Last week, I wrote about how different aspects of time can affect your game purchases. In the comments, a few people mentioned that often, the people that you game with are more important in getting a game to the table than the playing time.
I definitely agree with that, and planned to write an article on how you should consider the people you game with when you are acquiring games, so that you can get the most gaming mileage out of your purchasing power. Problem is, Gaming groups are as different and unique as a blood spatter.
So, I thought about my own gaming group and realized that I never consider their tastes when acquiring games, and that is because their tastes are so varied that nearly any game I buy I can usually get to the table with someone. That is when it dawned on me that it isn't that important to consider people when acquiring games, if you did a good job of considering the games you like when you acquired the people in your game group.
The people make this hobby.
It has been said again and again on this site, but I think it is worth repeating. Good players can make a bad game fun and boring players can suck the life out of anything. Of course the optimum situation is a good game with good players, but the point of the old "bad game, good players" cliche is that the players are far more important than the game itself.
So how do you find a good group of players? With the internet available, finding like minded gamers (if they exist in your area) is much easier. Unfortunately, gaming tastes and internet personas do not always successfully translate into someone you actually enjoy hanging out with.
My gaming group employs a technique we call the test drive. Before we invite someone to our regular weekly game night at our regular location, we pick a day and invite the person to a different location to game with us. There is nothing worse than telling someone where you will be every week, then you find out that they are not the type of person you want to game with. The test drive at a neutral location is an effective screening process. We have had some successful additions to our game group this way, and we have had people flake out on us and not even call.
Conventions are the ultimate in gamer test driving. Of course, it needs to be a local con so the gamers you are talking to don't live too far away. At a local con, you've got a situation where you can sit down and play games with total strangers and get to know them, their gaming style, and their gaming preferences with no questions asked. It is basically the speed dating of board gaming. You can find out pretty quick whether or not someone would fit in with your group and either leave them behind or corner them later and ask them if they want to start showing up to game night.
One thing I appreciate is having people in the group with very different tastes in games. We have a handful of ameritrash gamers, a couple of folks who like wargames, and several people who like soul-crushingly bad euros. Some game groups I have been involved with in the past have been very one-dimensional. Although a one-dimensional group probably lets you play more of the games you enjoy, I like the fact that I get a chance to play a lot of interesting games that I would never buy myself. There are games like Planet Steam, Railroad Tycoon, and Reef Encounter that I am glad I have played but would never ever want to buy. For me, the optimal group is one that will try anything, but has a mix of preferences.
Of course, if you have a more narrow taste in games, you want to find a gaming group that shares that taste. I enjoy playing three euros, only to find out I hate two of them and the third is okay. For me, it is like tasting beers - tasting shitty beer heightens my enjoyment of the beer I like and helps me understand why I like it. Games are the same way. For other people, they want to stick to the beer they like - and I understand that. Gaming time is limited, so why would you spend some of it playing games you aren't going to enjoy?
No matter which of these two camps you fall into, it is important that you get the right people in your gaming group. For all the harping about theme, narrative, mechanics, originality, game design, and everything else that occurs in the internet boardgame blogosphere, having fun in this hobby boils down to the people, not the games, 99% of the time.