International Tabletop Day is nearly here, and everyone is ready to have a great time! But it’s also clear that not everyone does. We’re all gamers, geeks, Critters, Hoomans—how can you make your Tabletop Day the best and most welcoming it can be? Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”) is a good place to start, but what does that really mean?
Most ITTD celebrations happen in public venues, like game stores or gaming cafés. If you’re playing with strangers, especially gaming newbies, it’s important to be welcoming. If you’re a veteran gamer, you hold a lot of power in your community, whether you realize it or not. If you’re planning to game with people you’ve never met before, this advice will make your game night smooth as silk.
- Create a Hospitable Environment
When I wrote about being the best D&D player ever, I stressed that having fun was the most important part of gaming. If there’s only one thing you take away from this article, it’s that people have to feel safe before they can have fun. The truth of the matter is that many gaming communities unintentionally form cliques. As much as we geeks like to think we’re above that, nerd tribalism makes a lot of people—especially people who don’t fit our preconceived notions of what a geek is—hesitant to try gaming for the first time.
Counteract that. Instead of being a gatekeeper, actively break down barriers. Help new players feel at home at your gaming table. Brotherhood and sisterhood looks different for everyone, but be proactive; if someone looks uncomfortable, ask if you can help. If they say something’s wrong, or that something you or your friends are doing makes them uncomfortable, don’t be offended! The easiest way to solve tension in a public venue is to apologize and be respectful to all your players.
The phrase “safe space” catches a lot of flack on social media, but the core idea is the same: foster an environment where people are respected. It doesn’t mean people aren’t allowed to make off-color jokes (etc.), but it means that you should try to know your audience. This isn’t political correctness; it’s common sense and compassion.
- Be a Good Sport
Games are usually most fun when you’re winning. Sometimes they’re less fun when you’re losing and don’t get me started on when you’re being absolutely crushed. Even if you feel the situation is hopeless, don’t give up; most board games have comeback mechanics that can help you pull a victory from the jaws of defeat. When you get salty about being behind (everyone does it), even if you’re being ironic or over-dramatic, be aware if it’s bothering the other players. Sometimes good-natured complaining comes of as annoying whining. This seems like obvious advice, but everyone should know it, new and old players alike.
On the flip side, sore winners are just as bad as sore losers. Even the most sensible gamers can get wrapped up in the thrill of victory. Competition, even friendly competition, brings out a different side of people, and it’s vital to be able to dial it back. It requires you to be both self-aware and receptive to how others are reacting to you. If you’re unsure or you get the feeling that something is bothering your game-mates, try asking them in private.
Similarly, if another player is being a bad sport, quietly take them aside and ask them to be a little more respectful. If they make a fuss about it, tell them that they’re free to find another table to play at. Don’t be mean, but be matter-of-fact. Dancing around the issue just makes it more awkward for everyone.
If you get the sense that no one’s having fun, suggest that maybe you all move on to something better. If a game isn’t any fun for anyone involved, there’s no point in prolonging the torture.
- Guide New Players, Don’t Control Them
New players are smarter than we give them credit for. And even if a new player is just not getting the game (which is admittedly infuriating), it’s not fun for them if someone else hijacks their game by telling what moves to make. Simply, the best way to help a player who’s having trouble is to ask them what they’re attempting to do, and if they want help doing it. Even if they’re making a sub-optimal move under your guidance, let it play out. They’ll learn. Planning out their turns for them might make them more likely to win, but are they really playing anymore?
Players who are truly invested in a game tend to pick up the rules lightning-fast, usually by the end of the first game, or sometimes even before. That said, prior experience with games can make hard games seem approachable and mid-level games look like cakewalks. Just be patient. They’ll get it.
Not everyone is this invested. Some players were either brought by a friend or just wanted a chance to socialize and spend time with their pals. The fun that they want to have is just as valid as the fun found in playing a high-stakes game of Ticket to Ride or Betrayal at House on the Hill, it’s just different. If you want to have fun one way and they want to have fun another way, there are two ways to deal with that conflict. The first way—the no-fun way—is to lose your patience. “Oh come on, I’ve told you twice already how that piece moves!” If it solves the problem, it will probably be because that player leaves your table, and probably the event. Don’t be a dick.
The second way is to find a way to conclude the game as quietly and quickly as you can and ask all the players if they enjoyed it, and if they’d like to play again or try another game. Maybe they really were having a good time, and the problem player gets it now. Sometimes it’s hard to tell! If not, see if your group is interested in a lower-intensity game—Telestrations instead of Lords of Waterdeep. If there’s a big disagreement about which game to play, maybe it’s time to reorganize the tables for a couple of games. Everyone will be happier for it, and your International Tabletop Day will go from good to great.
Are you a Tabletop Day veteran? What tricks do you have for making game night go smoothly? Let us know in the comments or tweet it to us at @GeekandSundry.
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