How to Run a Gaming Event for 50 of Your Closest Friends

It’s spring. The birds are waking up at ridiculous hours chirping and chirping, the pollen has started to make people sneeze more than normal and the time has come once again for the Janesville Pegheads‘ bi-annual weekend-long gaming event: NMA* Game Fest (*No Monopoly Allowed).  This spring marks the sixth such event, and the fourth for Ethan and I.  As the Pegheads have grown and needed a bit more structure, Rob and Brian added myself, Ethan, and Eric to the “Leadership Team” to help plan events like this and others.  While we want people to just show up and play games, it takes a lot of work to be able to make that happen.

The History of NMA*

Rob: NMA started because about three years ago, I was taking an interest in games, and the Dicetower podcast, but really didn’t have anyone nearby to game with. So I invited everybody I knew over for a weekend of gaming. A dozen or so people showed up because I was too much of a loser to know any more people than that. Then Brian and I started the Pegheads and cool people came from everywhere. Three years later so many people are coming to game with us that my friend’s head is exploding.  (That friend would be Amber.  People RSVPing right before things freaks me out.)

Amber:  NMA used to be held semiannually at Rob’s house, under the hospitality of him and his wife.  However, with the growing popularity of our group, there came a time where there were just too many people to squeeze into his basement and we needed to find a new place.  Luckily another one of our fabulous group members, Shelley, knew of a place we could host and could help us get a contract as she was a member.  This has worked wonderfully as we can allow for more people, Rob doesn’t have to worry about a potential house disaster, and we have no problem kicking people out after a certain time.


A: I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much in a perpetual state of hunger, which pretty much means I’m always thinking about food.  I am not the kind of person that can game for long periods of time without eating; besides, I was raised in the south and there, you feed people.  The problem is, you need to feed about 50 people, not just yourself and your husband.  Having planned the food last NMA, I had a bit of insider knowledge on how to prep, but here are some good steps to get you started planning food for a large group of people:

Step 1: Know about how many people you’re going to feed.  A dinner for 10 people is way different than feeding 40-50, so it’s good to know approximately how many people you’re stuffing food into.  Which leads into:

Step 2: Know who you’re feeding.  Mostly because of food allergies.  I don’t personally have any, but in my day job, it’s important for me to know who’s going to keel over from eating what, which translates over to my personal time as well.  Especially with a larger group, it’s important to know if anyone has any deadly allergies, which means you probably shouldn’t be making those things.  Minor allergies are good to know as well, and being transparent about what you put into the food helps everyone in the long run.

Step 3: Decide what to make.  This is a huge part of the fun for me!  Last NMA we hosted a hot dog bar dinner, a sandwich bar lunch, and a baked potato bar dinner.  It made things easy to set up and take down, and allowed people to customize their meals to fit their needs.  This year, we’ve decided to do pulled pork sandwiches, thanks to leader Brian, and Saturday night we’re doing a taco bar.  This decision was based on steps 1 and 2 and the ease of serving.

Step 4: Decide who’s making what.  Feeding 50 people is hard work and can be hella expensive.  How we’ve combated this is by asking people to donate parts of the meal.  We’ve used a Google Doc the last few NMAs to organize the parts of the meal we’ll need, then have people sign up to bring items.  For this part, it’s especially important that you have the first three steps down.  If you’re going to ask somebody to bring food items, you need to know how many people you’re feeding and what you’re making, and be sure to request the correct quantities.  There’s a big difference between saying, “Bring some hot dog buns” and, “Bring 5 dozen hot dog buns.”


E: It wouldn’t be much of a gaming event without games, and we’re sure to have quite a library there!  We actually figured out what games everyone’s bringing in much the same way as we did food signups.  That is, we created a Google Sheet and invited everyone who plans to bring games to NMA to list which games they’re planning to bring.  This helps reduce duplicates of games, and can also help people plan for what they might like to play over the weekend.  Personally, Amber and I had to reduce our collection of about 150 different base games to the best 30-40 that we really wanted to bring, which was no easy task!

Once everyone and their games arrive at the event, we try to make sure that all of the games that came with someone leave with that same someone.  Last year I printed out the game signup sheet ahead of time to verify that all the games we expected to be there were (and added or deleted games as needed when people’s plans of what to bring changed).  In addition, we had a supply of small colored stickers like these so that people could mark which games belonged to them (and I did test the labels beforehand to ensure that they could be easily removed without leaving residue).  Since we had 4 colors of labels and more than 4 people bringing games, some people opted to write their initials or draw a picture on their labels to differentiate them.  These labels also helped quickly identify who owned a game in case someone who wanted to play it had a question or needed a quick rules overview.

Something new that I’m planning to try this year is to arrange games somewhat by weight or play style.  We’ll have a lot of newer folks coming this time around, and we want to make sure to set expectations appropriately so they don’t pull out, say, Twilight Imperium 3 and expect to learn it from the rulebook and play it in an hour or two (not that it’s likely that TI3 will be making an appearance at NMA).  To this end, I plan to sort games into about 5 different categories: 2-player, party/social games, light/family games, medium weight games, and heavy Euros.  By splitting the games up this way and grouping them on the game table, hopefully everyone will be able to find great games to play all weekend.


A: Another one of my favorite things is giving things away.  Did I accidentally piss you off?  Here’s a present to make up for it.  Are you one of my favorite humans in the world?  PRESENT!!!  So naturally I want to give things away at NMA.  This year, we’re hosting a Jaipur tournament and I’ve crafted a super secret awesome wonderful trophy to go along with the prize for winner!  We’ll also be having raffles where donations can earn people tickets.  Put the tickets in the vase of the corresponding prize and on Saturday Night, BAM!  I’m like board game Santa.

What’s most important to not only Ethan and I, but the rest of the leadership team is people having fun.  Yes, we took a lot of time to plan food, prizes, and games, but it’s so everyone can show up and have a good time.  At the end of the day, what we really want is for people to have fun, play games, and make friends.

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