I am a middle school teacher. During my lunch period two times a week I run a board game club for students. Many people have asked me for suggestions for how to start a club for students in their own schools. After giving it some thought, here are my suggestions for successfully engaging students in a game club.
- Pick a Small Group of Students to Work With: I suggest creating a club for no more than 10 students in a session, preferably only 6-8. This allows students to participate independently, without having to work with a peer. It can be difficult to explain separate games to students at the same time, so it is best if students can all play the same game. This is less of a problem if you have access to multiple copies of the same game.
- Give the Students a Game Contract to Sign: Games can be expensive, and students are still learning what it means to treat something with care. Before students are able to play any games, go over how to take care of the games. I tell students what it means to handle a game with care. We discuss not bending cards, keeping track of pieces and how to help clean up a game at the end of the club. I have students sign a contract saying they will respect game pieces. On the contract we also discuss how to be a respectful and positive addition to a game group. In this portion we discuss being patient with other players, being a graceful winner and loser, and how to balance being an alpha gamer and providing help. This discussion helps students develop an understanding of expectations and also keeps me from frequently having to replace games, which is especially important to me because the games I use come directly from my personal collection.
- Start Simple: The vast majority of students are not familiar with modern gaming. In my current group of 10-12 students, only one joined with background knowledge beyond Monopoly or Scrabble. The first few games should be simple and quick. Help students learn about dynamics in a game group, how to focus on a game, and ask questions when needed. Then get into more complicated mechanics. I personally like to start with games like Love Letter, Fluxx, Doxie Dash or Werewolf. Once students can easily grasp those games, then I increase the complexity somewhat.
- Do an Interest Inventory: Ask students what they like. This can include games they have enjoyed in the past, but is more to figure out what they like outside of gaming. When working with kids, if you can hook them into the theme, they will be more likely to quickly pick up the mechanics. It is not always possible to connect theme to their interests during board game club, but I also use these lists to provide students with suggestions for gaming at home.
- Encourage ALL Gaming: I bring my students modern games to try. However, there are certain times when students will bring in a game from home that they are excited to share with me and their peers. Celebrate students’ excitement for these games, even if you are not fond of the game. For instance, a student was especially excited about Monopoly: Deal. I am not a huge Monopoly person, but I learned the rules and got the other students excited about the game as well. Kids will be passionate about gaming if you encourage their passion. I hope this student seeks out some games I teach as well, but I know he will continue to enjoy gaming if we celebrate what he is interested in.
- Plan for Extended Time: Students often take longer to learn a game than adults do. I usually double the time listed as a good plan. For instance, My Little Scythe usually takes me only 45 minutes to play. My students have twenty-minute sessions, five of which are spent setting up the game, and five are spent eating. This leaves ten minutes to play, which should take 4-5 sessions. Instead, it takes my students around 8-9. Students often need extra assistance learning how to develop a strategy and plan turns.
- Take Pictures: In a school setting, it can be difficult to find the time to complete a game in one session. Instead, take pictures of everything at the end of the session. This allows you to set up the game before the next session. While it is not the best case scenario, students can then enjoy a longer and more complex game.
- Give Students the Opportunity to Give a Review: After each game, my students and I discuss pros and cons of the game. This helps students understand the mechanics they enjoy, but also helps them further understand the similarities and differences between games. As students understand more about games, they are able to articulate types of games they enjoy or do not enjoy. Helping them develop and understand their preference is important if they want to play games outside of the classroom.