Socializing does not come easily to me and I’ve never been great at making new friends or meeting people. I am not an authority on how to start a gaming group.
Yet in spite of my introversion, in a personal act of self defiance because I was sick of not having more people to play games with, I managed to persuade a few friends to try playing some games with me.
Here’s a summary of how I managed that, with moderate success — I say “moderate” because we’re all busy, living full and active lives, with a lot of things competing for our time, attention and energies. Getting a regular game night on the calendar has proven impossible, so I’ve had to recalibrate my criteria for success.
Pro Tip: Depending on your level of introversion and self-confidence, you may be able to skip a step or two. 😉
Step 1: Since you don’t know how to make friends, cheat.
- Find someone you like.
- Convince them to date you. (This is probably the hardest step)
- Convince them to marry you.
- Get to know your spouse’s friends and siblings over the course of several years.
- If their spouses are cool, chat them up at family gatherings and dinners about things you both have in common. You’re looking for the sort of people who like video games, comics, reading, have similar tastes in music, or who at least give you a general sense that they have an overarching enthusiasm for hobbies and having fun. You may need to be patient while they talk about sports. It’s going to happen. Just keep nodding and smiling, but don’t get cocky and attempt to use any sports jargon. They’ll see right through you.
- Do this for a couple more years.
- Once you’ve confirmed that they do not go out of their way to avoid talking to you, you should be fairly confident that someone likes you.
Step 2: Guilt them into it. Bribe them with food.
- Send a group email: “Hey, it’s my birthday on Wednesday, so I get whatever I want and what I want is for you three to skip work to come play board games with me. I’ll make Liége waffles, bacon and sausage.”
- Try not to watch your inbox as you wait for a reply. They will always take longer to reply than you think is reasonable. (Turns out not everyone prioritizes email communication like you do. Get used to it!)
- They replied! Great!
- They replied? That actually worked?! Now what?
- Remain calm.
Step 3: Stress over which game(s) you’re going to play
Get this one wrong and the entire game day is a bust. Get it right and maybe they’ll come back for more? (Fingers crossed)
I tried opening it up to a vote, but since none of them are board gamers, they tend to leave it entirely up to me – all the weight resting on my shoulders alone. So how do I decide? Here’s a quick snapshot of what goes through my mind whenever I have a group of people coming over to play games.
- How smart are they?
- How patient are they?
- How competitive are they?
- How easily can I explain how to play?
- How much time do we have?
- How many games do I want to play?
- Have they played modern board games before?
- Maybe I should just pick an easy one even though it’s too lightweight for me and I’ll just be bored.
- But it’s my birthday, I should get to play what I want!
- Screw it, we’re playing Archipelago! – a game that requires smart, competitive players, is difficult to learn, can take 4-6 hours to play, and is reportedly very hard to teach. Squee!
In retrospect, it was a pretty ballsy move to put Archipelago on the table. That game is notoriously hard to explain, has several distinct interwoven game mechanisms, and has a hefty dose of meta gameplay between the players. I was beyond ecstatic to find that they grasped everything quickly enough and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their Aha! moments as they discovered the little nuggets of underlying strategy.
Step 4: Rehearse explaining the rules.
I’m not joking. This is good advice for any game night host. Get good at explaining the rules to the games you want people to play with you. Be able to explain it in your sleep. Explain it in fewer words. Explain it to your spouse over dinner. Explain it in phases as the game progresses so they have more context for the new rules.
It takes time to develop this skill. I work on it every time I’m going to have people over to play a game with me. It’s my responsibility to make sure people know how to play the game. They can’t have fun if they can’t compete, and if they aren’t having any fun, you lose. (I’ll go into more detail in a future post about the qualities I aspire to as a Game Night Host).
I practiced the rules explanation to this game for weeks. I even went so far as to write my own teaching script to make sure everything was explained in an easy to understand order. I probably watched Shut Up & Sit Down‘s Some Tips for Rules Explanations 4 times, gathering as much advice as I could find.
I had a blast, and while I didn’t win the game, I won even so.
Step 5: Cook the food.
You promised there would be food. M’mm… waffles.
Step 6: You’re on!
Explain the game. Answer any questions as they come up. Narrate your turns by explaining why you’re taking an action so they can hear your thought process. Remember that this is not about you winning one game. It’s about you getting more people interested in gaming with you.
Now just relax and try to have some fun. It’s your birthday after all.
Step 7: Set the hook.
If game night was a success and everybody had a good time, casually ask the group if there’s any interest in getting together again soon for another game night. Most people are nice and want to have fun. It should be an easy sell at this point.
The best advice I’ve received about getting on other people’s calendars is to book the next get-together before anyone goes home from the current one. If you all part ways without a plan, you’re pretty much leaving it up to the gods to decide when you get back together. With this method, game night is a priority, and whatever else happens over the next few weeks has to work around it. Much easier.
Your mileage may vary
I’m happy to report that it all worked out. Everybody had fun, they came back for more, and while our game group isn’t able to meet regularly, we all seem to enjoy getting together to play when we can. As time goes on, I get more comfortable being myself around these friends of mine, and socializing has gotten a lot easier because of the positive reinforcement of each successful event.
So get started right away! In a few short years you, too, can be enjoying playing games with your new friends! 😛