Thursday, April 15, 2010

All good things...

Circumstances have caused the York Garrison Wargaming Club and I to part company on - I hasten to add - eminently friendly terms. It just isn't possible to continue to be a part of the club now that I've moved some two hundred miles away, to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. So, for most intents and purposes, the original object of this blog has reached its natural conclusion. Let me tell you a little about the club I started and, then, the club I leave behind.

On 1 November 2005, I instituted the first meeting of what would become the York Garrison Wargaming Club. There was three of us and we went to the pub.

Last week, YGWC had three sessions, one each on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It has a membership of more than fifty wargamers and far more than that attending regularly. It has a large, active committee led by the brilliant Ben Wagner who has stuck to his guns through challenging times and who, far more than me, is responsible for the club's current glory.

In fact, Ben's current plans for the club are how I'd like to end this phase of the blog.

You see, quite a long time ago, I painted for Ben my vision of the ideal club: a group that could afford to buy or rent its own permanent venue to be a place for events, tournaments, competitions and perhaps its own little retail corner. I fondly imagined even, perhaps, a licensed bar...

Now, I need to make it clear that I wasn't planning for this idea. It was, to me, a pipe dream: a fantasy that was possible in some weird alternate reality but not in York.

Last time I looked, Ben believed that he was two-thirds of the way to having a club income sufficient to make renting their own, permanent venue on a nearby commercial park. As well as the thrice-weekly meetings, the club has monthly all-day events and has plans that make me believe that YGWC is going to be an exemplar of wargaming clubs and what they can achieve.

Which brings me to the end.

Sort of.

Because whilst I've moved away from York, my own involvement, inspired by Ben, has taken a step in a fresh direction. I have recently been appointed a "Castalain Knight" of the Gaming Clubs Network (that's a regional representative to you and me), so my hope is to take what I've learned from YGWC and from networking with other club leaders, hobby veterans and the worthy Knights Council of the GCN to enable as many people as I can to start wargaming clubs of their own, or to help existing clubs fulfil their own visions.

I don't want to make every club into a clone of YGWC. The circumstances in York meant that they were able to take the club in the direction they wanted, and that's the crucial thing. So I'm going to be visiting local clubs over the next few months, talking to hobbyists and finding out what they want from local wargaming.

I'll report back what I discover here and, of course, to the GCN. If you'd like to help or participate, just drop me a line!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Woo! Progess!

You learn, after a while, not to get too excited about apparent progress.  But it is remarkable to see York Garrison now.  With fifteen members on our books and a handful of new attenders who haven't yet qualified for "member" status, we're making enough money regularly to be a month ahead on our rent (unheard of!).

We've had an AGM (a proper one, with elections and motions and minutes and everything...) and even (drumroll, please) a website.  Yes, you can now find us, officially, on the Internet at  And if you go along there, you'll also find the details of our first major event: Ten4Ten.

Now, we've done one Ten4Ten already, which was a great success.  The idea is that we offer ten hours of wargaming for ten pounds: that's a big chunk of wargaming.  Easily time for two big games, or three smaller ones, plus lunch.  It's also a great opportunity for a really elaborate campaign of some sort and, this time, we're doing Inquisitor.

Now, those of you who know me will know that I'm a huge Inquisitor fan (in fact, see my other blog, charting progress of the development of the new Inquisitor 2.0 rules), so the New Secrets/Old Lies campaign is dear to my heart and I hope it'll be a roaring success.  We'll see.

However, having said all that, there are still things about YGWC that worry me somewhat.  For a start, so many of our members come as part of a pair.  We've got a pair of twin brothers; a pair of friends who might as well be brothers, and a father and son.  These "dependent members" are great in one way: when one comes, the other comes - two for the price of one, as it were.  But it also means that if just one person's away, another person is also away more often than not.  So in these dependent members we can find the potential for great income loss should they fall away.

The key, therefore, is to seek a healthy mix of dependent and independent members.  And I have to admit that we're also doing pretty well on this side, too.

There are two other populations that offer great benefits and great drawbacks that must be balanced: university students and members of the Armed Forces.  Both groups tend to be excellent and regular attenders... but only for a limited period of time.  Because the end of a course or the next posting can come all-too-quickly and a good friend disappears to the other side of the world.  I'm happy to have one of each type actually on my committee at the moment (in fact, one of them has just taken over as Leader, allowing me to focus on the money side as Treasurer), but I have to keep the imminence of departure uppermost in my mind with one eye on stocking a back-up.

There are two other advantages to this type of member, though: first, they are easy to reach.  Noticeboards and newsletters are widespread in both universities and garrisons and bases.  If you can get your details into the news, you'll reliably reach a lot of people.  The other advantage is connected with their departure: they carry news of your existence far and wide and they often encounter fellow wargamers heading in your direction and push them your way... if you're a good club!  And if you can recruit enough over time, you'll enjoy the benefits of having an extended family of former members around the world, spreading the good news and expanding your numbers.

Whether York Garrison has reached the end of its journey is far from clear, and I suspect that this blog is far from over.  But for now, this is me, signing off...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Survival of the priciest?

Well, the YGWC seems, so far, to be thriving nicely in its new home. There are some challenges still dogging my efforts, though, so I thought I share some of the problems I've faced along the way and how I have or hope to deal with them.

Committee.  It's obviously a truism to say so, but recruting volunteers for the committee will always be a pain in the backside.  Often, the volunteers are the last people you actually want to have controlling the purse strings.  And more often than not, you just can't get the volunteers to start with.  I've been lucky to have had one excellent volunteer and I don't mind saying that having just one other committee member has made the world of difference.  I intend to hassle other members to volunteer for the other jobs at the next AGM.

2.  Time.  We began in the new venue running from 6pm to 9pm.  But it quickly became apparent that this wasn't quite right.  For students and workers, making it for 6pm was just too much of a stretch and, even for homeworkers like me, getting the working partner into the house, feeding the horde and getting out of the door in time to set up for 6 was a nightmare.  We settled on 6.30pm to 9.30pm with much gratitude to the staff of Burton Stone Community Centre who arranged their shifts for our convenience.  They're great people.

3.  Money.  This was a tricky one.  I wanted the weekly cost to be low enough not to discourage potential members, but high enough to cover the expenses with enough surplus to get ourselves some insurance.  But, preferring to err on the side of cheapness, I allowed the club to grow increasingly in debt to myself, hoping that membership would pick up enough to cover the costs.  At the most recent EGM, though, the members themselves proposed an increase in fees to comfortably cover expenses, pay me back and accrue sufficient surplus to purchase insurance.  I agreed to a motion to raise fees by £1 per head until the AGM in April.  So fees are now £4 for non-members, £3 for members and £2 for committee members.

In other news, my determined new Secretary has also started something big.  After I challenged him to put his money where his mouth is, he brougth in the materials to build a Space Hulk board and we're now working out some proper rules for what I'm tentatively calling HulkHammer: a version of Warhammer 40,000 with a Space Hulk twist.

Watch this space for more!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Change or Die!

When we moved to our temporary home, we knew it could only last for so long. But six months later, we're still, somehow, clinging to life. Our membership is a feeble 6. We have three tables and a few boxes of terrain and, frankly, we really want to play someone new.

So it's time for a change.

A former member did sterling work in scoping out a new venue and letting me know where it was with some details. I took a while to get out to see it but, once I did, I was very impressed. Of course, it isn't free. Our current membership can just about afford it if everyone turns up every week. If I can drag in two or three new members then we might just manage a small surplus. This will go towards our PLI.

Lawrie Stewart, vice-president of the Gaming Club Network, fortunately lives not too far away and has been enormously helpful. He's even going to come along an validate all our paperwork in a few weeks' time. All we have to do is survive until then!

Anyway, if you're in the York area and fancy some wargaming action, then the Burton Stone Community Centre is our new home every Wednesday night from 6-9PM. Entry fee will be £2.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back in Business!

Never forgive, never forget, never surrender!!

The York Garrison has risen from the ashes of ignominious defeat to new life!

Well, almost. We're back. But we're smaller. Perhaps that was our mistake from the start. We thought we could be the Cadian 8th when in fact we were better suited to being the Tanith First. Small clubs are agile and responsive, able to take venue changes in their stride. They rely upon free or very cheap venues, low membership costs and a small but dedicated group of friends who can be relied upon to be regular attenders.

As we expanded before, we made the mistake of assuming that all of our members were as dedicated as we were and that they'd follow us loyally to a new venue and a new night. But we were wrong. And as our original membership slipped away, we failed to attract new members and gradually the club imploded.

Our new venue is small, simple and free. But it has the huge advantage that it is within easy striking distance of at least half of our first gang of members. And we've also moved our meeting night back to what it was before: Tuesday.

Here's a thing: Tuesdays are best. I don't know why, but they are. I think it's the mid-week effect. Wednesdays ought to be good, too, but with Heroes dominating the viewing schedule of geeks nationwide, that just isn't going to work right now. But having the meeting on a Tuesday gives people something to look forward to, even on dull and dreary Mondays.

We're still looking for a new venue. But at least now we can take our time and find one that suits us at a price we can afford. In the mean time, we can enjoy the hospitality of St Mary the Virgin, Strensall. Come along: Tuesdays, 7pm-10pm.

Friday, October 05, 2007

And it all goes horribly wrong...

Where does a wargaming club lose its way? The fact is that people who start these clubs don't start them because they like running clubs. They start them because they like playing wargames. But when running the club starts to get in the way of enjoying playing wargames, something has gone wrong.

I like playing wargames. I'd play wargames every day if I could. But I also love spending time with my family. My wife has no interest in wargames. My children are too young (yet!). And some nights, whilst I wanted to play wargames, what I really wanted was to spend time with my family. But I couldn't. Because I had the key to the hall and people would be waiting and I was obliged to show my face etc etc...

That, of course, is what a committe is for, God love them. So I handed over they keys, stepped down from the post of President and became the Secretary instead and all as once more well with the world.

But all was not well, for there was an obligation to make haste from our venue for a new one. And no new venue was to be found! We thought we'd got one and then we didn't and then we did and then we didn't. It was three months of stress as the pressure to shift our terrain-laden backsides to a new home grew and grew.

Finally, we found a new home and very grateful we were too. But it wasn't very convenient. And it was a bit pokey. And the new President decided that we should change nights to Mondays.

Whether any of those factors made the difference, I really don't know. Personally, I don't think it was any of them. I think the club had failed to sustain its early momentum mostly due to a half-hearted President (me) and bad timing (our change in venue came at the end of an academic year). Anyway, attendance began to drop dramatically and, by early September, we were down to barely half a dozen people on a good night. Our new venue had offered us free occupation on the basis of bar sales (it had a bar!) which just weren't materializing and we were invited to pack our boxes and make haste once more.

It was the death knell for YGWC.

But I will NOT go quietly into the night, I will rage - rage against the dying of the light!

Or rather, I will take stock and re-build. Because I know that at least six members of the old club are all within a short drive of my own house and a new potential venue. It's tiny and it's due to be knocked down... but it's also due to rebuilt three times the size with extra storage space! And the vicar (it's a church hall) happens to be a friend of mine.

So whilst our funds and terrain have been dispersed and our membership depleted, this is not the end. Small clubs are more nimble and responsive, able to shift nights and venues to suit their small membership. So YGWC is not dead. It is only sleeping. It will return...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I love it when a plan comes together...

Well, if you've been following this 'blog - and I know a few people have - I need to warn you that we're nearly at its end.

I've still got a few hiccoughs to sort out - the storage thing is one, as is the quest for an alternative venue - but my quest is almost complete. Club membership has now exceeded 20 people, with an average weekly turn-out exceeding 12. We even managed something approaching an AGM (it involved me shouting at people while they tried to ignore me and get on with playing their games, but I'm assured that that is in the best tradition of wargaming all over the world).

Oh sure, my committee mostly let me do all the work (we'll see how long that lasts!) and there're still jobs to do but the club is there, established. We've crossed the sort of member threshold, with a great cross-section of older and younger gamers, that means that we won't be crippled at the start of the university academic year.

So what've I learnt along the way? What advice can I offer to anyone who wants to do what I've done? Here're a few suggestions:

1. Find a venue. Ultimately, the YGWC grew out of me deciding that, come what may, I would be at Hurst Hall, every Tuesday, from 7.30-10.30PM every week and if anyone wanted to join me, they were very welcome.

2. Join the GCN. When it comes to advertising, there's no better outlet than your local GW and the GW Community Forums.

3. Never give up! There were a fair few weeks when it was just me. Then it was just me and one friend. Then me and three friends. Then all of a sudden I found myself collecting the club subs and asking "who're you again?"

If you're trying to start a club of your own, feel free to drop me a line. At the very least I'll send you encouragement.

Happy gaming and may all your dice roll 6s (except when you need 1s)!