How to Build or Expand a Shadowfist Playgroup
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[posted 4 Mar 2009]
I wrote this article in 2004 for the Kiii-Yaaah! newsletter. Seems like it might be useful information to have live on the web, so I cleaned it up a bit and added links. The advice is aimed at Shadowfist, but it applies to pretty much any game.
Don't have a playgroup? Or want to expand the one you have? It's not easy, but it can be done if you're willing to put some time and effort into it.
Playing in your home/apartment is fine, but most likely you aren't getting much gamer walk-by traffic in your home. You're going for exposure here, so pick a public-ish place where gamers congregate. Find a local game store that has gaming tables and allows open play (preferably a store that also stocks Shadowfist, although that's not absolutely necessary and may be hard to come by these days - try the retailer locator on Shadowfist.com). Introduce yourself to the register jockey and ask if he/she knows anyone who plays Shadowfist. Let's assume the answer is "I dunno," otherwise this becomes a very short article.
Advertise mercilessly. If the store has a bulletin board (the physical kind or the electronic kind), post a notice looking for opponents and people interested in learning the game. Post to the Shadowfist forum on Yahoogroups. If you're lucky enough to have more than one place where gamers congregate in your area (another shop, or a college, for instance) check there too -- many colleges have a gaming club where you might be able to attract new players.
Include in your advertisement that new players are welcome, rules will be taught, and loaner cards will be provided. Provide multiple ways for folks to contact you -- email, instant messaging, telephone, etc.. Make it easy for people to try the game, and to find you.
If you can spare the cards, put together some playable single-faction decks with cards from your overstock, and give them away to new players. I usually don't give the deck away unless the novice student appears to have a real interest in the game, but if you've got enough cards to spare then give 'em away to everyone. (and go back to step 2 and write "Free cards!" on all your merciless advertising)
As long as you're going to all this effort, check out the Shadowfist Champions deal on Shadowfist.com. Daniel will usually support your demo efforts with promo cards, and when you get to the point that your group is ready for tournaments, you can get prize support as well.
You might be tempted to offer a formal demo event; most stores will allow or even encourage this since they aren't paying you and you might bring in more business. But you probably won't entice many (or any) people to make a special trip just to try out the game -- there isn't much buzz about Shadowfist right now, so people aren't flocking to check it out. If you decide to go for it, remember the advertise mercilessly bit, and get it on the calendar at Shadowfist.com too.
I find that the guerilla demo approach tends to be more effective than the traditional demo. Find out what day is most popular for card gamers at the store, bring a friend or three, sit down and play for a while. Bring some paraphernalia like posters or deck boxes you can casually scatter where it will be visible to passers-by. Wear a Shadowfist t-shirt, if you've got one. Set up on an aisle, preferably on the way to the bathroom (really -- sooner or later, everyone will walk past your table) or the register. Be willing to drop your game and teach a new player if you get the slightest expression of interest (have loaner or give-away decks ready). This also works at major tournaments for other games, especially those with elimination rounds where you can try to lure in folks who are waiting for their next game to start. Of course, this only works if you already have the beginnings of a playgroup or a couple of cooperative friends; if you're starting from "just you" then the traditional demo is the way to go.
You've gone to all this trouble to get people involved but how do you keep them coming back? Always introduce yourself and get names (write them down!). After the demo, let new players know how to reach you and when you usually play. Ask politely for their contact info (email is probably easiest) and whether they'd like to be notified of games, demos, and tournaments. Set up a mailing list to publicize your "events", even if it's just game night in your apartment. Direct emailing was always ok with me, but services like Yahoogroups make the mailing list concept pretty easy these days.
Once you get a few people interested, set up a regular day and time to meet at the store, and stick to it. Weekly or monthly, whatever you can manage. If possible, meet on a night when other card gamers are in the store (tournaments, open play, etc.) to maximize the chance that you'll draw in a new player. This makes it easy for the store workers to spread the word for you; if someone should happen to ask about Shadowfist they'll hear those magic words you worked hard for: "Shadowfist? Yeah, there's a bunch who play that every Tuesday night."