The ideal boardgames bar !

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Location: Thirsty Meeples in Oxford (UK)

About 2 years ago, when I started Boardgame Monkeys, one of my main challenge was to find a good place to be able to grow over time with my group of boardgamers. All of them will tell you that in the boardgaming world there are some challenges, amongst those would be:

  • Finding gamers to play with you when you want.
  • Find a place that is comfortable and overall good enough for all participants.
  • For non-gamers (and sometimes gamers too), be able to try boardgames before buying them.

While some people find boardgames café a strange place to spend time, on the other hand, some of us do also have the need to connect with people in a public/private space, the need to have a meaningful interaction that doesn’t use emoticons, and perhaps the need, in an increasingly complex world, to work with friends and family toward a clear goal.

Below you will read about some thoughts I’ve collected over time on the “ideal place” to play boardgames. Of course, everybody can have different expectations – it’s not the purpose to satisfy everybody (is that even possible?) – therefore those are common items I’ve heard within my gaming group in the last 2 years.

From: Snakes & Lattes in Toronto (Canada)

From: Snakes & Lattes in Toronto (Canada)

Types of games available:

A good mix of all types of boardgames is always a must. No need to have 500+ boardgames available at all times. It would be better to do a rotation for each category (this way you “renew” the pick & play experience of your regulars).

The vast majority of games need to be played & explained within 1 or 1,5 hour. That’s because players will want to play several games (3-4 games ?) per session and have the impression they get enough action for their money.

Having a prototype shelf can always be a good – except if you plan to have dedicated events for those (see below under “events”). If you do have this space, make sure you also leave a system of  feedback for the testers to comment on their session (like a notebook, feedback forms etc.).

Sometimes players will come with their own games – make sure you can distinguish which games are from your collection and from your clients/visitors. Stickers on your boxes will do the trick.

You might want to tag your “expensive” boardgames with a security tag that would ring if somebody takes the box outside of your place. Yeah, that can happen too … better be prepared than sorry about stolen games.

Boardgames display:

Have post-its or reference cards with the advices or recommendations from the staff on each box

The boardgames should be organized in alphabetical order inside groups ( family games, abstract games, etc…) to facilitate the search.

Will you also have some people from your staff explaining boardgames ? If so, how does it not impact the regular service you maintain (when a waiter is explaining a game for 30 minutes, who will be taking orders in the meantime?). A good system can be with “tickets” for periods of times (= fix hours) where a game is being explained. That way, you funnel all requests to a certain moment in time, keeping like this some control over the explanation requests.

Post your Top 10 of the month with some highlights on why your visitors should try out those games (and eventually you can have a deal with Publishers to get a few boxes for some tournaments you’ll run – as you’re displaying their game in your place).

Probably you will want to have some print-out at hand with a summary sheet of the most played games, maybe some BGG explanations or even a tablet with a quick introduction video already uploaded on it.

You might want to get rid of some games – or even propose a kind of 2nd hand service for boardgamers – with a section to sell your “old games” and the one of your clients (on which you can take a commission).

The Gaming Area:

Noise is always a pain when you’re playing boardgames. With some bad luck, you’re playing a wargame trying to be immersed into the theme while at the next table a bunch of party-gamers are yelling their guts out to find some words or make up a story. Somehow, noise separations or any acoustic support will be your TOP priority number 1 in setting your gaming area in place.

Your tables should be from small to big sizes to fit various types of gaming sessions; from the 2 players games up to the 10+ party games. Modular tables is still the most efficient cost-saving approach. When getting your furniture, think also about the material choice and what will it be used for (rolling dices over a gliding surface, picking up cards easily from the table, have a space to place safely your food & drinks). Having also a place to store temporarily your boxes and zip-locks is great (for example a 2-level table).

The light will be one of the first elements your players will be looking after. To read rules, cards or distinguish the colors on the board, you need enough light but not too much that it’s reflecting on the tables. It make sense to be able to dim the lights of each table (or at least of each area of your place) depending on the hour of the day and the types of games or events you’re hosting.

Boardgamers will also be glad to lay down in a lazy couch with a journal, a geek magazine or the comics of the month. Ensure you have an area separated from the gaming tables that allows people to chat, relax or just sit around talking without having to be next to players (avoiding this way that people start yelling louder than the next table).

Why not have a kids area ? You know, boardgamers eventually also become parents … good way to initiate the youngster and work on your future clients list !

Ventilation is equally important in winter and summer times. You will have some “geeks” who did not see a bathroom since decades that might come in and sweat on your chairs for a whole evening. That “ugly” thought put aside, sitting hours on the spot, being reflexive over the game will need also some air to stay awake and keep your brain working. Just think about the practical side; you don’t want your place to turn into a Saturday night steam room either !

From: Dernier Bar Avant La Fin Du Monde (Paris) FR

From: Dernier Bar Avant La Fin Du Monde (Paris) FR

The staff/Your team:

You need some boardgamers – or at least some waiters that are into boardgames because they will connect with your visitors. They will help find the right game for boardgamers depending on the level of experience, the number of players in the group, the type of games they enjoy and how much time they have available to play.

You should provide a table service so gamers don’t need to leave the table to order drinks and food!

From: Dernier Bar Avant La Fin Du Monde (Paris) FR

From: Dernier Bar Avant La Fin Du Monde (Paris) FR

Be Thematic:

Your menu should be fun to read, fun to order  … if you want clients to consume ! So start by making a selection of themed burgers or cocktails. Maybe even some drinks created together with a game designer ? Like a cocktail named “Only for Munchkins” created with Steve Jackson.

Along with the theme decoration, you need to have thematic nights (up to you to decide on the frequency); this will boost your activity keeping regulars happy and attracting new customers as it shows that you’re being proactive. Along with this you can adapt the type of games that will be played and type of food/drinks served.

Offer a “full menu” entertainment night, with guest designers or other personalities from the gaming world dropping by and play with the boardgamers on an exclusive VIP special night. You could have dinner with a author and then play one of his published game (or even prototype for a future game). That’s a fantastic moment for a gamer.

Have you ever done a boardgaming marathon ? Yeah, I’m talking about a 24h crazy Zombicide campaign or a thrilling pitch-car or Formula D racing tracks tournament. Amazing experiences that people do not forget. It also gives you the chance to take great pictures to make some free advertising on social medias.

From: Draught Café in London (UK)

From: Draught Café in London (UK)

Events and Activities:

Why not organize a Master Class on boardgames design ? This can be followed up by regular monthly meet & exchange sessions. Outside of fairs, there are not a lot of places where professionals can discuss about the job and meet new people.

Don’t forget that not everybody is a “pro” boardgamer. You will definitively want to attrack also youngsters/kids  and/or families with dedicated games for them. It’s the parents that have the money, make sure somehow you can reach them through the kids. For people looking to try some new games and possibly meet some new people to play with as well you can always have a “monthly Game School” concept. Month 1: tile placement games. Month 2: workers placement games. Month 3: deduction games etc.

Your opening hours should be when your clients are actually around; this means, mainly during afterwork hours and weekends. If you have a “hard stop” at midnight, that might cause problems with some players in the middle of the game. Keep that into account for both your regular hours and your special events.

From: Gecko-Bar in Hamburg (DE)

From: Gecko-Bar in Hamburg (DE)

Show Me The Money:

Sure you’re not there only to have a good time, being successful means also having to work on your notoriety and having space to welcome all players. Check out existing associations of board gamers and offer them a place to play, organize some big tournaments (you can get sponsored by Publishers in some cases – like for example a few years back the Ticket To Ride championship with Days Of Wonder). People attract people, so get some groups energized about your place.

For the gaming fees; you can have several types of deals like “play & 1 drink” or a “half day” or “night out” proposal. The cover charge only applies for those sitting down to spend time playing games from our board game library but not for somebody just dropping 5 minutes to say hi !

Don’t forget that your gamers might have already a lot of games at home, so just having games available on your shelf is not what will make it. You need to ensure you get the new games in (maybe through a sponsorship with your local distributor or shop that you can back-reference in exchange). Hosting some “new games of the month” sessions while you make them also available to buy (at a discount price) during a special night, can also get you some cash in.

If you’re having a good success, you can always setup a “booking system” that is free or paid – or included in some kind of subscription (monthly/yearly) that gives you a priority seating for example. Yes, it can get crowded and people will start to fight for a table in such case.

From: K-Fée des Jeux in Grenoble (FR)

From: K-Fée des Jeux in Grenoble (FR)

Afterwork Session: Evo

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Yesterday we had another gaming session at La Table Food & Games in Brussels ! A great night, not too busy, just the right amount of people to have a cozy gaming atmosphere but still enough place to book a big table to place all the game elements from Evo (BGG link) designed by Philippe Keyaerts. We played the 2nd edition from 2011.

Here’s the description from BGG capturing the essence of the game:

In Evo, you play a nomadic people in symbiosis with a primitive reptilian species. You travel the wild open spaces of Kumgath with your mounts, you will use your knowledge of biology to help them adapt and succeed against both the hostile and changing climate and other competing species. Players will earn mutation points during the course of the game. The player with the most at the end of the game is the winner.

Philippe Keyaerts is a prolific Belgian game designer, with a few hits under his belt, Small World published with Days Of Wonder is certainly known amongst the readers. In Small World, you’re not tied down to one race/power combination for the duration of the game, so there’s an encouragement to be ruthless and get as much as you can as quickly as you can out of your Active Race, because you’re fighting for territory victory points. It’s about territory expansion where you cut your losses and move on to the next battle and/or next race to choose.

In Evo, it’s a bit different as  everyone has 2 dinosaurs on the board and a blank slate with all your powers. In this way, everyone starts off the same. Each turn, you can move one or two dinosaurs (2 movements at the start for every player) and give birth to an additional dinosaur during the “birth phase”.  With a smart auction for new “genes” that are drawn from a bag, you start bidding for genes that will give your dinosaur species new powers such as the ability to move more often, the ability to move into other dinosaur spaces (and drive them off), to survive dangerous weather, to place more dinosaurs on the board each turn, etc.

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Over time, you are individualizing your dinosaurs, expanding your population and trying to survive with as many as possible dinosaurs on the board. The more dinosaurs you keep alive each round, the more victory points you will get each round.

 

The fighting in Evo is much less than in Small World because of the movement-cost and low-probability reasons . That said combat is the only way to remove enemy dinosaurs from the game and, thus, reduce their overall stock. Spending the precious movement points might prove to be worth it if it means your opponent(s) will be able to field fewer overall dinosaurs.

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The basic strategy applies to every game: Get to the safe territories every time the climate changes! It’s how you’re able to do that (and how well you’re able to do it) that really matters and changes with every game, and those safe territories will be different nearly every turn.

With the scientific/mutation phase; the mutation genes that each player acquires will have a good chance of being different each time you play the game, so there’s a good amount of re-playability in that; especially when you consider the Event Cards that can be acquired instead of genes. One mistake we made is on the “special” unique genes: there is only 1 slot and you have no possibility to accumulate them – compared to the regular normal genes you can acquire – which is something to remember for next game. .

We had a blast at the table, the 4 of us left with a smile, really enjoyed the session. The game is not complex with a clear 6 phases per round structure, so it took me about 10-15 minutes of explanation before we started actually playing. This is really the key point here, interaction is present everywhere in this game:

  • When you do the genes selection (bidding system)
  • When you do movements on the island with your dinosaurs
  • When you play an event card and you’re constantly looking also at the climate wheel that will influence the game-play each round for every player.

You have something to think about during the entire game, you don’t stay still because of this climate wheel which increase the re-playability (in a fun way). You will also leave a few tokens are left aside every game – helping also for the re-playability aspect.

 

This game is clearly staying in my collection. We’ll put it back on the table as it’s easy to explain, fun & interactive and not too long (count 1 to 1,5 hours with 4 players).

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Note: Changes in the edition of 2011 compared to the 2001 version (extract from BGG):

  • Initiative is based on bidding position for the mutation/adaptation genes, and tails have been done away.
  • Climate change is based on a token draw instead of a die roll.
  • The combat die is no longer a regular D6 but has symbols which serves approximately the same odds as before.
  • There is a 1-in-6 chance for a stalemate otherwise, depending on the difference in horns, the defender will have a dinosaur removed from the board
  • The attackers dinosaur can never die.
  • Evolution occurs after climate change instead of later in the turn.
  • There are 12 climate tokens, delineating strictly 9 to 11 turns, with the game-ending meteor event occurring in one of the last three climate tokens.
  • Players only have a maximum 8 dinosaurs, while the older game had a maximum of 10.
  • There are 12 new “special” genes, 8 of which are mixed in with the regular genes.
  • Each have a unique power/ability such as flying, amphibious movement, chameleon capability for defense, or the ability to predict the future climate.
  • One event card is available each turn during bidding with the number of players minus one genes pulled out of the bag.
  • Winning the event card will give the player first initiative and is only modified by number of dinosaurs on the board.

 

Mage Wars Discovery Session

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Yes, we know the game has been out for a while, but believe it or not it was on my shelf since almost 6 months. I was lucky enough to get it in a Miami shop during my honeymoon ! It was like $30 only compared to a whooping 55-60 € for the base box here in Europe. That explains also maybe why there are not that many Mage Wars players around (at least in Belgium). Finally, I got a chance to go for it with Wouter – one of the key trustees of Boardgame Monkeys – after a good burger at La Table Food & Games last Thursday.

The great thing about Arcane Wonders is that they took the time to not only publish nice explanation videos, but also guides on “how to teach the game” and other nice documents to find back on their website. It really helps to get you into the game, you feel as a gamer that you’re really being taking care of !

So back to the game itself, we decided to go for the beginners’ setup but directly jumping onto the Warlock and the Priestess. I’ve put together the recommended cards onto the spellbooks (see rules) we were off for a quick start. Surely, the first few minutes where challenging because we simply couldn’t understand what all those cards where doing; with a large variety of cards it was hard to pick any strategy at all.

Warlock

We went for cards that we more or less understood for the first few rounds.  We both manage to put a few creatures on the board and cast a few spells, but I quickly end up cornered (we played on the starter setup of a 2×3 board) with Wouter pushing aggressively on the attacks, destroying my creatures one after the other. On top of that, he placed a spell that obliged me to pay 1 life point every time I cast a spell. In no time I ended up below the bar of 10 points. The time to recover myself and cast some healing spells, it was already too late for me.

Priestess

Few observations on the game & material:

  • On the board itself, it does get packed when you lay down additional cards under/next-to your character. We’re used to figurines boardgames by know and it was a bit odd to lay down some cards on the board.
  • We definitively will need to buy some extra dices for this game – just because I don’t like to share but also because it’s not practical if you have to take some dices from your opponent to play your counter attack while we’re still in the overall action phase.
  • The cards quality is good, the board is sturdy and pawns are really of good quality. We cannot complain at all about the material.

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We decided to give it another try next Monday night – just to confirm we like the game. Admittedly, by then we will re-read both the rulebook and watch a few extra videos, because although everything is extremely well explained in the 31 first pages of the rulebook, it’s a lot to absorb for a first game.

Age of Conan (Version 2009)

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Supposing you are the one that read all manual and are trying to teach your group and enjoy their first game of Conan, you could follow this, and then tell me how it went out.

Start with just the basics: Setup army units, explain neutral, friendly and enemy provinces. Setup the adventure deck, explain Conan mechanics, determine Conan player using just the bidding tokens. Take a blue die, show the military icon. Throughout the first adventure, use just military actions. This will be a good start since you are using Conan (will satisfy the ones playing because of the theme) and people that know Risk (War, in Brazil) will perceive similarities but see that it´s not quite the same. If it is a 2-player game, use Aquilonia and Turan and leave out sorcery tokens (not really confusing, but this first adventure should be really simple – leave it for the moment when somebody got a really bad roll). Side effect: all the adventure tiles will either be discarded or go to Conan player. Better not mention gold or sorcery exchange, because it´s not useful yet.

Then, add the politics: Do change of adventure, then setup emissaries (2 for player) and distribute initial gold, since maybe someone will collect gold through intrigue. Show the blue die icon for intrigue. Do just intrigue actions for three steps of the second adventure – should be enough for covering all intrigue actions issues. Remember to mention savage provinces restriction. The remain of the adventure, turn the die icon to Conan+Court and perform just the Conan actions. Explain the raider tokens use and that their effect would be wanted on enemy provinces – make sure no one confuses them with savage provinces or the axes in red dice which use almost the same icon but are unrelated.

Next, introduce Strategy Deck: Now that everyone is comfortable with Bid for Conan, military and intrigue contests, distribute 2 strategy cards and explain the modification to the mechanics. For the next adventure you can start using the fate dice as usual, all actions can now be performed (except getting kingdom cards as Court action).

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At the end of first era: make sure you gave Empire Points for each fort/city players achieved. Resolve any raider as usual. Then, introduce the objectives deck, draw the four objectives at random and see who got lucky. Next, everyone will understand the use for their gold. Next, the purpose for adventure tiles – it´s the time for the artifact cards.

What´s left? Kingdom decks: By this time, everyone should be comfortable with all major aspects of the game and, probably, with less confusion than otherwise. You can decide to either continue normally the game, or play three more ages (ending up with 4) or start it over with all the rules from start. Even if you start over another day this tutorial session alone should be enjoyable. I left out the kingdom decks for the end because they are the major chaos-factor in the game, they have their particular mechanics complexity and will only make sense for those that know all the other rules. Since it is language dependant AND private information, is the part of the game that needs more advanced (and grown-up) players. Depending on your group, Magic: the Gathering could be a good reference for explaining it.

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PACG: Characters Class

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Some of you are new to Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (or PACG in short) or to the gaming world overall; so to help you out here is a short article explaining you the types of Characters Class you can pick up in this game. You’ll find the detailed templates on the paizo website (single download file) if you want to dig in and have a further look at all characters.

If you’re getting hooked up into PACG, a nice additional buy for your sessions are those characters mini-playmats that really comes hand to keep your table nice and tight without having many cards flying around. We use them and I would highly recommend it.84288_409492A_SS_Paizo_7Pk_2

PACG: Custom Base Decks

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Together with our core team of adventurers (Cindy, David, Filip, PG), we’re just making our way out of the introduction campaign called “Perils Of Lost Coast” of the Rise Of The Runelords base-set from Paizo. We quickly realized that the suggested decks in the rulebook are not the most optimal. Should we built custom started decks for our characters before we start the Burnt Offerings campaign ?

Alright, it’s a long question but I found actually an interesting answer from Boris Dvorkin on a BGG forum post back in November 2014. Find a full  reworked summary of his input on this article page.

A 6 Month Challenge

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I propose to launch a challenge to my fellow gamers in this group, starting 1st of January 2015, that will run for 6 months.

Let’s call it: The Monkeys 3×3 Challenge.

For this challenge: you should pick up 3 games you will play 3 times (with the same or other people, up to you). The purpose will be to play games that are on your shelf and get better at them. Once you’ve started playing your 9 games, you should report out on them so I can share your progress & thoughts in our newsletters. We will organize also dedicated events to make it happen !

So you’re in ? Start thinking about the 3 games to play with your fellow Boardgame Monkeys :)

Flamingo adventure begins

0593b7bebda82a6997bda81c95775432 The building is huge … spacious and just perfect for gaming nights ! Yes, we are moving in on Tuesday’s at the well-known bar called Flamingo in Brussels.

It’s location (see Google Maps) makes it easy for both public transport as well as car access. Admittedly, yes we’re still in the city and you might have to drive around the block to find a parking spot, but still, we’re not 100 % downtown, so it should be manageable to park.

What about the place ? Well, I would suggest you just drop by for our first Monthly Flamingo on Tuesday 20th January to discover it ! You can register (free) on our Meetup page to join us. We have already 18 people joining – that just 1 day after posting the event details.

The bar has good ratings on the web, you will be able to drink (including some cocktails) and also eat (they have a kitchen) some snacks.BGM---Afterwork-Banner-V3

What about the games ? We will play light and medium weight games – leaving aside the heavy weight category for this first time at the place. I want to ensure that everybody accommodates well, in a nice and cosy atmosphere. There are also a lot of new players joining for the 1st time, so it’s good to have a game selection that enables everybody to connect and have fun.

 

 

Monkeys’ Statistics: Winter 2014

This is now a recurrent update I provide to our members every quarter. For many of you, this will be the first newsletter you receive. Indeed, we have a whole bunch of people who registered to our meetup in the last 3 months (24 people in October and 16 people in November). We’re actually close to reaching the 300 members now.

 


Like in many groups, we do have active and inactive members. Our split is fairly good compared to other Meetup groups, we’re trending towards 1/3 of the members who are actually joining us on events (with a slight increase that you can see on below statistics).
You’ve all been seeing the media/press speaking about boardgames in the past months, it’s becoming a really new hype to play boardgames and the national (both French and Dutch) Belgian press is actually relaying this trend. It’s all benefits for groups like ours of course.
La Table Food & Games, our “regular hang-out” had 4 articles (in Le Soir, La Libre, La DH) and 2 TV and radio interviews in the last months. Being sponsored by big publishers like Asmodee, Repos Prod and others they are also now having on an ongoing basis all the new releases available for free to play.
Although it was back in August, the 2nd edition of the Brussels Games Festival (4000 visitors this year) gave the opportunity for many people to discover also not only the gaming place but also key actors of boardgaming scene in Brussels.