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The Amsterdam board game club that became one woman's legacy

“People come in, they don’t know anybody, and then they are there for two years.”

Image credit: Amsterdice

In 2013, Amsterdam resident Lies Spruit was looking to meet more people who were interested in board games. She took to the Dutch board gaming forum Boardspelmania and within an hour had connected with Barry Klassen Bos, who lived in the same area of the city. They hatched a plan to host a gathering of board gaming enthusiasts, enlisting their friends, family members and neighbours to try to make the first Amsterdice event a success.

30 people came to the event, held at a neighbourhood community centre. Spruit and Klassen Bos made dinner so that everyone could keep playing all night. They charged just €2.50 and welcomed players of all ages and experience levels. Word soon spread; by Amsterdice’s first anniversary, the bimonthly event was regularly drawing 100 people.

Dutch board game club Amsterdice celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. | Image credit: Amsterdice

The club celebrated its 10th anniversary this past April and has connected thousands of gamers from across the Netherlands, bringing in an even mix of Dutch natives and expats looking for a way to meet friends in their new home. But the milestone was followed by news that Spruit had been diagnosed with incurable cancer, ending a decade during which she had been a constant presence welcoming newcomers and regulars alike.

“I always tried to help people who came in the first time, to lead them to the best games or the best people that they can click with so they don’t have a bad experience,” Spruit tells me. “I love interacting with people.”

The club's members are an even mix of local natives and expats looking to meet new people. | Image credit: Amsterdice

Ironically, Spruit and Klassen Bos rarely spent much time actually playing games at Amsterdice. Klassen Bos says he spent most of his time shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning and talking with attendees. Spruit might hop in for a short one, but always had her eye on the entrance and would soon jump up to greet someone, chatting with them about their gaming experience. In the early days of Amsterdice, Spruit would ride a cargo bike to the event towing a collection of anything from 50 to 70 games.

“It was very important to me that people could choose a game and not have to bring their own because for some people it’s very difficult to ask, ‘Can I join?’” Spruit says. “I invested a lot of money to buy the new titles because that’s what gamers want.”

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Spruit reached out directly to publishers to request free or discounted copies for the club. Many have introduced new games, such as Paladins of the West Kingdom or Flamecraft, at the gathering through ‘play and win’ promotions - where anyone who tries the game can enter a raffle to win a free copy. Rather than sending employees to demo the games, publishers rely on the club’s dedicated members to learn the rules ahead of time and teach others at the event.

I always tried to help people who came in the first time, to lead them to the best games or the best people that they can click with so they don’t have a bad experience.

Amsterdice’s popularity grew so fast that there were times that Spruit and Klassen Bos were worried about posting their events publicly because they’d have to turn people away. They had to seek larger and larger spaces over the years, currently primarily operating out of the Stayokay Hostel, which has room to host and feed the roughly 150 people that regularly show up along with the dedicated games library the club has accumulated. While the total number of people who attend Amsterdice events stays relatively consistent, the faces change over time.

“Most of the time it’s a sort of cycle where people come in, they don’t know anybody, and then they are there for two years, they make friends, and then they’re going to play at home and then you don’t see them very often anymore,” Spruit says. “It’s a really good introduction to play with strangers.”

Amsterdice holds 'play and win' raffles, giving visitors the chance to win a copy of the game they play. | Image credit: Amsterdice

Some members have come consistently for the past 10 years, but Spruit and Klassen Bos are just as proud of the lasting relationships formed at the club - particularly the couple who met there and now have a three-year-old that they refer to as “the Amsterdice baby”.

“Lies is our connector,” Klassen Bos says. “She talks to everyone and people feel welcome at Amsterdice.”

It was very important to me that people could choose a game and not have to bring their own because for some people it’s very difficult to ask, ‘Can I join?’

Spruit understands her very presence helps make women more comfortable joining the club since many board gaming groups remain male-dominated. She’s also taken other steps to make the group more diverse.

“I joined Meetup because I thought it would be wonderful to have a mixed group for people who had just come to the Netherlands,” she says. “They might go home to their own country but it’s very nice for them to meet people from their own countries or different countries, and that makes Amsterdice a lot more international.”

Lies Spruit founded Amsterdice in 2013 alongside Barry Klassen Bos. | Image credit: Amsterdice

Like so many of their attendees, Spruit and Klassen Bos met friends through Amsterdice they could play with when they weren’t at the event. They also gathered a network of volunteers to help run things. They have been helping Spruit sell her massive board gaming collection, with the proceeds going to her two children.

“My husband has enough to deal with without all those games, because I have thousands,” Spruit says. “Through the sales, they get to know a lot of my friends and a lot of people from Amsterdice who want to buy something.”

The sale also increased the pool of Amsterdice volunteers, helping to create a path forward for the club now that Lies has had to step back due to her health. The volunteers were greeting people at Amsterdice’s most recent event in July, where the city of Amsterdam gave Spruit a municipal award for her volunteer work running Amsterdice and serving as a juror for the Dutch Game Awards. A packed crowd, including the Amsterdice baby, applauded as Spruit teared up giving a speech.

“It’s very worthwhile for people to have an event like Amsterdice so I hope it will still exist [without me],” Spruit reflects. “But I’m not gone yet.”

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About the Author
Samantha Nelson avatar

Samantha Nelson

Contributor

Samantha Nelson has been writing about tabletop gaming since 2013 for publications including The A.V. Club, Waypoint, Polygon and Escapist Magazine. She is also a member of the Critical Hit actual play podcast and met her husband at a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP.
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