5 Tips to Hosting International Tabletop Day

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]nternational Tabletop Day is exactly 7 days away. Do you know what you’re going to be doing? Why not host a games day. It’d be a great way to introduce friends to the awesomeness of tabletop gaming.

Register Your Event

If you act now you may even score some swag for your event. Register your event over at the official International Tabletop Day website, submit a short video, and you could win an insane selection of games. Better act fast, the deadline is today.

Think About Your Venue

For the past six years I’ve been hosting a bi-weekly boardgame night for my friends. We’ve missed the week or two but with few exceptions every two weeks 4-10 people have shown up at my door at 7:30pm on a Friday night looking to play some games. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. When we were shopping for our house gaming space was always a priority for me. When we moved in some of the first things I bought for the house were folding tables and chairs.

My folding chairs were only $15 a piece but they are made from soldered metal with cushioned seats and backs. They aren’t indestructible but we’ve had two casualties in six years which is excellent for $15 chairs. To save some money or add more seating bringing a table up to a couch is an easy way to increase seating.

The table was more expensive but even more important. We play in my basement so we couldn’t use the dining room table, which is fine since most dining room tables won’t comfortably fit many of the games we play. I like my folding tables because I can tuck them behind couches when they aren’t in use, letting my family use my gaming room when it isn’t game night. Although it is an investment I’ve used my tables for lawn sales, birthday parties, family dinners and all sorts of things that has made them a great investment.

My tables are six feet long by two and a half feet wide. This can be a little narrow for some games. If you want to extend the width of the gaming surface without pushing two together and creating a 6 foot by 5 foot monstrosity you can do this easily with a bit of plywood, cargo straps and some fabric to cover. For storability I had the hardware store cut 1/2 inch plywood into 2 foot by 4 foot rectangles. I bought two ratcheting cargo straps which I use to tie the plywood to the table so things don’t go flying the second players put their elbows down on the table. Just run the straps down the middle of the table, lengthwise and ratchet tight. I cover the table with a 6 by 4 foot piece of black felt with a starfield on one side I bought years ago for Battlefleet Gothic but any tablecloth should do.

In addition to the tables and chairs light plays an important role in the comfort level of a room. Many boardgames have rules text or symbols on the game board or tokens. It’s important that these are easy to read, especially as players get tired near the end of a long game. Get as much light as you can and point it at the ceiling so it provides an even light that won’t cause glare on the glossy game pieces. I have light stands and spots for photography I re-purpose on game nights but torch lights can really brighten a room.

I have a bunch of cheap folding chairs with padded seats and backs. They were only $15 and well worth the investment. I got mine from Costco. They are way more comfortable than those plastic lawn chairs who’s legs slowly splay out until they collapse when you use them on a hard surface.

Know Your Games

I am the host and I am the game master at my gaming night. I am able to read a set of rules once and be able to play and teach the game. This is a combination of a natural ability to read quickly and comprehend what I am reading and six years of practice reading and teaching rules. Sometimes someone else will introduce a game and it drives me absolutely mad when they struggle to explain the rules coherently. It is not an easy thing to do and the best strategy if you aren’t practiced is to pick a game you know well and that isn’t too complicated. It can also be helpful to pick a game that has been featured on Tabletop and play the intro for your group. If you’ve played the game before it should be easy to tell which intros explained how to play the game and which intros just explained enough to follow the game on the episode.

It is usually impossible to teach every rule in a game in one sitting. Even if you cover them all invariably one player will forget one and accuse you of not teaching it. It is best to explain only the rules that players need to start the game and make it clear that the first game is a learning game and there are more rules and exceptions that will be explained. During a rules explanation it can be easy to get stuck answering rules questions from confused players. Often the only way to really understand the rules is just to start playing. If the game is particularly long, or if it is difficult to recover from early mistakes it is better to play a couple of turns and then reset. It’s tempting to just keep going once you play those first turns but a game can be ruined if one player feels blindsided by a rule that wasn’t explained or that they forgot.

Know Your Group

While writing this article I am imagining someone inviting a bunch of friends who haven’t played many board games in order to recruit them into the hobby. This is great but it also changes the type of games you should play compared to what you would play with a group of experienced gamers. Likely someone hosting people who have played before already has an idea of what type of games the group likes so I’m going to focus on gateway games for beginners. Still, in my group I have someone who likes fantasy and roleplaying and someone who prefers science fiction and doesn’t like roleplaying. I know if I have too much sci-fi my fantasy gamer will not attend as often and if we just play RPGs my sci-fi gamers will take the night off. It’s important to try to give each player a reason to come play. We play fantasy games and we play scifi games. I just try to make sure we don’t focus on one to the detriment of the other.

Meanwhile, for the beginner, gateway games are where you want to be. When I’ve introduced people to the hobby they have no idea how different games are from the days of Life and Monopoly. Some of them didn’t consider themselves gamers at all. Overwhelming them with a million rules, playing pieces and paths to victory is a sure-fire way to lose their interest. It’s not just beginners, I love heavily thematic games with lots of rules but there is a threshold of component density where my brain shuts down. Again, Tabletop is a great source for gateway games as many of the guests of the show aren’t hardcore board gamers.

One thing to keep in mind for beginners is that often shorter is better. A game which they can play multiple times will move them quickly through the “confused by the rules” stage to “having fun” and give them the chance to take a break for a round or call it a night when they get tired.

Find and Print Player-Aids

I love games which provide player aids and turn references in the box. Each player having something to read can go a long way to eliminating confusing and speeding up rules comprehension and gameplay. If the game doesn’t come with these useful tools you can be sure someone on the internet has made and shared their own. Boardgamegeek is the first, and often only, place to look for this. Print out one for each player, it is worth the ink.

If All Else Fails: Werewolf

Ok, so you want to play games but you have a tiny apartment with terrible light, a coffee table and only a bunch of couches for seating. You know that people will be more interested in drinking and talking than learning rules. Find yourself a copy of Werewolf. It’s quick, it’s fun, it’s easy on the rules. I’ve run this at parties and in the parking lot of a gaming convention when there was a fire alarm. I have the 1986 Looney Labs version but the game has been remade a number of times. Heck, if you had the rules and a deck of playing cards you could probably make your own version.

What are you doing for International Tabletop Day? Leave a comment and promote your event. You can also find me on Google+ and Twitter. I’m planning on running Numenera and if I can’t do it at my FLGS then I’ll probably do it via Google Hangouts. Don’t forget to subscribe for more weekly content.

Tyler Provick

Tyler Provick is a writer and a gamer that likes to combine his two interests and share them with the community.

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