Friday, May 26, 2006

On Being a Stranded Boardgamer

So I'm driving a cab one night. I pull up to the house and knock on the door. Lights are on, but no one answers the door.

I went back to the cab, waited a few minutes, nothing happened. I knocked again. Nothing.

As I drove away the dispatcher came on the radio and said, "Brian go back. They see you leaving, they will be right out."

Sure enough a guy comes running out of the house. "Sorry guy. We were in the middle of a boardgame. I was having too much fun."

Of course my ears perked up. "Oh." After a suitable pause I continued, "What were you playing?"


At first I thought he was still apologizing for not answering the door. Then it dawned on me. "You were playing Sorry?"

"Yeah. It's pretty fun."

"Were you playing with kids?"

"No, no. I was playing with my brother and his wife. Have you heard of it."

What was there to say? "Yeah. I remember playing it when I was a kid."

"Really, I thought it was new."

Thus ended what started out as an intriguing conversation.

I saw an item in the Boardgamegeek forum the other day. It was pretty innocuous, but it got me thinking. Some fellow was asking about game stores in his area and stipulated that he didn't want to drive more than 20 miles. Twenty miles? I've driven 360 miles just on the off-chance I could play a game if enough players showed up.

Myself and one other fellow are the only BGG users listed in the gamer database for this area. Although he logs on to BGG a few times each month, he won't respond to his Geekmail and I have never met him. There are perhaps a dozen users listed in the rest of the state, but only one of those accounts is active. I have actually exchanged e-mails with that user, we have even talked on the phone, but so far we have been unable to meet.

There is one small game convention in the state. Statewide there are less than a half dozen stores that stock "real" games, and only one within 20 miles. That store also happens to be the only game store within 300 miles.

If I was interested in collectible card games and miniature gaming I would have an embarrassment of riches. The CCG tournaments at the Comic Shop are usually packed with young 'uns and a few old 'uns. On any given day there are usually a few guys hanging around the store painting miniatures. These games hold little appeal for me, and through many conversations I have gleaned that boardgames hold little appeal to the miniature and CCG players.

I know that I am not alone. There are many stranded gamers in various regions of the country (and world). So what's a geek to do? How do you cultivate a circle of game friends in a sparsely populated region?

Two words: Persist and Persist.

After you've persisted you might have to travel more than 20 miles.

On a couple occasions I left a sign on the gamer's bulletin board at the Comic Shop. Those efforts have garnered a single successful response. I've also posted on the Fairbanks Gamer Website which is now defunct, but that effort proved fruitless. There is a group that posts flyers for Saturday gaming at the college. According to the flyer everyone is welcome, bring a friend, every type of game is welcome, look forward to meeting you. I checked out Saturday gaming at the college on three occasions and on each occasion was not made to feel welcome. Miniature games were the only games being played and none of the dozen players would even make eye contact.

Sooooooo, that doesn't sound too promising, does it? But those were just the obvious places to look for like-minded gamers.

Where does one go to find gamers? I can't answer that, but I can tell you that you will be surprised who will show interest if you bring a game into work, or to the park. So far I haven't been able to convert any of those showing interest into regular gamers, but one day it will pay off.

A couple years ago I brought my kids to the park and read the rules to the revised Axis and Allies as they played. An older man noticed the cover of the rule book and stopped to talk about Axis and Allies. Unfortunately he was a tourist, so nothing came of the incident.

I frequently bring games to work to read the rules. The most unexpected person was absolutely fascinated with Memoir '44. We decided to play a game the next time we worked together. Unfortunately he was fired a day or two later, and I haven't seen him since. (Note: True story. He had worked there for well over a decade. The firing was completely out of the blue.)

There are many, many people who don't know that "our" games even exist. Many of them will be just as intrigued as you were when you discovered "German" games. Bring a game with you when you leave the house. Advertise a little. At a minimum you will be surprised, with luck you will reel in gamer.

My first boardgame connections in Alaska were made at church. Churches are always good places to make social connections. If you attend church invite likely victims gamers to the house for games. If they aren't interested they will let you know. That advice holds true for any social organization, such as a bowling league or a fraternal lodge.

Most of my game friends were made simply by meeting a friend of an existing game friend. One at a time. It took several years. All told, there are a half dozen adults I play with regularly, and a half dozen more with whom I play with occasionally.

A dozen. That's not bad. Lately we have been able to draw 6 or 7 gamers to a weekly Friday game night, and 4 or 5 to a second, Monday game night. There are gamers in more populated areas that don't have as many game connections.

Don't give up. It took me several years to acquire a circle of game friends. For a couple years it was just me, my wife, a guy from church and his pre-teen children. If I can do it you can do it.


DWTripp said...

What amazes me is how silent people can be on this subject. I personally feel that people who like board games tend to be less gregarious about their hobby. Maybe because they are reluctant to invite unknown people into their homes?

In the over twenty years I ran a store I had to be very picky about who I invited to my home or to my personal game nights. Mainly because I was reluctant to have my personal life invaded by some of the customers. But then, I think the same would hold true if you owned a grocery store, you wouldn't invite all the customers to your house just because they enjoyed food.

Oddly, most game stores struggle with getting game nights up and running. CCG's and miniature games, as you mention, are pretty easy to organize and get attendence for, but board games? That's a challenge. I suspect it may be because board games require a more personal interaction than CCG's do. Even Warhammer style games, which often break out into "rules fights" are easier to organize because the players have a huge time investment and really, really want to get their army on the table.

Net_Lemming said...

Nothing giveth and taketh away hope quite like the BGG User Database. If only people would read and reply to their geekmail.