Ever since I returned to the board gaming hobby in 2010, I have seen it as a great social mechanism in getting people together. As you start a family and your peers do the same, the social opportunities do slowly recede, and in my case, a couple of decades listening to repetitive electronic music on dance floors for my social kicks had to be replaced with something, let us say, calmer and certainly less physically demanding.
In 2013 shortly after our son was born, we moved to a village on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. Luckily enough, a delightful cafe on the high street had also just opened, serving delicious food and coffee. Daily Bread is one of those places that, to me at least, becomes a central part of why you want to live somewhere – a hub of socialising and spending time in that glues the neighbourhood together, helped by mouthwatering grub and very friendly staff. And what better place to put a board game night on, especially as they had two large wooden tables end to end, enough to sit at nearly 20 people round. I’m a firm believer in the notion of board gaming being a hobby that can bring people together, not only in social settings but for families as well, so had high ambitions that, even if our village wasn’t near the centre of town, there would be enough interest to sustain a monthly night.
As my wife works in food and restaurant PR and is also a fabulous cook to boot, I have slowly through our relationship come to understand that good food is an essential glue in the social occasion. Sadly it seems that in the board game world, ideas of decent cuisine alongside playing games is still unexplored territory (and maybe a potential business idea!). At Spiele ’16 in Essen, the standard of food on sale to all was, frankly, appalling. But then again, we were in Germany and at a board game expo, and why spend money on good food when you could spend it on games? The gamer’s logic will always prevail in instances like this. But perhaps newcomers to the hobby might be sucked in by excellent grub and the chance to play some fun games?
An evening called “Beer, Burgers & Boardgames” was born, once a month on a Friday was unleashed on an unsuspecting village public. There were some logistical difficulties from the outset – I was the only one with the games and I couldn’t play and teach to everyone at the same time. Fortunately I roped in some friends who came and helped out, but with over 30 people turning up, it was sadly inevitable that a few people didn’t get to play anything at all. Although getting 30 to turn up was great, it was difficult to gauge whether it was enough to get people to come back. This was reflected in the attendance of the next few sessions, where numbers dwindled to an average of around four to eight or so, and sometimes none at all, especially during the summer, where perhaps understandably, BBQs and evenings outside began to take precedent.
In virtually all instances those attending had never heard of any of the games available to play – and this was including Carcassonne and most of the other gateway titles. Most people showed enthusiasm in the evening, but not enough to return on a regular basis. And when the venue stayed open (and employed staff) in the evening exclusively for me, I was always certain that after another disappointing night in attendance terms, they’d turn round and say “it’s not really working out for us”.
Even though my evening is pitched at newcomers to the hobby, the adage for most successful game nights is that you need gamers to make it work. And that’s true here as well. Around late 2015, several other gamers (I.e people who actually buy other games regularly) who live locally began to attend regularly, and by the start of 2017 numbers are now up to over 20 or so, which makes its future a lot more certain than it was this time last year. Given the oscillating numbers and the ever-present feeling that it wasn’t “sticking” in terms of regulars, a few times before then I had considered stopping things, only to meet someone or a couple in the cafe who’d say “oh I’ll come along to the next one” and giving it one last go. Things have also been helped by a number of non-gamer attendees who are now regulars and, much more refreshingly, female. This gives the evening, in my opinion, a much more raucous feel than I think it would have with a group of “gamers”, who in my experience are probably going to gravitate to more cerebral and quieter games over time.
In terms of organising and putting on such an event, there is a feeling of real enjoyment from meeting and seeing new people turn up, play some games and going home having enjoyed themselves (and then going to buy some games). That can be offset though by not knowing how many, or if any are going to arrive, so it is swings and roundabouts to a certain extent. And I’ll be candid enough to say that I would like to play some more complex games now and again, but for me, as above, getting people in through the door to have a fun evening is more than enough.
Want to know more and live in the Tunbridge Wells area? Then join my facebook group for the night