Trying to Build a Local Scene: Part One

I’ve got something a bit different for you today. I’m going to talk about actually playing Flesh and Blood (I know that’s weird content coming from me), or rather, I’m going to talk about trying to play Flesh and Blood in person, failing to do so, and the early steps I’m taking to found a local scene when no stores are supporting the game. Like many people, I’m just now getting the opportunity to go out and do things as stores re-open and people are widely vaccinated. While I appreciate the fact that my city took COVID pretty seriously, it definitely contributed to the lack of interest local stores had when it came to picking up FAB during the quarantine period of the pandemic. So here we are, nearly a year since I bought my first WTR Alpha box, and the nearest store with a weekly FAB night is too far to go to on a weeknight.

The State of Affairs

At present, there are a few stores regularly hosting Flesh and Blood events that are between 45 minutes and 2 hours away from me. However, as I live in a city, attempting to get to any of those stores on a weeknight makes that more like 1 hour 15 minutes at a minimum if I leave anywhere close to 5. That puts me outside of the start time of essentially all the stores with weeknight Flesh and Blood nights. I, like other people in Boston, did the rounds of calling stores leading into the Monarch launch and found a whole lot of nothing. Since then, I’ve called stores again and, in general, people are not carrying the game and not interested in doing so. The sentiment from stores is that they don’t really believe it’s going to last until they see more evidence and they’re more interested in focusing on getting their established games (primarily Magic) back up and running.

There were a couple exceptions for stores that had some unlimited product, but, again, none of them were planning to host any organized play. With that as the baseline, it meant that if something was going to happen the community was going to have to make it happen. Fortunately, I’ve been talking to members of the FAB community fairly actively online for nearly a year now, and in that time, I’ve found a solid number of people who are also in the Boston area and ready to find a place to play. The numbers aren’t crazy, but they definitely seem significant enough to support a weekly FAB night, if we could organize everyone and find a store to take it on. I should note for people not familiar with the area, Boston is right behind New York and the Bay Area in having some of the worst rents in the United States. We’re also a very small city geographically even if metro Boston is over 4.5 million people. What this means is that space is at a real premium and there are few game stores with the table room to meaningfully support in store play.

Our Story Begins

With those challenges in mind, I went into Pandemonium Books & Games over the weekend for a Modern Horizons 2 pre-release (3-1 because screw you, Geyadrone) with the intention of talking to someone there about what we can do to make a Flesh and Blood night happen. I had a couple reasons for choosing this store to target. First, they’ve got the biggest play space in the area, which is a major plus. They’re right next to a subway stop, which is huge for making them accessible in a city that was rated as having the worst rush hour traffic in the US before the pandemic. And on a note that probably matters more to me than the average player, they’re a store that employs women. While that’s not a guarantee that a store won’t tolerate dudes being creeps, it is usually a pretty promising sign that they foster the sort of environment that I’d want to play in. Additionally, Pandemonium recently started selling MON unlimited (from what I could see, it was just a few boxes in stock, but it’s a start), which is a cause for optimism because you don’t have to go through the “you should order this game” step.

Anyway, once the pre-release was underway, I spoke to their events manager about the potential to get Flesh and Blood play in the store, and she was open to it if we could turn out the numbers – eight people is the target, though she said we could potentially go a little less if we had to. However, the game remains unproven to them. What that means is that they’re not going to spearhead the initial organization, but they’ll work with the community if the community can organize itself and show up to get the ball rolling.

This is where some of those social media connections come in. I’ve been talking to handful of Boston area players on and off for months about trying to get in person OP going once stores open, so I had a handful of interested parties already on board. There’s also a New England FAB Discord and a FAB New England Facebook Group, which both offered opportunities for potential recruitment (I don’t own/moderate these or anything, I just post). So, with all of these potential players spread across various platforms, the next task was to figure out how to get them together and organized, especially since I don’t have the authority to pick a day/time for an event. Because I like overproducing things, my approach was/is to gather as much essential information as I can, package it into something that’s easy to parse, and then send that over to the events manager and see what the next steps are. That’s where we are now.

I aim to accomplish this by collecting the data via a Google Forms survey. I think the danger of data collections is that you can get caught up gathering too much information or fail to get what you actually need to know. My strategy was to pare things down to just what I saw as the essential information to answer the questions we needed to start: How many people can come on what nights? What time can they get there? How often do they think they’ll attend? What sort of formats do they want to play?

That led to six questions:

1.) What days of the week could you attend events? (Check all that apply – Friday is not included due to it being Magic’s Organized Play night).

2.) If you could only pick one, which day would be your ideal day to play FAB?

3.) If we played on a weeknight, what is the earliest start time you could make? [Note: options were 30 minute increments from 5 to 7:30]

4.) What best describes the frequency you’d plan to attend a WEEKNIGHT FAB event? [Note: options for questions 4 and 5 included: I’d try to be there every week/I’d show up a couple times a month/ I’d attend once a month/ I’d just attend for special competitive events, like a Skirmish. The survey initially lacked a “I would not attend weeknight/end events, which was added later (oops), so I had to manually prune out people who had previously said they couldn’t attend weeknights, and make a guess that some portion of the weekend “only special events” answers were actually “I can’t show up on weekends”]

5.) What best describes the frequency you’d plan to attend a WEEKEND FAB event?

6.) What formats are you interested in playing? (Check all that apply). [Note: CC/Blitz/Sealed/Draft were listed as options]

Finally, on the request of a Discord user, I added a “Is there anything else you’d like me to know?” text entry field at the end. Right now a little over a third of respondents have opted to use this box. They split nearly in thirds with one chunk thanking/encouraging me, one chunk offering various help with organization of judging, and one chunk clarifying their availability in a more nuanced way.

My thinking was that question one would cast the widest possible net for determining which, if any, nights were viable. Question two is sort of a longshot, but I figured it’s at least worth seeing if there is broad alignment on a single night as top choice (there isn’t). Question three is ultimately going to be somewhat in Pandemonium’s court in terms of how late they operate on any given night. But it does let us know how realistic getting necessary numbers on a weeknight will be. Thus far 6:30 accounts for nearly half of all respondents. Question four serves two purposes, as a general indicator it lets me know how enthusiastic the respondents are, but at a more granular level, it’s going to help out if we get to a hard choices stage. Essentially, it’s almost impossible to pick something that works for all the respondents to say nothing about what works for Pandemonium as a store. So, the goal will be to do something that works for as many people as possible while prioritizing people who intend to show up every week, which is the most important thing for establishing a fledgling scene. Because I can read individual responses across the results, I’ll be able to see if say, someone who can’t make a night until 7:30 also only plans to show up once a month. It sucks because whatever we come around to is going to mean some people can’t make it, but my hope is that if we can establish a regular play pattern, in the future we might be able to get occasional larger events, like Skirmishes for a different day, and then those other people could attend.

Here’s an interesting bit of data from looking at questions four and five together. For weeknight play, nearly half the current respondents say that would try to make every week, with nearly another third saying they’d try to make a couple weeks a month. When you switch that to weekend, less than 10% of respondents would be weekly players, and the percentage of once-a-monthers goes from 0% for weeknight play to about 25% for weekend play. Essentially, the data so far suggest people do not want to devote their weekend to FAB unless it’s for an occasional larger event. Finally, I wanted to know what formats people actually wanted to play and the answer was, surprisingly “all of them”. Blitz and Daft each have 92% of respondents interested, and the drop off for sealed and classic constructed isn’t much lower at 85%.

Special Note for Prospective Boston-area Players: I haven’t linked the survey in this article because I don’t want to cause any confusion and get responses from people not actually in the area. However, I’d very much love to include you in the data, which I’ll leave open for another few days to catch more people. You can ask in the New England FAB Discord, or email at the address in my contact section.

Looking Forward

Well, you’re now up to speed on where my efforts have taken me. My plan is to turn this into a series (hence the optimistic “Part One” title) that I’ll update as we make progress – so expect the next one after we actually have our first FAB night or when things fall apart spectacularly, whichever happens first. If you’re one of the many people who got into Flesh and Blood during COVID and don’t actually have a local store, my advice to you is to be proactive and not wait for a store to set up its own night. While tabletop gaming is having a renaissance, it’s also a more crowded marketplace than it’s ever been and CCGs are a much bigger commitment than a board game. Stores are often hesitant to bring new ones in because there usually isn’t an incentive to cannibalize the player base of an established game by marketing to them. The vast majority of people simply do not have the time and/or money to play two CCGs at the same time unless one of them is at a very casual level (I’ve talked to a lot of FAB players, for instance, who only play Magic via Commander).

What stores want are new customers. So, if you can bring a group of people together that is large enough to support a dedicated game nigh, the risk to the store and the effort level for them in terms of organizing are both fairly low. That makes it much more appealing than simply calling up stores and saying you want them to support the game. Well, that’s about it for me. I hope that those of you out there emerging from quarantine are finding places to play, and if not, you should join me in trying to get a local scene started, particularly if you live anywhere with a decent population. It was surprising to see how many people just in the online FAB communities were already chomping at the bit to get things going in Boston. As I close out, I want to make sure that I don’t make this out to be a solo effort. I’ve volunteered to spearhead things, but there have been several other players in the area who have been talking about getting a scene started for months (many of whom helped offer revisions on the drafts of the survey discussed above. I also started with a leg up because other people had already built out things like the regional Discord and Facebook groups. If you want to get things rolling in your own community but you don’t know if the numbers exist, that might be a good place to start. Make your own Discord or FB group and shill for it on the main Facebook page and Discord, start talking to people in your area and see what you can make happen. Best of luck to all of you! Over here, I’m optimistically looking forward to the point when I can write “Trying to Build a Local Scene: Part Six, How the Hell Do We Catch up to Texas, Florida, and Washington?

*Header Image Rising Solartide by Phu Thieu

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