The board game hobby is exploding, the evidence being double digit growth every year for over a decade. There are tons of new gamers entering the hobby.
But is it too much to ask for more? For the sake of keeping this article moving, let’s declare, “No, it’s not at all unreasonable to want more gamers in the board gaming hobby! In fact, it’s preferable!”
So, I’ll share some thoughts on how to make space for even more gamers to join us happy nerds. And since we’re gamers ourselves, let’s use game design terms to organize the thoughts! To wit, we’ll need components, mechanics, and design.
Components (Who do we hope to attract?)
In short, we want everyone to become a tabletop gamer. And when your goal is infinity, you need to do a little work to make that happen. So, keep these things in mind, always:
- Remember how hard it is to start from scratch. We were all newbies once. So, be patient and try to meet people we’re they’re at. Remember, we’re intentionally trying to attract brand new gamers here, so an exhibition of your smug superiority as you deftly share your expert thoughts is off-putting in fact. Sorry to break it to you in this way.
- Showcase simple games with visually and broadly appealing themes. My wife is now a gamer but that wasn’t always the case. There were years when I’d try and get her into the hobby with my rad zombie, Star Wars, and superhero games; themes that I foolishly thought were a draw, but she saw as silly. So, we started with games like Spice Road and Sagrada, and we’re now at a point where Lords of Waterdeep is her favorite game. Related: Don’t always push heavy-duty games.
- Don’t front-load the entire rulebook. In addition to selecting accessible themes, select accessible mechanics. Beginning with the straight-forward “set collection” of Ticket to Ride is excellent. Be ready to walk new players through their first couple of turns, then build off that. Easy-to-learn games like “you take this action and get this reward” are excellent.
- Stop insulting mainstream games. You can learn what hobby games that a new player will like based on what mainstream games look interesting to them. Insulting modern “gateway” games that you may have tired of makes it hard for them to figure out what to try. In fact, we wrote an article that starts with Catan, then helps new gamers branch out from there.
- More board gaming in schools. Try out your local board game cafes and FLGS, even if you have a good collection or could get things cheaper online. Look outside of geek or gamer events. Many might start a family game night after they are introduced but they aren’t going into a FLGS to start with.
Mechanics (How will we attract them?)
We just discussed the who, now let’s talk about how.
- Hold gaming events that are welcoming to kids, so parents can attend without having to find childcare or leave one parent behind. Families often travel as a unit, meaning parents often don’t go anywhere they can’t take their kids. If more gamers thought of a gamer unit as a family instead of a single person in a family, they’d probably get more diverse groups.
- Or line up childcare? Seriously. Pay a couple high school kids to play games with the kids in the basement, which allows the parent(s) to learn a game upstairs. Have some wine and cheese. It’s a one stop gaming escape.
- Get help. My buddy Abram knows games and knows how to host an event. His Game Milwaukee service will help you put a game night into motion. Games are hand curated and the scheduling is managed. After that is taken care of, the only thing left is the fun. [Here: Game Milwaukee.] Seek something similar in your metro area.
- Watch it Played. The worst part of gaming is learning a new game. Watch it Played is a YouTube channel that adeptly teaches games. Pick out a game they feature and email the link to the participants a couple days before. They show up already knowing how to play!
Design (What feel are we going for?)
We’ve established some guidelines for reaching brand new players, plus have suggested some mechanics for how that will work. But what is the tone we are going for. How does it feel?
- It should feel collaborative. Co-op games make a great lead in. Not only are they fun but they create a welcome change of pace by downplaying any first-time competitiveness while upplaying(?) a feeling of camaraderie and teamwork.
- Don’t hand wave the challenge of being a first timer. In other words, don’t repeatedly tell someone it’s easy if it’s clearly NOT EASY FOR THEM. Remember, they are new to this. To minimize that is condescending and feels like you are calling them stupid.
- Choose games that Say “Yes” whenever possible. Few people enjoy being told no time and time again because some edge rule says their actions won’t work. After a few times of that, people are done.
- Remember how exciting new concepts and new ideas are. Then be supportive of others’ excitement even though we are used to these ideas now. Deck building is still cool, nerds, but WOW WAS IT EVER COOL THE FIRST TIME WE ENCOUNTERED IT. Channel that.
- Offer positive reinforcement. Don’t be critical of what they may actually already like (Connect 4, Jenga, Apples to Apples, etc.). Use that to find a way to bring them in, bit by bit if necessary. Don’t be condescending, in other words.
- Set aside time. It’s not enough to schedule an event, you must host it, which likely means a sacrifice of your own gaming time. Brand new gamers more likely return when they received an introduction to the location and people, as well as the games, instead of expecting them to find out stuff by themselves. Give the tour. That likely means less gaming for you, but the upside is more people to play with in the future.
Fun (Why are we doing this?)
All of this is well and good, but what’s the point? What’s the point of any game?
To have fun.
Remember that at the forefront, you’re trying to share your passion and love of something with someone else. How can we accomplish this?
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Mistakes will be made and rules will be broken. Don’t bring the table to a standstill trying to undo three turns worth of actions to fix a previous error.
- Keep it moving. If you tend to spend lots of time on your turns, analyzing every nook and cranny until the cows come home, do your best to trim that down on your turns. The best part of playing a game is, well, playing the game. If I wanted to play Waiting Simulator, I’d go down to the corner bus stop.
- Winning isn’t everything. This isn’t saying that you can’t do your best to win, but some people might have less fun when they think they were being ‘hustled.’ Winning a game, or finishing very close to the top spot, certainly helps people want to play again. Sometimes you can accomplish this by speeding up your turns, as mentioned above.
- Embrace your inner child. Kids are always enthralled by the little things. Whether it’s a crazy set of dice or a terrifying orc miniature, there are so many cool components and design elements of games today. Get excited about those really cool things in the game, and share that excitement with the table.
- Laugh. There’s a reason why people say laughter is contagious. Keep the mood light and focus on having a good time!
Publish this game!
Following the tips above will go a long way in helping you introduce others to this wonderful hobby. In fact, all of your friends are now ready to be placed in a box and shipped worldwide!
Being able to share our passions with others is a true joy in life. Every group is going to be different, but this should get you well on your way to enjoying a night of gaming with some new faces.