I've been running a quite successful board game club for two years now. I started the club in December 2000—I announced on the Role-Players of Tampere University mailing list that I was having a board game session before Christmas. I was looking for an one-off session at my apartment, but when about ten people told me they were interested, it was time to look for a better location.
I found one, too. Since that first time, we've played our games at the club room of a student apartment, which is nice for a few reasons: it's peaceful, free, big enough and it's not too far away (with good bus connections). As the board game night was so popular, I decided to make it a monthly event. Sunday in about middle of each month soon became the regular time for us to play.
Since then we've grown a bit—we have about 10-15 people each time—and I've tried to get other people organise more meetings so we'd have two meetings each month. In the beginning I brought most of the games we played but now many people bring their own.
Gaming includes a certain competition factor and many people like the extra tension and excitement that competing brings so holding tournaments seemed like a good idea to spice up the game club life. It is, but it's not that simple and that's why I'd like to share my experiences of organising tournaments in a game club environment.
First tournament—too much action, not enough time
We had our first tournament in December 2001, as a way to celebrate the first anniversary of the club. We also voted for the Game of the Year (Carcassonne; this year's winner was Puerto Rico). A few games were chosen (Carcassonne, Manhattan, Space Walk and Dragon's Gold, as they were popular and fairly short) and everyone was free to play the games as much as they could. Everyone's best score in each game was recorded and tournament points were awarded for the best four in each game. The player with most total tournament points was the winner.
Yeah, right, nice plan, but it didn't work. First of all, there was not nearly enough time. For various reasons, we had to do it in about six hours. Also, the tournament wasn't really organised - everyone just played their games and recorded the scores. That meant that different people had different possibilities to play the games and different possibilities to score points. It was a bit chaotic... Of course, it didn't matter that much—after all, the tournament was very informal. Still, I wanted to improve the tournament system a bit.
Second tournament—lots of time, still too much action
Our second tournament was larger than the first one. First of all, it took the whole year. Instead of running one big tournament, we decided to have many small ones. In each meeting, a mini-tournament would be played and tournament points would be awarded for winning them. Games were chosen according to their popularity. The tournament had, in the end, four parts (Carcassonne, El Grande, Tigris & Euphrates, Ohne Furcht und Adel). By the end people just weren't interested anymore. In the December 2002 meeting the last game was played. It was invitation only, a game of Puerto Rico (as it was the game of the year) for the best five players. Some extra points were awarded for it, to give more people a winning chance.
This time the tournament was better, I think. However, it suffered a bit from the time problem anyway. Especially during the El Grande round—we had only one copy of the game and we had to play three times (two first round games and a final) in the same six hours. It wasn't fun. Smaller and faster games worked better.
I took an opinion poll in the Fall to find out where we were going and found out that while many people like the tournaments, many don't like the extra level of competition it brings. Some people prefer to take their games less seriously. So, for the next year's tournament (as there's definitely a demand), I'd have to figure out something else. With a little help from my friends, I did.
Third tournament—a new hope?
The third tournament will last for the whole year as well. However, there will be fewer games and more time to play them. Instead of having a tournament in each meeting, I'll choose a game (again according to popularity) that will be played during three meetings (hoping we'll have two each month). So, no formal tournaments. Instead, every tournament game played will score points for the players and when the three meetings have passed, I'll total the scores and give tournament points to the players with the most.
In the end of the year, the best players will meet in a final—details of which will be decided later. This approach has several benefits, I believe. There's more time to play—if you miss one meeting, you can still catch up later. The scoring system encourages activity—the more you play, the better you will score. Also, I think the new system won't tie up players as much—the tournaments took a lot of time; if you wanted to participate, you often had to play two or three games which might take a long time to complete. Now, if you want to participate in the tournament, you just play one game now and perhaps another the next meeting.
So, what's important?
I think the most important thing about running tournaments in a game club environment is to remember that everything is for fun. There are probably people who don't like competing and so the tournaments should interfere with them as little as possible. Tying up lots of people playing the tournament games is annoying for those that don't wish to participate.
For those people who do like competing, tournaments can add an extra layer of fun. However, if participating takes too much effort, that fun will be diminished. That's how I felt about the El Grande tournament I mentioned—I had to spend a lot of time playing El Grande, even though I would've preferred to play other games. El Grande is fun, but being "forced" to play it isn't.
It is also important to keep people informed. If there's no information available of the current situation of the tournament, it's hard to get excited. I kept the results posted on a web site, but that's not enough, because people didn't read the web site—they prefer to receive the information by e-mail. This time, I'm going to print out the current standings before each session and put them for everyone to see. That should help keep people interested.
Of course one shouldn't forget about prizes and giving the winners an opportunity to gloat a bit! Our prize is a mighty fine mug—winner gets to keep it next year. And next year, it will be my turn!
- Mikko Saari