Tips for Starting Your Own Tabletop Gaming Club – Ask The Bellhop

This week we’re taking a break from specific game recommendations and talking about something else. Today’s topic is something near and dear to my heart, it’s about building a local gaming community.

Rob Bush writes,

Do you have any tips on starting an organized gaming club? Ideally one that’s self-sustaining enough to build up a club-owned gaming library?

The Short Answer:
If you can’t find a local gaming community why not build one yourself?

The Participants in the first ever Windsor Gaming Resource Board Game BlitzMy biggest tip for starting an organized gaming club or really building any sort of local gaming community is to just do it. Start something right away, it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get people to get together and start gaming. It will start small and there will be problems but they can be addressed along the way. The group will grow and you will probably have to change things along the way.

You aren’t going to be able to plan everything ahead of time. You won’t have the best game library. You may not get a lot of people out, but you have to start somewhere and why not start as soon as possible.

Find somewhere to play, then get the word out about the event through social media. Show up, be a good host and play some games. Don’t worry about numbers, just worry about having fun with the people who do show up. Then take what you learned and do something small to improve things for the next event. Eventually, you should have yourself a gaming club and along with that a thriving local gaming community.

The Long Answer:
I founded the Windsor Gaming Resource in 2002 and it’s now at over 600 members.

I noted that this topic is near and dear to my heart and that’s because this is something I have a lot of experience with. Building a local gaming club and through that building a local gaming community is something I personally took on back in 2002.

A shot from an early Windsor Gaming Resource Event.It started with a free Proboards web forum that I created to talk about gaming online. One of the ongoing and repeating discussions that kept happening was people noting they had no one to play with. They loved gaming and bought games but a lot of those games went unplayed due to not having other gamers to play them with. A small group of us decided we should meet up somewhere and play together and that turned into the first public gaming event that I hosted.

That first event was at a Knights of Columbus hall on a Saturday afternoon. We had a total of six people show up, including me. We played Power Grid and the World of Warcraft board game. We had a great time. We agreed to meet again at the same place the next month.

Between the first and second event, I tried to get the word out to the general public that we were doing this thing. That there was going to be a local game night where gamers could meet other gamers and play games together. That second event had double the attendance of the first. The Windsor Gaming Resources as a local gaming “club” and not just a website became a thing.

Since then I’ve hosted hundreds of gaming events at a variety of venues. The Windsor Gaming Resource now mainly exists as a Facebook Group, through that old forum is technically still up. I still run events multiple times a month under that banner, and these events continue to attract local gamers new and old.

What follows are some of my suggestions for how to build your own local gaming group, covering a variety of topics like finding a venue and getting the word out.

Finding a place to play. A gaming space for your new game club.

The newest Windsor Gaming Resource event venue EZY mode.

One of the first things you are going to need to find if you want to gather a bunch of gamers together is a place to play. While this could be someone’s house I personally recommend against this. You never know who is going to show up to any publicly advertised event.

While I wish we lived in a world where you can assume that everyone is going to show up with good intentions, sadly you cannot. I strongly recommend hosting your game night somewhere in public.

When you are just starting out you can probably play in any public area with three or more tables available.  This can be a local coffee shop, cafe or restaurant. Local libraries may also be willing to host a game night. I know one local group that uses a common room in their apartment building, which works well for them. Personally, I like to be somewhere very public, since I want strangers to take notice of what we are doing and perhaps join in.

Brimstone Board Game Night filled with local gamers. The important thing here is to make sure to talk to someone and ask if they are cool with you bringing a bunch of gamers into their place. Don’t just assume that because there are open tables at the time you are there that the venue is going to want a bunch of people taking up those tables playing games.

Game nights are a great way for a venue to fill tables during a dead period but they don’t work during a busy time when a venue is going to want tables to be flipped as quickly as possible.

Personally, since launching the Windsor Gaming Resource, I’m always on the lookout for places with nice big tables, lots of light, and slow times during the day. Saturday afternoons seem to be a slow time here for most cafes and restaurants, and most places are very happy to fill those empty tables with gamers.

When you are just starting out on this community building adventure I caution against having your events at venues that serve alcohol. While I do love a good beer and pretzels game night, until you have an established core group who know each other, and are comfortable running public events and hosting, stay away from the complications alcohol can add to a game night. Once you are an old pro and have a group of gamers around you that you already know well and trust, then you can run a more adult themed game night.

A very packed CG Realm on game night.Check with your local game stores. They may already have something like what you are looking for. If they don’t, you can offer to work with them to host a game night. Most stores are happy to oblige when someone else is willing to take on the hosting and promotion. I now run a lot of my events at game stores and work with them to do things like feature specific games. The stores, in turn, do things like host giveaways or have promos for those games. It’s a win-win situation for the most part.

The problem with playing at game stores is that some people don’t like playing in a retail space. They feel obligated to buy something. Also, there are often local gamer politics involved, especially if your area has more than one store. Gamers tend to have loyalty towards their favourite store and won’t support any others. This is why, overall, I prefer to host any gaming events at a neutral public venue if I can find one.

The tabletop gaming area at The Man's Expo Some other things to take into account: Make sure the venue is well lit, has big enough tables for the types of games you plan on playing and isn’t too loud. Trust me, you don’t want to be trying to play a game with a band playing on stage at the same time. Try to pick a venue that is reachable via public transit. On a bus or subway route. Find out the parking situation and communicate that to anyone who may be attending.

Lastly, be sure to support the venue. Try to make it worth the venue’s time and space to have you and your group there. Encourage people to support the venue in any way they can. This includes buying food and drink or making other purchases, being sure to tip well for any service received, respecting the establishment, cleaning up after yourselves and putting things back where they came from before you leave.

Building a game library for your gaming club

When you first start up a new gaming club it’s probably going to be up to you to bring all the games. If you are lucky you will already know some other local gamers who can also help provide games for your game night. It’s also important to let guests know they can bring their own games.

A van all loaded up with board games for a club game night.Ever since our first get together, we’ve never had a problem where there weren’t enough games to play at an event. Between the games I bring and other guests showing up with games we usually have plenty of options. But you can never have enough games, right?

One of the advantages of playing at a local game store is that many stores have an on hand game library. If your local store doesn’t have an in store game library, maybe you should send them a link to my Putting The F in FLGS article. The other thing you can do is approach local stores to see if they are willing to lend or donate games for your club game nights. When asking for this be sure to point out what the game store can gain by this. Include a business card in every game they provide. Be sure to note that your event is sponsored by the store and point out what games are provided by what store.

Another source of games for public play is through publishers and game designers. Many companies are happy to provide you with demo copies of games as long as you are teaching and showing those games off at public events. Most of these companies are going to want some information before they send you games though. They want to know things like where you are playing, how many people you expect to attend etc. Due to this, don’t go asking for free games right away, wait until you’ve built up a solid membership base.  You need to make sure it’s worth their while and that showcasing their games will lead to sales.

You can also source the local community for games. If you really are building a game library that’s for the club to use, and not just trying to build your own gaming collection, you should be able to find local gamers willing to lend or donate games to that library. This works particularly well if the library can have a central location where any member can get access to it and you personally don’t need to be there.

One important thing to note: you don’t need a massive board game library to have a fun game night.  For public play, you just need a few of the classics, gateway games almost everyone can enjoy and then some stuff you are personally excited about. Having too many options to pick from can sometimes hinder a game night as no one can agree on what to play. Which leads me to my next topic: picking games.

What games should you have present at a public tabletop game night?

I’ve published quite a few articles on selecting games for game nights, many of which are applicable when planning a game club game night.

In general, you want a mix of tried and true gateway games, games that will attract a wide variety of players, and modern hobby board games you think the attendees will dig.  You can find a bunch of the former in my Great Games for Introducing A New Player to Hobby Board Games article. More recently I published Board Game Suggestions for a Casual Game Night with 4-6 Players and all of those games would also be great for a public game night.

Personally, I usually bring two to three gateway or party games as well as one or two games that I really want to play. I’ve found that when I bring too many games, people spend far too long arguing about what games they want to play instead of actually playing.

An important part of this is planning ahead. As part of setting up your event let people know what games you know will be present. Also, ask people if there’s anything in particular they want to play. Then you can work with other people in the community to see if you can get your hands on those games for that game night. For any event, you should always be sourcing your local community. It shouldn’t be up to one person to do all of the work. You shouldn’t be the only one providing games.

Another trick I’ve learned for helping decide what games to bring is to pick a theme for each game night. I’ve hosted superhero game nights, fantasy game nights and even pirate game nights. Not only does this give people some direction on what games to bring and what to expect, but it also turns the game night into more of an event. You can even encourage people to dress up and cosplay for the right theme.

One last consideration when picking games is to pick games you know how to play and can teach, or games where you know someone else who can do this.

For any public gaming event you need people who can teach games.

One of the secrets to building up a gaming club is to make your events accessible. You want to appeal to a wide variety of people and part of that is being willing to accept new gamers into the group. People with little or no gaming experience. In order to get these people out and to have fun at your events, you are going to need someone who is good at teaching games. This can be you or can be someone else from the community. At best, it’s going to be multiple local gamers all looking to share their love of the hobby and willing to teach the games they bring to the table.

John teaching the board game Coup to some new gamers. As I discussed in my How Do You Approach Teaching Board Games blog post, teaching is a skill. A skill you can improve on with practice and over time.  I’ve got even more teaching tips in my Teaching New vs Experienced Gamers article.  There’s lots of great game teaching advice in those articles so I’m not going to dive into that topic again here.  You just have to make sure that you have someone, and hopefully, multiple people, present that are willing to teach some games.

Pro Tip: One thing that can greatly help with teaching is including rule summaries from places like BGG and The Esoteric Order of Gamers. I try to include these in the boxes of the games I’m bringing to public events. Some of these are so good that people can pick up a game and teach themselves without having to wait for and rely on a game teacher.

Getting people to actually come out to your tabletop gaming event.

Example Facebook event page. Nowadays it’s easier than ever to get the word out about your gaming event. Back in the day, we were stuck with physically printing signs and posting them places like the local library and schools. While that’s still a solid idea, the main place you are going to reach out to people now is on social media. Create a Facebook group for your new club and create an event page for every game night. Make a Twitter account.  Create an Instagram account where you can share pictures of your game nights.  Social media is huge.

The big thing with social media is keeping it active. Don’t just go into your group once a month and post your latest event. Share pictures as the events are happening. Encourage discussions between game nights on the games that were played. Start a Twitter poll on what games to play at the next event. Social media helps extend the club to be more than just game night, it becomes more of a community.

Besides social media work with any local game stores to help promote your event. Put up flyers or post on their community boards. Local comic stores and hobby shops may work too. Most gamers are into other geeky things as well. Local libraries, schools, popular coffee shops and pubs are all good places to promote your event. If your gaming events are at a local store, cafe or restaurant, encourage them to promote the event as well.

Don’t’ forget Board Game Geek and RPGGeek. The Geek has a huge local community forum with subcategories for pretty much every state and province. The great part about using BGG is that you know you are hitting your target market directly.

A poster created for a Windsor Gaming Resource Level Up Event.

Check for other local sites that promote local events. We have a bunch of these here in Windsor (Eye on Windsor, Windsorite.ca, etc). You probably have some local equivalent. I’ve found these sites great for getting out new gamers and tabletop curious folks.

Local radio stations will often promote free, non-profit or charity events at no cost. Assuming your event is free, this is a great way to reach a bunch of people you probably wouldn’t reach any other way.

Besides getting the word out, there are some other things you can do to encourage people to attend your club’s gaming event.

One of the things you need to do is communicate to local gamers why they should attend your event rather than just playing games with their regular gaming group at home. This could be a variety of things. Finding new gamers to play with. Getting to try out new games. Getting to try a game before choosing to buy it. Being able to play in a clean, well lit space. The chance to turn game night into something more than just playing games.

You can also add incentives for people to come out. Host a giveaway. Have some promo items to give out to attendees. Work with your venue to offer a discount on game night. For most of these, you want to work with publishers or your venue to see what they can offer. Many publishers will provide promos if you are hosting a demo night. I’ve gotten local game stores to do things like waving the tax during game night. One of our local stores gives out a gift certificate, the value of which is based on how many people attend the event.  Any of these can work to convince someone to attend an event they may have skipped otherwise.

Good luck launching your new tabletop gaming club!

There you have some of my tips for launching a new gaming club and attempting to build your local gaming community. I launched the Windsor Gaming Resource in 2002, a “club” that’s still going strong to this day. Building and maintaining the WGR has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, there were rough spots and sometimes it’s a lot of work. While running a local gaming club may not be for everyone, if you don’t have anything like that in your community I strongly recommend you take the chance and try to start something up.

If you do I hope the tips I’ve shared above help you out. Good luck with your new club!

Have you launched your own gaming club? If you have I want to know about it! Do you have any tips that I missed or anything you can share to help out someone who’s thinking of starting a club of their own? Let me know in the comments!

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