Is there anything in this life more pathetic than a wargamer without somewhere to play? Yes, there is. It’s two wargamers, living within walking distance of each other, both thinking they have nowhere and no-one to play.
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling for a game, fighting those betwee-tournament shakes or wondering whether maybe, just once, you might be able to persuade your hamster/spouse/three-year-old to take you on at a game of Malifaux on the kitchen table, then you have probably also wondered whether you could start a club.
Starting a club of your own may seem like a daunting prospect; however, the point of this article is not to persuade you that it’s a good idea. If you think you’re going to start a club, then you already think it’s a good idea. If you don’t, then you can probably move on – but, having said that, stop. Take a few minutes to read on, because you never know, one day the conviction may seize you, too, that what you really need is a new club…
Nothing is more annoying than putting in the effort to get a club off the ground only to discover that there was a club locally all along that you could have joined without all this hassle. So make sure you ask around – and you’ll need to dig, sometimes, because wargaming clubs are surprisingly furtive organisations that frequently disdain simple measures such as websites, adverts or telling local hobby stores that they exist.
If you do track down some local clubs, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no need for another one, because all clubs have their own particular traits that determine whether they’ll suit you. And if they don’t suit you then there’s a good chance that there’ll be other people they won’t suit, either. The critical properties you need to think about are:
• Day & Time - If a club is meeting on a day or at a time that just doesn’t suit you, then consider whether you could run one at a different time on a different day that would be better.
• Gaming Systems - Not every club plays every game. If you’re looking for Flames of War at a Magic: the Gathering club, then you may be in the wrong place. Of course a lot of clubs are very open to new games, and it may just need some perseverance. However, if a club is very historically focussed then, whilst they may like Alternate-WW2, they are unlikely to be fans of Age of Sigmar.
• Venue - Clubs are defined by their venues. A club with a small venue can only support a maximum number of members every week. One with a larger venue will be more likely to offer a range of games. But one with an inconvenient venue, out of town, without parking and invisible to satnav, is unlikely to prosper. Some venues, moreover, are clearly better for a mature group, such as clubs meeting in pubs or bars. If you are under 18 or have children who want to play, then you may want to look for a family-friendly venue.
• Atmosphere - The subtlest quality of a club, atmosphere can be everything from the pervading scent of geek-sweat through to a preference for tournament-style games and strict competition. If a club’s atmosphere doesn’t suit you then an alternative club needs to have a different atmosphere to offer to potential members.
Once you’ve decided that you really must start a new club, either because the existing club(s) don’t suit you or because they don’t exist, you need somehow to gather more wargamers to join you. If you can, do this first. A club consisting of one player is even more pathetic than a player without an opponent. If you can just find one other wargamer, then you’ll be away.
How to track down other wargamers is a subject almost deserving of its own article, but once you can find at least two or three others, you need two more things before you start: a name and some money.
• Naming a Club - Deciding on a name will always generate lots of discussion, but your choices are basically threefold: silly, obvious and aspirational. Silly names – Gobstyks, the Sad Muppet Society – are adverts for a club that doesn’t take itself too seriously and probably plays lots of SF and fantasy games. Clubs with silly names will attract younger players, so beware! Obvious names – the Cheltenham Wargames Association, the York Wargames Society – do exactly what they say on the tin: they imply sensible, mature wargamers with a penchant for re-enacting Waterloo and arguing the mechanics of American Civil War engineering methods over a pint of Winkle’s Old Peculiar. Younger gamers will tend to stay away. Aspirational names tend towards the vainglorious (The First Company Veterans, the York Garrison, the Cheltenham Warchiefs) and send a similar message to the silly name but by proxy. These clubs tend to straddle the worlds of serious and casual gaming and will always be slightly embarrassed by their own name.
• Money - Money is almost as tricky a subject. Ultimately, all clubs need someone to ante-up, be it to buy terrain, to pay a deposit on a venue or to meet the bills for the first few months. If you came up with the idea, then it is likely to be you, so plan accordingly. Generally speaking, a club will need £100-£200 to get off the ground. If this is beyond you, then you should look at a school or library club, where you can persuade someone else to foot the bills, albeit also handing over a great deal of control over club rules to another party.
We’ve already touched upon the qualities of a club. If you’ve set one up, then try to determine what yours are and, if there are other local clubs, make sure that yours are distinct from theirs.
One important way you can do this is in the club’s constitution and rules. If it’s just a handful of you at the outset, then this may seem like overkill, but it’s something to keep in mind from the start. The Gaming Club Network offers a template for new clubs to write their constitution, describing the rules by which the club is run. Despotic clubs (in which the club management is unelected and permanent) tend to be unchanging personal fiefdoms. They are good at maintaining their existence, but they are poor at responding to change or unexpected challenges. A democratic club (in which the management is elected for a fixed term) is much more responsive, but is more vulnerable to internal squabbles that can drive away members and, on rare occasions, break a club up entirely.
A vital part of the rules that must be decided early on, although it can change later, is to work out how to pay for yourselves. Set a subscription rate that will cover or recoup your expenses and decide how often it will be charged and to whom.
Something to bear in mind is that the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to charge differential rates based on age, sex, race, religious belief or sexual preference (although it will still be legal to charge differential rates for under 18s – or to bar them entirely!).
Once you’ve got a venue and a bunch of people together to play, you’re going to need to fill that space with some stuff and this is where that money I mentioned comes into play.
A good venue – I recommend finding one of these! – will provide you with trestle tables on which you can play until you’ve got some proper tables, which you should do as soon as possible. 4’x4’ and 4’x6’ are the easiest to find and you can find some good tutorials on how to build and paint these online. If you’re made of money, then you can buy modular boards from a range of companies.
Storage becomes key at this point, of course, because as well as the tables you have to be able to store the terrain that goes on them. Most wargamers will have a small supply of their own terrain that you can either buy from them, borrow or accept as donations in return for a few free visits.
Venues are invariably cagey about storage for new hirers. If you can last the course, pay your rent on time and show yourselves to be polite, efficient and tidy then you’ll often find that new storage will eventually become available as other clubs and groups in the same venue fold or move.
Once you’ve got your first handful together, finding new members is the next challenge. Well-established clubs will often not have to advertise as the power of word-of-mouth is enough to keep them going, but new clubs will need to really push themselves.
By far the best outlet is online. The Google search is the ubiquitous first step to find anything in the 21st Century, so make sure that searching for “Wargaming [Your town]” comes up with a hit relevant to your club, first time. You can do this, first of all, by having your own website. But adverts on popular wargaming forums, articles on local press websites and listings on local council websites will all contribute to getting that vital first hit.
Beyond the Internet, the next best outlet is at local hobby stores and at other local clubs. Naturally, you should ask to do this. Games Workshop stores have a mixed reputation for promoting clubs in their areas, having ended their relationship with the Gaming Club Network whether you can promote the club in the shop will depend a lot upon the local manager. Other shops are likely to be less risk-averse. Promoting your club at other wargames clubs in the area is, again, a touchy subject. Some clubs are very happy to collaborate whilst others can see this as an attempt to poach members. Talk to the club's leaders about a way to work together on mutual promotion.
It’s all very well running a club, but it can’t be done by just one person. When you’re ill, held late at work, on holiday or just don’t feel like it this evening, there needs to be someone else who can step up and take the money, keep the register, set out the tables and tidy up at the end.
Better still, there should be a committee. The bigger you can make the committee, the better. Three should be an absolute minimum and you can give them specific roles if you like, but being able to share the burden of leadership is absolutely vital in any voluntary undertaking. Just having one or two people who can guarantee to be there first, get the tables out and look after the terrain is a huge help. If there are also two to put them all away at the end, that’s even better.
Clubs that aren’t growing are dying. In my next articles, I will discuss some strategies and tactics you can use to make sure that your club can survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
There are some vital finishing points I need to make that didn’t fit neatly under a title ending in “-ate”, so I’m putting them all here.
First of all, if you are running any independent public gathering, you would be well advised to have Public Liability Insurance or you will be personally liable for any injuries or damage sustained in the course of a meeting (and those 4’x6’ tables can really hurt when they fall on a toe!). Whilst being a part of the Gaming Club Network is by no means essential to becoming a successful and popular wargaming club, the GCN offers member clubs a very good PLI deal.
Second, you may find people asking about DBS checks if you have child or vulnerable adult members. These are checks performed (for a fee) by the Disclosure and Barring Service of the Home Office and YOU DON'T NEED ONE. Under a previous set of regulations, you would have done. But these changes several years ago, now, and unless you have regular, unsupervised contact with children or vulnerable adults (regular meaning at least weekly, overnight or for four or more consecutive days) you do not need a DBS check.
However, it can be helpful to know which committee members have had DBS checks through other volunteering or professional work and to see their certificates, just in case someone needs to have unsupervised contact with a child or vulnerable adult in an emergency.