The Current State of Play-and-Win (2019)

14 March 2019 | 28 Comments

My favorite way to market our products is to get them to the table more often. Your table, my table, the tables of reviewers, ambassadors, etc–any table will do. The more our products get to the table, the more they’re exposed to people.

This is a big part of the reason why we support our products with reprints, expansions, and ongoing reviews, as well as focusing on accessibility (Watch It Played videos, ability to teach to new players on the fly instead of frontloading rules, etc). Our goal is to bring joy to tabletops worldwide, but a key element is that our games must actually get to the table.

Perhaps my #1 favorite way to accomplish this goal is through play-and-win donations for game conventions.

Play-and-win is a convention concept where people can check out your game, play it, and then enter their name in a lottery to win that specific game at the end of the convention. If I donate a play-and-win game to a convention, it can be experienced by dozens and dozens of people in a short amount of time. Only one of those people will win it, so if other people liked the game, they’re now informed in their decision to purchase it later.

I’ve been talking about play-and-win on this blog for a while after discovering it at Geekway to the West, and I’ll post those links at the bottom of this entry.

Today I’m going to focus on the play-and-win Google Doc that I created and maintain, as well as my current approaches to maximizing the potential of play-and-win for publishers, conventions, and gamers.


If you’re a publisher who likes the play-and-win system, but you don’t like getting solicitations from hundreds of conventions, the Google Doc is for you. You can simply enter your information on the current year’s tab, which communicates to the participating conventions that you’re in the know and don’t need to be contacted individually.

I have a calendar alert at the beginning of the month to remind me to check the Google Doc for conventions happening two months in the future. So, in early January I looked at conventions happening in March.

The number of games I send to a convention depends on the size of the event. Sometimes the play-and-win coordinators enter their information on the Google Doc and forget about it, so I help to remind them of what the package is by including the words “play-and-win” as part of the address label.

I try to keep our ambassadors informed about the various conventions that feature our play-and-win games. If any of them attend those conventions, they can make sure to drop by from time to time to see if players have questions. Otherwise, you don’t need to be worried about having teachers present–people who use play-and-win are usually comfortable to learn the game from the rulebook, and random fans of the game often stop by to help out.

Last, while we donate our games to play-and-win sections for free, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask a convention to pay for your games (ideally a reduced rate). Play-and-win sections are major draws at convention–you’re helping them just as much as they help you.


If you’re completely new to play-and-win, read this blog entry about the core details (or these instructions on the Geekway website). Then take note of the following:

  • Please enter your convention on the Google Doc (use open rows at the bottom). Do not solicit me directly by e-mail, and do not e-mail me to ask if/when your game(s) will be sent. You will either receive games 30-45 days before your event…or you won’t, in which case you have plenty of time to purchase games to fill your play-and-win section.
  • If you enter your info on that spreadsheet, you may only use the donated games for play-and-win, and you are committing to having a play-and-win section. Play-and-win is a major draw for attendees–and a great way to serve them–which is why some conventions wisely allocate part of their budget towards buying games specifically for this purpose.
  • At least several weeks before the convention, tell vendors which games were donated for play-and-win so they can stock those games at the event. The play-and-win section should close before the vendors.
  • If possible, provide a US mailing address (if you’re located in another country, offer a local address as well). Because of the expense of shipping internationally, we rarely send play-and-win games outside of the US.
  • It never hurts to follow up with a publisher after a convention to let them know how their games did in the play-and-win section. I understand that this is extra work, and I won’t ever hold it against a publisher for not doing so, but it’s really nice when conventions do this (in recent memory, TantrumCon and Whose Turn Is It Anyway did so).
  • I would recommend only letting each person win at most 1 game–that way you spread out the prizes among the most people. Also, instead of interrupting the convention to announce the winners, simply post them at a few key places around the convention hall.

There are other tips from specific conventions on this tab of the play-and-win Google Doc.


If you like the idea of play-and-win, feel free to check out the conventions listed on the Google Doc. You might discover a nearby game convention that you haven’t heard of.

If you’re new to game conventions, I think you’ll find them to be very welcoming. I’m an introvert who does not get excited about big events, but my experience at Geekway has been really invigorating. There are countless times when I’ve been invited into a game or when someone offers to teach a game.


What are your thoughts on play-and-win?

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28 Comments on “The Current State of Play-and-Win (2019)

  1. Hi Jamey,

    We are opening a new BGC Club in Bartow, FL and the kids would love this! The club kids love these types of games and it helps us keep our mission of keeping at-risk youth in a safe environment where they can learn and play. Can you help with a donation?

  2. Hello
    We recently bought Wingspan and it became one of our most played games within few weeks in our youth club. We have an idea of making a big contest where people can get different games, so i wanted to know if you would be willing by donating some games to us for the contest?

  3. I wanted to leave a quick comment on how great Jamey is regarding play and wins! Last February, My Little Scythe and Between Two Castles got a ton of attention and convinced a few people to make a purchase that same day. We put our convention back on the list for 2020, but this time I’m more informed on donation etiquette and will make sure to advertise Stonemaier in our program and send them pictures for their social media if we get the opportunity to showcase his games again.

    Thank you Jamey, youre a superstar for supporting a smaller university convention!

  4. Jamie what are your views on donations to schools? I work in an alternative school and have created a gaming group/club for our students. It’s been very successful for our students and we would like to expand our game library. Several years ago I contacted a few gaming companies and they were generous enough to send us some games which was fantastic. I am in the process of reaching out again and didn’t know if you would be willing to participate.

    1. Jay: I think it’s great that you created a gaming group/club. We do offer an educator discount, but we don’t give away our games for free unless we see a significant ROI (like with play-and-win).

    2. Jay, I’m looking to do the same in conjunction with the school librarian. Do you remember whom you contacted that was willing to send games? I’d be so appreciative if you could share that.

  5. Do you think an idea like this would work at a local game store? Yesterday, I was talking to the owner of the local store I frequent, and he was trying to figure out ways to get more players playing board games in the store. He especially wants to encourage being open to playing with people outside of their playgroups and coming in on days other than the weekly board game night (where they currently have to turn people away due to space- so something is working).

    Do you think it would work if they set up a monthly drawing as well as it does for a small convention? I could see a similar number of people entering the drawing over the 30 day period as the 3-4 days of a convention. Would you be as willing to donate to someone trying this out as the conventions?

    1. That’s quite clever, Jake. I think it has potential, but I’d be willing to donate 1 game to test it if a retailer was willing to offer me stats on how many people played the game and how many people bought the game. For it to be effective, everyone who learned and played the game during the month (or whatever period they choose–a month seems a bit long) would need to be contacted at the end of the period so they know who won the game and who didn’t, and I think the store could encourage the others to buy the game by offering a small discount. That turns it into a win-win situation.

  6. So, I have taken this idea and used a variation on it at a couple local conventions. I have an exceedingly large collection, and often run into problems with culling it. So, at a couple local cons I have done a play-to-win thing with games I am wanting to get rid of. I do it in tandem with my local board gaming group’s lending library. We make sure to keep the lending games distinct from those up for winning. It’s a good way to get people to come by the library to see what’s up, spreads the word about our group, and gets games out of my collection. So far, it has been mildly popular.

    I would love if we could get our conventions up to the point where we can use this idea with support from others, and not just my collection’s castoffs. Still, it is a fun idea and I am glad I borrowed it from you.

  7. Our family of 5 attended Geekway to the West for the first time last year. We absolutely loved the Play and Win part of the convention. As first timers, and especially because of our children, it was nice to have a more limited selection of games to choose from versus the complete library of thousands of games. Having several copies to choose from (we’ve only been to Geekway so I don’t know how other conventions are) instead of having to stalk people around the convention to find who has the 1 copy of something we wanted to try was also enjoyable. Another advantage with Play and Win at a convention is that there were a couple of games we may not have picked up just looking at the box but once we saw them out on a table, we were interested enough to search them out the next time we went back for a game.

    We ended up buying 4 of the Play and Win games we tried. Most after the family consensus was, “We HAVE to get this game!” We were lucky enough to win 2 of games we really liked otherwise we would have purchased 6 of the games we tried.

  8. Jamey,,
    We have been experimenting with sign-up and play system with the Play-to-Win games we receive. This is a guided play session with a teacher. This most likely results in fewer total plays of the game, but possibly a better experience with the game overall, as time is not spent reading the rule book or looking up answers on BGG. This method also insures that folks entering the drawing to win the game have actually played it, and not just checked it out of the library and wrote down their names to try and win a free game. How do you feel about doing it this way? Is the publisher better served by the check-out system? It would certainly free up teachers for me :)

    –JeffXL, Rocket City Gamefest

  9. This is just brilliant. What a great way to save everyone time and help gamers find new cons to attend! My daughter and I absolutely loved the Play-and-Win table at Big Bad Con in Walnut Creek, CA last October (I see they’re not on the list. I sent them the link.). It’s a great way to learn new games and yes, we did go buy some of the ones we didn’t win. Thank you for supporting conventions in this way!

  10. I really think Play & Win works to get games under the attention of players. I work with formula since 3 years with different companies in the Netherlands and they’re enthusiastic as well as it works !
    I’m also very gratefull that you gave us your support ( Amsterdice- Amsterdam).
    This month we’re doing a Play & Win with Wingspan via the Dutch publisher 999 games ( as international shipping is very costly).
    Hope I can support your games in the future this way Jamy… It works :-)

    Lies Spruit- Amsterdice

  11. Hi Jamey, would it be worth while for you to do this for small game conventions in other countries like Ireland, conventions with only 100 to 200 people, or it’s best to stick to the big conventions?

      1. That is a pity, but totally understandable. It would probably be more of an event and special for the smaller conventions as it rarely happens that a publisher would do that for them.

        Perhaps it would help make that happen if you required them to record a few moments from the play to win competition, record the awarding ceremony, and upload it to youtube, and posting it on the BGG facebook group. I think a very appreciative small convention would be more than happy to do that.

        If you ever want to try that let me know.

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