Looking for Group

Even if I did have magical telekinetic board gaming powers, I wouldn’t know how to use them. Sure, I could cheat at games, cause havoc with components, and shuffle every deck of Dominion at the same time, but I wouldn’t make any friends doing it. And without friends, board gaming isn’t much fun.

Board games are intensely social, almost by definition. Solo games do exist, but they’re still fairly niche, and as standard, games require communication between multiple people in the same room. That isn’t true of all hobbies - some can be done solo (fitness, art) and others can be done online (video games, arguing). And while online adaptations of games and applications like Tabletopia are gaining ground, the vast majority of board gaming is still done in person.

This is, by and large, a good thing. This isn’t about to become a society-is-dying-because-internet post, but it’s undeniably pleasant to treat board gaming as a means of bringing people together face-to-face. This is something that as a hobby it does perhaps uniquely well, and a feeling that it’s tough to replicate online. The big downside to this aspect is that it introduces a prerequisite for participation: having a group to play with.

Maybe you just moved to a new city and you don’t know anyone. Maybe your friends are not the board-gaming type (much as I want to convert everyone I know, I’ve come to accept that some people just… don’t like games). Or perhaps the problem is even worse - you do have gaming friends, but you’re all so busy with other things that it’s impossible to get together to play. This is normally Kevin’s fault. Damn it, Kevin.

At The Treehouse, we’ve thought about this quite a bit. People come in semi-regularly to ask if we have a way to find them some players, and over the last year we’ve tried a few different methods of helping them out.

Before The Treehouse opened, owners Ruth & Andy hosted a monthly board games evening called Across the Board at the Showroom Cinema, for exactly this purpose. Each month would have  a theme, from “Go Team!” (cooperative games) to “Art & Design” or my personal favourite, “Crime!”.

 Across the Board at the Showroom, August 2017

Across the Board at the Showroom, August 2017

Across the Board continued in the cafe, by which time we had regular attendees who had made friends with one another. This was great, but presented an interesting problem for us, which was that once Across the Board had served its purpose of bringing people together to form gaming groups those groups could (and do) book a regular session in the cafe. I’d seen something similar happen at my previous board game cafe job, where I ran Dungeons & Dragons adventures for individuals that wanted a group. We found that people got closer with the other players in their groups, then started running their own games at their own pace, and they didn’t need our help any more. This is great! But it requires a consistent turnover of participants, which Across the Board had some trouble with. So we started looking for new solutions.

You might have seen our noticeboard in the cafe. It has a space for gaming events (both those at The Treehouse and others happening locally), and also a space for gaming groups and players seeking groups to advertise themselves.  Our hope was that the noticeboard would become a community hub for all gamers, and it has seen some interesting posts: currently it features a group looking for fellow Reiner Knizia fans (to which I say - who isn’t?), another looking for additional players for Twilight Imperium, and an offer to demo a classic war game re-release, among other things. It’s fun to see what notices turn up, and they add a personal touch to proceedings, but it’s hard to measure their success. Unless we happen to see the person who wrote the note playing that specific game in the cafe, we’re not sure how many emails they get at the address they leave on the note. Not to mention that handwritten notes aren’t always the most eye-catching, and not everyone is happy sharing their contact info so publicly.

Which brings us to today, when we’re exploring a new option and bringing back an old one. Across the Board has had a name change as well as a minor shift in format - we now have a regular Social Gaming evening, the first of which is coming up this Sunday. As before, these will be monthly affairs and are open to anyone. This time, though, we’re trying to lower the barrier to entry as much as we can. We aren’t taking bookings, we’re just telling people to show up on the night. Also, we’re dropping the theme - for one thing, they were getting a little harder to come up with, but also we’re hoping that letting people play what they want will make the night accessible to a wider audience. Those Reiner Knizia fans will be able to find potential players, in person, on the night! At the same time, we’re not going to leave people stranded if they’re not sure where to start - staff members will be picking out games they know and love, setting them up on tables beforehand and being available to help teach any curious passers-by.

Alongside the new events we’ve set up a brand new Facebook group (also called Social Gaming) to help gamers find each other. It’s basically a virtual version of the noticeboard, but hopefully allows for easier access and more immediate responses. We hope the two will work in conjunction to create happy new gaming groups everywhere.

This all appeals to me greatly, not least because it reminds me of when I started playing board games. I was at the board and card game society of my university, and I had no idea who anybody was. It could’ve been very awkward, not least because I myself was very awkward. But, thanks to a kind stranger who would soon become a friend, I was called over to learn a brand new game. Just like that, I had a gaming group, and five years later, here I am. Everyone should have that, and if we get our way, everyone will!

Patrick Lickman

Andy Haigh