Introducing games to beginners

This is for #Blogmas 2020

Another article I originally wrote for Board Game Crate, now available for general enjoyment.

Usually, whenever I bring up the subject of board games, most non-gamers immediately conjure up such titles as Monopoly,Cludo or Game of Life. Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying those games, but the roll-and-move mechanic doesn’t really give preparation into deck-building, drafting, line-of-sight, tower defence, worker placement, co-operative, buffs & de-buffs, point salads and so on. Having seen first-hand the deer-in-headlights terror displayed by a new player subjected to StarCraft: The Board Game, I thought it best to provide some tips when introducing games to new players.

Choose games that utilise only 1 or 2 mechanics. For example, Dominion, being one of the first deck-building games, is just about deck-building so should be easier to introduce instead of games such as Star Realms that has added combat and synergy or Clank which has a lot more going on. Sushi Go nicely introduces the idea of card drafting and set collecting, to be built upon later by more complex games such as7 Wonders and Terraforming Mars.

Dumb down the rules – but don’t give the appearance of doing so. Many games nowadays have a ‘Family’ or ‘Newbie’ version of the rules for first play. Using these rules as if they are the only rules not only helps players get into the game, but also avoids them feeling patronised.

Play games that are still readily available. It can be really off-putting when someone accompanies a friend, partner or co-worker to a game, really enjoys it, and then searches online to buy it only to discover it’s only available for upwards of £250 on ebay and in German.

Be patient. We were all beginners once upon a time. If they struggle to comprehend a rule, try using analogies, show a youtube clip – or even give them the rule book for them to interpret for themselves. Be prepared to field the same question time and time again. Also, when they’re caught out by a rule you so totally did actually explain to the right at the beginning, just accept the blame for keeping it a complete secret and give them 50 points in compensation.

Be aware of short attention spans. In today’s world of soundbites, people can be less tolerant of sitting there while you read them all 64 pages of a rule book and then watching you sort and arrange seemingly countless components across the playing area while their sweaty hands grasp the hand of cards they were given at the start as if they were a lifeline to sanity. Set up before-hand and play to introduce, not play to win. Aim for a half-game so that they grasp the basics. Then, when they’re happy, start over.

Finally, accept there is such a thing as beginner’s luck and not rage out by being totally defeated by someone who’s still coming to grips with a changeable turn order. Remember, they need to enjoy their experience so they will come back where you can then properly demonstrate just how to completely destroy an opponent.