In my efforts to push more folks towards getting out of the house and having some fun with BattleCON and the other games in the duelist line, I'm creating a series of Tournament Tutorials to help you figure out how to run your own organized play event.
I'm writing these tutorials to be generic, so that they'll be useful to you no matter what game you're trying to run (but I hope that you'll run a BattleCON event!)
What is Free Play?
We don't all have huge communities of players to organize things like tournaments. A Free Play Event is a great way to host a gaming event without requiring players to know the game in advance, and to expand the base of players in your area so that you can eventually run larger events like tournaments.
A Free Play event is an event where players are free to come and go as they please, and where games are provided for them to play. Typically, senior players will be teaching the game to new players at a Free Play event, but even well-versed players can enjoy a laid-back Free Play event too.
Setting Up a Free Play Event
A free play event is the simplest kind of Organized Play Event, and anybody can run one. The important part of Organized Play is the "Organized" part, so the best way to start is to open up your notebook and do a little planning:
- Feature: What game do you want to feature in your Free Play Event?
- Materials: How many copies of the game do you own? If you have friends who own the game and who will be participating, can you get them to bring their copies of the game too? Does the venue you want to play at have demo copies of the game that they can loan you as well?
- Maximum Capacity: Based on your answers to #2, how many people can join your event simultaneously?
- Time: How long will the event last? It's usually best to make a Free Play event take around 3 hours, so that you and your volunteers don't get exhausted or have schedule conflicts.
- Judges & Volunteers: Are you confident in your ability to teach the game and resolve any rules that come up? Are there other local players who would be able to help with this role? List them!
- Venue: Is there a place and time where you can run the event? Make a short list of 3 or more venues, at least 2 weeks out. The more time you have to plan and promote, the better.
- Promotion: How will you reach out to local players to get them to attend your event? It's ok to just brainstorm a bit.
- Prize Support: Will players receive anything for participating? A door prize or a raffle are acceptable for a Free Play Event, and it's fine to have no prize. It's mostly about meeting people, learning games, and having fun, after all.
At this point, you're just brainstorming. Try to get a rough answer to all of the questions, then proceed along.
Organizing a Venue
It's best to host your event in an accessible, public place, rather than your home. Game stores are great, but they aren't the only option! Local coffee shops, libraries, schools, community centers, and churches are all built with the intention of people gathering and having events. Think about the people that will be attracted to the featured game, and choose a venue that appeals to that kind of person to invite them into.
Take the short list of venues, and then contact them in order of your most-favored to your least-favored. It's easiest to go to a place in person and ask the venue owner or a manager about the possibility of running an event. It's important to have a short list of preferred dates and times, but to also be flexible within the venue's schedule. Bring along a copy of the game you are planning to run the event around, so that the venue can approve it (and in the case of a store, stock it).
Make sure to get a contact at your venue, and write that down in your notebook, so you can get in touch later.
Once you have a date and time for your event, it's important that you have enough help during your free play event that you're not overwhelmed. Keep in mind that if you're running a Free Play event, it probably means that the people attending your event are going to be learning the game for the first time.
You should have at least one person who is dedicated to teaching, rather than playing (usually the organizer, that's you!). It's generally a good idea to have at least one experienced player committed to the event for each copy of the game that you're staging, so that you can pair novices with experienced players as often as possible. These experienced players are your volunteers, and they will probably be made up of your friends who already play the game with you.
Get the contact information for all your volunteers and keep it in your notebook. Make sure they know how to contact you too!
As Organizer, you're likely going to take on the role of judge as well. Free Play events are casual, so don't sweat this too much, but you should make sure you have the complete tournament rulebook for the game that you're running in digital or physical format. Many publishers may make more complete "Official Rulebooks" available for judges, so check the website for those. Ours are kept here.
Promoting the Event
Now that you have a venue and volunteers, the next part is to find players.
You've already brainstormed a few ways to promote the event by this point, so it's a good time to put those into motion. If you're drawing blank, here are a few suggestions:
- Use the regional forums on sites like Reddit and BoardGameGeek to post a notice about your event,
- Put up a poster or flyer at your venue. Most publishers will have posters or flyers for their games that you can print and post, so look for those! Ours can be found here!
- Post your event on your own social media site (facebook, pintrest, tumblr, etc). Wherever you think real-life local friends are most likely to see it. Even if your friends aren't interested, they can share the event with their local friends, to spread your local reach.
- If your venue has social media like facebook, tumblr, twitter, or the like, ask them to put out an update about your event.
For a Free Play event, don't ask for RSVPs or give out invitations--just tell people when and where to show up.
Preparing for the Event
Two days before your event, call up your contact at the venue and verify the event time and schedule to make sure everything is still on. If your contact will not be on duty during the day of your event, make sure to get the contact information of the senior staff member who will be overseeing your event (and it may be a good idea to call and introduce yourself if you haven't met them yet).
Call or text AND email each of your volunteers, to remind them about the event, to give them an opportunity to notify you if they have to cancel or have any other news to share with you. Make sure to reiterate in your message what is expected of your volunteers: that they show up to the event 15 minutes early, and that they bring along any copies of the game.
Get together a box and make sure all these things are in it:
- Your copy (or copies) of the game. It's smart to write your name in the top of your game boxes, as well as to bag individually all the components of your game (such as decks, fighters, player starting materials, etc) to make the game easy to setup and break down. This also reduces your chances of having pieces lost by players during the event.
- Your copy of the official game rules
- A clipboard with a signup sheet (a simple piece of paper can be enough, but printed signup sheets are nice and look professional).
- Some spare paper and pencils (for keeping scores and notes)
- Any prize support you care to give away.
- A table poster, event poster, or some other kind of colorful invitation for people to come in and join your event is almost mandatory. Make sure it's clear that the event is open to anyone who walks up, and not just to signups! You can download ours here.
Running the Event
Show up 30-45 minutes early for your event. Check in with the venue's owner and any staff on duty, and let them know about the event you're running, how people can join, and what kind of space you will need. Since you've already worked these things out with the venue owner or manager, you shouldn't run into any conflicts, but remember to be respectful and deferential to your host if conflicts do arise.
Set up your table poster, and if possible, post your event poster onto the front door of your venue to let people on the street know that the event is on. Try to position yourself so that you're in a good place to see people walking up, and be ready to greet and explain the event to anyone who asks.
Ask each player who joins the event if you can get their name and email address on your signup sheet, so that you can let them know about future events.
Since Free Play doesn't have any kind of tournament structure, your main responsibility during the event will be greeting players, matching new players together with your volunteers, and making sure players are signed up, and that everyone is engaged and having fun. You may also be called upon to answer rules questions, so try to keep yourself free from long commitments during the event.
Try to take a few pictures, or even a short video!
Finishing the Event
At about one game-length to the end of your event, it's time to close down the event (so if your game is 30 minutes long, you should start this process 30 minutes before the event is scheduled to end).
Take down the storefront poster and your table banner, and put away the signup sheet. People may still inquire, but don't start any new games. Let the venue staff know that you're closing down the event.
Go ahead and let each of your tables know that the event is closing down soon, and thank each of them for coming out to play. If you have door prizes or a raffle prize, go ahead and give those out now.
Make sure that your volunteers aren't on your raffle and don't win your door prizes–if you give any of them a gift for their help, give a similar gift to all of them.
If the event goes well, it can be fun to get a group picture to commemorate things too!
Thank your players and volunteers again as they leave, and invite them to come out to the next event (you have their emails, so you can follow up on this for the next time).
After the event ends, and you've gotten some time to recover, there are still a few things to do.
First off, put together an email with something like Mailchimp, or your own email client, if your list is small (but make sure to use BCC for the addresses, so you don't share everyone's data!) and thank all of the players again for coming to join you. If you're planning another event, you might mention it now, but there's no need to commit to a specific place and time right now. It's also a great opportunity to share the pictures and video from the event with the players!
Call up your venue contact, tell them how the event went, and thank them for hosting you. You might want to share the event photos and video with them as well, to post on their social media sites. Everyone loves to see people having a great time at their venue, and this will likely be the most rewarding part of the event for your host.
At last, take a few minutes to jot a few notes. What went well? What didn't go well? What will you do differently for your next event? If you're the blogging type, share your experience with the world!