It’s 9 pm on a Saturday and the cavernous Urf Memorial Hall swells with patrons as Potluck Game Night climbs towards critical mass: the tipping point where “tabletop space” suddenly means a spot on the floor. Standing next to the makeshift buffet line, a loyal boardgamer does his best to sell anyone within earshot on a game of Chicken Caesar. The premise, he explains, puts players in charge of aristocratic Roman chicken families all vying for power and fortune through honest negotiations or - ahem -fowl play. The onlookers groan and several set off towards a table set up for One Night Ultimate Werewolf. There, a newcomer explains the game’s rules to a handful of Rioters and guests.
“Villagers are the most boring roles to get,” he says as several of the gathered check their phones or pick idly at fruit salad. “You just kind of sit there thinking” - and here he puts on an oafish accent - "'I hope I don’t get eaten by a werewolf." And like that, shazam, the spell is broken. The crowd breaks into fits of laughter and the air of tension commonly found among groups of strangers is lifted. Roles are handed out, phones are stashed, and the games begin.
Held every other Saturday night, Potluck Game Night opens its doors to Rioters and friends looking to get together to nosh and bond over the time-tested icebreaker that is boardgaming. “Game Night represents one of my favorite things about Riot: the fact that just after meeting someone, you already know you have gaming in common,” says Nathan, a Game Night veteran who discovered the gathering after moving from Pennsylvania to Santa Monica for an internship in 2012.
Nathan remembers hearing about Game Night through an email chain. “Someone was asking if anyone wanted to play Dominion that week,” he says. During his first foray into Game Night, Nathan was introduced to one of his current roommates and a couple of Rioters he still calls friends today. “I got comfortable at Riot quickly, but finding things to do outside of work was harder. Game Night really was a big deal for me when I first started.”
Spread out across two long folding tables, a dozen or so gamers play something that looks like a mix of Settlers of Catan, Risk, and Warhammer 40k. The game’s board and pieces span most of the table in what can only be the sum of a very long war campaign. Nathan says that this kind of thing is pretty normal for Game Night. “I got an email the other day that said people were going to play Twilight Imperium,” he says. “I guess they were starting the game at 1 pm and expecting it to last until midnight.”
By around 10 pm, the sushi, danish, and lasagna that partially make up this week’s international potluck theme are dwindling fast as still-hungry attendees drift towards crackers and cheese. In the center of the meeting hall, a game of Puerto Rico sails on amidst a table flooded with cardboard coins. Behind them, a handful of boardgamers, searching for something a little less analog, file out of the meeting hall and up to Riot’s on-site PC Bang for a game of League.
Back at the Werewolf table, cards and tokens are still king. As the game rolls along, a rookie player sheepishly cops to slipping up during the Night phase, which leads to a meta-breaking werewolf outing. “That’s okay,” someone says, “we can just start a new game.” And with that, cards are reshuffled and night descends again in the Urf Memorial Hall, now noisy with the sounds of new friends waging war.