Board game etiquette – don’t be THAT guy

A year ago, I discovered the local board game scene. I met a couple of new friends and I was reinvigorated with this wonderful hobby of ours. I found out about all the local board game cafes and wanted to try them all.

A few months in, my friends and I heard about Ludo Boardgame Cafe in Makati closing 1. Puzzles followed after a fire sale. Moonleaf + Bunnies Cafe in Binondo and Laro Board Game Cafe in QC sold off their cafes. While their reasons for closing and selling may be unclear, these events happening in such close succession begs a thoughtful pause.

A month ago, the local tabletop RPG community (and by extension all board gamers as well), was rocked with the revelation that a local cafe put in place a policy where tabletop roleplaying games were not allowed in their branches anymore due to an incident that happened in another branch. There were no specifics, but in many other establishments across the metro, groups have been asked to leave.

The importance of open spaces

While many groups may not need these open spaces due to having their own private space, these are still important for our hobbies to thrive.

Having a neutral location to play games in are important, as not all groups would have access to a private space available to game in. Even if there was, a neutral location is also good for safety purposes: not all gamers would be comfortable inviting a stranger to play in their homes, nor would everyone be comfortable just showing up at a private residence to play with near strangers and acquaintances. If we wish to expand our community, public, neutral spaces are important.

Gaming in open spaces also serve to normalize boardgames and tabletop RPGs in our country, as these hobbies, while gaining traction, are still a niche activity and very often misunderstood in our society. How many times have you had to explain how X game is different from Monopoly, or have people tell you that you need to grow up and stop playing “make believe”? It may be slow going, but every once in a while, we hear stories about random strangers telling people they heard this group playing in a cafe and how imaginative and entertaining they are, or people approaching us due to their curiosity with a game we’re playing and developing a genuine interest and understanding with it.

Board game cafes, in particular, have a significant impact in normalizing our hobby, providing not just a venue for public games but also, generally, a variety of gateway games that are designed to bring people slowly into the hobby. I remember the first time stepping into a board game cafe in Singapore and being simply amazed at the vast array of games–so many games!–that I had not known was available. “So this is a thing, huh,” I thought, and realized how so many other people are in this “secret” hobby of mine.

Safeguarding our communities

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to be supportive gamers and take care of our community and open spaces. A lot of the things we can do aren’t very difficult, and help not just to keep these public spaces open and accepting to us gamers, but also our fellow players and the ones that will come after us.

We have three tips for being The Good Gamer:

1. Pick the right place and time.

This is especially important if you’re playing at a venue not catered specifically for tabletop games. That quiet cafe with the comfy chairs right next to your school may be perfect for your social deduction game, but how disruptive are you to other patrons who are trying to study for their exams tomorrow? Perhaps bring a quieter game where emotions aren’t going to run so high, and leave the hidden traitor games for later.

That fast-food place with the large tables for your sprawling euro is a fabulous find, but those people in the thick of dinner service, standing about looking for a seat to grab a much-needed bite, is bound to give your group the stink-eye. Perhaps use that 24-hour chain for a late-night gaming spree when there are empty tables galore, and let those establishment maximize their earnings during peak hours.

2. Support your gaming establishment.

Piggybacking on the above — be good customers and patrons wherever you are gaming. Especially in this financial climate, money is hard to come by, not just for you but for many businesses as well. Over the years, many board game cafes have closed their doors, either permanently or partially, leaving us with only good memories of our own discoveries of this hobby and the games we love to play. The inability to continue to operate seems a paltry return for the experiences we gained within their doors.

This isn’t just limited to board game cafes. Think about it, we spend hours within a cafe for a game or two, taking up space. The servers, the managers, they all need to meet a certain number to break even, to earn a profit. If they see your group taking up six chairs for six hours with one drink between all of you, they’re not going to be super excited to see you again next day.

So let’s help them out. Buy a meal, snack, a drink, for every couple of hours you spend enjoying the air-conditioning. For board game cafes, think about it as an investment: if they turn a profit, they have more capital to purchase more games which you can play, too.

3. Play fair both in-game and in real life

We all want to be invited back to our respective gaming groups. Losing our regular games is not an option. We want to have pride in our win. Playing fair in the game is important so we can say we beat everyone else fair and square. We play fair because it is the right thing to do.

That mentality needs to extend to real life, as well. If the establishment doesn’t allow outside food, don’t sneak in your baon and eat it on the sly. If they say they require a meal purchase to play games, don’t attempt to hide behind your group’s multiple orders when they come to collect the bill and say there’s an order missing for your group2. If your group has a birthday celebrant and you want to bring in a cake for them, ask nicely first–and if they say you can’t, don’t push it.

That goes even for when establishments ask you to leave while you’re playing a game. Try to find out the reason and try to explain if it’s a misconception on their part (i.e., if they think you are gambling when you’re just playing a board game3), but do it nicely. If they insist, don’t get belligerent; more often than not, they don’t have a choice in the matter and they’re just doing as best as they are able. Don’t make a scene and make things uncomfortable for the staff and other patrons; people are inclined to remember crazy scenes and they’ll always think gamers are a rude crowd. Let’s not destroy this hobby for ourselves and others!

This last tip might even be the only one you need to remember: play fair, be thoughtful, think of other people’s welfare.

Do you have any other board game etiquette tips to share on how to be a supportive gamer?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. RIP – Dan
2. you even stand to get your group’s ire if they’re forced to pay for your food!
3. this has happened to us in several occasions – Dan

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