“What Should We Play?” When a Game Host’s Brain Explodes

So a couple of years ago, I took it upon myself to email somebody on BGG who happened to live close to me, and I asked him to join me for a game. Since I did that, the rest is history. That email grew into a strong friendship with my co-host, Brian, and a thriving regular gaming group, the Janesville Pegheads.

pegheadsIn the beginning, we as hosts were the ones bringing the games, deciding what to play, and doing all the game teaching. Now on the surface, that probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but I can tell you from personal experience just how daunting that responsibility was. Especially early on, when you are trying to build up a group from nothing, making sure everybody has fun and is willing to come again—it’s a big responsibility. And we took it seriously.

It starts with what to bring in the first place: Do I need gateway games? What about social deduction games? Fillers? 2-player games? Games that take large player counts, like 8+? What about heavy euros? Hopefully we as hosts had a reasonable idea of who would be coming, and what kind of people they might be. There is a reason I write in our meetup description “PLEASE RSVP IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO ATTEND”. It helps a gaming host like me know what to expect, and how to better prepare.

Now imagine that you’re actually at the meetup, and you are the host. You have a group of other people standing in front of you when the magic words are spoken—“What should we play?”

Here’s what my brain does:

How much time do we have? How many players are in? What games do I have and what are their available player counts? Did anybody else bring games that might be good choices? Can everyone stay for the duration of the game? How long or difficult will the game be to teach? If we have to split up is there another person (or persons) willing to teach? Are there any new gamers just learning the hobby, who know little or nothing about games? What games do people enjoy or even want to play? What themes do people find interesting? Does anyone have a panda phobia? How will the players’ personalities mix? Will they all get along? Does anyone have a reading disability? Is anyone color-blind? Are there gamers that struggle socially to fit in, and do I need to take care of them? Are there people who like complex games that aren’t going to enjoy something relatively simple? Do we have enough chairs and table space for the game we pick? Are there any younger people (say younger than 14) where I need to be concerned about violent themes or vulgarity? Are there specific groups of people that want to be sure to game together? Is someone at the game event keen on playing specifically with me? Is someone at the table having a bad day? Is someone at the table someone else’s mother-in-law? Is she one of “those” mothers-in-law or is she the “other kind”? Does someone at the table have a bladder the size of a walnut, who is going to need a potty break every 10 minutes?

After about 30 seconds of this my brain detonates. And there are probably many more questions that I can’t remember at the moment. I can attest again from personal experience that I have considered every one of these questions at some point. Yes, I said “potty”. And yes, some people just don’t like pandas. And if you don’t know the difference between one of “those” mothers-in-law and one of the “other kind” then you and I need to have a little talk.

Interestingly, you’ll notice that nowhere in this list is the question “What do I want to play?” There have been many gaming events that I have hosted where this simply was never considered. Sometimes your loyal gaming host does not get to play anything that he (or she) was hoping to play. Then we go home and cry and find a game with a relatively functional solitaire option.

I think the folks in my gaming group in particular would be a little surprised how often this has happened to me and Brian. Both of us have growing gaming collections, and very often we might be coming to game night with a new game we are dying to get played. Maybe we have it out and are all ready to play. Then a couple more people show up, and there’s no one for them to game with. More often than not, “yours truly” volunteers to bow out of the game he had planned, and then jumps in with the new folks to help them get another game started. This has happened a lot of times to both of us. And then as we start to grumble, we hear Spock remind us thatspock “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.” Thanks a pantload Spock, for pointing out how illogical my misery is.

So what’s a gaming host to do? You could just memorize this chart:chart

Not exactly practical.

Well, the long story short is, it just isn’t possible to always make a good choice of what game to play. And it isn’t always possible for your gaming host to handle all of this responsibility. Not everyone spends as much as time as I do working on teaching games, being knowledgeable about games, and getting to know gamers who attend game nights. But I will tell you that putting effort into such things does help.

That’s where a handy board game review blog can really be a big help. Now and avid gamer like me—I Dead of Winterread these things all the time, simply because I’m interested in the hobby. I want to know if Dead of Winter is really as good as everyone says it is. I want to star warsknow how Star Wars: Rebellion plays, so if I buy it, I can have an idea of how likely I am to get it to the table.

But for most people, reading game reviews probably boils down to knowing if a game is worth the money or not. Board games are not cheap, and if I’m going to plop $100 down for Star Wars: Rebellion, it had better be worth it.

Board game blogs like Twoboardmeeples are really valuable resources for gamers as well, even if you never once buy a game. They usually are written in hopes that our beloved hobby grows, so I really hope one day you do buy a board game or two, or a hundred—provided your spouse says it’s ok.  Maybe even if they don’t.

But most certainly there is more to it than that—there are so many benefits from checking out a review or two—things you may not have considered. And a great deal of it can be applied directly to your game nights—and not just as hosts of game nights, but as a gamer coming just to play. After almost two full years of co-hosting a game group that is essentially “open to the public”, I have seen a great deal of the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happens when the wrong people are connected to the wrong gaming experience.

So join me next time when I talk about The Overlooked Value of a Game Review.rob photo

Have Fun, Make Friends, Play Games

Rob Plantikow

Co-Founder of the Janesville Pegheads Board Game Group

Rob is hastyhobbit@aol.com and on twitter @hastyhobbit

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