The Other Gateway

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.

Combat CommanderHere’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.

SoCOne 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.

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5 thoughts on “The Other Gateway

  1. This is good advice and a good reminder about how to approach the topic of introducing people to modern board games. With so many great games available there is no reason why the gaming experience cannot be custom tailored to the preferences and tastes of the individuals playing.

    Working in the oil industry I have gotten many people interested in modern board games with Black Gold. Mechanically it is quite simple and straight forward. The game play is highly engaging, interactive, and thematically relevant, which provides for a very captivating experience for this particular group.

    Cheers,
    David

    1. Being patient and perceptive helps a lot, and becoming a good game teaher is no easy task. Oh, perhaps we should discuss that on the blog as well?

  2. There are very good takeaways in what you have written here. I find that the introduction the gaming isn’t so much how entry-point or “light” the game that I select, but the subject matter that the newbies are interested in being exposed to. Yes, it is important not to bog them down with rules explanations, but that is not necessarily a problem with certain people. I say knowing your audience is most important.

    1. Still, sometimes your audience will suprise you, and you have to remember that it may so happen that a game that seemed like a slam dunk, turns out to be a dud.

  3. I agree! We’ve had great luck introducing new gamers via BSG. In addition to removing the overall fear of losing, it also means players can learn as they go because we are all working together anyway. Really lessens the upfront time explaining rules and makes it less daunting dive right in.

    I find that new gamers can lose interest if the introductory game is too simple or doesn’t click with them. You’re spot on about the importance of the first game – worth the effort to get their gaming experience off to a good start!

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