My own game club is the weekly board game night most kindly offered by the folks at EndGame in Oakland, California. Every Wednesday night their beautiful mezannine is available for gaming from six-something in the evening to when the host decides he's had enough and wants to go home--which is sometime well after I leave at 10 or 10.30.
I've been going there for a bit more than two years now, and in the process I've come to know quite a few of the regulars, but I still only have contact with a scant few of them outside of the club. And in that time I've also seen people just mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again. It underlines the sort of disconnected social atmosphere that a game club can generate. Because you don't have a deeper connection with many of the people, and because you don't really know them outside the club, when they're gone they're gone forever.
Did they move? Did they get married? Did they get bored with games?
The other thing that I've learned about game clubs over the years is that they create their own social rules and suffer from their own social issues.
What Game to PlayUniquely the biggest problem faced at any game club seems to be the what-game-to-play game. Unless someone very specifically has a game they want to push (and sometimes even then), a group of players waiting to play a game almost always seems to degenerate into a confused mob. And, if you have 7 or 9 players standing around--enough to generate two different games--the problem is even worse.
The first rule of game club that I learned was "Two people are a consensus." If one person says that he'd like to play a game, that isn't enough, but if two do, slap that darned game down on the table and everyone else will shortly follow. And for god's sake, if you've got 7+ people, don't try to coordinate both new games at once. As soon as you've got your quorum of two, get that first game down, and let the rest of the group gel into the "have"s and the "have not"s, and then let the have nots be responsible for finding their own game.
Sure, the two-is-quorum ideal doesn't always work. It's possible that no one else will want to gravitate to your game, but it's better than another five minutes of not being sure.
Who to Play withAnother frequent problem at any game club is that inevitably almost every player will have some other players that they don't like to play with. For me, it's slow players. I don't have fun if I'm sitting, waiting. On one of my first times at EndGame I got involved in a game of Titan: The Arena, which had beforehand been a game that I'd played every week or two with my roleplaying group. Sadly this game of Titan was one of the worst gaming experiences of my life. It was a two-hour game where almost every player constantly angsted over every play. "This is supposed to be a quick play, don't think too much," I said a few times, hopelessly.
I know other folks who don't like loud players or young players or players who take their gaming too seriously. I can deal with all those fine--especially if they play fast--but for other folks those particular characteristics can ruin a game for them as much as slow play can ruin it for me.
Unfortunately game clubs make it really, really hard to avoid someone who's playing style (or personality) doesn't match with your own. If four people show up, and you're one of them, you're likely to start a game with the other three--or else wait around even longer for a new game to start. Eventually it's something you try and accept; you can play with more complementary people whenever you can, but when you can't you have to learn to enjoy it too.
When to HelpI sometimes take too much responsibility for what's going on with other folks. For a while I was aware of certain players who didn't like other players, and when helping to arbitrate what games got started up, I tried to craft games in such a way that people wouldn't end up playing with the people they didn't like. That was definitely too much heartache, and I've since given it up. People can be responsible for their own happiness.
However I do try and be aware of whether I'm going to strand someone when I end my night of gaming. I usually leave around 10.30, and that's an hour or more earlier than some other folks do, so when I start a final game at 9.30 or so, I try and offer a warning that it's going to be my last game--especially if I'm playing with someone else that I know leaves at about that same time. It can sometimes result in even weirder juggling of who plays what in that last hour, but I figure it's just good manners.
Final ThoughtsWhen I called one of the first issues that arises at any game club the "what-game-to-play game" I was being precise in my terminology. It's often amazing how many moving parts there are in any medium-scale social interaction. But, once you learn the rules, it becomes that much easier to play.
Good game clubbing!