Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Board Game Group Ecosystem

Games from my third game night.

Having two very-fun game nights under my belt, I thought this next one could be the one I break out the bigger guns. People have enjoyed Escape twice over, and got a taste of Pandemic the week before. So, I gathered my selection and headed over with much excitement.

By the end of the night, we only played one game of Cheaty Mages and Spot-It.

What Happened?


A board game group is a living thing - well, several living things. They all have their likes and dislikes, their good and bads. But most importantly of all, the glue that holds it all together is the game. Everything's central to that, and that alone. Without it, people's attention and gazes all avert to the nearest electronic device, toiling away at whatever is NOT a board game, gradually siphoning interest like a sieve. Having a game that doesn't work with the group is like introducing a blackhole to the whole night - it could warp time and, before you know it, the night is done.

And what game you guys play matters very much. As much as you want to break out that heavy euro that plays for 3+ hours, as much as you want others to enjoy a game you've played several times, your expectations will always be thwarted with people new to the field. To them, non-connected spaces in a closed loop and the absense of paper money will stir fear in their frail bodies. To others, the sheer number of components will render their brain into a useless pile of mush. But it's OKAY! At least they're reacting to it like agitated chemicals.

Know Your Group


While the game is the glue that holds your group's attention together, it's also imperative to know what type of group you have. Do you have people who want to play something more complicated? Do they want something that they're willing to spend the time to learn? Or do they want to find something that's simple to pick up? Maybe they want something with zombies (get out). Or, they want to play something that is short and can be easy to set up again and again for multiple plays. What if they prefer no backstabbing? What if they don't like any co-op?

What if you just don't know?

Putting Your Selection Together


Unless you had several meetups to decide, you won't know what games may work well with your group. You may WANT to bring your heavy strategic euro games, but the box sizes and intimidating rules almost guarantee a walk-out. No...you should follow the "quick, simple, maybe" method.

Games from my first game night.

  • Quick: Something that will take a relatively short amount of time. For me, Escape fits the bill quite literally, at 10 minutes a game. We were able to blow through 3 quick games in quick succession, with everyone still feeling amped and ready to go!
  • Simple: Other games aren't so quick, but are dead simple. While Pandemic may be on the more complicated end, its co-op nature frees the sharing of information AND rules, making gameplay pick up quicker. Card games are also simple to teach and learn. The important thing here to consider is you want to give new players something familiar to grasp, but NOT something too familiar. So, no Uno, no Jenga, no Monopoly.
  • "Maybe": This is what I like to call the "long shot" game. This is whatever you decide to bring, without the intent of playing. Why do this? Because eventually, you'd like to play more heavier games with your game group. And the best way to introduce them is to just show it off. Or maybe not. In my case, Formula D was my "long shot," and someone in my group ended up pulling it out, going "what's this?" Savor this moment - the moment when another has the same twinkle in their eye like you did back then.

Learn to Teach the Rules


Probably the hardest thing to do when you don't play games often (and ironically the one thing you MUST do) is to KNOW THE RULES! This would be a future topic to discuss, but overall if you don't know your rules, your gaming group will fall apart quicker than a jigsaw puzzle on a highwire. Nobody wants to sit at a table waiting for you to read through the rules, muttering to yourself, "alright...alright...okay...WAIT! Wait...um...okay...GOT IT!" The quicker you know how the game is played, the easier it is to bring everyone else up to speed. Take advantage of all the online resources out there to learn from! I HIGHLY recommend watching Rahdo's Run Throughs for some quick gameplay videos.

Secondly, teaching is also important. Knowing the rules does you no good if you can't effectively and efficiently teach them to your group. Bear in mind that these players may not have even SEEN your games before, so take things slow. Yes, you WILL repeat yourself several times, and you may have to monitor other players' actions to keep everyone in check, but your group will be all the better in the end for your patience.

Communicate


Communication's key if you want to maintain a good game group, especially if you're the organizer. Sending out emails, progressing the game along, getting feedback from games played...it's all important in developing a healthy game night group. What games work with the group, what games didn't. What games did people have the most fun with, which ones they didn't care for at all. How did people behave during games? How did people play with each other? All this is pertinent information when planning the next (and future) game nights. It's an evolving process, one that will generate better returns over time.

Above All, Let The Game Group Grow Naturally


The one thing you must not forget is that the game group thrives on fun. Without it, it's just a general meet-up with friends. If your friends aren't engaged in whatever game you bring, then the game group withers and erodes. Only with proper care and nourishment will your group flourish and stay vibrant for many nights to come!
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