Get your geek on // play games in public places

Bored with the TV? Seen everything that’s on at the cinema or theatre?  Want to do something different with your friends or meet new people and make new friends?  Try board games, card-based games or role-playing games.

  • More people in their 20s are asking “how do I start playing these games?”
  • Playing boardgames in pubs is a great way of socialising – and pubs like it because you’re there buying drinks and food
  • Roleplaying in pubs is feasible if you can acquire use of a quiet room (hunt and you will find).

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Before 1981 my idea of gaming was Monopoly, Chess or a weird mathematical version of scrabble called Skirrid.

Skirrid classic boardgame like scrabble but points scored by using shapes

Skirrid boardgame

Late autumn 1981 I’d just turned 11 and had just started a new school. I had to take a train to and from the school every day, 35 minutes each way. It was a bubble world, rammed with kids in uniform – the “cool” sporty kids at the back, fighting, boasting about girls and laughing a lot. The “weird” geeky kids were at the front, either pretending they were driving the train, wrestling with confused feelings about girls or talking about homework.  Sitting on his own one kid had this A4 pad of 5 mm graph paper on his lap, pencils, bizarre shaped dice and some amazing 25 mm lead figures of monsters and heroes.  I had no idea what I was looking at but I was fascinated.  RPG graph paper pencils dice and lead figures - David J Rodger's first experience in 1981 with dungeons and dragons

Enter Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games into my life.  I soon had my own set of rules, dice and figures, and back home, a couple of the local kids and I started playing it.
Come 1983 a new product from Steve Jackson Games was Car Wars. Very Mad Max. Road convoys or duelling arenas where vehicles of all shapes and sizes were the tools of battle, along with grenades, machine guns, rockets and dirrrrty driving.

2015 and David J Rodger holds a copy of 1983 Car Wars by Steve Jackson Games

Road wars coming to a Bristol pub soon!

Skip 32 years into the future and I’ve just bought another copy of this game out of fond nostalgia.

1985 saw a summer of Gamma World followed by my discovery of Call of Cthuhu, which led to me reading the work of H.P.Lovecraft and nothing, really, has ever been the same before.

Call of Cthulhu second edition box cover

Where it all began…

Around this time computer games consisted of the big arcade machines, or were tape-loaded through the speaker jack into my ZX Spectrum, garish colours, heavily pixilated, awesome fun.
But no match to the cinematic visuals of role-playing.
Playstation 1 hit the market in the mid 1990s, and console and computer gaming has  become ever more remarkable and immersive ever since… even more so now with the advent of AR and goggle gear like Occulus Rift.
Everywhere I have lived I have found role-players, and some of the best players have been people I’ve met socially, who have never done it before but accepted my invitation to try.
What is really interesting now, however, is the number of people who are contacting me to say they have friends who are interested in trying gaming but are not sure where to start.
This feels like a really pleasing development. Not so much people turning their backs on computer console games but an awareness and curiosity about “old formats”.
Getting together with friends.
Meeting new people and making new friends.
Get your geek on and start playing games in public places.
Here’s some case studies.

Pete “Lone Pine”

Photo playing Fury of Dracula (1987) with Francis Ford Coppola's movie Dracula in background

Pete playing Fury of Dracula

A former biker who became a physio, he’s a very straight-laced, down to Earth no nonsense bloke. Back in 2006 he lived next door to my parents.  I popped in one day with a boxed set of Dracula (1987). He looked at it with suspicion. “I hate boardgames Dave,” he told me, going on to describe a memory of playing Monopoly with his brother and disliking the whole experience.  I got him to try one game of Fury of Dracula. He was very surprised by it.  One game turned into five back to back. An entire Saturday vanished in the hunts across 19th century Europe.  We started playing every time I came up to visit Newcastle. He even bought his own box set.  The original box sets are very collectible. You will struggle to find a copy for less than £40 GBP and there are some cheeky bar-stewards trying to flog copies for over £100 GBP.  Fury of Dracula is possibly one of the best games every created; the main reason being atmosphere and the fact no two games are ever the same.  Recently I arranged an ad-hoc game with several friends at a pub on a busy Saturday night. We were lucky to get a table, but we got no hassle from any of the patrons – just lots of inquisitive looks, and a big sense folks really wanted to get involved.

playing Fury of Dracula (1987 version) at Royal Navy Volunteer Kings Street Marlboro Man, Bufty Grifter and Gothic Tom - photo by David J Rodger

Playing Fury of Dracula in a crowded pub on a Saturday night


Role Playing Games are gaining a new popularity amongst people who have never played them before

Kimbers, swapping clubbing and fashion parades for pencil, paper and dice

Kimberly is a former commercial photographer (fashion and music) and big time party girl. I introduced her to role-playing with Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur.  The first question was: “where is the board?”

It is a common query. How can you play a game with no pieces to move around? No board? How does it work?  Kimbers is now a die hard roleplayer. She often tweets and posts on FB about her Tuesday evenings “…being a geek again tonight”. Now several of her clubber friends are seeking their own games in different parts of the country.  I’ve made an arrangement with a local pub to give us a quiet room, every Tuesday night, which has a large table and sofas.  There’s the sound of banter from the main bar but not enough to shatter the mood that gets created when the game master starts narrating what is going on – followed by players stating their actions and reactions. Dice are rolled to determine success, failure or random events which the GM then weaves into his/her narrative.

Toby & Ste

newbies get into board games in public places by playing Warrior Knights at the Grain Barge in Bristol - photo David J Rodger

The tension racks up, playing Warrior Knights

I met Toby and Ste through telling short stories at reading gigs in Bristol, and then running a public version of my murder mystery game: Murder At Sharky Point.  That gave them a taste of playing in public places.  I organised a game of Warrior Knights (1996) and observed both chaps turn into political monsters moving armies across a board hell bent on utter victory. We reserved a table at the Grain Barge at noon and stayed there until 8pm. The bar staff were intrigued. The manager loved it, because we were buying drinks and food throughout the day.  One of the other players, Adam, brought along his girlfriend that day. She’s a school teacher and had never done anything like this before.  She actually WON. Beat the heck out of all the guys.  And now she regularly plays board games whenever I arrange them at a variety of local bars.  Adam himself, has bought since bought  the classic role-playing game: Call of Cthulhu.  He and his friends had never done any roleplaying before. So they sat down and read through the rules together.  The rules are written to help first timers get started.

That’s the key, really.

If you want to get into these games and you’ve never done them before, just buy yourself whatever suits your taste for genre, then sit down with the intended players and expect to spend an hour “fumbling” with the concepts until the ideas start to gel inside your head.  These are not quick games.  You’re looking at an afternoon or evening of playing time to give it justice. But that is half the fun. The indulgent consumption of so much time, and sharing that experience with other people who are of similar state of mind.

Another option is to find people who are already players. Every city in the world will have them. You just need to find them. Use search terms like board game geeks, role-playing games, RPGs.  GMs or DMs (Game Masters or Dungeon Masters) or Keepers – all the same thing – are people who organise and run a role playing game session (a small story or a chapter from a larger story, that typically takes a few hours to complete).  These people can be looking for new players. You!  Find gaming forums or meet-up sites and ask around.

Good luck! And enjoy time with friends and new people.

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