Stories of interactions between board gamers and “normal people” seem to live forever in our community. New forum threads and BGG Geeklists are started, old ones resurface on a semi-regular basis, and we all get a chuckle from stories of non-gamers reacting to our hobby. Among these we find one of the oldest, almost canonical ones: the “So, is it like Monopoly” question.
It’s been a punch line of almost countless stories, that usually start with a gamer describing some newbie friendly game, that they are trying to introduce to a band of people previously completely unaware of the existence of modern board games. So, the gamer explains how resources are gathered in Catan, how points are scored for tech symbols in 7 Wonders, or how routes are built in Ticket to Ride. What they get as an answer is: “So, is it like Monopoly?”, and some post factum hilarity ensues.
To be accurate, this question can also appear much earlier, when you are trying to explain what it is that you do in your spare time. And the thing is, that unless you are asked a truly, truly ridiculous question like: “Do you dress up as an elf to play?”, you should probably say: “Yes. Yes it is like Risk/Monopoly/Rummy”.
As hobby gamers, we usually play a lot of games, and the moment we pass a certain boundary, we start recognizing mechanisms that are common to many games, basing our learning process on what we’ve already seen elsewhere. Obviously, the same is true for any learning process, as making comparisons and basing new information on previous knowledge and skills is what our brain does to help us understand the world (with stereotyping being a darker side of how we are wired).
Coming back to gaming, after exploring one or two worker placement games, you learn new ones much easier. And it doesn’t really matter if you’re learning Snowdonia (plan first, get resources and actions later), Coal Baron (you need more and more workers to perform popular actions) or Praetor (workers are dice, gaining pips with gaining experience) – you know the principle, and you simply take in the changes specific to the game you’re about to play, with every new set of “twists” making it easier for you to learn the next one.
Our experiences with our hobby help us a great deal with getting more into it. While being a “generally smart” person may help one to understand a complex game, it often is the more experienced person that gets the flow of the game faster, as they will have more of a foundation to understand the rules.
The experiences of non-gamers are much more limited, but they can still be helpful when explaining a game, or even sooner, when trying to make people interested in playing one. So if someone asks: “Is this Ticket to Ride like Monopoly?”, you can say: “Yes it is. Only it plays shorter, you build railways instead of buildings, and nobody needs to be eliminated for the game to end”. Later on, when you actually explain the game, the person will already use some of its experience to learn faster.
Now, some might say that it is misleading, or that the person asking may turn out to hate Monopoly (Risk, Rummy, etc.), and will extend this feeling to the game at hand. Yes, it’s a possibility (hence the pre-emptive “plays shorter, no elimination” spin of the answer), but my own, purely anecdotal evidence points to something else. And since anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all, I’d say you should conduct your own research.
Like, from the next time you explain a game to a group of newbies.