PlymouthBoardGamesMeetup_twitpic

In December 2014, I decided to set up a brand new Meetup group for people to come together to play boardgames in Plymouth. After a little looking and asking around, I was finding it difficult to find existing groups of people who wanted to play games with each other and after talking with a few friends about whether this was the kind of event they’d be up for coming to, I took the plunge and opened it up to the world and scheduled our first Meetup.

I asked our great local community pub Bread & Roses if they’d be up for us meeting there and they were more than happy to oblige! We started small (with about 6 or 7 of us showing up) and have steadily grown the group to 150+ members online, with 20-30 people consistently showing up every 3 or 4 weeks at our new home Prime Cafe on Ebrington Street.

Why I set up the Plymouth Boardgame Meetup

Quite a few people have been asking me recently how all of this came about, so I thought I’d write a post that draws together some of the things that were important to me in forming the group….

Inspirational people, getting together and making things happen

Initially, I wanted to start the Meetup because I had recently moved back to Plymouth after living away for about a year and I was keen to meet other folk who would be into playing boardgames. I think that hanging out to play boardgames together it is a great way to meet new people, have a good laugh and playing with strangers means you get to play lots of games you haven’t played before.

I had also just finished working on LOW PROFILE’s Picture In The Paper project, where Hannah & I had been meeting and celebrating groups of people in Bath who had come together around shared interests. The strong DIY ethos and passion of those we met had a really big effect on me and I made a personal pledge to make something new happen in Plymouth.

Earlier in the year, my good friend Danielle Rose had set up a Creative & Digital Professionals Meetup in Bournemouth & Poole for similar reasons:

“I moved back to the area at the end of last year to work at an arts venue. My background is producing – mainly gigs, festivals & arts events. I’m looking to expand my social circle and meet other people who are passionate about arts & culture locally”

I had been following the group’s progress online and chatting with Danielle about the way she approached it. She said that being part of a group like this had really reinvigorated her passion for living in the area and made it far more sustainable to be there over the long-term. The new Meetup had connected people in a genuine way – bringing together people who had not necessarily previously met but shared interests, enjoyed hanging out together and helped to combat the inevitable isolation of working freelance or in small teams (as many creative and digital practitioners often do).

Previously, I had experienced first-hand the difference these kind of open platform events make in building mini-communities of interest through my involvement with Plymouth’s long-running Cafe Concrete event (initiated by Matt Coombe in 2006 ) and more recently with ~hotwire~ (initiated by David Strang & Andy Prior). I particularly like that you can turn up to these events on your own, get chatting with other people and experience something interesting / out of your usual day-to-day activities in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

Finding a low impact way of forming, facilitating and sustaining a group

When starting out I wanted to make sure I could have a ‘low impact’ way of organising, advertising and managing the group. I knew that if it began to feel like ‘work’ I would be less likely to continue with enthusiasm. I spent some time weighing up the pros and cons of different ways to do this (eg Meetup platform vs Facebook group), and plumped for Meetup in the end as it has really good SEO, so you can kind of set it up and let it run, do minimal promo for the events and still gather a good crowd. It taps into an existing self-selecting group who are interested in trying new things in the local area, offering automated solutions to staying in touch and promoting your events to folks whose interests match your group – these features were extra important for me when working out how to reach people outside of my own network.

On the downside, it’s not free to use as an event host (free for all users to join though!!) which is why I’ve started to get some interest from indie companies to sponsor these costs (eg Grublin Games) and why I’ve recently made the move to join forces with Adam who organises the Monday Night Games Night at Carpe Diem (to cross-promote events, offer additional meetups and make plans for potential larger events). I think the Meetup platform provides a good trade-off between the costs of the service and the benefits it provides / time it saves me / audience it can reach, so I currently pretty happy with it.

Running the group has also been a great way to find out about (and help to make more visible) other boardgame event organisers in the area (people get in touch with me, and I have a good excuse to get in touch with them), and it’s great to start conversations with like-minded folks and start planning even bigger things.

Inviting people to be part of something I love doing

This has got to be the strongest driver behind all of this… I LIKE PLAYING BOARDGAMES! As I say on my Meetup profile:

“I’ve been a fan of playing boardgames for some years now… so much so that I started to work with an indie publisher to make new ones!”

I work as freelance Art Director for a Cornish boardgame publisher called Grublin Games, so I guess playing a wide range of boardgames is also kind of like research for me too. The Meetup gives me a chance to play a far wider variety of games than I would otherwise have access to (because it’s a pretty expensive hobby!). The format of the group means that at each meetup there are a different selection of games to play (depending on what people fancy bringing with them). People love bringing their new games to share with others, teaching games to those who haven’t played them before and people, on the whole, are really keen that everyone enjoys their experience.

This type of sharing and sense of generosity leads to people gaining a board experience of what ‘modern boardgames’ have to offer and it allows a unique way for people who may or may not know each other to interact. Here’s a little run down of the types of things I’m talking about:

  • euro-style games (competitive strategy games based more on decision-making rather than the luck of rolling a dice in something like Monopoly or Cluedo) like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcasonne, Waggle Dance
  • party-style games (games that involve more player interaction, interpretation or involve multiple ways to play and contribute, rather than straight-forward strategic play) like Gloom, Cash & Guns and Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • bluffing and deduction games (where players have or must assume hidden-roles, or discover hidden information by a process of social and/or logical deduction) like Coup, Saboteur, Cockroach Poker, Love Letter and Citadels
  • co-operative games (where players work together to fulfil a goal, usually playing ‘against the board’ to strategically overcome a situation) like Pandemic, Forbidden Island or Space Alert

More recently, we’ve also started to experiment with games that have the potential to involve lots of players. One of last month’s events was given over to a mass game of Werewolf (deftly led by Chris Hunt), with the whole group (30+ players) embroiled in a game of social deduction where they had to figure out which members of the group were playing werewolves (choosing to ‘murder’ other players in the night-time phase of the game in the hope of wiping out all of the villagers) and who were playing villagers (choosing to ‘lynch’ other players in the daytime phase of the game in the hope of wiping out all werewolves).

This range and variety of games and styles of play means that first-timers and aficionados alike can pick whatever takes their fancy at that particular moment, trying out new games that others have brought along or something that they have seen or heard about but haven’t had a chance to play yet, or sharing a well-loved favourite with a new set of players. Some group members have started to bring along games that they have designed for others to try out and in the future I’d like to run more dedicated play-test sessions for those who want to be involved in the early stages of a new game’s development.

I guess starting the group is also my own version of Nate Brett’s D12 challenge – to introduce 12 new players to modern boardgames in 12 months. This kind of mild (but persistent) boardgame evangelism is something I definitely identify with, although I’m possibly less into keeping score! Actually, if you are a fan of all things boardgame-ish, you should have a listen to Nate and his friend Ben Maddox chew the fat on the Boardgame Hours podcast – as you can imagine Episode 1 is a good place to start!

An environment like the Meetup also removes some of the main barriers to entry for what is lovingly referred to as ‘the hobby’ – barriers like game ownership, learning rules or having to arrange (and agree) with a group of people to play a particular game often stop people from trying something new. Each time we meet, it’s great to see people trying out something new, enjoying a game they may not have known existed or may have wanted to try out for ages.

 

Watching a community come together to do something bigger than any one member could achieve on their own

Watching people form new connections, enjoy new activities and inhabit social spaces together is really rewarding for me, and it informs lots of the things I do (as an artist, as an educator and being involved in DIY arts/community activity), so in some ways setting up a group like this is another way that I can experiment with situations where this can happen.

In the case of the boardgame community,  I am also really fascinated with the link between an active online community (which I became pretty embedded within when I was running the Grublin Games twitter account this time last year) and a desire to meet up and make things happen locally or IRL. It is interesting to see how a genuine grassroots passion for boardgames has led to their recent return to favour and the mobilization of a (sometimes geographically disparate) community to make tangible things happen in the world. This mobilization takes many forms, whether its the huge upsurge in crowd-funded publishing of new games (SEE: Rhiannon Ochs‘ article on boardgames & Kickstarter), building communities and drawing together resources to set up new venues (SEE: London’s Draughts Cafe), weekly open international discussions on twitter (see: #BoardGameHour) or simply the use of social media and message boards to link with other boardgame players face-to-face at events like UK Games Expo (SEE: UK Games Expo #TwitterBingo, Shut Up & Sit Down forums, BGG forums).

It’s also exciting the see the increasingly wide appeal of boardgames (attitudes in the UK are now starting to echo those of mainland Europe, where boardgaming is far more commonplace as a social activity) and great to see that events like this one attract people from many different walks of life and a range of ages. For example, around our table at the last event were a chef, a trainee accountant, a nuclear engineer, two lecturers and someone in the Navy who works on submarines – that’s a wider range of perspectives than many people’s social circles encompass. We hadn’t all met before and probably wouldn’t cross paths often (if ever) in our daily lives but we hung out for an evening, enjoyed each other’s company and laughed together. It feels good to be involved in an activity that allows for that kind of low-pressure interaction, where taking part has a very low social risk (ie risk of embarrassment, feeling self-conscious etc) and where people are (again, on the whole) generous and patient with each other.

The people who are turning up are genuinely lovely – and they say thank you, which initially took me a little by surprise. I am consistently thanked for making this thing happen, in a way that I am not so regularly thanked for the other things I do in my life (ie teaching, art etc).

Now, six months after struggling to find a group of people to play with regularly, I’m now part of an exciting, ever-expanding and widening group of folks in Plymouth who like to get together and spend their time playing boardgames with others. Pretty good result, huh?


Rachel Dobbs is the founding organiser of the Plymouth Board Games Meetup, a regular open games night held in Plymouth, UK. You can join us on our meetup site for information about forthcoming events and follow us on Twitter on @BoardGamesPlym