Starting a Gaming Club
Gaming clubs are the lifeblood of the Games Workshop hobby, helping players make new friends and find opponents and allies for their games of Warhammer. We think gaming clubs are great (we’ve got quite a few of our own here at Warhammer World), but we know that starting them can be a daunting prospect. We caught up with James McPherson, Weta Digital artist and New Zealand-based club organiser to ask how he set up the Miramar Freebooters and get any tips he has for aspiring club organisers.
A little background
James: Wellington has a strong traditional wargaming scene. It’s also currently the capital of Warhammer Age of Sigmar in New Zealand and has a strong community of all ages playing everything from Warhammer to historical & Napoleonic games.
We have two Games Workshop stores, one in the city centre and one in the Hutt Valley, about a 20-minute drive into the northern suburbs. Outside of Wellington, I only know of two other stores in the whole of New Zealand, so it’s pretty good going to have such a presence from Games Workshop here. And the managers do a great job of growing and fostering our community here in Wellington.
Why start a club?
I’ve been living in Wellington for about 2 years now since I moved from the UK to work at Weta Digital. Quite a few of us at Weta are into Warhammer and gaming, and we work pretty long hours in what can be quite a demanding job at times. So it seemed like a good idea to start an after work club on a weekday evening.
Playing a regular weekly game of Warhammer is a great way to unwind after a long day at work, and it’s also a great social way of spending time with friends, meeting new people and expanding your gaming circle. If you know you can turn up somewhere once a week and get a guaranteed game, it makes it a lot easier, especially if it’s with a large circle of different players – so you can play different people every week.
Back in the 90s, I ran a Blood Bowl league out of my mum’s art classroom (she was the art teacher at the local school) on lunch breaks for a short while, so I had a little prior experience of running my own club in the past, and it was something I’d had experience of and enjoyed doing.
How to start?
I’d been thinking about doing it for a year or so and decided to finally take the plunge. Beginning the process, I began to look around for a few possible venue options. Then I thought I’d do some market research and used social media as my focus group, so I made a multiple choice survey to ask the local community on the Age of Sigmar New Zealand Facebook page what venue/location people wanted to see a club at in Wellington. In the end, it was fairly split between two different ends of town, so I chose the one closest to work, as it made the logistics easier for carrying boards and scenery straight from work.
I wanted the club – the Miramar Freebooters – to be non-profit if possible, so it would give people a chance to come and play there for free, and be 100% community owned, socially dynamic, progressive and as inclusive as possible. That was very important to me, and I also wanted to keep it as simple as possible.
The venue itself had a history of supporting board games and RPG nights in the past, so we knew it was friendly and approachable. It’s an Art Deco cinema called The Roxy, part-owned and restored by Tania & Richard Taylor, founders of Weta Workshop, and Jamie Selkirk, Oscar-winning editor & co-producer of The Lord of the Rings. It houses two cinema screens, and a great award-winning restaurant and bar. The bar staff there, and the events manager Erica Brooks, have been really friendly, helpful and supportive – and I’d go as far as to say they are the most important members of the Freebooters. They generously allow us a space to use and have even given us some storage space on site where we can keep a few MDF boards to save us lugging them in every day from our cars.
The restaurant at The Roxy is closed on Monday nights, so we were offered that space to use, which is perfect as it already has tables, meaning we just have to put down tablecloths and set up 4’x4’ and 6’x4’ boards. We are surrounded by portraits on the walls of The Lord of the Rings actors like Hugo Weaving and Liv Tyler, and décor made by the staff at Weta Workshop. The building underwent a $6 million dollar refurbishment and opened its doors in 2011. It’s a great place to game in, and we have a bar right there too to keep us fed and watered, which is great for when you have just finished work and want to unwind with a drink with friends and play some Warhammer.
We had to build all our resources up from scratch, so we’ve mostly relied on private collections of scenery up to now, largely my own, but a few other people have been helping out. We just bring scenery down and gaming mats if we can. We had a whip round to buy some MDF boards, and we are hoping in future we can begin a donations box for scenery which we can keep on site. There’s currently space for several 4’x4′ boards downstairs in the 60-seat restaurant, but there is also a Grand Atrium upstairs, in which we can set up trestle tables and some alcove seating we can use if we need to in future.
Plans for the future
There’s great potential to grow the club in future. We have been running for 6 months now and have already seen some great evenings. For International Games Day, Tim ran a big event with some great painting competitions and prize giveaways judged by one of the Weta Workshop Senior Concept Designers. We also ran a slow-growing Fate of Konor campaign recently that had up to 15 players in regular attendance – which was great to see. We want to keep growing the club and getting more members to make positive contributions and turn it into a lifelong permanent club for the locals and people of Wellington.
Now that we have a fairly regular attendance we are hoping to build on that by building up a club scenery collection via donations for both Warhammer Age of Sigmar & Warhammer 40,000. There’s also talk of designing a club logo and maybe some merchandise. There are also leagues kicking off for both Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Age of Sigmar soon.
But for me, the most important thing is to promote the right kind of atmosphere, I want it to be fun, friendly and to keep bringing through new players so the club stays strong, and encourage them to take responsibility and ownership of the club as their own and to make a positive contribution.
We can do that by promoting fun, social and friendly ways to play, holding interesting campaigns and varying the types of games we play. At the end of the day, it’s meant to be a social thing, gaming with your mates. It sounds like a cliché, but you very much get back what you put in, and if we all try our best to make it a great place for one another and contribute as much as possible in any way we can, it will only go from strength to strength in future. It relies on people being selfless and giving, putting each other first and, as long as people do that, it will be around a very very long time.
So, all things considered, here are my top 5 tips for people just starting out with their own gaming clubs:
- Bring in New Players
Probably the most important thing. New players bring in new interests & ideas, provide new inspiration and motivate existing players; it’s essential to guarantee perpetuity in the long run. Without a regular influx of new players, your club will just slowly dwindle out and die. We use social media networking sites like Meetup to bring in a lot of new players, as when people move to a new town or city, that’s often the first place they look for social groups or clubs. We also have a lot of support from the local Games Workshop store manager who refers players to us.
- Make It Fun & Friendly!
Part of attracting new players and keeping existing ones is to keep things lighthearted. There’s a place for everyone at our club, whether they are hardcore competitive players or more casual, but the majority of people want somewhere fun and social to go and play and meet new people. The first thing you want when a potential new club member walks through the door is to be greeted with a smile and friendly face. Try to always have somebody welcoming and friendly as a group representative to meet and greet new guests and entice them in with the promise of good times and laughs aplenty!
- Organize Events!
Another way to make sure your club stays active is to organize events, especially ones with a prize giveaway of some sort. Nothing attracts attention quite like free stuff, and you can usually source some prize support and sponsorship from local businesses in exchange for advertising. Also starting small campaigns, slow grows, ladder leagues and demo’ing new games is a good way to get started from the ground up. Once you have some events planned, keeping track and sharing the event with a club calendar and/or on social media helps players plan their time and set hobby goals and deadlines.
- Encourage Everyone to Contribute
At the end of the day, you want everybody to feel like they belong to and own a bit of the club, and encouraging them to feel part of it and contribute in whatever way they feel comfortable is important. Some people want to just turn up somewhere and have everything done for them so they can just turn up and play, and don’t mind making a financial contribution towards the costs associated with that, and other people want to get involved more directly, like volunteering to help run the club, so everybody is different. The key is to try to tune into what each individual wants and make sure they get that and become invested in the success of the club. A club is very much greater than the sum of its parts, meaning when everyone contributes and works together, you can surpass expectations for what it could be on paper.
- Listen To What Your Community Wants
Visiting other gaming clubs to see what’s out there already, and listening to what people want is important. It helps if you can offer something different and new as an alternative to the already existing options out there so that it has a unique selling point. And to do that you need to listen to what people want and try to give them that. Social media is a great tool for this, also knowing people from the local tournament scene helps as well. The location/venue is really important, so listen to whereabouts people want it, as it needs to be accessible for most people coming from work or school. Approach it a bit like starting up a business, do your market research first, conduct polls, use a focus group, tap into a gap in the market or exploit a niche if you can.
We’re called The Miramar Freebooters, (because we’re a bunch of freeloaders and opportunists who live down by the sea). Feel free to join us on Facebook – just search for our club name.
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