Notes on growing a gaming group
Note: in December 2005 I moved from Austin to Poland. So RussCon as described here came to an end, after almost 8 years!
RussCon is the most successful long-lived boardgame group I've ever experienced. I've hosted it weekly at my house since January 1998. On any given Wednesday, roughly half the attendees are folks who show up almost every time, and half are people who might only show up every few months or only once a year. As of March 2000, over 100 people have come to RussCon, and about 75 are currently on the email list. Over 240 distinct game titles have been played. On any given night, there are typically about 16 people, and often 4 games are played in parallel.
The name "RussCon" was suggested early on by attendees.
We also have a ratings system (more info on that to appear later) which adds to the character of the group. The highest ranked player each week (aka The Devil) gets to sit at the dining table next week and pick the games played there. There is only the one table, so additional games are played on the carpeted floor. (This has dissuaded a couple people with knee or back problems from returning.)
If you are interested in starting a gaming group, here are some factors I believe have contributed to the success & character of RussCon. Your mileage may vary.
- We started with a smaller less regularly scheduled group of friends who knew & liked each other. New people are always friends of friends; we've never advertised to get strangers.
- We meet every week at the same time. People don't have to wonder "Is today the 2nd or 3rd Wednesday of the month?" "Is it starting at 7 or 8?" They just know "It's Wednesday, so there is gaming at 7."
- We meet at the same place every time. People don't have to wonder "Is it at Biff's house or Eugene's house this week?"
- Several of us enjoyed brainstorming a player ratings system from the beginning. We have and use a ratings system.
- I have been sending out email reports of each session since the beginning. These have proven to be fun and help keep people interested.
- We primarily play short German style games so that many games get played in an evening. If we only played long games, people would not bother to come if they knew they'd be late or have to leave early. With German style games, people can come late or leave early and still be assured of getting to play games while they're here.
- We have several enthusiastic game purchasers in the group. Marty's goal is to own every Reiner Knizia game. New games show up every week.
- There's no smoking or furry pets in my house, so people with allergies are not bothered.
- Accept and enjoy that the group will evolve. Some people quit coming, new people start coming. New types of games get played (e.g. lately we've started playing a few "after dinner" and "party" and "word" type games, which we used to avoid).
- Everyone groks that the point is gaming fun and social comradery, not bitter competition or frustrating rules lawyering. (Friendly competition and mutually enjoyed rules lawyering is fine!)
- For background music, I play a mixture of all sorts of genres each week, with a weird common theme relating the 5 CDs (typically played shuffle mode). Sometimes the theme is not obvious, and people enjoy figuring it out.
- There is no formal system for food, nor membership dues, etc. People bring & share food & drink as they see fit, and this seems to work fine for us.
- We live in a city with a lot of gamers and game companies!
I think the 2 most important & universally applicable factors are:
- Having a weekly regular schedule and accepting that not everyone can make it to every meeting, rather than trying to always dynamically arrange times so that "the whole group" can meet.
- Having somebody always write up a report and keep reminding people that this regular event exists.
Back up to RussCon