Note: a version of this post was originally published last year.
International TableTop Day is coming up on Saturday, and you can go to the official website to host an event or to find an event near you. For some of you, hosting a board game event is old hat, but what if you’re new to the hobby and aren’t sure where to start? Here are a few tips to help your TableTop Day event go as smoothly as possible.
First things first: Unbox your games. This may seem pretty obvious, but games like Monopoly and even Risk with all its little bits didn’t require much more than pulling off the shrink wrap and maybe tearing open a few plastic baggies. If you wait until game night to open your copy of Settlers of Catan, you’ll spend the first ten minutes punching out cardboard bits instead of settling Catan.
Next up: Read the instructions. Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re worried about your geek cred. But I’ll borrow the old, outdated Oldsmobile slogan: this is not your father’s old, outdated board game. Don’t make your gamers sit there while you read the rules to them. Don’t hold everyone up while you flip around, looking for that one rule you know is in there somewhere. Some amount of double-checking is inevitable if you’re just learning the game, but at least read through the whole thing once and make sure you understand the game ahead of time.
Alternatively, you’ll also find many video tutorials for games now. Just Google “How to play _____” and look for some videos. It’s still a good idea to flip through the rulebook for specifics, but a video can help you make sense of all those cards and bits and give you a sense of the gameplay if it’s your first time playing a game.
Set it up. Hey, you’ve got it all opened up anyway. Take a look at the “setup” portion of the rules and lay everything out. Learn where things go. The less time it takes you to get everything ready, the sooner your games can get going.
If you need to: Get some help. I rely very heavily on the community at BoardGameGeek.com for everything from turn order reference cards to simplified versions of the rules. Look up a game and scroll down to the section labeled “Files” and you’ll see a cornucopia of resources. (I find it’s a good idea to hit the “Hot” link to sort everything by the number of “thumbs-up” the files have received.)
Of course, now that you’re all prepared, you still need to be able to communicate all these new rules to new players. My advice? Don’t jump around from topic to topic: spell out the objective, give a rough overview of gameplay, and hold questions for later so you don’t get off-track. Some games can be explained quickly before you play; others will make more sense as you play, so jump right in. There are some games that you do have to spend more time explaining before you can begin—in those cases, know your audience. If you’ve got people who want to just get on with it, save those games for another day. And, as with anything else, practice! The more games you teach, the more comfortable you’ll get.
Don’t forget some snacks! I’m particularly bad at this myself—I get into the games and don’t think about food or drink for several hours, but it’s nice to have some munchies. My advice: avoid things that are drippy, sticky, or covered in orange cheez powder. And pass out napkins ahead of time.
Above all: have fun!
And what about after TableTop Day is over? Well, have people jot down their names and contact info if they had fun and want to be invited over for games again, and then follow through! Games can be a great way to get to know people and build relationships, but that doesn’t happen in a day.