How to Build a Successful Games Club: High School Edition, Part 3
In Part 2 of this series we picked some great games for the club. In this installment we’ll talk the long game for the club and how to keep it healthy and fresh. You want to end up with a situation where the younger brothers and sisters of past graduates are as keen to come to the club in grade 9 as their older siblings were.
3 Dos and 1 Don’t to Keep The Games and Chess Club Healthy
Do appoint ‘game ambassadors’ for your entry-level games like Chess, Love Letter, and Saboteur. Students will readily volunteer to be the go-to person to teach newcomers their favorite game. In turn, they’ll feel rewarded with a sense of purpose and the newcomer will feel like they belong because someone their own age or older is willing to spend some time with them. I mandate a two-minute pause before games can begin to ensure newcomers can get invited by ambassadors before gaming even starts.
This shift will move the club from ‘adult driven’ to ‘youth driven’ and allow you to step back and put out fires before they begin, log attendees, write applications for more games, and (hurrah!) get a seat at a table to play a game yourself. In 15 years of teaching there have been no more rewarding moments than battling it out at lunch with students from my morning classes in Family Business while the rest of the room hums noisily along with the sounds of happy kids playing games.
Don’t be a lending library. No matter how careful or responsible the kids, sooner or later a pivotal card, piece, or board will get broken, soaked in pop, or lost. There’s no upside here. The options are: absorb the cost of replacement, accept the kid’s offer to replace it, or try to sort through the awkward process of assigning responsibility and recouping costs. I tried the lending library approach a dozen different ways on and off during the years and I’d end up at the same bad place every time.
Lending out games also encourages your once captive audience to play elsewhere on other days. A club that nobody attends dies a quick death. The draw of Chess and Games Club is the novelty of playing different games with a range of people in a welcoming environment. All these are compromised when you make common the games, people, and experiences that go with them. Without any help from you, die-hard gamers will bring in games on off-days to play with their friends anyway, but these will differ from what’s in the club game cupboard. Restricting access to club games at club meetings keeps the novelty factor in place and your games room full.
Do cycle popular games in and out to break up cliques and keep kids learning new games. You may find you get the same five kids playing the same game, to the exclusion of other kids and games, day in and day out for a week or two. Simply cycle a couple of those games out of the collection every month or two to help mix it up. They’ll groan for a few seconds when you tell them you took the game home to scan it for a blog post (or something) and then have a ‘squirrel’ moment when you offer to teach them something new and shiny, or show them an old favorite that another group of kids are playing. In short, intermittently filling the rut that kids get stuck in is good for everyone.
The first rule of games club is to talk about games club, in a positive way
Do broadcast a consistent positive message no matter if attendance is two or twenty. Unlike game ambassadors who are largely self-sustaining the club message will need your direct and consistent attention and involvement. It reads something like, “Chess and Games Club: All welcome Wednesday and Friday at lunch. Bring a lunch, bring a friend, or come and make some new ones. No experience required” Don’t get lazy on this one. Leading from the front by reiterating and demonstrating the message will attract new members, teach them how to behave, and in turn keep everyone coming back.
A consistent message will help when you get the occasional but inevitable situation where you need to review some of the basic expectations with your group. It’s simple to address issues like foul language or not cleaning up after yourself or using games club as an excuse to be late for the class after lunch with the simple question: “Does that behavior strengthen or weaken the club?” followed up with a brief discussion about why. Kids are quick to recognize their behavior and acknowledge responsibility when you put it in those terms. The message that we are in this together and that anything that undermines the club doesn’t have a place in the games room keeps things in balance without too much meddling by the adult in the room.
In the next installment we’ll figure out how to run a 4 hour Axis and Allies game – and any game that clocks in over an hour – in a 40 minute lunch hour and how to go about getting miniature gaming of all kinds into the rotation.
Other parts of this series include: