As has been happening more and more recently, while researching this topic I came across an article on another blog that covered many of the same points I was hoping to convey. So rather than re-invent the wheel that Creighton Broadhurst has already eloquently tackled, I’ll direct your attention to this site: Creighton Broadhurst – Gaming Advice: 6 Characteristics of a Great Gaming Space. Let’s everyone take a moment to add that awesome blog to their daily RSS Feeds, then we’ll meet back here for some additional thoughts.
All set? Ok.
The Table –
In the above article, the author mentions furniture and I agree on all of their points. While good reliable chairs that aren’t going to collapse under gamer backsides should be comfortable and numerous, the table is probably the most important part of the night. Playing on couches offers too many distractions (and nap opportunities) and lack the connection of sitting around a table. If your kitchen table isn’t big enough, most game shops have ready access to sufficiently large tables (more reason to Support Your Local Game Shop!). If your group is insistent on meeting at home, consider buying large folding tables to play on. It saves wear and tear on your kitchen table, offers more room and you may be surprised how frequently you find yourself using it when entertaining for non-gaming functions. These can be had a most discount stores and (more cost effectively) on Craigslist if it’s available in your area.
I like to put a tablecloth over the table – even at the game store. A cheap grey or brown bed sheet gives a much nicer backdrop for your miniatures than does the stark tabletop, and it helps protect against spills as they get absorbed by the cloth instead of running down hill and into your expensive rulebooks (or the laptop they’re stored on!). It also classes up the place a little, a small touch to show your players that you’re serious about the game. Just avoid tacky patterns or distracting fabrics. A cheap, solid color bed sheet goes a long way.
With modern technology at the game table, lighting has become even trickier. Too much light, and players will be squinting through glare at their computer screens – but not enough and players get drowsy or can’t see what’s going on. Natural light seems to be the worst for screen glare – and most game shops I’ve been in don’t have much of that to contend with. But if you’re playing in a home, diffused lighting is important. If an area has lots of windows for natural light that’s great for seeing the table, but horrible for seeing your laptop screen through the sunny glare. Sometimes closing the drapes and using lamps – even on a nice sunny day – is better for our eyes, though not our tan lines.
Another word on Technology – make sure there are enough power outlets for the technology you and your players hope to use. A cheap power strip from the dollar store can go a long way to keeping the game going when batteries run low!
Ok, so the game shop isn’t always the best for this. But you’ll need to decide within your group which is more distracting: Well-intentioned interruptions from like minded game shop patrons or screaming children, barking dogs and a bigscreen TV at the house. The biggest distraction at our table is not the spectators but food and snacks. Our game shop sells pop and candy, and the constant up and down for a new soda or a fresh bag of chips isn’t nearly as distracting as a run to the store mid-game would be when The Fez decides he just can’t live without a Diet Mountain Dew.
Alcohol can be a huge distraction at the game table, as well. This is primarily a non-issue for my group, as we game at the local game shop that doesn’t allow alcohol. When we played in my living room I’d keep a cooler of pop and beer close at hand. Gaming is about relaxing and having fun with friends and if handled maturely and responsibly, social drinking at the game table can aide in both relaxation and socialization. Even now that we meet up at the game shop, we all often meet up at a local restaurant before game and we’ll have a beer with dinner to relax after work before we go play. That being said, we have had players in the past who couldn’t handle that and got out of hand – you’ve got to know your players and your game and make the right choice for you! If alcohol is becoming a distraction, simply ban it from your games. If your players don’t understand the ban – they probably shouldn’t be there.
Whatever you do, be respectful of your surroundings. If you’re gaming at a game shop, a group of adults smelling of beer might not be the crowd the game store is trying to attract – and if you’re in a friend’s living room, ask before you bring a 24 oz. Corona. They might not want their kids exposed to that.
So what’s important to your gaming space? What tips do you have for making the game environment better for your players?
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