Monday, November 19, 2007

My board gaming story: Noob to Group Organizer

I have been a game teacher and game group organizer for a couple years now. It all began when I visited a FLGS which carried a stock of designer board games. At that time, the only designer game I owned was The Settlers of Catan, as did a handful of other people I knew. I had no idea how huge the board gaming world really was, but I very much enjoyed playing board games or card games whenever I had the chance.

So, while browsing the game selection at the FLGS, I gleefully read the backs of many boxes, eagerly searching for a potential buy. Of all the games I looked at that day, the most interesting was Bruno Faidutti’s Citadels. I didn’t buy the game that day, but I went home and started researching on the Internet.

This was when I first discovered Board Game Geek. I looked around the site briefly and reminded myself to come back later. At the time, I was intent on researching Citadels, so I went to the Fantasy Flight Games website (I had stored away the name of the Citadels publisher in my memory). On the FFG website, I browsed to the Citadels page where they had a free PDF of the rules for download. I read the rules, decided the game sounded fun, ran it by by my wife, and resolved to buy it.

I went back to Board Game Geek and read in the Citadels forums that some people prefer to sleeve their Citadels cards in Yu-Gi-Oh sleeves. I still remember that day: my wife had our only car. I asked her to go over to the FLGS and pick up Citadels. She picked me up from work that evening, and we headed over to the comic store to buy some sleeves. On the way home, I began sleeving the Citadels cards while my wife drove us home.

My wife and I quickly found that we enjoyed playing Citadels as a 2-player game. Shortly thereafter, I arranged for a several of my co-workers to meet me for a game of Citadels at lunch. This was the beginning of a string of lunchtime Citadels sessions. We were soon averaging 5-6 players regularly.

Having newly opened eyes for the world of board gaming, I decided to look at the game section at Walmart one day. In the card game section, I saw a little box with cartoony pirates on the cover - Loot. It said “Reiner Knizia” on it. I remembered reading his name on BGG and so figured maybe this would be a good game. The price tag was $4.98 (or something), so I purchased it. I quickly introduced this game to the lunch group as well, and we found that we had a blast with it.

It was around this time that my friend Jack and I started researching games like rabid beasts, as our eyes were increasingly opened to the gaming goodness that was out there for the grabbing. We communicated about our BGG research every day, and before long we were putting together our first group game order on Thought Hammer.

We found that we were having consistent lunch sessions at least once a week during the lunch hour at work. We work in an IT department, so there are plenty of geeks who enjoy various forms of gaming. After enough weeks of this arrangement, Jack and I decided it might be worth organizing a format for the weekly gaming sessions. This was the beginning of what eventually came to be known as Board Game Wednesday (BG Wed for short).

Jack and I began acquiring more games (as the addiction kicked in...), and inviting others in the group to do the same. We continued placing group game orders to expand our collections. Jack and I were the predominant buyers, while others would get in every so often with perhaps one game they had played and found they liked enough to buy.

Today, BG Wed is a smooth flowing machine. Here’s how it works. Every Monday or Tuesday, I send out an email to the group, including a list of all of the games in our combined collection. This list is organized by weight into three categories: Filler, Light, and Medium. Every person in the group has the opportunity to vote. If they have a game in mind that they know they want to play, they send me a vote for it. If they don't care what we play, they don't vote. All the votes come in to me. Usually 2-5 votes come in. We call the players who send in votes “champions” - they’re championing a game. This is where Jack comes in. Jack maintains a Ladder of Champions, which is just a table containing a list of:
  • all players
  • when they last won or lost a vote
  • how many times they have won or lost when championing a game
When a game you vote for gets played, you get pushed to the bottom of the ladder. Whoever is at the top of the ladder gets priority when they champion a game.

When the votes come in, I look to see which voters are at the top of the ladder. Then, I look at the games they championed and decide how many games we’ll be likely to play considering the number of players we are likely to have that week. Sometimes we can have two or three games played simultaneously depending on how many people show up, and how many players can sit at one game. Then, I send out an email saying which games we will be playing (those chosen by the players highest on the ladder), and I include a number of slots for players to fill in their names for the game they want to play. This way, we can have the groups organized before we meet up on Wednesday. Every so often, the number of players expected to show up can be unpredictable, and we’ll just each bring a couple games and pick one when we meet up, but this is not a common occurrence. We jokingly call this the "arm wrestle" method.

"Let's play my game!!"
"No, MY game!!"
"No, MINE!!!"

Fortunately, the group is pretty chilled out, and we quickly and peacefully select a game.

One of the guys in our group set up an online wiki for us. We use this wiki to track our gaming statistics. One page includes a table of:

  • every game we have
  • how many players each game can handle
  • who owns each game
  • how many plays each game has had
  • when the last play was
Another page is just a simple list of every game we have, ordered by weight (depth of gameplay), as I mentioned earlier. The last page is a statistics page where Jack keeps track of various figures, including:
  • who has won the most plays for each category of game
  • the Ladder of Champions
  • the First Buyer’s Club (how many games each person has been the first to introduce to the group)
Until a few months ago, we were writing brief session logs for every game we played. It turned out that no one was reading them, so Jack and I finally gave up the effort and bailed on logging sessions.

So there you have it - an overview of how I got into the hobby of board gaming, how Jack and I organized a gaming group, and how Board Game Wednesday works.

Currently, my game collection includes almost all games that support two or more players. I also have a handful of 2-player only games. This is because I play primarily with my wife. BG Wed is nice because it gives me a chance to play my games with more than two players, and an opportunity to play other people’s games without having to buy them myself. It’s also a fascinating opportunity to observe different types of gamers and the different ways their brains function with various games. This interaction with others is what makes the hobby so enjoyable. Playing with real people is a chance to talk, share, joke, and get to know one another while engaging in a mentally stimulating activity. Play for fun, not just to win!

1 comment:

gordon_a_cooper said...

It's funny I should stumble upon this post today. Two days ago, a friend at work and I agreed to start our own weekly board game club to be held every Monday afternoon, beginning this coming Monday. I promised to compile a list of my board games and how many players each one can handle, but I hadn't gone so far as to devise a formal method of determining which games we would play. I might have to borrow some of your ideas. Thanks for sharing your story!