This is a guide, still in development, to running a Sandpit-style event: something where between 25 and 150 people who don't all know each other can turn up, play some games, do some other things, and have fun. If you're running a smaller event, perhaps check out the smaller event howto.
This guide is labelled "Sandpit" not because that's what this sort of event should be called, but because the Sandpit is an early examples of how these events can run successfully, and there is as yet no suitable term for a generic event of this kind. Once there is this content will be renamed.
Finding a good venue is tricky. You definitely need somewhere that:
- Is well lit enough that people are able to read
- Is quiet enough that a table of half a dozen people can talk comfortably, and a dozen people can talk without having to shout
- Has enough tables and chairs for most of the people attending to sit down at any one time
- Has space to move around in
- Won't be annoyed if you make noise or run around
These requirements rule out most pubs. It's also nice to have:
- A bar or cafe
- A park or large pedestrianised area nearby
- A separate room that scheduled games that need their own space can be run in
- A wall you can stick schedules, rules, and explanations to
These requirements, especially if combined with "is free" and "won't get rained on at short notice", rule out almost all remaining venues.
You should also check how the conditions in a venue will change over the course of the day. For example, do they dim the lighting in the evening, or start playing loud music? Is there a chance that a big party will come in and reserve all the tables you had planned on using? It is worth making clear to the venue what you need, and finding a contact/ally with the power to lights back on, turn down music etc.
In addition to the equipment you'll need for games, the following can be useful:
- A big, highly visible, schedule of games
- Small printed schedules of games that people can take away with them
- A highly visible clock
- A horn and/or megaphone for getting people's attention at the start of games
- A list of everyone who's signed up to games, if you were accepting sign-ups in advance
- Rubbish bags for clearing up afterwards
- A "What's All This Then?" or FAQ print-out in several locations, for people who turn up and want to know what's going on
- Stacks of pens and paper that players can use - even if you don't think you'll need them, something will come up
- Blu-tac - as above
In an ideal world, you would have:
- One person to run each game
- One person to help the people running the games
- Two people scheduled on at any one time to hang around, explain what's going on to newcomers, and help people sign up to games
- Two people to wander around finding people who look lost, engaging them in spur-of-the-moment games, and generally being helpful.
In practice it's fairly manageable with:
- One person to run each game (unless it's a game that specifically needs more people to run it)
- Two or three people to hang around, generally be helpful, and get people started playing the unscheduled games. This is quite a wearing duty, so try not to have anyone doing this for hours: schedule on a change of staff every hour, and stick to it. Or pay your helpers, of course, in which case you can make then go for a little longer.
It seems to work best to have both scheduled games, happening at a set time for a set number of players, and ambient ongoing games, that can be picked up at any time by smaller numbers of players.
To get a good mix of scheduled games, some things to bear in mind include:
- Try not to schedule more than one or at most two to be happening at any given time
- Try not to have any big gaps in the schedule where there's nothing going on at all
- Expect, if you allow sign-ups in advance, between 20% and 50% of players to not turn up
- Make sure the games take enough players that everyone who turns up can theoretically play at least one of the scheduled games, and preferably more
- Unless you're having an evening themed around "running" or "acting" or something like that, make sure there's a variety of games so that people who don't want to run around, or draw lots of attention to themselves, have something they're comfortable playing
- If you're going to send a large number of people outside to play a game, make sure that either everyone who's come to the event can play, or there'll be enough people left that the venue doesn't look sad and deserted; having ten people sitting around in a big room for an hour waiting for a group of players to return is rarely fun.
These can be ambient games like Trap Street and The Man Who Was Thursday, which run in the background all night, with players able to drop into for thirty seconds or ten minutes; or they can be pick-up-and-play games like card games, Nomic, or Consequences, with rulesets and equipment that people can pick up and take away to play in a group.
As with the scheduled games, try not to have too at any one night - it's easy to be overwhelmed by the choice. One or two ambient games running all night, and a few rulesets for pick-up-and-play games, is generally about right. You will need to encourage people to play these games. If you just leave them set up and lying around then they will not get played; in the same way that scheduled games need to be announced, unscheduled games need to be suggested to people who've just turned up, and initiated by people running the event.
In addition to all the equipment needed for these games, it can be good to make a lot of copies of the pick-up-and-play rulesets available, so that people can take them away and read them; and to have a space on the wall where people can stick up pen-and-paper games when they're finished.
As more games go up on Ludocity, we'll be suggesting some complete schedules of games that you can use as a basis for an event. In the mean time, you can't go too far wrong if you include:
- A quiet game for a smaller number of players, for example Thoughtcrime
- An active game for a smaller number of players, for example HipSync or Pirateball
- A quiet game for a larger number of players, for example The Gossip Game
- An active game for a large number of players, for example Holla-Lulu or Soho Stag Hunt
- An ambient background game like Trap Street or The Man Who Was Thursday
- A couple of pick-up-and-play games - you could even just scatter some decks of cards around
Advantages and disadvantages
A Sandpit-style event is great for giving people the chance to try out games, meet people, and have something to do even if they don't feel like playing the scheduled games; however, although the Sandpit itself is above all an event for playtesting new games, the atmosphere is not always ideal for playtests. There's little chance for discussion of a game afterwards; and for players, there's not always enough space to play all of the scheduled games, which can lead to some people feeling bored or awkward in the gaps. For a playtest with useful discussion afterwards, it may be better to run a smaller event.