Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

Monday, August 29, 2005

BGTG 33 - Local game groups (with Ryan Wheeler)

Ryan shows up in lots of my session reports because he's the most constant figure at Santa Clarita Boardgamer sessions. He and his wife Erin host most of our game nights. With that in mind, this show was intended to be about the "care & feeding" of local game groups: how to start one up and keep it going strong. That's pretty much what was recorded, though it also rambled through some fun history of our game group in particular. You probably learn as much about me through this conversation with Ryan as you do in my Boardgaming Biography show (way back in show #13 on June 4).

In the show we talk about the awkward but necessary step of screening new people who might come to your private game group. SCBer Greg Pettit let me share this private email thread between he and I way back when. It led to a phone call that was a little awkward, too, but could be made easier through the more personal communication. Greg joined the group right after. Maybe when I get him on the show I can ask him for his memories of this exchange. (I'm going to talk Greg into an All About show featuring Euphrat & Tigris . . . it's just a matter of time!)

Greg Pettit wrote:
Hi -

I found your website through BoardgameGeeks, and was hoping for some more information. I just moved to Glendale from Houston, TX and I'm already missing my old game group. If you guys are still getting together, I would like to know when and where (if new players are welcome). Thanks.


From: Mark Johnson
To: Greg Pettit
Subject: Re: Santa Clarita Boardgamers

Greg, we still haven't found a permanent new location for the Santa ClaritaBoardgamers. In the meantime, we're getting together at my house every other week. The next time will be this coming Wednesday, March 13. Here aresome things you should know about us. We play multiplayer strategy games (so-called "German games") like Settlers of Catan, Bohnanza, or Carcassonne almost exclusively. Although I myself play wargames or CCGs on occasion, that isn't what we play when we all gettogether for game nights. Likewise, no RPGs. The focus is on fun first, competition and skillful play second. While my kids are awake (till 9:00 or so), there's a need to keep a lid on any foul language. Oh, and no smoking.

If that seems like a lot of rules, understand that it's simply to keep gamenight enjoyable for the *group.* We're having fun now, and want to keep itthat way, even as we increase our number. New people are welcome, but if there's any friction, that person won't be invited back. You know, this sort of conversation works a lot better in person than over email, so please give me a call. My home number is xxx-xxxx. Hope to hear from you!


Greg Pettit wrote:
That all sounds great, just like the group I hosted back in Houston. I'm familiar with all the German games (they're just about all I played backhome), but I donated all of them to my friends before I left, so I won't beable to bring any. How many people do you usually have?

I don't want to disturb the dynamic, and I'm already a little nervous/shy about just showing up. I guess I'll call to sort of introduce myself once I've figured out if I can make it. Thanks for the info.


This show was a lot of fun for Ryan and I to record, as you can hear.


P.S. I'll have to scan a 6 card from David & Goliath (1st edition) sometime later... :-)

Ryan Wheeler's BGG profile
Boardgamegeek's Gamerfinder and Gamer Database
Santa Clarita Boardgamers' basic web page
My old Tri-Valley Boardgamers archived web page
The call I put out on to start TVB (August '96)


Blogger Jasen said...

Like a good wine...full body, interesting finish.

I liked the discussion about your screening process. For my boardgame group in Calgary, I've implemented an open door policy as I want to use the group to gamevangelize to the broader community. 2 years ago, I was mostly hosting the game nights from my home and I did worry a bit about inviting strange strangers into the house. We've now moved to a community hall so it's definitely less of a concern. We've also had tremendous success with the open door policy so that has assuaged my fears considerably. While the fear of being swarmed by D&D ubergeeks hasn't totally dissapated as our numbers keep increasing, it seems that the group is big enough now to self-regulate itself. If people want to play games in a casual, social environment, they'll check us out, enjoy themselves and come back. If they're looking for a more competitive less fun-focussed group, they'll come, hopefully recognize that their needs aren't being met and find another group to join. It'll be interesting to see if the open door policy continues to be effective as we continue to grow.

Anyway, another great show. Keep 'em coming.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may be my favorite show, Mark. Ryan sounds like an absolutely delightful guy to get to game and hang out with. He reminds me very much of one of my friends here.

I find it very interesting in how you guys try to handle the 'filtering' process. I have been in a gaming group here for 7 years that meets in a public location, and there have been a few times when we've had to ask someone not to come back. And no one wants to do that job.

For the most part though I agree it grows the hobby, and I still believe there are more people out there looking for good gaming entertainment than there are misfits who are looking for something else.

BTW, we also have private game nights among a sub-section of the group. This seems to work well also. Different approaches for different purposes.

Great show again, Mark.


6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The podcast continues to impress with every show. Both your standalone and guest shows are always a pleasure. Kudos to Ryan for his involvement in this great episode.

Matthew (from Sydney, Australia)

2:09 AM  
Blogger Steadman said...

Good cast!

7:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

great show! We have had a private public group: the group membership is restricted, but it has traditionally played at a local coffee house. Unfortunately, several of us don't really like that location - it's inconvenient, the tables are small (there's 1 larger one that we can usually snag), and someone has to bring games along and hope that the correct number of people show up. Recently, we've started meeting more and more at a couple of our houses. That is much more convenient, although I suppose I wouldn't mind a more public venue, if we could find one well suited for all of us.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to see the David and Goliath card mentioned in the show! ;)

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great top-notch podcast once again.

I think you can continue with this idea and add which games you would add in your collection if you were restricted to $$$ if you wanted to start a gaming group from scratch.

Anson Li

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, would like to apologize for the following post. My "lil comment" seems to have blossomed into a full fledged discussion. And I'm SURE that as soon as I post this, I'll have a flash of brilliance that I forgot to include *LOL*

Being the creator/co-owner of a VERY SOCIAL Gaming Group in Houston, this Podcast REALLY hit home for me! There was some Great insight, lots of "uh huh, that's So True" and Major Head-nodding *LOL* Carol (Best Friend and Group Co-Owner) and I have put in a Lot of effort to the creation, cultivation and maintaining of our Houston-area SOCIAL Gaming Group - Houston Social Gamesters, and we're Very Pleased with the outcome. Yes, it Does take effort, but it is Well Worth It!

Houston Social Gamesters was created in June 2002 as the result of Carol and my experiences with a primarily male-membership gaming group in Houston. While the introduction to Euro Gaming was Wonderful, the social aspect of this "typical" gaming group was far from what we were seeking. We wanted to play games, but also to be able to chat and chatter about different topics, both related to and Totally unrelated to Gaming. Creating "our own Group" seemed the natural evolution. We began the Group with 2 Members and less than a handful of games, gradually adding games of our own and through the addition of new Members, each introducing us to new areas of Gaming!

As an Overview, the following are Only Some of the games our Members currently own and do enjoy playing: Amazonas, Apples To Apples, Aquarius, Blokus, Citadels, Cranium, Fluxx, Gang of Four, Goa, Guillotine, Java, La Città, Landlord, Loot, Mammoth Hunters, Puerto Rico, Rumis, Settlers Of Catan, Snorta, Spy Alley, Ticket To Ride (both), Tikal, Transamerica, Wizard, Zombies. We maintain a list on the Group site, so Members can always ask someone to bring a preferred game to any event.

Demographics within Gamesters is good, fairly equally divided with singles (both male And female), couples and families. We encourage Members' children of 9yrs and older to game with us (though we will bend the age rule for a younger, mature child). Gaming is Such a Great social activity. We're also very careful to stress that we are Not a dating nor sex group. Kinda sad that we have to do so, but you'd be Surprised (or maybe not) at the motives people have for joining groups.

I'm not certain, but I personally feel that Gamesters may very well be a "new" concept of Gaming Groups. We present a more social, party atmosphere - the kinda group where Gamers can go and find other players for all Gaming interests, which is Especially important when a couple or family is trying to satisfy vastly different Gaming preferences. For example, Carol & Mike - she plays All games, he prefers the social aspect, even foregoing games to simply visit and talk with others. Crystal prefers the light card games and some light/medium strategy while Sam prefers the Heavy strategy. Christy likes light and medium strategy, Bill prefers medium and high strategy; they All come to Gamester events knowing that they will find players for the games They Each prefer. So, they are attending together, socializing together, yet playing the games that appeal to Them.

Gamesters is a Great venue for the singles - guys And the gals. While most Gaming Guys have found Gaming Groups to play in, the offerings for Single Gaming Gals seems to be very limited. Oh Sure - we Single Gaming Gals can go to the "typical" Gaming gathering in the back room of some Gaming store, mostly guys and not so social... UGH. Gamesters offers Single Gaming Gals the opportunity to play games - to Discover that we DO like the higher strategy games As Well As the more light-hearted ones. There's no pressure, it's a comfy environment!

There are also "sub-groups" within Gamesters - players of Dominos, Poker, American Classics and the High Strategy EURO Games. These sub-groups meet and concentrate on playing specifically the games they prefer. We maintain photos of our gatherings, and follow each "public" gathering with a "write-up" of attendees, games played and meal theme or other pertinent info.

Regarding Membership - Yep, screening potential new Members can be awkward to say the least *LOL* There's been Lots of "interesting" situations we have had to deal with. We originally tried the "open-door" policy, however being a "Social" Group, we found that we Wanted to be more selective in the "type" of people we were associating with, so potential Members now go through a screening process. Hearing your screening process, I'd sure like a copy of your info to incorporate with ours.

From past experience, we're learned that "unsolvable situations" need to be addressed Head-On, as "pussy-footin" just kinda bounces off ~some~ people *LOL* Everything from the highly inappropriate (sexual) IDs - to the couple who, bringing their 2yr old to a Gaming Event, felt it was an opportunity for free babysitting - to locating a public venue for meets that was not the "typical" Game store backroom. Each experience is a lesson learned... The Major issue of toddlers and younger children attending events was solved with the establishment of a "sub-group" specifically for families with younger children. FAMILY Gamesters is getting off the ground and appears to be a worthy solution.

We've also had to deal with the inviting of "outsiders" without "approval" from the Core Members. Bringing a guest is one thing - taking it upon oneself to invite a guest to Join the Group is overstepping. I guess that can be viewed as a manner of manners...

As for Meets - initially Carol held the majority of Meets at her home which has a Great floor plan for small or large gatherings. I don't believe we ever thought of the negative aspects of inviting "strangers" to her home. We had a Group we believed in, needed a place to meet, and her home was the obvious choice. As the Group grew, and Members felt comfy and stepped up, the hosting began to rotate. We now have a sign-up list, which is typically filled months in advance.

The "spotlight" of the Group is our "Monthly Party" which is open to the Group Members as a whole and average around 20 attendees - largest was 32, smallest was 4 (at Group "creation"). This is an "open-house" pot-luck style party, with the host choosing a meal theme and all participants bringing something to compliment the theme (i.e., BBQ, Chinese, Mexican, breakfast, etc.) As part of the Monthly Party, we do try to play one "Party Game" - Cranium, Buzzword, Battle of the Sexes, etc. We've recently added a "Raffle" to the Monthly Party. We purchase a game, and raffle it off for $1 donations per chance. Hours are usually 6pm - 2am or longer *LOL* In the 3 years that Gamesters has been active, we have only missed ONE Monthly Party. Not a bad record!
WRITE-UP: Gamesters August 2005 Party

We also have a Monthly Northside Meet (for Members living in the North Houston area) held at a public venue - again open to the Group as a whole.

Over the years, Gamesters has certainly evolved. Members join, some lurk, some participate and then fade away, some just don't fit... and then there are those who are Such An Awesome "Match". There have been some Great friendships formed within the Group, so we Often have private / invite only Gaming Get-togethers. We do dinners and attend outdoor theater, and we Typically bring at least one game to play No Matter What We Are Doing *LOL*

The promotion of Gamesters is a job within itself. There's been various forms of PR utilized - taking advantage of online sites like craigslist and Freecycle, posting info monthly, under "Houston" sites, as "Group" info. We're in the process of creating a Gamesters (Gaming) Geocache (treasure hunt). Gamesters is also participating in the Patch Products "Million Minute Family Challenge". Also have created and handed out Group Calling Cards (i.e. "business cards") which are also available to Members upon request. I LOVE Gaming and want to share it with Everyone (well, ok - with Almost everyone) I meet. The Members tease me that I'm perpetually Mizz PR *LOL*

Million Minute Family Challenge:

Being more family-oriented and adults, vs the stereotypical backroom Gamer, it was a mission to find a suitable public venue for Gaming. Items of importance were a nice establishment, inside location, good food and drink at reasonable pricing, "late" hours and separate area with tables for Gaming. We found all that and More at our local Bennigan's which is more than Happy to accommodate our needs! Anyone with similar needs might consider checking out a local Bennigan's!
Bennigan's for meets:

BTW - found Your site through Greg Pettit, referenced in your "Monday, August 29, 2005; BGTG 33 - Local game groups (with Ryan Wheeler)". Greg joined our Houston-area Gaming Group (Aug 2005), and in verifying that he was a real person and not some spammer attempt, we ran across your ID, and eventually "Boardgames To Go", on his BBG profile. We're pleased, and fortunate, to welcome Greg (and friends) to our Group!


1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed listening to the discussion about vetting new members and the pros and cons of public versus private. It seems most groups wrestle with these issues.

BTW, putting the feedback at the back end of the show is a really good idea.

12:32 PM  

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