How to Build a Successful Games Club: High School and Youth Edition, Part 2
Part 1 of this series got our Chess Club started, funded, and furnished. Now what? You have a venue with tables and chairs and a few regular attendees through facilitating chess, or you might be going straight to a games club from scratch. Either way it’s time for the fun part: getting the games needed to put the “Games” in “Games and Chess Club” and get your numbers up so that it can become the broader reaching Games and Chess Club we’ve been aiming for.
Hopefully your benefactor has seen – or more correctly, has been shown with pics, stats, and a personal tour – the positive socializing your club is creating. Your kids will be willing early adopters of new games. Many will take a small leap with you directly into games like Timeline and Family Business while others will need to be led into 4 player chess, then Abalone or Hive, then into Love Letter and Catan. Either way, their idea of games will have changed forever and for the better.
Here are criteria for the type of games I bought for the lunchtime high school club with the second boost of money from parent council:
Forty minutes or less to set it up, play, and put it away. Yes, there are some great games you’ll need to leave alone, for now. You need your kids to be on time for what comes after the games session or eventually you’ll make other adults mad and hurt the rep of the club. A good reputation will facilitate later initiatives like taking your Games and Chess Club kids to your local convention or, better yet, having the kids run a game at the local con.
Chess, Hive, Abalone, Love Letter, Liar’s Dice, Saboteur, Hanabi, Family Business, Avalon, Timeline, and Jenga are all winners. We’ll discuss how to get Chain of Command, Bolt Action, Sails and Wings of Glory, X-Wing, Space Hulk, Descent, Imperial Assault, Memoir ’44, Citadels, and Camel Up! into the rotation in the next installment.
Games have no, or only very late, player elimination and can seat at least 4. There are few perfect games that meet all criteria but to give you an illustration of what you’re looking for consider these. With Love Letter the longest you’ll sit out is two minutes. Family Business is good as well because everyone will play 75% of the game or more and it’s exciting to the end. Timeline and Guillotine are winners here too.
You should also look for games that have the bonus that if a player has to leave suddenly someone can jump in for them or the game can continue without them. Being able to add a player five minutes in is also good. With Family Business players can fold any time and you can start a new player with the same number of mobsters as the weakest player. Ditto with Timeline and Guillotine. Your preference and range of games and comfort level might be very different from mine but imagine the game being played and then a player has to go or a new player needs to join. If the game still works, it’s a winner.
Appropriate enough for a naive 14-year-old boy or girl to go home and tell their
parents all about it. Kids LOVE Cards Against Humanity, as do I, and may even want to bring in their own copy. Beware. The first time that naive 14-year-old answers the question, “How was your day?” with “Good, went to games club. It’s hard to find a match for ‘Homoerotic volleyball montage’” you may just get frowned at by the parent.
The second time it happens with, oh, say, “Daniel Radcliffe’s Delicious A**hole” kiss your games budget request goodbye if your boss hears about it. And she will. I tell my older kids that the right place for money poker or Cards Against Humanity is anywhere besides games club. Gotta draw the line somewhere. Until you’ve got good credibility and really know your kids and parents you may even want to initially be careful with titles like Bloodbowl. Simply renaming it to “Fantasy Football” would do the trick though.
Around $20 each for the first five games. All that documenting attendance numbers will pay off here, as will the previous decision by the powers that be to fund Chess Club. Now ask for Love Letter, Timeline, Big Cheese, Hive, and Abalone. This is where you and your kids cash in the goodwill you’ve built up by running a valued club in a responsible way.
You may be comfortable dropping the big bucks on Descent, Imperial Assault, X-Wing, or Magic but if you ask for $100 games off the hop they’ll think you’re nuts. For one game? If you’re not careful you’ll be given $20 for another chess set and an invitation to not to come back and ask for more.
Stick to great games that have obvious parent and education appeal. Pick the low hanging fruit first. Descent, Munchkin, and Smash Up! will come with time. Memoir ’44, Axis and Allies, Timeline, Avalon, Catan, and almost every cooperative game ever made fund themselves. Some of these games break the time and $20 max limit but, in time, the school has bought all of these for the club because they were convinced, correctly, of the connection to the school’s educational mandate.
The key words and phrases here are: historical simulation and re-creation, history based, logic puzzle, map, resource management, and cooperation. Heck, if you’ve got the gift of the gab or can put the pen to paper, Guillotine and Family Business as historical simulations of real world events are fair game too.
Most of the games mentioned here will appeal to all kids who even remotely like games. I’ve found that girls will gravitate toward Love Letter, Guillotine, Timeline, and Avalon initially. They often play them as cooperative games, helping each other max out points. Boys can’t get enough of Family Business, Saboteur, Art of War, and Game of Thrones mainly for the reason that there is direct conflict and they love to screw over their buddies.
Regardless of what they choose to play once these games are in the mix your Games and Chess Club is well off the ground. Now you have a core group of around 10 regulars who know how to play and teach a variety of games. A concerted poster or announcement campaign will bring in the next 10, or 20, kids looking to get in on the fun. After that, the sky’s the limit in terms of how far you take your club. There’s nothing a well-organized, competitive, cooperative, and happy group of kids can’t accomplish.
In later installments we’ll talk the longer term health of your club and how to keep it fresh. You want to end up with a situation where the younger brothers and sisters of past graduates are as keen to come to the club in grade 9 as their older siblings were. We’ll also take the final step with some concrete ideas for how to run two-hour long games in the 40 minute lunch club format.
Other installments from this series are: