I have been asked by many folks how to find the right group to play board games with. The reality is that gaming groups come in a lot of flavors and finding the right one is an essential part of having a really great experience at the table. In this post I lay out a few suggestions about finding that quintessential posse of gaming soul-mates–or at least find a group of like-minded folks that you enjoy hanging with for a few hours. 😉
First, let’s accept that board gaming is, at its core, a social activity. I will write more about this assertion in another post. For now, know that the growth of the industry is happening because it’s a very social and fun activity. Frankly, it has been part of civilization since the earliest of days. Being able to get together and share an experience with a set of rules and victory goals is as old as gossiping over the watering hole and bragging about how big the mastodon you took down was. Console and computer gaming introduced a variation where we could all play from the comfort of our couches and chairs at home. AI engines offered a brief respite for those who could not find regular opponents. None are a substitute for face to face interaction. As a result, we see the rise of board gaming as the natural resurgence of the paradigm that has been with us for generations.
With this assumption in mind, let’s talk about why getting the right group is not only important but hard. I will start with introducing a small taxonomy of gamers. As far as I know there may be a completely different set of gaming types in other parts of the world (I have NO idea what the typical Gamer Archetypes are in Scandinavia for example), but for me, having lived in North America on both East and West Coasts, and in both Canada and the US, I can say this is a pretty consistent and representative collation for this continent. For an alternative classification scheme please see the very entertaining (and hauntingly accurate!) one over here.
The War Gamer (aka Grognard)
These gentle creatures can easily be identified by their large collection of games (typically in tow) and fixation on major battles throughout history. They play a lot of games from GMT, Avalon Hill, and SPI that involve a lot of cardboard chits with small numbers and strange symbols. There are a lot of maps. I mean a LOT. Don’t get me started on the rule book
War Gaming is one of the original genres of gaming and has a long history. These games are for the Historical Enthusiast who is detail oriented, patient and contemplative. The games themselves vary widely from time period to mechanism (dice and chits to card driven). If you love the History Channel and reading accounts of battles this is your Tribe!
The Party Gamer (aka Werewolf Enthusiast)
There has always been a set of games designed to accommodate a large group of people. These can be as simple as Chinese Whisper to Twister. Lately these games have become very good. There are some amazing titles out there right now that appeal to the large social group. The focus here is on Social Interaction so it’s probably not a great genre for the Chess Club per se, but it can provide a framework for the socially challenged to get out of their comfort zone a little bit.
The Heavy Euro Gamer (aka Min Max Marvin)
The Heavy Euro Gamer is an interesting creature. They are drawn to games with deep strategy elements and often with many different mechanisms that invite optimization and manipulation. This group often overlaps with the War Gamers as there is a similar appeal around the development of deep and complex strategic thinking. Rules also tend to be very opaque but usually less voluminous than war games.
The Light Euro Gamer (aka Sushi Go Go Go)
The Light Euro Gamer is one of the fastest growing populations within the gaming community. These are folks drawn to games that have interesting and challenging mechanics but are still light on the strategic thinking. Good examples include Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan. This group often sees a lot of 20 and 30 somethings who are looking for something more challenging than the light games and card games they grew up on. Gaming Cafes are a popular haunt for this species. They enjoy coffee and pastries immensely.
The Family Gamer (aka Why does my son always beat me?!?!?!)
Truly the growth of this industry is fueled by the Moms and Dads who are committed to spending time with their kids playing games and finding challenges for them intellectually. Sometimes these parents are gamers themselves, sometimes not, but they are done with the silliness of Candyland and Snakes and Ladders. They need more challenge than Risk or Monopoly. These people crave intellectual challenge, family friendly content, and no swearing at the table please.
In reading through these groups you may have found something that you connect with. You may have read something that makes you think, “Hey that sounds like me!” You may have felt like that on several of them which is not uncommon! What is important, is that finding the kinds of games you enjoy will help you find the gaming group that you are likely to thrive in. Now that you know the kind of Gamer you might be, where can you find similar ilk!?!?!?!
The Where of Gaming
Your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS)
In terms of Gaming, this is the Flagship! This is the NEXUS of the Gaming World. It may also be combined with a Comic Book Store. Do not be deterred. Go straight past the WarHammer and other Miniature displays to the section dedicated to Boardgames. This is your realm. There will likely be a designated Boardgaming night posted too. Yah! All is well right!?!?!? Be careful adventurer–All may not be as it seems!
Your local gaming store is indeed a nexus of entertainment but the denizens may not be to your liking. There are often creatures lacking in social skills who frequent the halls of these places. They may have a strange odor emanating from them and speak loudly at inappropriate moments, possibly speaking in Iambic Pentameter (or attempting to do so). They may be Miniature Gamers, or Magic Players, or Bronies. Now if you, yourself, find that showering infrequently is acceptable as long as your brethren have mad painting skills or a serious Magic Card Collection, then Bravo. However for us mere mortals, the FLGS can be a strange experience and not necessarily the touchstone for camaraderie you re looking for. Fear Not! Your quest is not yet over…
The Gaming Con
The rising popularity of the board gaming hobby has led to an explosion of gaming conventions or “Cons”. Comic Cons have become very popular and may also include various forms of gaming. More common are dedicated “Gaming” Cons that appeal to a variety of gamers. Here you can find different groups that identify with all the above listed Archetypes and are typically local residents (or reasonably so). Cons can be great places to meet folks and potentially find people to hang out with after the convention is over. Like the FLGS, these events do tend to be a melting pot of Gamers, so do be prepared to meet a variety of people. Febreeze is a serious option for your Go Bag here.
The Online Group
The Internet (not surprisingly) has been a huge boon to organized gaming. Social sites like Meetup and Facebook, as well as dedicated gaming websites like Board Game Geek, provide you with a wealth of information about what groups are around. These can potentially help you find something that matches your interests and social inclinations (Family Gaming vs. Singles vs. Professionals vs. Millennials, etc.). BE WARNED! You are meeting strangers from the Internet. All Security protocols should be observed!!!! Meet in public places, bring a friend, don’t give out your complete name, don’t park in a dark alley, etc.
The Gaming Cafe
The latest development in the Gaming Social Scene is the Board Gaming Cafe. This is a commercial establishment that caters to gamers (typically family gamers and light euro games). It usually has a large collection / library. There is a cover charge and often refreshments and snacks available for purchase. It is the coffee house with cool stuff to play! Usually they allow you to grab a game from the library and many will often teach you the rules so you can try something new. There are usually signs for you to use to find more players should you need to. You can pop one up and meet someone who is looking to join a game. It is a nice social setting with lots of titles to choose from and the logistical support enabling you to have a nice time playing games and meeting people. Win Win!!! These locations are popping up all over but are still not exactly common. Do a Google search in your local area to see if there is one, or if there is a coffee shop that is hosting gaming nights.
The Grand Tour
So there you have it. The grand tour of the strange and yet wonderful world of the Gaming Community. There are a lot of amazing and interesting people in it and I hope you find a few that you enjoy playing games and being with. In general, I have found to gamers to be some of the nicest, smartest, kindest and interesting folks to walk the earth. Admittedly, there are some eccentric denizens, but if you look past that, and spend time getting to know your local community of gamers, I think you will find some pretty amazing people playing some really great games.