Recently I put myself in charge of running a Flames of War escalation league at Brothers Grim Games and Hobbies in Selden, NY (central Long Island). It was my first chance to run a league for any game system, but I felt that I had some good ideas that could provide a good experience for newer and veteran players. What follows are just some basic points outlining the organizational aspects of the league, and what actions I took that worked and didn't work, so that you may gain some insight that will help your local gaming group.
Lots of British players in the league
First, I knew that the timing had to be right for the league. I didn't want there to be any competing distractions that might pull gamers in another direction. I got lucky in this respect: the window of opportunity I had at the store coincided with Battlefront's release of the great new starter set and the Market Garden compilation books, so there was plenty of buzz around the store for Flames of War.
I was also able to use the timing of Warhammer 40k's 6th Edition release to my advantage. Simply put, a bunch of 40k players dove into Flames of War because of their lack of enthusiasm for 6th Edition.
I then found out what time period players were most interested in. I have been at several tournaments and have heard people claim that Mid-War is the most accurate FoW time period, and is therefore the only legitimate way to play the game. Without ranting about that narrow-mindedness, I knew that players in Brothers Grim prefer the variety that is offered by Late War, and that the starter sets and newest books were geared toward LW. Had I chosen a different era I don't think we would have had even half the number of participants, and the store definitely would not have sold as many starter sets as it did.
This is a good time to mention that a partnership has to exist between the league organizer and the store owner. When precious table space is going to be taken up by a large group of players on a weekly basis you have to give the store owner some sort of incentive. In this case he and I both knew that this league, being very beginner-friendly, would move a lot of merchandise, and it did. It sounds callous, but there has to be a business relationship if you're involving someone's business.
Bonus points if the store has good terrain for showcase games
One of the big issues leagues have had in the past is the lack of player communication. I solved this problem by doing what other organizers had, for some reason, never done before. I compiled a contact sheet for everyone who signed up for the league with their names, emails, and cell numbers. Frankly, if you don't want a group of people like this to have your contact info then you're probably not the type of person who plays games against strangers. I felt this was an absolute necessity for the league to run smoothly, and I was correct. As an added bonus we used the info to compile an email list to promote future FoW events at the store.
I strongly encourage league organizers to send out weekly emails discussing rules questions and valuable insights for beginners. It really encourages group participation and helps everyone feel like they're part of a cohesive gaming group.
One area of running the league where I definitely need to improve upon is somehow incentivizing participation in a way that doesn't include merchandise. I made objective markers for everyone who played at least 5 games of the 8 game regular season. In each game players got to use a sniper for free, and I kept track of their kills so we could crown a sniper champion at the end, who would receive a free blister pack. Yet we still experienced roughly 1/4 of the players dropping out before the end of the league, which was disappointing. I feel like there needs to be some sort of mid-season twist to keep things interesting, but I just don't know what that can be. Maybe have a painting night during a bye week?
Not a fan of ending things with a mega battle either
Now I need ideas for the next league, and I am very open to suggestions that don't revolve around the "play X games then playoffs format"....
Thanks for reading, and don't forget to follow me on Twitter @piflamesofwar