So you want to build a board game community

I’m writing this post coming from the position of being in the board game industry as a designer/publisher and also a person with aspirations to build a community.  I’ve attempted to build a board game community a couple of times now and failed.  To me, failing is okay because it keeps you from going too far doing something that I probably was not 100% committed to.  If I didn’t lack the necessary commitment, I probably would have stuck with it and pivoted until it did succeed.  The purpose of this post is to learn from my shortcomings and reflect before moving onto the next community-building endeavor.  I’m going to do an autopsy on why I think I’ve failed to build a successful board game community thus far.

The first thing to consider is why you want to build a board game community.

(Four lies and  one truth)

1.) Command a mob of loyal board game followers to influence the hotness on BGG.

2.) Receive thousands of 5-star ratings and positive comments.

3.) Establish a creative outlet because everything I do is completely original and nothing I’ve done has ever been unoriginal.

4.) Have fun, make new friends, give back in the form of education/exposure, and create a platform for both myself and others.

5.) Make millions of dollars with youtube revenue.

A Post Mortem on my personal flops building a board game community

(I’m not linking them because I’m moving on to the next endeavor.)

Gamers with Wives podcast – The premise was inspired by the wildly successful “Gamers with Jobs” podcast (that had a 10-year headstart) hosted with my good buddy and board game mentor Chris.

  • What worked:  We talked about a lot of games we were playing coming from the angle of a gamer mostly.  We bridged digital and board games which felt like a gap in the podcast market at the time.  The logo, lol, which may or may not have inspired some other creators’ logos.
  • What didn’t work: Although it was enjoyable to chat, our schedule and consistency became a challenge.  In addition, our content was not significantly different or unique enough.  We ended the show after maybe 15 episodes and with about 1000 total episode downloads.  We weren’t completely honest with our audience that we were creators and spent more time creating games than playing them.  The title wasn’t as inclusive as it should have been, and should have been Gamers with Spouses.  In the end, the podcast fizzled and the episodes lay peacefully in the digital abyss.

Print It and Ship It podcast – The premise was to tackle some evergreen board game designer/publisher topics.  Currently on hiatus but may reopen this podcast!

  • What worked: Hosted again by myself and my good buddy and mentor Chris, we actually covered some pretty uncovered topics in the board game industry.  Being a jack of all trades, my experience was able to take topics to or beyond many other board game communities with podcasts.  We also built a platform for designers to pitch their game design directly to a publisher via audio recording and we gave them feedback on air.  We didn’t sign a game from this approach, but I feel it was a mutually beneficial segment: Help designers get better at pitching and look at new pitches.  And it was fun!
  • What didn’t work: Scheduling and consistency again became a barrier.  We recorded past midnight sometimes and often would postpone recording until schedules aligned.  When this occurred, I seriously considered solo episodes or finding another host but never made it happen.  I may reopen this effort in the future because we were getting a couple of emails per week with pitches.  People were definitely interested in this platform and more opportunities to pitch.  Again we ended at about 15 episodes.

Global Game Night Twitch stream and youtube videos – The premise was to play games that scale to infinite players live on Twitch and post teach and playthrough videos on Youtube later.  Most games were Roll and Write style games.

  • What worked:  We had people show up and engage and play!  People liked learning a new game and enjoyed the fresh new format on Twitch.  The content could be repurposed from Twitch to Youtube reasonably well without much editing.  It seemed to resonate with solo gamers pretty well.
  • What didn’t work:   Firstly, Covid-19.  When this happened, pretty much every board game content creator started moving into this space that I had been warming up for almost 4 months.  Now we all have to play games on zoom… lol.  I kept at this for maybe 15 total live events but just felt way less energy to do this because it wasn’t different.  What this taught me was that I get energy from doing things that are different because people tend to notice somebody taking a new approach.  I streamed the games on Twitch which I think was the wrong short-term choice for a streaming platform for board games.  More board gamers were on Facebook and I think it would have grown much quicker had I started out on FB.  The content was not friends/family relevant which is odd to mention but I truly thought this was an opportunity to connect with friends/family.  I played on Twitch and interaction was via chatbox while maybe a discord channel with voice chat would have been more engaging.  Last but not least, this was a ton of work!  Every week I tried to come with a fresh game knowing how to play and teach and continue to hold and interesting monologue throughout the 75-minute slot.  Scheduled live events can be super stressful and I would get basically nothing done on Mondays until the event was over.

Beer and Board Game meetup group – The premise was to pick a new brewery every week and gather people in person that want to learn new board games and possibly taste a new brewery.

  • What worked:  Because this was in person, I was very consistent.  We established a rotation of 3 breweries per month.  We had anywhere between 2 and 15 people that joined.  I partnered with another local meetup owner to help spread the word.  I definitely made some new friends.  We received some discounts for our beer.  Breweries were happy to give us space because we played on Mondays when they have the least customers.
  • What didn’t work: – I ran the meetup for probably 15 months total.  It was a bit of a mixed bag with weekly attendance and summers really impacted this negatively for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, people want to enjoy the outdoors when they can in Minnesota.  In addition, breweries started expanding their summer events into Mondays and Tuesdays which negatively impacted the gaming experience.  Once attendance dips in the summer, a reasonably large effort needs to happen to reenergize the meetup group and I think moving to a monthly schedule may have been a smarter decision to avoid overcommitment and burnout on my part.

What you can take away from this post?

1.) Everybody does things for different reasons.  Make sure you’re honest with yourself and your community about why you’re doing it.

2.) If you’re on the way or already built a board game community, remember why you started during the ups and downs.

3.) Learn from my board game community-building shortcomings.  It’s okay to fail.  It’s okay to pivot.  Hopefully, we can learn together.

4.) Call a spade a spade and move onto the next great idea!  If it’s not for you, move on altogether and focus on the things in your life that really matter.

It won’t be easy and there are a lot of creative people already doing great things.  Consistency, quality, uniqueness, and building honest relationships seem to be the recipe for success from my experience.  Start a new endeavor with realistic expectations and remember that every great community is made one super-fan at a time.

Comment on this post to remember why you started on your journey to build a board game community or why you want to start!

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