Three simple rules for an easy introduction to board gaming

Despite a couple of great new-ish games that I’m itching to talk about (Eldritch Horror! Pathfinder Adventure Card Game!), this month’s column will take a slightly different tack. Games are, obviously enough, a really important part of a good game night. But there’s another element that, while occasionally unpleasant enough to have been equated with hell itself, is also essential to the overall experience: Other people.

Solo board-gaming, for what it’s worth, is actually fun every once in a while. Not to make it sound nerdier than it is (somewhere between “quite” and “exceptionally”), gaming alone is like playing a computer game where the source code is a poorly translated instruction manual and the processor is your brain, and there’s something truly fascinating about how rules and game mechanics can turn small wooden blocks into your bitter enemies.

Let’s say you don’t want to go it alone, though. Fair enough. You could turn to meet-up groups, or regular events like Sentry Box’s Monday open gaming or Dickens Pub’s Gamer Sundays — great places to meet fellow game geeks and try new games before shelling out for your own copy. But let’s say you don’t want to play with strangers. Maybe you want to convince your politely skeptical friends to start a regular gaming night. How do you win them over?

Step 1: Start small.

There are some amazing campaign-based games out there, from Descent to Risk: Legacy , where the gameplay experience builds over a dozen or more sessions. No matter how accessible these may seem (who doesn’t know how to play Risk?), it’s still the equivalent of a first-date marriage proposal. A night of beer, pizza and one or two half-hour games is a much easier way to test the water.

Step 2: Know your audience.

If your friends are the type to turn every conversation into a contest, you’re probably safe picking a game that lets them indulge in their every back-stabbing urge. Other people abhor competitive games. They hate losing, and they hate winning even more. They feel guilty if they have to play a card that sets another player back. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways around this.

One is co-op gaming. I’ve talked about a couple of these games before, including Hanabi and Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Isle , but there are a ton of others where everyone works together, and there’s nary a back to be stabbed. For the uninitiated, co-op games still feel like a novelty, and the sense of “we’re all in it together” is a refreshing change.

Game theme can play a major role in this, too. Tokaido , for example, is a competitive game — only one person will win — but you win by taking the most pleasant stroll between two Japanese cities. You meet interesting people, eat at nice restaurants and see beautiful sights, and whoever enjoyed themselves the most, wins. Which is a whole lot nicer than slaughtering citizens to make way for your budding dynasty.

Some games emphasize storytelling — Dixit is a fantastic party game for your more imaginative friends, and Gloom is perfect for groups that are both a little morbid and a little verbose. If your friends think gnomes and elves are ridiculous, you might want to shy away from Smallworld .

Step 3: Know your game.

This cannot be overstated. If you are going to be teaching your friends a new game, you must, must, must know how to play it. Many rule books are translations, and even the ones that aren’t are often arcane and poorly organized. If your friends’ first experience involves you pausing every 30 seconds to double-check a rule, or if you spend a full hour explaining it before they even get to look at the board, no one is going to give the game a fair shot.

Fortunately, the Internet is full of explainer videos and play-throughs. If you’re more of a visual or auditory learner, watch these in advance. If you’re bad at explaining games, encourage your friends to watch them. The less time you spend mucking about with rules, the faster you can get to the best parts: a few friends, some cardboard doodads, and a heck of a good time.

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