some groups but not others.

Susie_Cat.
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M Van Der Werf
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Most important I found is a good venue and a clear aim as a group. There are many different kind of games and one type of gamer like wargamers, partygamers, eurogamers or TCGgamers tends to push out some others sometimes.

TCG, miniature and D&D players tend to go to the same venues/shops but don't mingle too well with the more casual party and eurogamers often. Shops really have to make a decision what to cater too, getting magic players but not going full on it tends to hurt business more than not as they push out the others. Same with game groups a bit.
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fifteenkeys wrote:
To me, this seems way too hands-on, overly personal, and awfully specific for a gaming club or private membership group that has designated roles and a sign-in sheet. Many of these ideas would drive me away from such a group.

For a group of 30-40 (or even 10), it seems that all you need is a regular time and place, bring some games and start playing.


The OP addresses specifically building and sustaining, while the main text of the post seems to focus on the sustaining part. Having structure and a welcoming for all attitude towards a group consistently show to go much further than a hands-off attitude. Sure if you already have 30-40 people, then maybe these ideas will manifest naturally but they still will happen. Then again if you have that many, you don't have to worry about sustaining anymore. You are just hoping that some asshole doesn't ruin it for everyone.

The hobby is expanding whether some like it or not. More and more people are on the edge looking in but the barrier to entry is still somewhat high due to the daunting amount of choices and complexity of rule sets and mechanics that are there to meet anyone who has not played anything past Risk, Monopoly, or CAH. Why not help be their Sherpa as they traverse the landscape?

EDIT:

Susie_Cat wrote:

So, they are all quite chilled out, but the one thing they are quite definite about is that they don't want to be forcibly organised. As one said, they "Don't want it to feel like being at work." For this reason, when one gamer suggested having some sort of organised rota for choosing games etc., it very definitely fell on stony ground. Strict RSVPs would probably receive a similar response for our lot.


I will agree on this point though. You can go too far in that direction and push some people away. I get wanting to provide guidance and suggested lanes to drive in on a given session but enforcement to this degree seems a step too far.
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James Garcia
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JasonJ0 wrote:
Cull when necessary, and without mercy. Some people do not fit well with some game groups; worse, they ruin those game groups. Identify these people, and remove them before they can do too much damage.


I was going to post almost the same thing. Never let someone who is toxic to the group stay in the group. It will ruin the group in it's entirety. I know I wouldn't want to go to a group where people are just complete asses or the environment is just unpleasant. If you want you can talk to them to see if they change their ways, but their bad behavior needs to be stopped or removed one way or the other.
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Gary Averett
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Kiraboshi wrote:
Most of this is good advice but #8 is dubious. Many people value hobbies as an escape and want their relationships with fellow hobbyists to be about the thing they have in common. Perhaps it would be better advice to just provide opportunities for social interaction without directing the course thereof. don't think interrogations make people feel at ease.

In my experience one doesn't learn a lot about the lives of other participants when one attends other kinds of hobby groups. I've known a few people for more than 10 years in connection with other hobbies and still know next to nothing about their day-to-day lives. Let people be as forthcoming as they want to be.


I was a member of a game group that had a rule that nobody talked about what they did for a living. The group had many members that had high stress jobs and we wanted our group to be a way to leave that stress behind. It also helped to create an "everyone is equal" mentality. People inevitably found out what people did for a living and started interrupting games to get free legal or medical advice from them. That was the beginning of the end of that group.
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Brian McCue
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ragnarokkr wrote:
What are the other ideas you’d recommend to revive and sustain an open game group? Do share - I'm eager to read!


Send out something in writing after each session, describing what happened. My groups have been small enough that we've all played the same game, so the "something" is just a write-up of what happened in the game. In the larger group that you envision I don't know whether you'd try to list everything, or maybe pick one particularly good game (rotate the choice so that no players get left out) and ask somebody who played in it to write it up.

This helps a lot, and if it seems onerous, think what it would have been like in the Dead Tree Era.
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Quote:
3. Decide the spotlight games beforehand – If the group / venue has a large collection of games, members can spend considerable time in deciding which game to play. If your group has members with varied levels of gaming experience, the discussions can become even more endless. My preferred option is for the spotlight games for a session to be pre-decided and announced. That way, anyone who wants to watch a tutorial video or read an online rulebook can do so. It also prevents the paradox of choice - the inability to decide / anxiousness stemming from an overwhelming number of choices.
Bottom line: Get people playing quickly.


Make sure there's still open gaming with spotlight gaming. Those who aren't interested in the games will just pass, and wait until the next time a games they like will get played.

Don't expect everyone to read rules ahead of time, or watch tutorial videos (despite how highly recommended these can be for some games, like Agricola or Eclipse).

Hmm, I'm also concerned that a group that has so much AP in selecting a game wouldn't also have AP while playing the games!


EDIT: added Eclipse... another practical example
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Mike Baker
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I think it is important that we develop a culture of all members at least RSVPing if they are coming so organizers and GM's know who is coming and what kind of games they can plan.
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