Well, for better or worse, it seems we’ve rolled gently out of varying degrees of lockdown and back in to one another’s lives. I imagine there have been some growing pains for many for us as we swing back in to those important social niceties that prevent us from occasionally strangling one another. I’ve had a few game nights that didn’t go off so well myself. There were a variety of things that contributed to this, and no one is to blame more than I am. But as a result, I thought it would be an interesting and helpful mental exercise to evaluate some essential rules of conduct for a good game night.
1- When you RSVP, show up, and arrive on time.
Forget royalty, attendance and punctuality are the two great requisite politenesses of tabletop gaming. Especially in context with the pandemic, space at many game nights is limited. Organizers and supporters often plan their whole gamebag based on the number of people they are expecting to see. So when you RSVP and then arrive late or don’t bother to show, it can have a very negative impact on the evening for others.
2- Wash your hands before playing a game.
I believe embracing a level of personal hygene in general is a pretty good (and frankly necessary) rule of thumb for tabletop gaming (and society) in general, but let’s just focus on the hands thing. Most hands are covered in gunk- a sticky mélange of oil, dirt, sweat; and well, other less savory things. For lack of a better word: hands are gross. It’s a part of being human, and it’s perfectly okay. But many game components (especially cards) are magnets for the oils on skin (yes- this includes lotion), and one person with dirty hands can completely destroy a game in one sitting. Please wash your hands before you play, and encourage your friends to do the same. It’s also a really good idea to wipe down the table beforehand, too. Games these days are expensive, and this will help protect them.
3- When in doubt, always ask the owner.
This may be more of a personal pet peeve than anything else, but don’t walk in to a game night and start digging through someone else’s game bag unless you know that person really well- it’s weird and presumptuous. I often throw my keys, wallet, and phone in mine; so I get particularly itchy about this. That aside, hobby games these days can have hundreds of pieces in the box, so folks can get understandably frustrated when people aren’t careful with them.
4- Bring a game.
Just bring a game to game night. Any game, even if you’re new to the hobby. Checkers, chess, backgammon- a deck of cards, even. Bonus points if you show up to my game night with a Go board- I will always play Go, and I will always lose. When you bring a game it shows a level of investment in the proceedings, announcing “I am interested in what’s going on, and I want to contribute.” Personally, I always recommend bringing three games- no more, no less. I call this my “Three Game Theory,” and soon I will post on it directly and more thoroughly.
5- Know the rules of the games you bring, and have a relatively good idea of how to teach them.
More important than just bringing a game, it’s incredibly important that you know the rules. Further, make sure you are able to competently teach those rules to others. Teaching folks how to play a game is a challenge- and “the Teach” (as it’s frequently called) can make or break a person’s enjoyment of a game. That is your responsibility; so if you want to foster this hobby, take it seriously. I’d make some suggestions on a cohesive strategy for teaching a game; but in all seriousness, why bother? Follow this link and you’ll find a video from Quintin Smith from Shut Up and Sit Down with the absolute best guide to teaching games I’ve ever encountered.
6- Be both prepared and willing to lose.
You’re going to lose. Statistically, you’re going to lose a lot; in a four player game you have roughly a 75% chance of losing the game. It’s incredibly important that you show some grace, and keep a positive attitude about it. Further, if you are teaching new players or a new game, it’s actually ideal for you to lose.
7- Control your inner alpha gamer.
Cooperative games have become a shining hallmark of modern tabletop gaming, principally because they dial up the accessibility of the hobby considerably for new players. But here’s the thing- you have to let others make their own decisions. You’re all working as a team; and yes, most good teams have a reliable leader. But the foundation of good leadership is built with communication, not control. More often than not folks are learning as they play, and they may not make optimal decisions. Sometimes, you just have to let it happen. In the long run it’s a superior path, as most people learn more from a mistake than they do from a correction. Be patient.
8- Don’t cheat.
I don’t understand the appeal of cheating in your hobby; it completely perplexes me. Still, it happens; occaisionally people will cheat to ‘win’ a board game. In all seriousness, what’s the point? Doesn’t it rob the entire experience of meaning? I suppose there’s some room for it in a coopereative game; as in “everyone has clearly had a rough week, they need a win tonight.” I don’t know what I’m talking about… Just don’t cheat.
9- Be respectful where phones are involved.
I understand the frustration, but try to be patient with folks who need to check their phones. People have family, friends; especially spouses and children that they may need to stay in contact with. On the other side of the issue, try to limit your smartphone use. Waiting for someone to take their turn while they stare at their phone can be incredibly frustrating- we’ve all been there. Cellphones at game night are a two way street; remember to be respectful of others, and you’ll be able to expect that same courtesy directed towards you.
10- In all ways, be mindful of others at game night.
Every other ‘rule’ on this list is effectively a permutation of this one. Look, games should be a distant second concern for you at game night; it’s the people that should come first. Tabletop gaming is a social excercise, and healthy interaction rests at the core of that endeavor. Develope positive relationships with the new people who show up at game night. Embrace this mindset, because it will pay back in dividends.
So there it is! Ten good rules for game night. Thoughts or questions? Did i miss a rule? Let me know in the comments section below.