The Role of the Club

In late 1998 I was in Mil Sims looking at miniatures when I overheard a discussion between a boy and his mother. He was pointing out the which models he was after, and she was told him, “You need to find someone to play with first”. This struck me as kind of sad, and got me to thinking afterwards: why was there no games club in our area?

 It was true that there were several games clubs around town, but Melbourne is a very big place, and they were spread far and wide. I lived in Bentleigh, and the nearest club to me was DWARF1 in Dandenong – a good 20-30 minute drive away, and a far longer and more difficult journey for anyone unlucky enough not to have a car. The next-closest club was in the centre of the city, above the Games Workshop store in Centrepoint Mall2 – almost as hard to get to, and far harder to find.

Brighton Games Club (lest we forget)

After discussing it in amongst our group of friends, we decided that there was no real reason why we couldn’t start up a gaming club. Sure, we were only first-year university students, but we’d been playing for years, and we had all the basic materials we needed - rules, dice, armies, tape measures, some scenery – however we had to find somewhere to run it. In the end we settled for the back room of the Brighton Court House3, where we had a place to sit, a couple of tables, and that was about all. There was room for (at most) 3 tables, and you had to crawl out under them to get around. Importantly though, it was free. Given our intent to run the club as a non-profit organization, this was a critical consideration.

We ran the club in this location for several months, until in mid-1999 (as our numbers swelled to be as many as 10 players), we were forced to look for a bigger venue. Bidding farewell to the Court House in Brighton, we moved to the adjacent suburb and the Hampton Community Centre, where their structure of tutor groups and hiring arrangements made it possible to run at a cost of $3 per person. This was a brilliant deal, and allowed us to overcome what has to be one of the main difficulties in organizing something like a games club. And so the Hampton Games Club was born.

Hampton Games Club

In the 7+ years since, the numbers at the club have gradually increased, and players have come and gone. We have lost several players interstate, but still see them occasionally. Remarkably, our core of gamers is much the same as it was back at the start when we had to make the Big Move in the first place (you know who you are, guys). The average attendance is now something like 25 players each week, and we have enough space and terrain to accommodate them easily4. Groups of players attend various tournaments, including an annual pilgrimage up to Cancon in Canberra.

Given that the club is now well and truly established, it is easy to sit back and just let matters run themselves. Players turn up each work for a regular game (or just to chat with other gamers and watch some of the games being played), they prepare and practice using tournament armies in the lead-up to the various events on the gaming calendar, punctuated by the occasional enthusiast organizing a campaign. Games pass in and out of fashion in cycles, with Blood Bowl, Necromunda and Mordheim all making appearances in amongst the games of Warhammer and 40K. However, recent events have brought to light the fact that perhaps the club has more of a role to play than just that of a place to play games.


Axemaster is a long-running tournament in Melbourne – it has been around for many years, and runs hand-in-hand with the 40K tournament Powerfist. The event is run by Mil Sims5, and in recent times it has been held at the rather swanky location of the Carlton Crest hotel. This year however, it had to be cancelled a month out from the event, because not enough players had booked themselves in.

Deciding to run a tournament in less than a month’s time is probably an ill-advised venture; however HGC decided to step into the breach and run the tournament instead. Sadly we were unable to accommodate both Axemaster and Powerfist, so we chose the Axemaster side of things6, as there are few enough Fantasy tournaments in Melbourne as it is.

Axeremastered, as the replacement tournament was called, was run on the same dates as the original, however it was held at HGC’s normal venue in order to keep costs down (and because there was so little notice). In the end the tournament was attended by a fairly modest 26 players, however given the circumstances, that was a respectable result.

At least 10 people from the club had a hand in organizing the event, including a rather extended “meeting” on Messenger, during which the details of the tournament were hashed out. They were involved in publicity, transportation of tables, setting up of scenery, testing of software, and numerous other aspects that would have made the matter a real ordeal for one or two people. This reflects the way in which the community at HGC has formed and can work together7, and shows the resources that only a group environment like a club can provide.

The Role of the Club

Having seen the way in which the club was able to facilitate all of this, it makes me ask the question: What exactly is the role of the club? In what ways can it make a difference, and what expectations should people have of it?

A Place to Play

The main reason for founding HGC, and still its primary function, is to provide gamers with a safe and friendly place to meet and play games. This means that players can meet new people, and is probably the best way for someone who is not already part of a group of gamers (like the boy I mentioned earlier) to find someone to play with. This may not actually extend to arranging for opponents for specific players, however it does mean helping newcomers to at least identify the people who might be available for a game.

This is the simplest way in which a club can make a difference. Simply by being there, the club is offering something that many people don’t have in their own right. However, it is up to the club to make sure that people know they are there – through advertising, word of mouth, or some other means – otherwise they might as well not be8.

A Resource

The games club serves as a resource for its members, in a number of ways. In an obvious sense, the club has its own collection of terrain and (potentially) dice, tape measures, and maybe even books. These are there for use by the people who are playing there, and offer more than the players would likely be able to produce of their own accord. Given that a club is a reasonably large concentration of gamers, it also serves as a good location to organize more ambitious projects such as campaigns or even tournaments. These things often require more than a handful of players, and as such the larger group that a club offers is conducive to such endeavours.

In my experience clubs also tend to serve as a good base of operations for players who like to compete in tournaments. They offer plenty of opponents with whom new forces can be tested, a brains trust against which new ideas can be bounced, and sometimes even a motivational aid in terms of preparing a new army9.

A Member of the Community

Games clubs will rarely exist in complete isolation. Whether nearby or far away, there will be other clubs operating, and it is important for them to be in contact with one another. It is also good for the club to have a level of communication with the nearby stores that stock the relevant games, as these are the places where new players (or even older hands) are likely to be looking for somewhere to play. It is difficult for the store to point people in your direction if they don’t know you are there, or what you do.

By being in touch with the outside world, opportunities may arise for the club to interact with those other entities in a more specific way. For instance, HGC has been able to provide scenery to support tournaments that were being run by other people, who may not have been able to muster up enough of their own accord. The club can advertise events that its members may have been otherwise unaware of, and can ask other groups to do the same in return.

In the UK, an official Gaming Club Network has been established that ensures that proper communication channels exist, and that the operating standards of each club are up to a level that GW is satisfied with (thus enabling them to point players in their direction with no fear of what they might be heading into). This sort of arrangement is rather regimented, however the large number of clubs that exist over there make a system like this more feasible and worthwhile10.

I have heard it said that it is actually the responsibility of clubs to run tournaments – that they’re not contributing to the community without doing so. I think that this is perhaps a bit tough, given that there are other ways (as I am describing) in which the club can make a difference. However, I think it is fair to say that a lot of people are good at declaring that there should be more events on the gaming calendar, without ever really considering being the ones to put their hands up and make those events happen. It is not realistic to expect a small club to run a tournament, however larger groups should really consider it if their resources allow it.

An Ongoing Challenge

While HGC is a firmly established club with a good number of regular players, there is no question that there are things at the club that could be done better. Organisation is fairly relaxed, and as such there are not many formal roles assigned amongst the members. Some roles that should probably be considered (even on a rotational basis) are “meet and greet” (someone responsible for noticing when new people arrive and helping them settle in), and publicity (making sure that the club is properly advertised in the relevant local stores, and that the people that work there know who we are and what we do), amongst others.

Communication between the various clubs and stores in Melbourne tends to be fairly patchy, and could definitely be improved. This would benefit all involved, and also opens doors for events such as inter-club challenges, promoting some healthy rivalries between the different groups. The success of tournaments is dependent upon the turn-outs and a large number of the likely entrants to these events are members of one club or another, so proper advertising through other groups makes sense11.

However well-established and popular a club may be, there is no doubt that there is always more that it could be offering to its members (and prospective members). Likewise the community as a whole can grow and support itself, and the combined resources of its members can do more than any one on its own. This can in turn attract more people to the hobby, and make it all the more fulfilling for those already involved. The framework is there, but there is still a lot of building to be done.


1Dandenong Wargaming And Roleplaying Federation – this club has been around for a long time, however it currently seems to focus primarily on the role playing side of things.

2Sadly this club no longer exists, and there is no really central club currently operating (to the best of my knowledge).

3The Brighton Court House hosts a youth initiative, to which we were effectively attached. This venue, though really tiny, was probably ideal for what we were trying to do.

4HGC now has enough terrain to comfortably furnish 25 or more tables at once (far more than we have tables themselves), including a cave complex and a space hulk. This massive collection is largely due to the insanity of a few individuals – members of that same core of gamers mentioned earlier. Of course, storing such a colossal pile of stuff is an issue, which led to the rather comical sight of convoys of gamers carting containers of terrain to and from a friend’s nearby garage – a pilgrimage which has had to be aborted recently, due to said friend’s moving house.

5There’s that name again – for those who don’t know, Mil Sims is a store that has been a pillar of the gaming community for donkey’s years (I’ve never understood that expression – do donkeys live a long time?), sponsoring, advertising and even running events all over Melbourne (and beyond).

6There were actually a large number of players from HGC planning to attend Axemaster, but most of them were amongst the masses who had not registered in time to save the original event. Perhaps some remorse was felt about that, and helped drive the initiative to try to salvage the tournament…

7It should be noted that Mil Sims still sponsored the tournament despite suffering the initial setbacks thanks to the indecision and lack of commitment showed by the gaming community. Thanks to Steve for arranging the trophies, and to GW for providing the use of their tabletops, which gave us the ability to accommodate far more players than we would otherwise have had tables for.

8It’s true that HGC has not been aggressively advertising its presence in recent years, however new players still seem to find their way in. In this respect the club is effectively self-sustaining, but it could be argued that it is also the role of the club to ensure that there is a steady supply of fresh faces, so that people don’t find themselves facing the same opponents week after week. Of course, this approach may have to be tempered according to space and resource constraints.

9It’s not unusual for players to drive each other on in terms of trying to get a specific army ready for an event that they’re all planning to attend. In my experience, this is about the most effective way of getting an army painted.

10Not all clubs in the UK are part of the GCN, which is unsurprising given the specific ways in which a member needs to present itself and be organized in order to qualify. I don’t believe that the clubs are pressured to join, however they are encouraged to do so, and receive the benefits of additional support and resources from the GCN in return.

11Another Achilles’ Heel of these events tends to be conflicting opinions regarding the restrictions, structure and scoring involved, and better communication could help resolve things like that (or at least make the organizers aware of any concerns) as well.

( categories: )