This week instead of tactics or product reviews we’re looking at Para Bellum’s community-building program: Vanguard. I sat down with a few of these Vanguards to talk about how they’ve built up a community in their area and what they continue to do to grow it.
Whenever I look at a new game (which is maybe a little too often) I want to know if there’s already people playing around me. Living in London this is often the case, there’s an extremely healthy wargaming community for just about any game you can imagine with a group playing it; which includes Conquest! Investing into a new game with both money and time is something that you want to be sure can pay off. What this means might be different for different people, for me that means being able to play games regularly, real-life allowing.
The minds at Para Bellum knew that to be successful they would have to have something in place to help people know about the game and have a thriving community wherever they are globally to be able to play it.
You can find out if you have a Vanguard leading the community near you by emailing in to firstname.lastname@example.org to see if there’s a Vanguard near you. If there is, they’ll put you in touch with your closest Vanguard so that you can demo the game before needing to buy in, find out when meetups are happening, etc. You can also see any events, from demos to tournaments, listed on Para Bellum’s event calendar. See what events are happening near you and go check out any demos or open gaming days there to meet the community.
I sat down with Giannis at Para Bellum who has been leading the Vanguard program for some time now, he is THE point of contact for anything community related. He informed me that there are over 270 active Vanguards already globally with about another 90 waiting to be onboarded. The highest concentration of these communities is in North America and range anywhere from 5 to about 60 people or more.
If there isn’t a Vanguard to you already Giannis wants anyone that’s willing to be a leader in the community to get in touch and apply; but what’s expected of you?
- Running at least 2 events per month. These can be just about anything from casual gaming at a set location like store or games club, or even your home if you’re willing! Can be giving game demos, running slow grow leagues, or even running painting evenings – it’s not just about gaming.
- Being a leader in your community. It’s an unfortunate truth that as part of growing a community with strangers there can sometimes be discomfort or problems that arise between individuals. Being able to step in and advise people to avoid any issues is part of the gig.
Para Bellum supports Vanguards by providing things like starter sets for demos as well as prize support for running events and tournaments for those that attend. Don’t think that getting a community started has to entirely come out of your pocket!
If it’s something you want to do then get in touch! There’s a 1 month “soft start” period to trial being a Vanguard to run demos and help see what the hunger for the game might be like in your area. Something that I’ve found, with Conquest as well as with many wargames, is that if you want people to play it all you have to do is show them how good the game is. Getting a hands-on experience is invaluable.
However, it is 2023 (at the time of writing, anyway) and social media is at the forefront of most of our lives. In-person Vanguards are not the only kind. If you want to create videos around the lore, painting tutorials, twitch streams for hobby around Conquest, or something else then also reach out to them; there are a number of vanguards building communities in this way instead.
Meeting the Vanguards
After speaking with Giannis I wanted to speak with actual Vanguards, boots on the ground around the world that have been busy building communities wherever they may be. A big thanks to each for laying out what they’ve been doing and what they think works best.
Kyle Stancikas (polar525) Fayetteville, NC USA
- Be consistent. Having an established, repeated time (ideally weekly) that you as a vanguard can make every time is important for laying a foundation for a community. There will likely be sessions where you are the only one attending. When this is the case, rather than going home early, use that time to reach out to other people. This could be inviting them to try the game, or it may be just having an unrelated conversation. This will help you establish a presence at your chosen location. If it’s a game store, talk with the employees when they aren’t busy. Let them know what you’re doing and ask them to direct potentially interested customers to you.
- If you play at a store, work with the store. Ask the management if you can advertise, such as with a poster or flyer. Ask if the manager or employees need help in understanding the game or best products they can keep in stock. Consider also getting them to play the game. If the store has a social media presence then ask about posting to it directly or having them advertise for you there; on Facebook use Events features, on Instagram create Collab posts to share with your own following and the stores, etc.
- Visibility. Play in an area where other people can see and feel comfortable approaching you. Engage people who do approach your game or hobby space with conversation starters like “Do you play tabletop games?” or “Are you familiar with Conquest?” Post pictures of your sessions and events to social media, ideally to the location’s page or with information about where you play. Make sure that your sessions are posted in advance to allow others time to plan to attend.
- Communicate. When you have players, make certain that you communicate clearly with them: event information, any expectations you may have, ways that you deal with problems or challenges, etc. Ask your players what they want: event types, prize support, points played in competitive events, etc.
- Do things that you want to do, but be open about it. I currently participate in competitive events that I host, both tournaments and leagues, even when it creates an odd player count. While this may frustrate some as I am the event organiser, I am up front about it before the event. Typically I will put something in my event info like “I think it is important to let you know that I am participating in this event and will be participating in placement and potential prize award with said placement.” Ultimately I want to play the game, but I do let my players know when it could be perceived as negatively affecting them.
Matthew Thompson (CarnivorousKang) Grand Rapids, MI USA
- I’m a fairly new Vanguard, only starting in July. I focus on small Demos (500-750 pts) with various factions to introduce the game to locals, getting down the basics and showing the mechanics. As people grow more interested, I like to have players play each other at higher levels, while I help where needed. Currently I’m running Part 2 of a League that’s been running for a few months, slowly growing armies and giving out tickets for a raffle at the end of the League for ‘challenges’ I provide bi-weekly.
- A lot of my focus is bringing in people looking for a fun system, with diversity in focus. I’ve got a heavy skew towards ‘competitive’ players in the community, and it shows in the discussions that tend to happen on gathering days. Invariably some proud nail unit or ability will come up and circles will be spun about them. But such is wargaming and the nature of wargamers!
- Overall it’s been fairly successful, going from 2-3 people in July, to currently 14 people participating and asking about events consistently.
Jeff Warner (Judgewyrm) Columbus, Ohio USA
From my experience Vanguarding and community building it takes some time and requires 3 pretty important factors to be successful:
- Number one is consistency, have your game night set at whatever FLGS (friendly local games store) you are you are working with, have the event on the event calendar on the Para Bellum website, and just go and have a good time!
- The second factor is to show people that not only is there a community behind the game but that it’s growing. The best way to do this is through social media; just posting pictures from events, models you have painted, and good times you have had with the game go a long way to show people on the fence that there is a community and they are having fun.
- Finally, and probably most importantly: patience. Nothing is going to happen overnight but with effort and patience you will grow the community you want. This last tidbit is just a reminder that no matter what just have fun with it. This is a game, it’s about having fun, and if you can show people that then they will want to be involved.
Sam Isaacson – West London, England
Real estate in London is tricky to come by, so with a complete lack of FLGS in my borough I started to host games in my home. I started with the classic bait of a Birthday party – some friends came over, we played my new game, and sure enough two of them said they’d like to play again. Slow but steady organic growth with a small amount of social media has led to a committed core group with a love for 2000-point armies from the get-go. I’ve found that people who are into Conquest really do love it – original lore, enjoyable gameplay that rewards good tactics with enough luck, and an intriguing and constantly developing range of beautiful miniatures all do a good job of enticing in new players and getting them gripped quickly. On top of that, the importance of the social aspect generated from the friendly, welcoming, inclusive nature of our group is difficult to overstate, particularly given the challenges of the past couple of years through Covid and lockdowns.
David Richardson – “Sunny” Southampton, England
- A Conquest Vanguard’s role is to promote this most glorious of games in the local community. Mostly this will be by running demonstration games at gaming clubs and FLGS’s. To that end I have a standard demo set up of two 1250 point armies, along with the terrain and some fancy bits like portable banners to catch gamers’ eyes. The demo forces should be a variety of different units to showcase different aspects of the game (Ranged, spellcasting, defensive and offensive interactions). Whilst you can do a 20 minute walkthrough of the game I like to actually do full games with people and have yet to have anyone try and bail out early!
- In addition to demonstration games, in this age of online interactions and social media I make a point of sharing as much content as possible across the platforms I use (Facebook and Instagram). I also run regular events with prize support and also raffles for stuff at the local club I frequent.
- All of this has led to Conquest being the second biggest game played at my main club in 2022 (45 games) with only Warhammer 40k being higher at 150ish.
Bringing the Community Together
Just get in touch! That’s really the first step and is the easiest thing. Check out the Para Bellum events calendar and email in so you can be put in touch with your local Vanguard. And if there isn’t a Vanguard already? Then consider being one yourself!