Here’s a story (a true story) for you: I once met a person who refused to be introduced into board gaming via Ticket to Ride, just to eagerly delve into the first edition of Descent. That person, who had had no experiences with any kind of gaming – including Dungeons & Dragons – was my wife: today an avid gamer by any conceivable standards.
Here’s another story: I once introduced a guy into board gaming via Combat Commander, a rather uncomplicated wargame that nonetheless would prove way too heavy for many first timers to easily grasp. The guy is (obviously) not my wife, but he is – and was at the time – a person very much interested in the stories of World War II US Marines, so much so in fact, that he was the one to ask for such an introduction.
If you go on any kind of forums, including but not limited to BoardGameGeek, and ask for good games to introduce people to board gaming, you’ll probably get a line-up of the usual suspects: Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and (if you encounter some more adventurous gamers) perhaps 7 Wonders. And if you actually ask about trying out a game as heavy as the two I mentioned above, you’ll probably be asked to maybe consider something lighter. And getting back inside the house, as the heat has probably severely impaired your judgment.
There is nothing inherently wrong in such advice. Generally, if you want to get people into board gaming, you should start off with games that you can easily explain in a short amount of time, that will play in under an hour or so, and that have attractive, easy to read components. What most of this advice does not take into account, is the awesome power of a positive (or a negative) filter.
One of my first modern board games was Shadows over Camelot – game most of my friends would eagerly play. It had a clear, easily understandable theme, a relatively simple set of rules, and this one incredibly innovative element: a fully cooperative game play (we never played with the traitor). And although you’ll rarely find this masterpiece on the gateway games list, it had this one magical feature: it removed the fear many adults have that if they lose, they will be judged. And let’s be honest, they would be, even if gamers don’t want to admit how judgemental they can get.
I’m not saying to suddenly try out Twilight Imperium with your non-gaming brother in law, or insist that your non-gaming childhood bestie sit down to a game of Through the Ages. But I am saying is that if you want to get a person (or a group) into gaming, you should take a close look at them, and try to judge what they may or may not like, without chaining yourself to the golden classics. Battlestar Galactica may not always become a certain favourite with all people who enjoy the TV series, but in some situations it may be a way better choice than the standard Carcassonne, despite being much more complicated – and much longer.
And finally, remember that sometimes the day is just not good to try and get people to game, even if you had made plans, and they are aware of them. It’s much better to “Nah, let’s do something else” and get a game going on more favourable conditions, than suffer through an experience that will become not a gate, but a door everyone will want to keep shut – and possibly forget about its existence.