Ben Calica

Ben is the owner of D20 Games.

Thanksgiving-D20 Needs Help (biz) to make it to next T-Day

Yep…shockingly enough, this has been a tough year.  We’ve been working super hard to keep afloat till things get to something vaguely resembling normal.  In the meantime, this year, we need as much of your holiday business as you can spare.

Part of that is a good thing both ways.  Instead of focusing on gifts to open basically at the end of x-mas, think about gettting some game to play with the family/friends during the time you are together (or needing something good to keep from missing what the holidays normally look like.) To that end, we’ve hand picked a number of games that we know will do the trick.  These can be ordered online and curbside pick up is Tues-Sunday, 4-6 (0r more when we are around…you can always call the store to check.)

The big thing we will be offering/need to survive next year is monthly business.  To that end we’re creating a number of D20 Clubs, for D&D, Magic and Family(friend) Game nights to join on a monthly basis.

Holiday Games (to play)

Diary of a Mad Businessman 9: To be or to Close

 

Diary of a Mad Businessman 9: To be or to Close-eep

By Ben Calica

People thought the big danger point for small shops like mine was that first couple of months closed. But the real cliff is coming now. Many of us have been clawing to keep alive long enough to be able to survive to the other side of this, but after X-mas there will be a lot of signs in windows of beloved favorite shops that none of us wanna see. What we need isn’t the flurry of go fund me kindness or even a burst of business now. What we need is to know that every month for the next year, we will get enough business to make it. So how to do that?

(Note…this was first written over 4 months ago and put into a drawer to hopefully never pull out again. I really hoped I was wrong, that the initial burst of kindness and charity would see us through to the other side. But to many mistakes were made and the other side is probably a year away. So I’m facing a choice in the next month or so to try and keep fighting to get us across the abyss or make the heartbreaking choice to close the shop . )

 

About 3 years ago,my little local game shop, D20 Games, came to big old fork in the road. An painful dispute with a new landlord forced us to scramble for new digs, and for a while, it wasn’t looking too good. I had negotiated a lease buyout to help pay for the increase in rent we were about to take on, and I realized that one option would be to not open and just take that money to help while I went on to do something else. Basically the move would be same as making the decision to start the business again. And that gave me pause. The truth is that a (non-electronic) game store ain’t the way to the big bucks. Its a somewhat insane act of love.

 

In my case, I didn’t end up with the shop because owning a game store was the plan, or even on the list, if I’m honest. I do like games, but the real reason I bought it was to create a safe/supportive place for my own kids. What I didn’t see coming was how much the store became that for a whole community. What I discovered that I truly loved about games was their use as connective tissue to bring people together. It became a safe and welcoming place for people to get face to face, not face to screen. You know that adult you met as a kid who took you seriously, who treated you like a person and not a child. I was able to be that for an entire community of kids. And it turned out that creating a place where the smack talk/shaming wasn’t ok, where the fun came from playing with respect and kindness. And as an added bonus, I discovered that there was an opportunity, among all that trading of Pokemon and Magic cards, to find that moment when kids had to face being taken advantage of and deciding if they wanted to do that to someone else or never make anyone else feel that way. It was this hidden building block of honestly, a moment that most of us as parents missed in the flame of tears and anger. It kept me sane when the political world seemed to fill with bullies, to focus on the kids under my umbrella and do everything I could to make sure that they didn’t end up that way. I started to see the difference it meant in the families that managed to make a game night part of their regular pattern of life, and started doing everything I could to encourage and enable that, in a world where parents felt like they were losing their kids into the screens they carried in their pockets. The shop had transformed into something that became much more important to me then I thought.

 

When I told our community about our crossroads 3 years ago, about making the move or calling it quits, I was completely unprepared for the response. The way I felt about the community turned out to to both ways. I felt how important and valuable the place had become to a big range of people. And it was more then just words. When we did find a place, and had two weeks to do a move and build out that should have taken two months, we were filled with volunteers who hauled boxed, picked up paint brushes and anything else that needed getting done. When I think back on , it brings annoyingly cliche tears to my eyes. I’ve never felt as appreciated as I did in that moment. I understood how much impact we had, and what that meant to the community, and that there were things more important than $$. It took us a couple of years to both pay off the move and get the business back to decent footing. In fact in the beginning of 2020, we started what would become the first truly profitable year we’d had since the move. (I found that out when I applied for grants that made me do the year to year comparisons early. I oscillate between being glad to know we had gotten it dialed in, and not wanting to know just how hard the pandemic whacked us.)

 

When we had to close because of the pandemic, it was a surreal blow, but I was ok with it. I knew that if someone came to me and said “if you close for the next couple of months, it will save your mother or father’s life” that I would have done so in a heartbeat. How could I do any less for someone else, particularly if that someone was the loved one of someone in our community. The day that we heard was a Monday, a day we were usually closed, and I quickly came up with the idea of selling game loot bags, to give people something to do when they were locked down and to try and get some sales before the cash registers stopped ringing. And then something that felt very much like the end scene in It’s a Wonderful Life happened. People showed up and bought those bags in droves, and I figured out pretty quickly that it was their way of trying to keep us alive. It felt wonderful.

 

And I wasn’t the only one. Small business all around me and the country started finding their loyal customers were just that. Willing to do whatever they could to help. There was a huge trend in selling gift certificates to keep them alive, and suddenly, in the midst of all that kindness, a terrible reality came to me. See the gift certificates were a perfect window into what was going to happen. The problem with them is that they gave income now, but meant that later, when they were back and able to function, their most loyal customers would be coming back to do business with slips of paper for money that had been spent in rent to make up for the months without. At the time when the shop would need as much business as they can to just get back to where they were, it would be like they were having to pay back a loan in full. It was like all those rent deferrals, that would come back later to people who might be working again, but sure as hell weren’t earning enough to pay a rent and a half or really any big increase to pay back for time where they didn’t have the income. And this wasn’t gonna be a couple of months we’d have to tread water to make it though, it was going to be at least a year and a half, probably two. Basically, we were one of those business that had been about lots of people close enough to be across the table from each other.

 

The soul of our business is using games as a connector to get people face to face, and to let kids get a chance to learn how to win with grace, lose with style and play for joy (our tagline..it’s on the back of our shirts/sweatshirts). Our way of competing against Amazon was by doing events that got people face to face, and hand picking good stuff and really listening and tuning suggestions of games to each person. And ironically enough, in the three months before the pandemic, we had recovered from the hit that all shops take when they make a move and were on the way to have an actually decently profitable year. But the truth is that it’s gonna be a long time till that is ok. And I’ve been goofy and paid attention to the original reopening guidance that says that you need a drop in cases for two weeks before you can start doing that. (I know that the death rates are dropping, even as more and more folks are being infected, but I’ve gotten to know some “long haulers” and there is whole uncovered set of people, something like 10% of those who get Covid that go through this combo of epstein-barr and migraines that leave them functionally debilitated for months if not permanently in some cases. And I’ll admit directly, that I’m scared. Having over a hundred people a week come into the store kind of paints a pretty big bullseye on my chest.)

 

So now I’m looking down the barrel of a shotgun. The truth is that I’ve been taking half the unemployment and using it as the government support that never really showed up to keep the place open, which I’m probably really regret when if I can’t make it through this and need to pay my own rent. (The landlords for the store have been good at giving us a rent reduction so everyone is suffering but we can all have a chance a making it through this.)

 

I don’t want charity, there are more important things for that then us. And honestly, although I would love as much business as we can get for the holidays, that is just gonna add a few more feet to the plank. What I need now is some way to know that enough business is coming in each month for the next year that we can make it through this. I love my community dearly, but if I have to go through another 12 months of living in anxiety and fear that we are gonna be able to pay rent/bills, I’ll be a torn apart wreck at the end of that time. And I’d like to do it in a way that lets us keep doing what the soul of the store is, having the games be something good in keeping us connected, not only through this, but as a joyful part of our lives.

 

What we are going to do, beyond asking for as much of the holiday business as we can get, is to make a small collection of regular (monthly) D20 Club memberships. These will include regular amounts for monthly purchases for magic/pokemon players that will get extra bonus thrown in when those purchases are made, to D&D memberships that will include Zoom style D&D until it is truly safe to do so in the store again. And my absolute favorite, a monthly family/friends game night kit that consists of carefully curated games that we all get to play together for that month, with nights where we do online sessions to help teach/be there to answer questions, special one page quick reference sheets to make the games easier to get into and other goodies. The most important part would be that in exchange for helping us out, we will help give an excuse to bring forward in to the new shape of live that we create for ourselves, a regular night to connect and have fun with each other, with the phone in the baskets. Maybe we get to create a whole community in Alameda that are all doing something joyful together.

 

I’ve talked a number of times in the past of how this is a time when the very blowing up of our lives has the hidden value. When our assumptions about what can and can’t be done get thrown up in the air, that when it falls, if we are careful, we might get to put it back together in ways we like better. Maybe learning how to work from home gives a chance to pollute less and spend that commute time with our families instead. Maybe we realise that distance isn’t as much of a barrier to staying in real connection to people we love. And maybe the impossible moments when we actually got to sit down with each other and play games instead of everyone surrounded by cones of silence powered by the glowing screens in their hands. Maybe we keep the best of what we had to make of this mess, including all the value of regular family/friend game nights.

 

And I’ve talked both about my deep concern about the hovering shade of digital nicotine (I know other parents nod their head in understanding about looking at the phone’s in our kids hands and seeing the distance and danger that lives in within that ecosystem), and the transformational value of setting up regular game nights at home, where the phones go in a bucket and people are just with each other in real time. For a lot of families, getting to do things like that with the kids and each other has been one of the great silver linings in all this, and trying to have that be one of the changes that we keep from this instead of a brief moment is of irreplaceable value.

 

So here is the deal, from my heart to my customers. I want to try and keep making this work. I’m gonna put these offerings out for the holidays before thanksgiving. They will range from $50-$150 (or more if people are able/want to help more)per month. For us to be able to make our monthly base costs and survive, we need about $10k in sales. So we will need between 50–100 people to sign up to make this work. If I get there, we’ll make it. If I get half that, I’ll take the scary chance and keep doing it anyway. If we can’t, then I think I’m gonna need to close the shop. I know it’s a bit of a buy this magazine or we shoot this dog proposition, but it is unfortunately the truth of it.

 

If you are interested in seeing what we are gonna offer, Email me with your name, email and cell number. If you include a picture of you, and your family if you live with one, in masks, I’ll send you a little thank you gift/bribe back in the form of a one time use code for a free Pokemon or Magic goodie to pick up at the store. (Good till January 2021 or longer if I decide to.)

 

Regardless of what happens here, I deeply love this community and I hope I’ve made it better. I know it has made me better.

More Diary of a Mad Businessmen Stories

At home Halloween Creepventure Recomendations

Ok, we’ve had over a half a year of skeleton holidays and rain-checked birthdays and celebrations.  And now we have to give up Halloween?  Not on my watch, at least not having it be another disappointing memory.   I’ve picked out a number of appropriately creepy, but more importantly interesting and engaging games, so we can give a good shot at transforming this from being another in the disappointment memory collection to being a night (or weekend) full of actual, face to face fun.  

A bunch of these games are coop games to play with each other against the game, and a few are big, epic adventures that will be the game equivalent of page turners.

Oh, and one more thing.  I know trick or treating is canceled, but every bag that is sold this weekend will come with a heaping (and well sanitized,) handful of Halloween candy. 

(Besides…it will be good to have a break from the constant checking of the election polls.)

Email us at info@d20alameda.com to arrange pick up or drop off of your stuff, and I’ll be around from 12-5 Thursday, Friday and Saturday for pick up (probably more, but at least that.)

D20 Prizes for wearing mask on the 4th!!

Ok.. I’m putting my (little) $$ where my heart is.  Today is the 4th and I know the desire to just have a break form all this being trapped in doors and being told to wear masks all the time is enormous. It is the 4th of July and time for celebrating freedom!

The numbers on this are ideal kinds of masks, cloth will be less, but the idea is exactly right.

So I’m gonna celebrate those of you that are smart, wise and kind enough to realize that wearing masks are the coolest thing ever to do. And I’m gonna give away a huge number of free packs to do it.

Here is how it works.  Take a picture of you and your family outside wearing masks and being safe, and I will send you a code that will let you get a free Pokemon or Magic the Gathering pack, or the equivalent discount on your next order for curbside pick up at the store.  Post a picture today (July 4th, 2020) with the hashtag #d20masksonthe4th on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram  or just send the picture to me at info@d20alameda.com and we will post it for you.  Send me and email at info@d20alameda.com with the email/name that you will use to make the order and I will send you the code for the free pack.  (I know it would be easy to cheat this with an old picture, but I’m counting on you using the honor system.)  The offer is one pack per person in the family, but if you have a couple of smaller kids, let me know in the email and I’ll toss in some extras.

Why the heck am I doing this?

I’m selfish.  I want to reopen the store and I want all my customers alive when I do it.  I know that a whole bunch of you guys are young and could likely smack down this thing if you do get sick.

  1. It is a sneaky little beast and most of the people who have it don’t even know it, they just spread it around. So if you feel fine–Wear the mask anyway!
  2. We spent all this time and sacrificed so much to get this under control (Basically if everybody had actually stayed in place and worn the mask and stayed away from each other for that time, the virus couldn’t have spread and we could really have opened up again by now. )  You can’t do this part time…Wear the mask!
  3. We’ve been trying to slow this down so the scientist/doctors can come up with a vaccine or a treatment, so every day we can really slow it down, less people will die…really. Wear the mask!!
  4. Unless your nose is a fake one made out of wood, you will breath with it and sneeze through it.  Wearing a mask under your nose, or around your neck ain’t a thing.  Wear the mask!! On your face.
  5. I try hard to never put politics into the store related stuff, since I want it to be a place where people can talk, regardless of any of that.  But if you happen to be one of those that believes this is a freedom issue, please reconsider.  There are plenty of other areas to disagree on that don’t involve putting yourself and those around you in danger.  Freedom to choose what to do means you are responsible for your actions.  Please, use your freedom to wear a mask.

Offer is only for the 4th of july and limited to the first 300 people who submit.  Orders made with the offer code will be subject to verification before pack is added so no one takes advantage.  Thanks to everyone who is showing strength by continuing to do right for the people around them.  Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prerelease in Pajamas (or how to get the most Ikoria Prerelease fun per pack at home)

If you are anything like me, this is another one of those milestones that remind us of how things have changed.  Usually our Magic prereases are a tribal gathering of folks who all share loving to play the same game.  But like most things these days, we need to get a little more cleaver to find hidden stashes of fun.  Enter the Ikoria Prerelease in Pajamas Suggestion 1 More fun then just opening a booster box:   Open boxes in piles of 6 packs.  That way you can not only see what’s in the packs, but use the sets of 6 to make different sealed decks.   Suggestion 2:  Home League:  This is one of my absolute fav was to get the most fun per pack possible, and will work particularly great for the current set.   It is very simple.  Take a 6 pack sealed pool of cards like the Prerelease kit as the league starter.  Then every day, or every few days, whatever you decide, each player in the league gets to open one more pack to add to their collection of cards to make a deck (or what will become lots of decks) with.  Those become the most fun to open packs ever, since it is not just the one or two best cards that are interesting, but each card gets an extra look to see if it might help make something better, or something new.  For those parents who are trying to keep things motivating or interesting each day, this is a great way to do it.  Even if they have a booster box that they can’t help but try and open right away, try to help them open the packs with scissors so the cards can go back in and get randomly used for a league. Suggestion 3–Zoom Magic.   You can play real live Magic with your buds online and it is great fun.  BUT, and this is a big but,  there are a few changes in the way to play you need to  make part of it for everyone to have fun:
  1. Too easy to Cheat…be honest or it sucks out all the fun: you have to make sure to be super honest.  It is super easy to set up a deck that doesn’t get shuffled, or sneak a look at a card or any number of other things.
  2. No gotchas.  When you can’t really see the other persons board, it is way too easy to make frustrating  errors you never would in person.  You have to help each other out. If someone is about to attack with their big powerhouse into a little 2/1 with deathtouch, tell ’em and ask if they really meant to do that.  Honestly, be the opposite of a rule shark.  You wanna have the best games you can with everyone having fun, so reminder people if they are about to make a goofy mistake and allow take backs like crazy.  Basically, the words “Are you sure you want to…” should be said a whole bunch.

Preoder Ikoria Online…really…

[NOTE–All Ikoria product is preorder to be delivered on or after May 15th.]

Oh man, do I hope this works…  I’ve been working all week to get the webstore online so we could do sales for Ikoria in the middle of the duck and cover in place time.* 
So here’s the deal.  We are doing a combo of Curbside and Delivery when the stuff comes out on Friday mostly because we don’t really know what the rules are gonna be on a day to day basis.  A couple of things:

  1. Safety First…REALLY.  We are doing curbside and delivery only…Don’t show up at the store to buy stuff.  I love you guys dearly and do NOT want people hanging out in anything like a line at the store.  The online store is hear so we can either drop the stuff off or come to the curb to the car and bring it to you.  
  2. We aren’t even pretending that we know what we are doing or will be able to pull this off without some sort of major “whoops”.  Please be super patient with us, and if you are not sure if something come through or have a question, email at info@d20alemeda.com and we’ll get back when we dig ourselves out.
  3. We are doing Ikoria Loot bags, which are combos of stuff.  These are based on the Magic loot bags we have already been doing, but upgraded for Ikoria only.  The Silver is two Prerelease kits at $60, the Platinum is a booster box and two Prerelease kits and bonus older buy a box promos.  We aren’t doing much in the way of discounts, cause frankly, we need every $$ we can get right now.  Instead, I’m tossing in bonus goodies like promo cards and packs.  When we get to some of the more significant loot bags, we are gonna say thanks for supporting us by upping the extra goodies levels appropriately.  We appreciate every bid of business you throw our way, but for those with the means to give the store above and beyond thanks, including some very limited items. Any Diamond level or above bag (and the first 25 orders over $400) will get the exclusive full art foil Godzilla card.  The Utimate Diamond Black Ultimate loot bag, for which there is and will only ever be one, includes, among many other things, the only one of the giant Garruk’s Axe (Nerf) and the 2017 SCDC Promo set with he Nicol Bolos print on a full uncut magic sheet. 

Regardless of what you get, I do have a suggestion to make up for the fact that we don’t get to come play together for the prerelease.  Take your prerelease kits and turn them into an at home sealed league.  Then each day, give each person a new pack to open to add to their card pool.  Each of those packs is gonna end up way more fun that way and you will be able to squeeze a lot more fun per pack.  I want your business, but I also want to be able to give you guys something with some joy in it to do with each other during all this.  

You can do the sealed with buddies over zoom to, but it requires one thing…the honor system for real.  It’s way to easy to cheat without anyone looking at what your are doing so it is a great time to remember that the playing is way more important then the winning and loosing, and that being honorable is not just adding serious power to yer insides, but makes you someone other people like playing with. 

Pick up your (loot) Baggage (bags) at the Curb. Our unofficial curbside service. And update of new stuff.

Here is the official unofficial way we* are doing things at D20 (for the moment) that is designed to keep everybody safe, give people a way to keep from going nuts that doesn’t involve screens, and trying to keep in business. 
*(not we, ok there is really nobody here but me and the pooch.)

What: Mystery Loot bags and specific game requests, We have Game Loot Bags, Magic Loot Bags, and D&D Loot bags.

Where: delivered to your car or at a distance outside the door

When:  Pretty much whenever I’m here, which is a fair amount.  Just call and check (510-522-2109). 

I’m not going to do regular hours because I don’t want to have any “time” I open up that might get more then one person hanging around at a time.   Call first and I’ll get things ready for when you get here.  

We are doing cash and credit cards and I’m rounding up the amounts so we don’t exchange any cash.  To keep thing safe for everyone, no customers are coming in the store, so that means no singles, either buying or selling.  Normally we spend a lot of time trying to help figure out what games are good for each person.  I’ll do that on the phone if I can, but the real way we are dealing with that are the Mystery Loot Bags.  Having said that , we are making some that are for younger kids vs adults and over, and if you let me know if there are a bunch of you or just two, I’ll see what I can do to help. 

Magic Mystery Loot bags

Magic Loot bags for sealed fun!

    • Silver Chaos Loot Bags: $50 (12 random packs—good for 2 person 6 pack sealed, or 3 people 4 pack mini sealed.)  Plus mystery bonus $50-80 value
    • Gold Chaos Loot bag: $100 (A pair of random prerelease kits and a mystery bundle.  Plus a mystery extra magic goody.)  $120-160 in value.
    • Platinum Chaos Loot bag: $200 ( A booster box, fat pack, two prerelease kits, and an extra surprise worth at least $50)$230-270 in value.
    • Diamond Chaos Loot bag: $500 ( A booster box, one of the Analogy sets, Archenemy, 4 prerelease kits, 4 brawl decks and a Conspiracy booster box, and whatever else I decide to toss in.) $550-800 value

As usual, call first to make sure I’m around . We (I) will get ready to bring it for curbside when you get here. Hours are whenever I’m here, so just call.

D&D Loot Bags

New Mystery Loot Bags—D&D this time.  

Mini Paint bag ($50) Nolzur’s Mavelous Adventurers Paint set (10 paints), Extra brush kit, Bonus Figures (6-8)
Big Mini Paint Bag ($100) Everything above, but with a 36 paints set and extra bonus mini’s to paint.  Limited Quantity .
D&D Everything You Need ($200) Everything you need to play D&D.  All three of the big box, plus the Essentials Kit with an adventure, DM screen, dice and more.  Plus an extra surprise or two.
D&D themed game loot bags ($75) Any of these games plus more (at lest $100 in retail value) for this D&D themed Mystery game Loot Bag.

As usual, call first to make sure I’m around and we will get ready to bring it for curbside when you get here.

Family Game Night-making a habit worth keeping.

Ok…we all know it is a painful  time, going stir crazy trapped in our homes with our kids/parents, desperately hunting for things to do to make the time move a little faster without getting on each other’s nerves. So lots of us have been pulling out projects, puzzles and board games. But in a time with all the old habits thrown up in the air, can we take one of the good things, family game night, and turn it into something everyone wants to keep around?

The thing of it is that this moment we are all going through has done something interesting and important that is worth thinking about. We’ve all had to basically blow up what we thought was the way life had to operate, and when this is done, we’re gonna need to put it back together differently then it was before. So maybe, we can use this to sneak back in somethings that were just too much of a change to get everyone to buy into before.

Old picture of a family playing games together

See I own a game store, so I get to see a lot of families come in, and I know from the tips of my toes to the top of my massively in need of a haircut head (remember when we used to be able to get haircuts, in the “before times”? Ah, the exotic luxury of it.), that the families that had regular family game night were bonded in ways that were just different from everyone else. I won’t go through the details on the case for board game nights again since I did that once upon a time in my store blog, but it’s an idea that almost every parent intuitively knows about as well as they know how exquisitely impossible it is to get going once screens and phones lodge into our kids brains. Getting this “quaint” idea going, with people who are able to fill every bored moment, is almost impossible. I will also not go into the details of why I’m deeply worried about the serious issues around the “Digital Nicotine” aspects of many of the things passing through smartphones/tablets, (So I’m Addicted to Cell Phones Too, Ben Calica). However, I will say that I’m much, much more worried about the danger of the literally physical addiction aspects of smartphone/screen problems right now, to the point where they could be much more difficult to deal with. Let me be clear, I’m not Luddite guy looking to throw all the glowing Satan boxes into the river (though there have been times when I wanted to take my own kids phones and lovingly put them under the tire of my car and just drive slowly back and forth for a little bit. I will put huge money that there is not a single parent of a kid with a phone reading this that isn’t nodding right now.) For learning, for communicating with loved ones, for opening the whole world of knowledge to us, these are amazing tools. But there are thousands of really smart people out there that have been paid a great deal of money to tickle those parts of our brains that keep us coming back to give them our eyeballs, and they know where the endorphins are kept locked up in the cupboard.

So now that things have got blowed up nice and good and we are face to face to face, at least with the family that got down in the tornado cellar before the big virus twister hit, how can we turn our shelter experience into a regular family habit that becomes a regular part of our lives?

The Elements of Successful Family Game Night:

Pick Carefully: The first and most important part of a successful family game night is what game are you gonna play. When I have couples come into the store to find a game, the first thing I ask them is how do they do playing against each other or with each other. There are some people who love the joy of getting to stretch their minds and skills against each other, and others who feel picked on or condescended to or just feel under pressure to “play right” and therefore don’t feel like they like games at all. If you have a family, what are the age differences in the kids? Will the youngest feel over-matched or left out? Is it a game of speed that leaves the Grandparents feeling left out? Is the game too complicated for people to be patient to understand the rules, or too simple and feeling random for more sophisticated players.

Generally speaking, the best thing to do is to start with simpler and more successful games and then let the games get richer from there. For those who don’t like feeling left out of behind or the pressure of understanding all the nuances to be successful, look at some of the really great cooperative games. The best ones aren’t Pollyanna crunch fests, but have the game as the “bad guy” opponent and source of challenge/tension. Other things to watch for is games that involve everyone as quickly and immediately as possible. Games where one person takes their turn for 5–10 minutes while everyone else waits around tend to kill a game night but good.

The Game/Rules Master: Once you’ve selected the types of games you want, each family game night, someone should be preselected to be the Game/Rules Master. One of the things that kills games nights but good is a lot of time where everyone is trying to battle over the one rule book to figure out how the stupid game works. Most games are pretty straight forward to play after you’ve muscled through the first game, but figuring out the basic setup, object and how the game works turn to turn isn’t always obvious the first time through. The game master is the one who gets the game the day before and who goes ahead of time to set the game up and to run through a practice round or two on their own to figure out how to play the darn thing. They are gonna be the ones who explain the game play to everyone else. You can also have them be the one who picks the game for the night. But if you do so, they need to have the goal of picking a game that they think everyone would like. (If you wanna be really cool about it, have them pick a game that they think one other person in the family would most love…kid picks game that they think mom would love, mom picks game that dad would love, brother picks game for younger sister, etc. If you do that, then they feel great when they see someone else in the family love the experience. It shifts the focus outside themselves. )

Big, big hint for the Game/Rules Master when they are teaching the game!!! Have the least amount of time possible between the time you start talking about the game and everyone is starting to play. The natural tendency is to go through the whole game, but people are getting bored off their rocker listening instead of getting to it. Better to be a little more basic in your description and let people ask you if they don’t understand something, then to take a lot of time describing stuff that people probably get already. And if there are complicated variants to how something happens in a particular circumstance, just say that there are some rare exceptions and move on. Once people get into the flow, you can get to that. What you need to explain to get started is:

  1. Objective-i.e. how do you win the game. (Collect the most X, get to the end of the board, be the last mushroom standing..). If it is complicated, give a basic view first and point to the part of the manual that has it for people to look at. If it is super complicated and the game doesn’t come with reference cards for everybody, consider making a copy of those pages for everyone playing.
  2. Set up– Ideally have this already done or have the place in the rules about this underlined and ready to describe. (“everyone gets 7 cards and 3 caterpillar tokens”)
  3. Basic steps to a turn: What does each player do in a turn. Again, top view and let people ask you questions if they don’t get it.
  4. Practice round!: This is really important if you can possibly do it. Run through how the game works by having people do it, but let them know the first round doesn’t count. That way people won’t feel under pressure or get grumpy cause they “never would have done that if they understood”.

Rules of the Table
What do they say, “good fences make good neighbors.” This is more then true of the table rules for game nights. Some of these work well printed out on the table to make sure that it is fun and not hurt feelings that rule the night, and others are examples to set.

  1. Phone Basket: Family game night is a sacred, phone free time. Make a big deal of putting your phones in a basket and even letting other people know that this time every week is time you don’t respond unless it is an emergency. Model the hell out of this. It is like sabbath, an electronics free zone.
  2. Family rules: You guys own the games. If you come to a rule that you guys don’t like as a family or you prefer a different way, agree and then change it. The big stack of cash under free parking in Monopoly wasn’t in the rules originally, but we always thought the game was way better with it. )
  3. Smack Talk/Shaming: This is a tricky one. The shaming is obvious, but extends to telling someone that they made a stupid move…just shut that stuff down, and I’d print this rule up. The smack talk is a different issue. It can be lighthearted and part of a family/friend dynamic. (I sure did it with my best friends in high school..the epic battle on who was better, Richie Rich or Scrooge McDuck took on an epic level of smack talk that makes me smile to this day.) But we have a rule against smack talk in the store because, well, the whole idea of smack talk is to try and get just a little under someone’s skin. The problem is that with teens and tweens in particular, their job is to not show when they get feeling hurt, so someone could be really hurting someone without realizing it. So just to play it safe, we just don’t allow it in the store. This is a call you gotta make for your own family, and I don’t know em enough to know if they have a good handle on that line, but I’ll include it in the list later and you can blame me if you need “aw Ma/Dad” cover.
  4. Food at the Game Table: Ok..I know I just got done with this whole thing about you knowing your family best and making your own choices but, YES…food at the gaming table. Let me make this simple: Hungry=low-blood sugar=crankiness/short tempers. Keep out that bowl o’snacks. Sure, make it grapes and pretzels and not Cheetos, BBQ and powdered donuts if you care about keeping the game clean, but snack ’em up. There are reasons that the image of D&D players in their basements included boxes of pizza. 😉
  5. No Know-it Alls (Table Captains), or Rules Lawyers: Table Captains is usually the older sibling who understands how the game is played and starts ordering people around like they are extensions of themselves. This is most often in cooperative games. It takes away the fun of playing from the other players, even though all they think they are trying to do is help. A little talk about being their to support the other players and asking the question “would you like a suggestion” and actually waiting for the answer goes a long way.
    I need a private moment with the game playing dads…(I’m gonna say something a little hard to hear. It is super likely that you are doing this too and don’t realize it. It is the single thing that makes their spouses not want to play with them. They may not get the pattern as fast cause that isn’t what they’ve done a lot, but they are pretty damn smart and it is way better to give them space to ask questions, then to over explain. It comes across as condescending and you are pushing off the person you most wanna join in.
    The second type of playing to be careful of is what is called Rules Lawyer-ing. This is playing gotcha with the rules, calling someone on a mistake they made because they didn’t understand or missed a nuance of the rules. Don’t, just don’t. If someone can take a move back because they didn’t get something, let them. It is way better to play a great game and lose it, then to make someone feel like they can’t try and learn a new game because they are afraid to be made to feel stupid because they misunderstood something.
  6. It’s Just a #%$ing Game: The slogan for the store that grace the back of our tee shirts and hoodies is a graphic representation of “Win with Grace, Lose with Style, and Play for Fun”. This is about the most important part of a good family game night. One thing to do is to make a winners trophy that rotates from player to player that is so epically stupid that it makes it clear the nature of winning and loosing in this house. (Right now, I’d probably take a roll of toilet paper and stick it on an old trophy to indicate the value of family triumph. Although that may be a little too valuable at the moment.) One word about modeling winning and loosing to small children that is a little counter intuitive. This works particularly well with coop games when the game wins. We tend to thing that acting serene and accepting a loss is what we need to model for little kids. The problem is that just make us alien beings to them, ones who just don’t have the same emotions they do. It is actually better to show starting to get frustrated and then taking a moment to breath or in some other way calm down and get to that “ah well” state. That way we are modeling something for them that is much more accessible, how to have those feelings and then manage them. Even with the older kids, if you get frustrated in a game, say so, and then talk it out. As adults, we often get frustrated with games, particularly if the rules are complex and we feel like we have more important things to be doing, and if this isn’t fun, then why are we bothering. Believe me, the kids will pick up on that frustration and walking away. But what we are walking away from is working out a problem that they were part of rather then expressing our feelings and trying to work it out. Much better to stick it out and work it though on this much safer ground, so when it is much bigger issues, you’ve had some successful practice rounds. I think this may be the very heart of why those families who got family game night into their regular pattern of life have this different feeling about them.

That seems like as good a note as any to end this on. This seems like play time, but it is some of the best parenting time that you can invest in. It isn’t easy, and is kind of like teaching a teenage dog to do new tricks (they already know all the tricks, and why should they listen to you anyway, dumb dad/mom dogs), but it is worth it. And this is an absolutely unique time to take the shattered pieces of the old life and maybe build something a little better from the pieces.

The Family Game Night rules

  1. Electronics Free Zone:
    No phones at the table, (unless the game requires it.)
  2. No Commenting on someone else’s dumb (or more clever then you realized) moves.
  3. No Insulting/Shaming other players, or teaming up on anybody besides Dad. (Ok..he deserves it.)
  4. No Rules Lawyer-ing…if someone makes a dumb mistake, let ’em take it back already.
  5. Don’t Cheat: Losing with grace is pretty cool and you learn and get better. Cheating just robs you of having people believe you when you win later.
  6. Oh yeah, remember the three magic words:
    It’s A Game.

Win with Grace, Lose with Style, and Play for Fun

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