Listening to the Dice Tower and Spiel podcasts and reading forum entries on Boardgame Geek, I’ve come across two central aspects of US boardgaming culture that have me kind of baffled. One is the ubiquity of open-to-all gaming groups, and the other is the emphasis on the FLGS, the Friendly Local Gaming Store.
To begin with the gaming groups, to me gaming is something I do with my friends at our houses – usually mine. The varying cast of gamers having tea at my table once a week are my guests. A recent Dice Tower episode (#205), however, featured a long discussion about what to do if your gaming group gets saddled with a member that nobody wants to play with. These club-like US groups seem to convene on public premises – universities, church basements, pubs, game stores – and while pretty much anybody can get in, there’s no accepted way to kick obnoxious characters out. I’ve never had that problem. If I invited someone I didn’t know well and they didn’t turn out to my liking, I’d just never invite them again. (Both of the two gamer friends I’ve picked up blindly from web forums are lovely people and I invite them all the time.)
I wrote to the Dice Tower about this and they kindly replied to my question on the show. The main reason the show hosts mentioned for organising public gaming groups is basically about evangelism: they want to get new people into the hobby. Part of their motivation seems to be that they want to increase demand for boardgames, ensuring that more and better games will be published in the future. This is unimportant to me. Even if no more boardgames came out starting tomorrow, it would take me decades to play through the thousands of good ones that have already been published.
I’m thinking that maybe those open-to-all gaming groups exist because few people are like me. Maybe there aren’t enough hosts. If there were a gregarious guy in every gamer’s area who was happy to have people over all the time, then only the problematic characters discussed on the Dice Tower would have to join open groups. Of course, to anyone with a family, the spouse has to be OK with it too. And my wife seems happy with the setup. Typically she’ll just greet everybody when they arrive and then spending the evening at the piano or computer or TV or reading while we play games peacefully for a few hours. She’s happy that I’m happy, and she greatly prefers having me around over me spending one evening every weekend away from home. Me, I really don’t enjoy late-night train rides either, so I’m glad the game comes to me instead of me going to the game.
Then there are those stores. Before the Internet, I cared about game stores because that was the only place I could find out about games and buy them. (The Tradition store that I frequented in its Storgatan and Humlegårdsgatan locations in Stockholm during the 80s was never particularly friendly though. There was this tall blond store clerk who clearly A: was not a gamer, and B: did not particularly enjoy talking to enthusiastic kobolds.) But for 15 years I’ve learned about and bought my books, games and software over the net. I don’t like spending time in stores. To me, a high-street shop is just an unnecessary price-raising link in the logistical chain between the manufacturer and me. And brick & mortar shopping is a huge time sink compared to ordering stuff from my desk. The only time I buy games or books over the counter is in the rare case when I need a present for someone and have forgotten to order in time.
With this attitude, you’ll understand that I’m horrified by the thought of spending hours playing games in a store. But that is apparently common in the US. The smarter store owners seem to realise though that boardgamers aren’t really worth hosting, since we can play for hours without buying anything. The money is in collectible cardgames such as Magic: The Gathering, where a player’s success correlates strongly with the amount of money he spends on cards. But even when the shopkeeper does oblige – why spend your free time in a store? Or on a mall concourse, for that matter…
So, my recipe for better boardgaming is this.
1. Learn about games and buy them on-line.
2. Keep a list of your favourite local gamers.
3. Send out text-message or e-mail invitations on, like, a Wednesday morning for people to come over on Saturday. As the replies come in, keep poking people on your list until you have the requisite number of pledges. (I usually go for three guests with my kids as extras.)
4. Keep some simple stats on what percentage of your invitations a given friend has accepted. You’ll soon see which ones are worth asking, which saves time and avoids mutual embarrassment. Bachelors/ettes are the most dependable ones.