Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Games and shows

Just in case anyone missed the results of the poll a month or so ago, and hasn't read the current round of discussion in WSS on the subject... it does seem pretty clear, based on the above and our experience as a club, that the way to go for a 'show game' is definitely participation.

Things we've learned:
  • Make it short. Specifically, make the amount of interaction time with the game that someone needs, in order to get something out of the game, short. The bigger the show you're at, the shorter, as well. It's pretty clear, for example, that it's almost reached the point that you can't do Salute in the time between opening and closing, and expecting people to play your game for half an hour or more isn't going to wash. Also? If the answer to 'when's the next game start?' is longer than folks are prepared to wait, not everyone will come back, because even with the best will in the world, some game or dealer at the other end of the hall will grab them at the wrong moment. Which means either
    • REALLY make it short, end to end. Our Dambusters game was 10 mins tops to get from one end of the lake to dropping the bomb.
    • Make it easy to dip into. If you're running (say) a 90 min demo of your new system, make sure its easy for someone to look in for 5/10 mins and get a grasp of what's going on. If you're running a recreation of a famous battle, ditto. 
  • Make it simple. If you only have 10 minutes of someone's time, then you don't want to spent half of that explaining things. (And equally, if in order for someone to dip into your new rules/game you need to spent 5-10 mins explaining things, you might have a problem with your rules!)
  • Make it 'big'. I'm not necessarily talking scale here, but visually easy to assimilate. When you have a crowd two deep round your table, you need to make sure that people can work out what's going on without having to be sat at the table with their nose in the figures. 
  • Make it look good. 
    • Coffee cups and lunch boxes OFF the table. Purchases and coats under the table.
    • Ask the show when you book, for an extra table and the attendant extra space for game reference sheets etc,. so you can keep them off the table, and so that clearing the playing surface for photographs takes no time.
    • On which note - if someone's shaping up to take a photo, offer to clear any dice etc for them. 
    • Get a banner to advertise your game - they're only £32 from my eBay guy on 24 hours turnaround. 
    • Get club shirts. With your names on if you can, or print name badges if you can't.
    • If you need to do rules handouts or flyers, put a bit of work into making them look the part. 
    • If you're at the table, you're working the table - if you need to go eat etc, you should, IMO, go elsewhere. (Guilty as charged on a couple of occasions, and I accept this is probably the controversial one! :D)
  • Make it memorable. The above will go a long way to doing this, but in addition it doesn't cost a fortune for little takeaways like our DFM stickers (thanks to the RAF guys' Predator game at Hammerhead for that idea) and facsimile pilot logbooks for the kids.
  • Tell a story, if you want to grab the younger generation (and for that matter the older). We were lucky with the Dambusters game in that there's a story there to be told, and we had display stuff to go with it and several people (including two schoolteachers) with a knack for explaining what was going on to folks who were watching. (One of the best bits was the actual pieces of crashed Lancaster ME749 - comparing that to a Coke can and actually letting people handle it went down very well.) If you're reenacting (say) Crécy, be prepared to talk about it. Which leads to what might actually be the most important one:
  • Work, don't play. If you've asked the show for space for your game, people are paying their hard earned money to the show for the privilege of coming, which includes seeing your game. If you use that space to play that big all-day huge battle with your mates that looks pretty, and ignore the punters, then in my opinion you are simply disrespecting both the people who run the show and the paying customers. As a takeaway from this? Your game needs more people to run it at a show than you need to playtest it (you did playtest it, right?) down the club. especially if you all want some time to do the rounds of the rest of the show. We think we can run (Not "play". You don't "play" a show game.) the Dambusters game itself with two people: one 'managing' the pilot and one moving the plane and handling the flak, but even with the five we had at the show, at least three of us hardly left the stand for anything but food, loo/sanity breaks and scheduled meetups. 
  • Stand up as much as you can. Your punters will be, and you should be making eye contact and talking to them. (Guilty as charged sometimes, as my back was killing me.)
  • Ask the question "Why are we here?" - as a follow on from the above: find your purpose and stick to it. :
    • To run a game that allows people to have fun?
    • To demonstrate a new set of rules?
    • To recreate a famous battle?
    • etc etc
    • ...and if the answer turns out to be 'to play a game' then it's time to reevaluate your priorities.
  • Have fun! Seriously. It is possible to have fun doing the above - all our team agreed we probably had more fun running the Dambusters game than at any show we've been at in the past. AND I hardly spent any money :D
Feel free to disagree with me. That's what the comments section is for.


  1. That all sounds reasonable to me (as a complete amateur who hasn't done any of this, though I do show off boardgames as a Man in Black for Steve jackson Games). I won't claim there's no value in a club turning up to play out a really gorgeous-looking game between its members (modelling inspiration, mostly.) but I certainly like a feeling of involvement: do I want to try out these rules? Is this something I could take to a club myself? In a way, the bizarrely shag-carpeted "Napoleon's Last Stand" is worth rather more to me than the beautiful Dropzone Commander diorama that was covered in minis but wasn't actually a game.

    The chaps with Operation Broadsword (the room-to-room fight aboard a stranded Krivak frigate) were very helpful, kindly disassembling the multi-layer model (before their game had started) so that I could get a look at the innards. As a result, I'm wondering about Force on Force, especially since I've seen the list of supplements.


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