A question often asked on board game discussion forums is how to find a group of people to play board games with. It’s a critical issue, given that board gaming is a medium that requires people to be physically present to be enjoyed. Arranging for that to happen becomes a game in of itself. You need to find people who are willing to commit time out of their day, actually show up to the gaming location, sit down, possibly learn a new game, and then go through to play it to completion. And not just one person, but two, possibly three, or even more. When some games can be as long as 4 or even 8 hours, that’s a pretty big commitment! Finding people willing to do that is not an easy task.
I’ve been in the circumstance of wanting to play board games and needing a group to play it with. When I moved to a different part of LA, friends who used to be close by were no longer really that close. Asking them to make a 30-minute drive became much more of a difficult request. I still loved gaming and while I still played regularly with my wife, I still wanted to be able to play games that shines with 3 or more players (like Agricola, for instance). The search for a group was on!
The big lesson is that patience is the key and the willingness to put yourself out there is even more key. One big reason is that the sheer variety of games means navigating the different types of gaming interests out there. You’ll encounter card gamers, wargamers, wordgamers, and party gamers. You’ll encounter people with different gaming experience levels than you, people who’ve played the modern classics (like Catan) to those who’ve delved into heavier, more involved games like A Feast for Odin. And finally, you’ll encounter complete strangers, which can make for an unnerving introduction if you’re not used to going up to random people and saying hi. So yes, this will take time, but it’s definitely worth it. Here’s how I went about it.
Start With Family and Friends
Going with friends and family can sometimes work. In my case, the first groups I have been able to cultivate were both family and friends. Some of them had been playing Dungeons and Dragons for quite some time and were familiar with the concept of tabletop gaming. Others had played Catan. Others still hadn’t played games much at all. But I got lucky in having a group of friends and family who, even if they weren’t gamers, were at least willing to give new games a try.
The big benefits of gaming with friends and family is that it’s likely you’ll have hobbies or interests in common and that they know who you are. No awkward introductions are required, making it easier for you to get them to game with you! For me, I’ve gotten friends who weren’t into gaming to try some of the gateways, and they’ve immensely enjoyed rounds of Splendor, Sushi Go, and Codenames. I’ve also gotten them to play heavier fare like Power Grid, El Grande, and even Food Chain Magnate (to mixed success on that last one).
There is the danger that your friends are only humoring you when they sit down to game and would rather use that time to socialize. Furthermore, they might not be willing to go as deep into the hobby as you are. Everyone has a different level of tolerance when it comes to gaming. Some may find their limits set around Catan. Others might not even go that far, where their limit is a game like Scrabble or Cards Against Humanity.
You might be able to game with them, but depending on how deep you want to go, it might not be as easy to find them willing to go to such similar depths. The adage that “it’s easier to turn board gamers into friends than friends into board gamers” is often said, but bears repeating. Don’t ruin your friendships or relationships with family members by dragging them where they don’t want to go. Use other avenues to find people willing to make that trek.
Try Coworkers… If You’ve Identified Folks Who are Interested
Admittedly, I really lucked out here since I work for a tech company, which tends to have a greater percentage of people engaged in nerdy hobbies and sometimes has a pre-existing group of dedicated board gamers. In my case, I overheard someone talking about hosting a board game night. My ears immediately perked up. When I inquired about the games they played, I was relieved to hear titles like Small World and 7 Wonders. Right then, I knew I’d found my crowd and got in many hours of enjoyment gaming with them.
This group also expanded to other folks in the office and we got others to join. Some of them haven’t played games before, but the introduction to gateways like Pandemic led them on into games like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Terra Mystica, and even Eclipse!
Like with family, one big benefit is their familiarity with you, assuming you’re not viewed as the office jerk. So no need to go out and make an introduction. And best of all, once you get a large enough quorum, you can use meeting rooms for game nights! No need to worry about having to find play space that can house 10+ people!
Depending on where you work, the people with whom you work, and the company culture, this method of getting a gaming group can have mixed results, especially when it comes to how deep they’re willing to go and whether they’re there to primarily socialize versus to game. Getting people to spare the time by staying in the office late to game can also be difficult if they have outside commitments.
Finally, the barrier to asking people can be a bit more awkward than asking friends and family. You’ll have to put yourself out there to see success on this front, but I’d still encourage that you do so. You may be surprised to find how many might be interested.
Local Game Stores Typically Have… Gamers?
Yes, you’ll find them there. If the game store is any good, they’ll also have tables where you can play as well. In my experience, most game stores I’ve been to have both gamers, game space, and days in the week dedicated to playing board games. Most game stores also have friendly staff who can direct you to a group or who you can talk to for more information about gatherings. Finally, most people who go there to play games are pretty friendly and are always up for having other people join them for games.
I’d highly recommend visiting one to get a feel for the store’s vibe to see if it’s a right fit for you.
Unless attendance is poor, when a game store advertises a board game day, you can expect a wide variety of gamers coming in to play a wide variety of games. That can range from people looking to get a casual game of cribbage in to those looking to fire up an epic 8-hour game of Twilight Imperium. Luckily, in this environment, there’s a good chance you’ll connect with people who really gel with your gaming preferences. Most importantly, they’re there to game with maybe socializing as a secondary benefit. Because of this, game stores are a great place to get a game going over the short term and cultivate a thriving group over the longer term.
Best of all, people will bring their own gaming collections with them! When I’ve played at game stores, a lot of the folks there were into the latest hotness, which meant I’d get to sample a wide variety of games. It was there that I got introduced to Terraforming Mars, Troyes, and Yokohama, games I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Needless to say, my gaming horizons opened up in a huge way and has (unfortunately) led to a huge amount of growth in my game collection.
If you do wind up using that place as a gaming spot, be nice and buy a game from them from time to time or snacks and drinks if they sell any.
Everyone is new to a board game day at a local game store at least once. And when it’s your first time going, the experience can be daunting when you walk in and it appears like everyone already knows everyone else. It certainly was the case for me the first few times I went. The key to addressing the potential intimidating environment is to keep an open mind, be willing to learn new games, and to not be afraid to ask to join a game if someone is starting up a new game.
The other concern is that some stores have board games, but that takes a back seat to the more profitable segment of gamers: those who play Magic: the Gathering. It’s rare to find a game store that doesn’t host Friday Night Magic and will be teeming with people playing the game. I managed to get lucky: the place I go to serves both Magic players and board gamers on Friday nights and there has always been sufficient table space to accommodate both groups, but that might not always be the case.
Finally, the level to which people take gaming seriously may vary. Some of the folks who go there might not be nearly as competitive as you are and would prefer a more relaxing setting. Others can be more hardcore and will try hard to win every game. See if the people who go there to game fit with the level of competition you’re looking for. To find out, I’d suggest paying the store a visit to absorb the mood to see if it’s your thing. Maybe kibbitz a few games to gauge how friendly and open to newcomers the attendees are.
Meetup.com a Hit or Miss
Finally, I’ve found Meetup.com serves as a good place to find other board gamers. If you’re blessed to live in a relatively sizable metro area, chances are, there will be a meetup group for people looking to play board games with the frequency of once a week or once a month. That’s how I came to find the current group that I play with most often (based on the retrospectives I’ve written)!
This avenues is quite similar to the local game store avenue in that you’ll be reaching out to people who are interested in gaming and are there to meet other people who share a similar passion. Oftentimes, the Meetup Page can serve as a good indicator on the types of games people play there. See a lot of word or party games scattered in the discussions and you’ll know if that’s the type of group for you. If you see someone touting the latest Eurogame hotness and that’s a pretty telling clue too.
And if you can’t tell, it doesn’t hurt to go to one Meetup session to see what they play.
The cons are also going to be similar to meeting folks at game stores. Going this route exposed me to a lot of games and the gamers who play them. My first attempts on Meetup yielded mostly groups interested in party games. Nothing against them, but I was definitely looking into people who were more into the heavier strategy games.
And like with game stores, group fit also applies because of the many different personalities you’ll meet on Meetup. Find out whether any of them are the types of carebear players you’re looking to play with or if you’d rather find a group out for a mean, backstabby game of Game of Thrones instead.
Finally, it can be tough integrating yourself the first time, but a good group will generally be welcoming towards newcomers. The stakes can be even higher depending on where they’re meeting up. If it’s a public space like a game store or a mall food court, then it’s all fine and good. If it’s at someone’s private residence… it can be a bit trickier to navigate. Again, observe, keep an open mind, and be willing to put yourself out there to step in when someone starts a new game.
Hopefully, these tips have given you a way to find your gaming group. Follow my boardgame adventures with my various board game groups over at Instagram. Let me know if there’s anything else that worked for you to help you to scratch your own gaming itch.