Thursday, 16 December 2021

Starting a Wargames Club: Experiences from Didcot Wargames Club

Last year, I started a new Wargames club in my local area, Didcot Wargames Club. A few readers asked me to put together my experiences of setting up the club, to hopefully provide some advice for those thinking of doing the same. 

Here are my thoughts on setting up the club, and how it has been going. 


Why Set Up the Club
Putting together my own gaming club has been something I have been thinking about for a while. For me, the catalyst came from changing personal circumstances. My partner was moving from about 30 mins journey away to over an hour journey away. As a result, we were going to be more restricted to meeting up at weekends for the forseeable future. This meant that I may not be able to attend my regular gaming club on a regular basis. 

I normally attend Spiky Club in Reading, which meets on a Friday night from 7-11 pm. This club is a good 45 mins drive from my current flat, which is a bit of a travel commitment. As it is a Friday, I can get away with this. On a regular weeknight, I would struggle, not getting back till Midnight and having to work the next day. There are even times when I cannot be bothered going on a Friday if I have had a long week at work (the curse of getting old!). 

Due to these factors, I was looking at setting something up that was more local and would be happening mid-week. 


After speaking with a few friends in the area who play 40k, I thought there would be enough interest in setting up a local club in Didcot to make the venture worth exploring. 

I would say that this would be the first thing to consider if you are setting up a club. Will there be enough interest in the local area to keep the club going? Most people setting up a wargames club will be taking on the financial obligation initially, at least until the club becomes self-sustaining. If you can share that among a group of people involved in the club, it is more likely to run for reasonable costs before you get a group of dedicated players.

Find a Venue
This is possibly the biggest issue when trying to set up a wargames club.

The problem with wargaming clubs is that you generally need a large area for a few number of players. Just four or five tables for 40k takes up a considerable amount of floor space. You need an area that is big enough to accomodate a number of players, but for a reasonable cost.

In most cases, this is going to be a local hall that you can hire. However, there are a number of options that you can use to set up a gaming club. I've been in clubs that are held in a local bar, a church hall, community centre hall, etc.

The biggest problem for me was finding a hall that was big enough to accommodate a wargames club, but was reasonably costed to do so. The halls that I looked at in the Didcot area were generally charging between £15-20 per hour for an evening hire of a hall.

For me, a gaming club needs to run at least four hours to make it viable for 40k. Most of the clubs that I have attended over the years run for 4 hours. I have been to one that runs for 3 hours. For most games systems this would be fine, but I found that I was rarely getting that far in my games to make it worthwhile. When you factor in time for setting up the game, as well as allowing time to dismantle the terrain and tables, this did not leave a lot of time for a game. For me, I wanted my club to run for 4 hours.


Based on this, it would cost between £60-80 per gaming night. I think most people attending a gaming club would be happy to pay a maximum of £5 for a session, with £5 being at the high end of the cost of a club in my experience.

This means you would need at least 12 people attending each gaming night just to break even, with little budget for expansion of the club. For me, this was asking a lot, especially if you are from a small area that is unlikely to see many people attending initially. I was also not prepared to burden the financial obligation of spending hundreds of pounds each month to keep the club going while the player base built up.

A lot of halls will give you a discount for regular bookings, so it is worth asking around to see what kind of discount you can get for a weekly or monthly booking.

Fortunately, I was able to find a local hall that offered a brilliant rate for hall hire to make the club viable; the North Moreton Village Hall. They also had a suitable evening free for setting up the club that worked with the initial core of gamers in the area.

Once you have an idea of where you will be holding the club, the next thing to do will be to go and check it out. There are a number of factors to consider when looking for locations:

  • Accessibilty- Does the venue have good transport links for those that do not drive, or is it within a reasonable journey time for other players. 
  • Tables- 40k, and wargaming in general, requires a substantial number of tables to play on. Does the facility have enough tables and are they suitable for the game? Fortunately, the Village Hall has a substantial number of tables available, and they are free with the hall hire. This gave me enough for 6-8 wargaming tables, or tables for other game systems. 
  • Parking- Adequate parking facilities? Most players will likely be travelling by car, so you need to have space to accommodate them, especially if you are looking to grow the club. 
  • Storage- I don't think this is such an issue initially, as you are likely to be supplying most of the materials to start with (more on this below), but as the club grows, it is nice to have an area in the hall to store gaming supplies. 
  • Reliability- If the local village hall is very popular, you want to ensure that you can have a regular booking. If you start getting club regulars, they will count on having the same night to play each week, as that makes organising that night much easier. 

For me, the North Moreton Village Hall, fulfills some, but not all of these criteria. 

The hall has enough space to accommodate a lot of gamers, as well as good space to grow the club in the future. It also has enough tables for many games of 40k to occur at once. In addition, there was a regular spot available for booking and a great cost for hiring the hall (one of the most important issues for me). 

Where it lacks is in parking facilities and storage. There is not space for a large number of cars to park in the area, and there doesn't seem to be much space for storage of gaming supplies in the hall. I don't think this will be much of an issue initially, but as the club grows, it may become a problem. 

Once you find a suitable venue for the club, the next thing is to decide when you wish to have it. 


Picking a Club Night
This is obviously down to your own schedule, and what night you are available. It is also useful to avoid the same night as any other gaming clubs in the area. This means you are not competing with another club, and can even tempt their members over to your club if they fancy gaming a couple of nights a week. 

A Thursday night is perfect for me. There are a few local clubs in the area. Most run once a month on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. 

Initially, I started running the club every 2 weeks. However, we have now moved to a weekly meeting, which is proving to be very popular. There is no other weekly club in the immediate local area, with Oxford being the closest place to get another weekly club, as far as I am aware. 

Advertising
For me, Facebook has been a great resource for advertising and organising the club. I set up a page for the club, to allow me to advertise when the club is meeting, what events we have one, and to allow players to organise games. 

This is much easier and more immediate for posting than doing it by email or another website. I think this has been working quite well, and it is relatively easy to put together an Event page for each club night. 

For each club night, I will make an individual events page. This allows me to easier track who is attending each week, and makes it easy for players to organise their own games, without spamming or the posts getting lost on the main Facebook page. 

I also set up a Discord server after requests from club members. I don't use this too often, but it is very popular amongst some members. We post hobby updates, rumours, organise games and plan tournaments, etc. 


Gaming Supplies
This is one area where you may have an expensive initial outlay. Most people who attend clubs would expect to have gaming mats and terrain available for use. This is especially important for those new to the hobby, who may not have what they need to play, outside of their own armies. 

Here, I was in a bit of luck. I have also enjoyed making and building terrain, so had a ton of stuff available to use initially, as well as three gaming mats. This allowed me to bring along enough to cover several tables worth of games as the club was getting going. 

I also knew a few people likely to attend, and could ensure that they could bring their own terrain and mats to cover their games. 

This is where having your own supplies is useful. You can always purchase more "club" terrain as you grow the club, but might have some expenses to put out initially as you get materials to use. 

First Gaming Night
The first gaming night for the club was in late February 2020. I decided that the first club night would be free. This was to entice people to come and give the new club a go. I also supplied some snacks and drinks for people. 

This wasn't too much of a cost, and would hopefully entice a few extra people to come along and try it out. 

On our first night, we managed to get 10 players along. It was mostly 40k, but we did have four people playing the Walking Dead game. Overall, it was a pretty good success, and I was keen to see how the club would grow. 

Then, the first lockdown hit the following week! 


Lockdown
So, obviously this had a dramatic impact on the running of the club. Initially, we just weren't running at all for the first few months. We then tried running with restricted numbers (max of 6 people), but this just wasn't feasible financially. 

Eventually, the restrictions were lifted and we were able to meet again. Fortunately, we didn't have to still pay for the hall, or pay a fee to save our space, so this made it a bit more bearable. 

Post-Lockdown
The club returned after the national lockdowns. Initially, we struggled with numbers attending, either being below or just breaking even with the hall hire. This could have been reluctance to return to indoor activities, or we had lost a lot of momentum over the lockdowns. 

I did have to write a few Facebook posts urging people to attend, or risk losing the club. It was already running at a loss, so wasn't sure how many more weeks I would be able to keep it running. Fortunately, this had the desired effect and attendance has been slowly improving. 

We are now comfortably getting 8-10 people each club night, more than enough to keep the club functioning. We are still mostly 40k, but a few other game systems have started to emerge. 

I was surprised how many new players we managed to attract to the club. We have around 6-8 fairly regular players who are pretty new to 40k. Thankfully, myself and some of the other veteran gamers have been taking them through beginner games to get them used to the rules, allowing them to play off against each other is smaller games after a few weeks. 

I have also been expanding terran for the club. We were fortunate to be able to persuade the hall to allow us to put in a cupboard to store some of our mats and terrain, so this has made it easier, with fewer materials to transport to and from the club each week. I purchased several new mats and terrain sets to accommodate the growing club, so we should be set for the near future. 


Ongoing Plans
I'm looking forward to 2022, and expanding the club further. At the moment, I am not charging yearly memberships for attending. At £5 per night, I feel it is already at the more expensive end, and don't want to discourage people from coming along. We are also getting enough regular attendance to make the hall fees, so don't really need the extra income (as the club is essentially a non profit enterprise). 

I have a lot of terrain to get built and painted over the Christmas break, so we should be set for a while.

I have also made preparations to run my first tournament in the new year. This has currently sold out at 12 players. This is a reasonable number I feel for my first event, and I will have enough mats and terrain to have six interesting and themed boards. I'm hoping to be able to run at least one event each quarter, so four a year is pretty reasonable. It will probably stay at a similar level until I can build up funds, as I would need to purchase more mats and terrain to have many more players. 

I might also be putting together a committee to help run things. At the moment, I am doing most of the work in running the club myself. It's not that much work, but it would be nice to have some help in time. Maybe someone at the club wants to try running a tournament, so that I can actually attend one! 

We are also almost at the point where the club is profitable! Just in terms of club fees though. I haven't included all the new mats and terrain, as this is really my personal supply at the moment and will come with me if I am moving at any point in the future. I would like to build up club funds to allow me to purchase more terrain and run events. Maybe even get more players involved at local events. 

Overall
It's been a lot of fun and a new challenge setting up my own gaming club. It's definitely something I am glad to have done, as it means I am playing a lot more 40k these days! 

Hopefully, you have found it an interesting read. If you have any questions, or can offer any advice, please comment below.


8 comments:

  1. ouch, what a time to start your club! I'm on the opposite end of the scale, I wound down our club a couple years ago... the membership had been dwindling and we'd gone from regular money to put back into the club to just about breaking even. We were in essence a victim of the hobby success... once we were the only club in the city. But as the hobby has grown and more clubs have emerged and several businesses have got in on the action, there have been a wealth of options for people, which made our excellent, cheap, good storage but sadly not great parking and not near public transport hubs venue met it's limitations. I'm not complaining - the core group of us still meet for regular gaming, attendance is now just a size I can fit in my living room. And as I said, there are many other options out there, and the benefit of city living and a large player base means the cost per attendee seems to be about 2 quid per session, about what we were running in our own club (and why I couldn't justify raising admission in order to keep the club going - it made more economic sense for us to become members of a bigger club than to keep running our own.)

    Anyway, I'm guessing that's a difference in problem between living in a city and living in a smaller town. In Portsmouth you can wargame damn near every night of the week if you want to. Different set of challenges. But good luck with the club and I hope it grows well.

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    1. Ah, that's a real shame that your club folded. We are fortunate to have enough interest and not too many competing clubs in the local area that are weekly.

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  2. great job.

    our club in cambridge charge £3 a session or £2 if member (£10 a year)

    membership is a good way to get funds in the bank

    good luck with the event.

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    1. Thanks very much! I hope to bring you more details and plenty of pics of the event (assuming it still goes ahead).

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  3. I applaud your tenacity! Can you sell beer in the hall? Or charge an uncorking fee per drinker? I know our club is "wet" and the alcohol revenue is substantial.

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    1. I'm not actually sure of the alcohol policy. Not sure how much it would be of use, the club is a bit out of the way, and most people drive to the hall anyway. Perhaps a tuck shop would be of interest though!

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    2. The Tuck Shop could help fund Club Owned mats and terrain, so you don't have to shoulder that burden completely. It could also directly fund Club projects if you want to consider that.

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  4. At my old club in Sunderland (before we moved north of the border) the tuck shop was one of the big money earners, mostly it was just cans and chocolate bars but pretty much everyone brought a can and choccy bar every night.

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