5 Ways to Convert a Non-Gamer to Board Games
One of the biggest pitfalls of jumping headlong into the board game hobby tends to be convincing those around you that it’s a good idea. Sure, there are lots of great solo games (a post for another day), but if you’re wanting to convert a non-gamer, it’s best to have a plan. That’s where I can help!
The Magic of Gateways
The Narnia wardrobe isn’t the only magical gateway out there. So-called “gateway games” can easily entice reluctant players into the fold. Hardcore gamers might want to bring to the table games they’re really excited about at first, hoping their enthusiasm will spread. But smashing your friend in the face with Twilight Imperium right off the bat could cause serious problems.
Let’s start first with the friendliest variety of gateway games: co-operative games. Many co-operative games can help ease new players into the hobby by allowing them to work together with more experienced gamers. Treating and curing epidemics might sound like a daunting task, but the game Pandemic tends to be an excellent gateway game. It’s relatively simple to teach, fun, and allows players to work together to accomplish tasks. This might be a concept foreign to those who only know board games to be family-shattering exercises in who can be most cutthroat. Hundreds of co-op games exist these days, so it’s good to surf YouTube and see what might best fit your particular convert.
If co-operative games aren’t your bag, you could introduce some other fun but simple games, such as King of Tokyo (think Yahtzee with city-destroying monsters) or Splendor (collecting gems to impress fancy folks). YouTube again has loads of gateway lists that you can explore if you’re looking for the perfect game for a specific new player.
Emphasize Fun Over Winning
“Win at all costs” could be a mantra for some gamers, even if that means backstabbing your friends and chucking them off a mountain. That can quickly sour prospective future gamers who just aren’t into that kind of thing. The solution? Eurogames! What the hell are Eurogames? These games, though not all of them, tend to focus on resource collection and production over manipulation and destruction. They feel more like puzzles and might require more strategy than just slinging dice.
One issue with Eurogames though might be that the themes are not always awe-inspiring for non-gamers. Oh, I get to be a chicken farmer in 17th Century France! Hot damn! In this case, you could try a game like Carcassonne (yes, it takes place in France) that allows players to build roads and castles by laying tiles. Or a bag-building game like Orleans that includes trading, building, and hiring new workers for different tasks. I’m now realizing a lot of games I like take place in France. If you want to go further back in time, you could try Stone Age, which has a nice mixture of dice rolling and resource collecting. “But Philip,” you might be saying, “this is the Fantasy Hive. Where are the flipping fantasy games?” There are tons! One of my favorites is Blood Rage, which has the wow-factor of cool minis and battling other Viking tribes while the world collapses around you. I always have fun with Blood Rage even if I’m getting annihilated by a frost giant. As long as people are smiling as they’re being killed, you chose the right game. Pro-tip: take it easy on the newbies! This leads to my next crucial point.
Resist the Urge to Alpha Game
Some people might not mind “alpha gaming” or the tendency for more experienced players to take over the game and make decisions for less experienced ones. Long periods of silence or waiting (gamer term: analysis paralysis) can make veteran gamers get twitchy and have a need to keep the game moving forward. The best way to mitigate this could be only to offer advice if the new player directly asks for it. My favorite aspect of playing a new game is discovering by myself how things work. Nothing is better than seeing new gamers’ eyes light up when they realize they know what the hell they’re doing. So experienced players, try to take a backseat and let those who you want to convert find their own way. If they’re lost, believe me, they’ll ask!
The Glory of Two Players
It can often be intimidating for someone completely new to games to be put in a social situation in which they might not be entirely comfortable with other people. Lucky for us, there are, wait for it, tons of incredible games that can be played with only two players. This is especially great for couples who are unable to organize gaming groups for a variety of reasons. Some games are exclusive to two players even, making these games more optimal for new converts. However, playing an aggressive competitive game might not be your best first choice. A game like Clank! has mild instances of mini-aggression and includes finding treasures while avoiding the wrath of an annoyed dragon. Or if you’re more interested in a co-op treasure hunting experience, Forbidden Island is a fun, inexpensive choice. Since I play almost exclusively with my wife, two player games can work great for getting someone interested in the hobby.
As an experienced gamer, you might have the impulse to break down every single rule in the rulebook before beginning to play. For me, I find this one of the ways I quickly tune out to what I’m supposed to do. A brief rundown and just jumping into the game can be one of the best ways to teach a game. To avoid over-complicating things, it’s probably best not to pick a starting game with too many moving parts. That way, you can ease into the shallow end before learning to swim. If a new player gets bogged down with rules from the beginning, you might just see the light die in their eyes. We don’t want that! Just play!
We’re really living in a Golden Age of Board Games these days, so there’s no excuse anymore for finding excellent games to introduce to your friends, family, or significant other. It can be frustrating at times finding a game that will gel with a potential convert. Your best bet is to set aside a “game night” and pick out a few games you think might work. Start with “light” games and mix in a blend of a variety of co-op and competitive games throughout the night. One game could light the fire of a full-fledged convert to the wonder of board games!
Want further recommendations? Comment below and maybe I can help!