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Cardboard Children: Downtime Town?

Time to play some boardgames

Hello youse,

I had an idea.

Ever since I started talking about boardgames, from Downtime Town to Cardboard Children, people have been telling me the same thing. The same thing. Again and again. The same thing.

“This is all well and good, man. But I have no-one to play with.”

And it's a problem, you know? It's a genuine problem. I usually provide a jokey answer, make light of it, laugh it off. But it's a problem. Listen, people who love board games and card games exist. We're out here. But we're spread here there and everywhere. We come together through online communities, on websites like www.boardgamegeek.com and www.fortressat.com, where we share our excitement about games and just generally shoot the shit. But that's the problem with the stuff we're into – you can't play them online. Not the way they should be played anyway. You have to be there in the flesh, in the room, doing the thing for real.

“This is all well and good, man. But I have no-one to play with.”

It's a problem.

Recently I set up a media production company ( www.boldyin.com ) with my writing partner Iain and my girlfriend Joanne, who was part of the Consolevania team. We're a company with a focus on collaboration. See, myself and Iain have been writing professionally for 15 years. And as most writers will understand, the bulk of those 15 years were spent trapped inside four walls, tapping words out on a keyboard. With our new company we decided to break away from that. We wanted to meet new people, push forward group writing, and collaborate. And it's been amazing. We're off to an unbelievable start. It's not just the work, it's the people. We're making new friends, hearing about new things, having fun. Since we started Bold Yin my social circle has expanded like crazy. All great people, all wanting to collaborate and get to know each other.

Now, Iain told me about the whole Jelly! thing last year. If you don't know what this is, go and have a read here. Basically, a guy invited some strangers to come and work in his house. It was exactly the kind of thing we were trying to explore. That whole notion of sharing and socialising and shooting the shit and making things happen, with people we didn't know yet. We didn't have any Jelly meetings, not exactly, but we loved that it was happening and that it seemed to be working. It helped inform what we did with our company. It made us think that yes, this approach was right.

And then, a couple of months ago, I thought to myself: Is this the answer to that OTHER problem?

And it is a problem.

“This is all well and good, man. But I have no-one to play with.”

It's a tragic thing to read. We wouldn't stand by and do nothing when a child tells us they have no-one to play with. Why just shrug and walk away when an adult says the same thing? Play is important. Play is more important than work. Through play, whether it be a poker game or a five-a-side football game with friends, we grow closer to other people and learn more about them. We hear alternative opinions on things, and learn stuff.

Why do we play board games? It's because we like to be with people, right? And where do we play board games? Anywhere. And what happens when you play board games? You laugh, and you chat, and you socialise, and you go away feeling good about the people you were with. Game nights are a collaboration of sorts – people working together to create fun.

What if we tried to encourage people to organise game nights? What if we tried to encourage people in every city, everywhere, to organise regular little game nights where new people could pop along and play some games, or just shoot the shit? What if there was a place in every city where a guy or girl who wanted to play some games could find other people in the same boat?

Let's go further. What if it was more than just a games night? What if it was somewhere where you could talk about your work, and your other hobbies, and share ideas, and be inspired by other people? What if it was a place where you could share stuff, over a game or two?

Let's go further. What if it was a community? What if all these groups, in all these different places, all knew about each other and spoke to each other and did things with each other? What if they shared RPG campaign ideas with other groups? What if one group maybe designed a board game, and another group playtested it? What if we raised money for charity? What if each group did a podcast? What if we all tried to attract more people into board gaming?

What if we tried to make the online tabletop gaming community that exists on the web a physical thing? What if we tried to bring everyone back to the tables? A place. A happening. A real thing. A shared thing.

I tried to think of a name for it. A regular meeting place, where people make the time to come along and relax with some games with friends. A place that is an escape from work. A place where people come in their downtime.

I realised I already had a name. Downtime Town. I had the name, I had the web address. That old website is dead. Any board game writing or videos I do will be on RPS from now on. So, I could easily just change the website so that people could use it to notify others about their own little Downtime Towns all over the place. Exactly what that new website should look like we can talk about later.

So what is a Downtime Town? Is it this?


In your city, there is a Downtime Town.

It's a place where people meet to play games and chat about their life and work.

It's a place where new friends are made.

If there isn't a Downtime Town in your city, maybe you should be the one who builds it. Find a nice space where people can gather. Make sure there are tables and chairs and drinks and comforts. And then let people know about it. Fill up the empty chairs at the tables. Don't only invite your friends – make sure people you haven't met before are there. And make sure there are women-only spaces at the table.

Your social circle will expand. You'll be playing games. You'll have new people to bounce ideas off and work on creative projects with. You'll have fun.

Could this work?

Now, you might have noticed that “women-only spaces” bit in there. I can't think of a better way of handling that other problem, of far fewer women playing board and card games than men. In my regular group, we have three guys and two women. It's fantastic. If we do something like this, we need to work from the start to make it a thing that is inclusive for women. I don't want any women out there thinking “I'd love to go to this, but it'd be a room full of guys.” Not acceptable.

Yeah, so...

I could talk to people I know across the country and try to persuade them to set up these little Downtime Towns. The bold Quintin Smith, of this very website - he'd set one up where he lives, wouldn't he? And maybe Michael from Little Metal Dog - he'd set up a Downtime Town, wouldn't he? And the lovely boys from Bitsocket - they'd get a Scottish one on the go, wouldn't they? I mean, I haven't asked them yet, but... they would, right? And over in the States, would some of those guys help out?

Would some of you help out?

I've already spoken to the guys at http://www.esdeviumgames.com/ here in the UK about this whole thing. They're the country's biggest distributor of board games, RPGs and card games. I want them involved and on board. They run the http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ site – which is great for finding where you can buy games, but we need to find a way to point people to where they can PLAY games. I'm going to try to get a hold of Games Workshop too, to see what they can do to help. They're the big boys of British gaming, and they should be doing more. I know that they have their in-store gaming centres, but they need to be encouraging gaming outside their shops too. They need to be more involved with us. How do we get little Downtime Towns all across the UK, where people are playing and learning about games? These big players can help, I'm sure.

So what should the Downtime Town website be? I'm opening it to the floor. A forum, where people can organise the events? Something else? Let me know what you think. That web address is yours. This whole things is yours, if you want it.

Me, I'm going to try to pull this thing together. I'm off on holiday on Wednesday, but when I return I'll get to changing the Downtime Town website into whatever would best suit the project. You people tell me what it should be. If any of you could help build it, that'd be great too. There's a Downtime Town twitter account - @downtimetown – and from now on I'll be using it to organise all of this. Add it, and talk to me. I would need people to help me do this. We'd need people to help run the website. We'd need to put a team together to do this.

I can't do this alone. I can be the guy who moans at the big companies to help us out, or the guy who gets the right people talking to the right people. But I can't organise game meets all over the country. That's your job, if you want it.

Let me know if you think the idea is idealistic garbage. Let me know that too. It might be. I'm known for that kind of thing.

But it should work, right? I mean, this is all it would be:

A woman thinks that she'd like to play some games. She has some time on the following Tuesday. She hits the Downtime Town site. She posts this:

“Hey! Downtime Town in London next Tuesday at 8! Three chairs are empty! Playing King of Tokyo and Battlestar Galactica! Who's in?”

And she, and two of her friends, and three new people get together in the back of a pub to roll some dice. Afterwards they tell the rest of us about it on the website. They post a video. One of the guys who went to her Downtime Town sets up his own a fortnight later. He brings his own King of Tokyo, of course. He's a gamer now.

Or, a guy gets the use of a community hall, and there's room for about 30 people.

“Hey! Downtime Town on Saturday at the Community Hall. 26 spaces available! Bring games if you got 'em!”

Can that really be the answer? Is it really that easy? Is it as easy as just deciding to start playing?

I dunno. Let's see what happens in the months ahead. I'd love to fill one of those empty seats here in Glasgow.

Cardboard Children will return in a fortnight, with a review of the big and shiny Fortune and Glory, and a look at an unboxed Dreadfleet.

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About the Author

Robert Florence