Tracer Rounds: I Know What I Did Last Summer
Game Camp, for the win! ~
Brant, 22 August 2016
This past summer, I spent a week at a local game store (shout out to The Gamer’s Armory in Cary, NC) running a one week day camp for gamers. This was not a GrogHeads-sponsored event, just Brant renting out some space from a local game store for a week of summer camp for kids, in an air conditioned and weatherproof environment. The focus was on playing games – as many as they could in the week they were there – with an intent of trying a lot of new stuff.
We got a late start advertising the camp, in large part because we got a late start even deciding that we were going to do the camp. For future summers, assuming I’m not working a day job somewhere, the plan is to start advertising for the camp much, much earlier. Like March. Seriously. Parents around here get their kids scheduled out for the summer by the time the kids are on Spring Break, so that they can arrange family trips, parent vacation requests, etc well before Memorial Day hits.
We leaned heavily on social media, in large part because we expected people to register based on personal recommendations at the late date we were kicking off. We plastered Facebook with info, and sent out emails through the store’s email list. The late start prevented us from being able to get info out through the schools using gamer-friendly teachers as a conduit. Again, with an earlier plan for even holding the camp, a more thorough advertising / awareness plan can be put in place, using a variety of channels to get the word out.
We set the ages between 8-14 and we capped the enrollment at 16, and set a minimum number of attendees at 6. Fewer than 6, and the camp wouldn’t we financially worth holding – I would’ve made about $90 for the week with so few kids. In the end, we ended up with 8, and that was a good number. We had 3 girls and 5 guys, with an age spread from 10 to almost 15. Overall it was a good mix of kids who were already friends, a couple of siblings, and a stray unaffiliated kid or two.
The camp ran from 9am – 4pm, with 30 minutes before/after for drop-off and pick-up. Pretty much every day we had everyone there by 840am and were able to get started a little early. The store itself didn’t open for retail customers until 11am, so for 2-1/2 hours we had a free run of the place for the kids to play. The Gamer’s Armory is set up with the retail merchandise toward the front of the store, with 14 or so big tables in the back for gaming space. We took over the tables furthest from the front of the store, so that retail customers could use the ones closest to the merchandise and didn’t have to climb over us to get to their tables. We had 2 small 4-seat tables, and one large double-banquet table square table that held 8. We would occasionally spread out to another table or two when we had things that needed a lot of table space (cough*Dominion*cough), and when we were playing with minis, we shifted over to the terrain tables that The Gamer’s Armory leaves up most of the week.
As a part of the cost of the camp, the store provided a morning and afternoon snack each of one drink plus one munchie. The “Brant Special” was the Diet Dr Pepper and a Three Musketeers bar. Most of the kids would grab a bag of chips and either a soda or a Gatorade. One kid who needs caffeine like Lindsey Lohan needs cocaine managed to sneak a Starbucks Iced Frappucino bottle before I could stop him. The kids packed their own lunches, but the store also has a microwave by their snack wall, so that helped sort out lunches. There both a McD’s and a Jersey Mike’s in the same parking lot, but I wasn’t comfortable letting the kids leave the store, so we made them pack lunches in rather than giving them the option to leave.
Each morning started with a quick stop at the front of the store to collect their daily Pokemon as almost all the kids had Pokemon Go on their phones. But once we hit 9am, the phones got put away ’til lunch and I never had a problem with phones coming out. Occasionally they’d get one out to take a picture, but they stayed busy and engaged enough that no one was sulking in a corner texting up a storm. We let them check their Pokemon hunting again at lunch, and then on their way out the door at the end of the day.
While they were at the front of the store, we had them grab a game or two from the store library. The Gamer’s Armory has a great library of games to work with, too. They’ve got probably 150-200 playing copies for people to check out. The goal for everyone was to play at least 1 game each day that they’d never played before, and beyond that they could play whatever they wanted, but we also programmed a couple of specific events for them.
Monday started out with just a “play something you know” in the morning just to get people started. As the day went on, we grabbed a few new ones out of the library to try, too. A few of the kids brought their own games with them: the brothers had some Magic: The Gathering decks they were working on, and Bayonet Jr brought some Pokemon TCG decks to play with other kids. On that first day, we had games of Eight Minute Empire, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Ticket to Ride, Villagers & Villains, Geek Out, and the Pathfinder RPG. No one lacked for a game to play, and everyone got at least 4 games in during the day. It was a great start for the week, and set the tone nicely.
Tuesday night at The Gamer’s Armory is minis night, when they set out a bunch of terrain tables and have a lot of different games from Warhammer to War Machine to Flames of War. On Tuesday morning, I brought in several boxes of my own minis for the kids to check out, just to show them the variety of minis out there. So they got a look at 1:285 micro-armor, D&D and A&A collectible minis, old mid-80s era 1:72 toy soldiers, epic-scale WH40K armies, Mage Knight and BattleTech clickable minis, and honestly, I’ve probably forgotten something. In the end, 4 of the 8 kids grabbed my box of D&D minis, and the box of A&A minis, and had a WWII-vs-fantasy game whose rules seemed entirely made up as they went along, and not totally unrelated to Calvinball. But hey, they had a riot of a time and it kept them entertained for 3+ hours until lunchtime rolled around. While that was going on, the rest of us split our time between the Pathfinder RPG, a different Ticket to Ride map, another Eight Minute Empire, and The Ancient World from Red Raven Games. In the afternoon, we had one of the store employees take 2 hours and teach the kids how to play Warhammer: Age of Sigmar with the store’s starter set. Between that, and the morning fantasy-panzer mashup the idea of Tuesday as “minis day” was full accomplished.
Wednesday was focused on playing as many ‘new’ games as they could. What ended up happening was that I taught a bunch of games to them and let them play from there. Usually, there was at least 1 kid in the crowd that had played the game before, but most of them had not. We taught them Munchkin, Dominion, 7 Wonders, Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, and Timeline, and the kids that hadn’t played them yet got a chance to jump into a game of Pathfinder or Ticket to Ride. One kid got out Castellan and started working out the rules before the other 2 playing with him got bored and just started building ever-larger-and-more-ridiculous castles with the plastic wall pieces. After figuring out The Ancient World the day before, we swapped out a few kids and gave it another run on Wednesday.
On Thursday, I stretched their brain muscles. Wednesday afternoon I made a run to the local Dollar Store and picked up 2 packs of giant checkers, a bag of plastic pirate coins, a few decks of cheap-o cards, a few markers, and 4-5 sheets of posterboard. I also brought 2 sets of chess pieces, a bunch of stray dice, and some glass beads from home. Their task was to break into pairs and spend the morning designing a game, and then we swapped kids around for them to play each other’s games for the rest of the afternoon. Several of the designs were pretty clever: one pair of kids had a press-your-luck card game that involved birds going for seeds at the feeder while trying to dodge squirrels; another had kingdoms at war on a checkerboard, with cards driving the action. There was a glorified-Candyland that involved cockroaches racing to the kitchen for dinner that wasn’t very inspired, but the kids spent a lot of time trying to make the board look cool, and the last one was chess pieces with a simple roll-and-move mechanic racing to a castle tower. None of them would win any awards, but all were pretty fun and the kids enjoyed playing and making them. As the day wound down, the kids went back to games of Dominion, Munchkin, and Warhammer while waiting for the parents to come in.
The last day featured a guest GM who came in to run a session FFG’s new Star Wars RPG. Some of the kids had asked about it when they saw it on the store rack, but since I’d never run it, I wasn’t going to be much help. A quick post to the local RPG group on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon yielded a guest GM for Friday morning, and 5 of the 8 kids hopped into the game, which ran about 2-1/2 hours; the others played a game of Jamaica that Bayonet Jr had brought from home. For the afternoon, I let them play whatever they wanted and Dominion and Munchkin once again ruled the table until the parents showed up. Best of all, several of the kids spent Friday afternoon walking their parents around the store, grabbing 2-3 games to buy and take home for family game nights. We helped The Gamer’s Armory sell copies of Dominion Intrigue, 7 Wonders, My First Carcassonne, Marvel Munchkin and Munchkin Fu, and at least one box of Warhammer minis (that I saw).
On the last day, the store also put together goodie bags for the kids, with a set of polyhedral dice, a couple of Space Marine figs, and at least one each White Dwarf magazine, comic book from Free Comic Book Day, and adventure from Free RPG Day, all in a nice canvas The Gamer’s Armory shopping bag.
All in all, the kids had a great time, and the best measure of success to me is that they all swapped cell phone numbers and had a group text going by Friday evening, making plans to get the gang back together at the store over the next 2-3 weeks to play games with each other again. Because his soccer schedule has already kicked in Bayonet Jr’s only been able to make it to one of these meet-ups, but I think they’ve had at least two others.
What were our lessons learned from the week? There were a few. First, we under-priced the camp. That was partly because we really didn’t know what the perception of the value of the camp would be among the parents, and partly to ensure we had enough kids in the camp. But either way, we’ll easily be able to raise the price $20-25 and still keep the price very competitive with other local camps, especially since we’re also providing snacks for the kids. We’re also going to cap the enrollment at 12 instead of 16. 8 was a good number, but double that with only one adult there would be a little overwhelming. We might also work with the store about a small discount (5-10%) for any games the kids purchase during the week of camp to encourage some more game sales. We’re also going to see about running a little later on Thursday so the parents can check out the games their kids design. Mostly, though, the biggest issue was advertising and awareness, and that was based on a late decision to get started. With a template for the scheduling of the camp, a base of customers who had a good time, and better sense of how to get the word out, I have no doubt that a re-run of the game camp will be a bundle of fun for another group of kids next summer.
This week’s soundtrack:
Game that caught my eye:
I am sooooooooo getting Munchkin Steampunk.
What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:
Teaching. And thankfully to be gainfully employed again.
The best thing I read this week was:
A heartbreaking, sobering, and painful read about families who have to take on the state when child services takes their children under suspicious circumstances.
This week’s poll:
Signing off… Bayonet 06 – out!