Enticing Others Into Boardgames

I was recently asked by a friend for some boardgame recommendations that their partner might enjoy playing with them –  a few short, 2 player coop games, specifically.

Since getting into the hobby I have noticed this type of question much asked on blogs and threads on BoardGameGeek. I, too, have had the same experience of wanting to get my girlfriend, friends and family members into gaming. After a lot of research, patience and consideration, it is something I have also had success with. I thought it might be helpful, then, to recount my experiences and make some suggestions.

The most important thing to point out is that people have different tastes. It may seem obvious, but it also something we all forget. The key is to find something that suits their taste – this could be a certain theme, or a certain style of game. It might not be your personal favourite but if you can find something that interests them, you will have much more success getting them to try it out.

When I first started boardgaming, I was desperate to get my girlfriend to play along with me too. I looked at the games I had and also what I thought she might like to play. I borrowed Agricola, as I considered that building a farm might be interesting to her. It went down really badly and it became clear that she didn’t like competitive games. So, I went for a different tactic and we tried Pandemic. I was pretty sure this would be a hit, as it is simple, coop and has a reputation for getting non-gamers into games. We had a game of it and she wasn’t impressed. We talked about whether she would like to try something else, but both decided she just wasn’t a gamer and that it was best to just give up. A few weeks later we went for a quiet afternoon drink and decided to just take some old Top Trumps I had lying around. At the pub it dawned on me that we were playing a competitive game. Why this game? What was different? The conclusion I came to was cards and familiarity. Almost everyone has played cardgames and enjoyed them – they are light, fun and a mechanic people know.

I decided to take a chance and research some different cardgames that were good for two people. I didn’t want anything with too many bits or that seemed too far beyond a standard card game. Another factor for this was the aesthetics. It needed to look interesting and compelling. After much deliberation and checking blogs and BoardGameGeek, I settled on buying Carnival and Onirim. They both went down really well. They are simple, fun, and quick games that have lovely artwork and we had a lot of fun playing them. Soon, I was then asked a surprising question: ‘Can’t we play something a little longer with a bit more strategy?’

I knew that artwork was an issue and that games needed to have a good aesthetic if I was going to get them to the table. I also knew that we could try competitive games too. I looked into it and made a few choices. I brought games like Fzzzt, Stakbots, Jaipur, Kahuna, Forbidden Island, and Fleet – to name but a few. We have been playing these (some light and some a little heavier) and her interest in other games has grown. Over the space of just a couple of months, we are now playing games like Terra Mystica, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Arkham Horror and Claustrophobia. I have had similar experiences with friends and family.

Before continuing, I will say that it is entirely possible for someone to just not be interested in playing boardgames – it just might not be their thing.

I really think, though, that the key to this is ownership. I have tried to force certain games on people and they have not been interested. Some have tried games and enjoyed them, but other games they haven’t liked. People tend to get different things from games and have different ways of judging them; listen, have patience and find out what they enjoy.

If you are a bit of a game fanatic, like myself, and enjoy it for the social aspect as well, then you shouldn’t be too worried about forcing people to play specific games. Play different games with different people. Your gaming groups probably have different likes and dislikes. Play heavier games with those groups that like them, party games with another group, and coop or light games with your family and partner.

Take your time and let people build interest slowly.  Eagerly rushing or hassling them too much about it is really counterproductive. Believe me, I did this at the beginning and it cost me a few weeks and nearly turned people away from gaming – in fact it nearly put them off it altogether. Take your time and introduce it slowly and when appropriate, and make sure it is not the only thing you are suggesting to do either. Spend time with them doing other things too.

This is by no means a definite ‘it will work’ strategy. Each person is different and will be interested in different elements in their games and game playing. Acknowledging this is really important. Take your time, research to find the right games, and don’t push it. Hopefully, you will then have some fun game nights.

A quick list of games I have found useful for getting people into boardgames: Carnival, Carcassonne, Cartagena, Forbidden Island, Fzzzt!, Jaipur, Love Letter, Onirim, Skyline, Stakbots, Takenoko, The aMAZEing Labyrinth, Ticket To Ride.

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Convention Season

With a few important exceptions, we are coming close to the end of the big ‘convention season’ around the world, but it’s good to know we don’t lose out here in the UK. I have been amazed at how many small cons happen around the country and think these are really great ways to get more info about your favourite pastime.

A few games from the open gaming hall at UK Games Expo

– The open gaming hall at UK Games Expo

Cons seem to fall into two basic categories – Boardgaming Cons and Trade Expo’s. If you are getting into gaming, I suggest you make the effort to go to some of these, as it’s a wealth of new experiences and opportunities.

I have really enjoyed the ones I’ve been to. Except for the odd occasions, I have gone on my own, and, obviously, with that comes the fear of not finding people to game with. Like evening gaming groups, cons are pretty friendly places and boardgamers tend to be pretty friendly people. The opportunities that come from this really outweigh any worries you might have. For many of you, you may have friends that will go with you, which is a bonus!

- More gaming going on in the cafe

– More gaming going on in the cafe

Boardgame Cons give you a full weekend of uninterrupted game play. You can get some of those longer games in or play a few from your wishlist, as there are always people up for teaching their favourite games (these events will often have a substantial library of games for you to choose from if you haven’t taken your own). You might also find that opportunity to get the bigger group games on the go – stuff like Werewolf, Saboteur and The Resistance need a few people and you may not have access to these numbers in your game group. The social aspect is something to think about as well. If the Con you are going to is nearby, you will meet quite a few gamers from your area. You may also find that some people go to ‘all’ the Cons, and that as you try different ones out you will see many familiar faces. In my experience, these weekends are just not long enough – late into the night you will be desperate to try and cram one more game in…

– Short film I made of my visit to the UK Games Expo

Then there are bigger Expo’s and Conventions – events that are closer to trade shows. I had the good fortune, in May, to visit the UK Games Expo in Birmingham (probably, the biggest expo in the UK). It enabled real opportunities to try out some of the newest releases, to participate in demos and to try out all aspects of gaming. The demo’s were great – specifically set up to teach you the game, so I never felt silly for being new to it. And it’s not just new games being demoed; I saw Catan and Alhambra, among many others. I found out about so many cool games by smaller, UK based games companies; little gems that I would have otherwise missed.

It also gives you a chance to jump in to organized events and sessions you may otherwise have found too difficult to sort out yourself. On the first night at the UKGamesExpo, I decided to jump in on a D&D game. I haven’t roleplayed for over 20 years, but a scheduled session allowed me to try it out. I sat in on an adventure with 4 others and was given a Lvl 5 pregenerated Halfling Rogue. I literally had no idea what I was doing and was continuously asking questions about what I should do next – especially in combat. To their credit, the group was really friendly and guided me through the adventure with them. It was a lot of fun and has ended with me getting into a long campaign within the Pathfinder system.

These are the experiences that Expos and Con’s are really great for in my opinion, if you are pretty new to boardgaming and tabletop games. Save up a little cash, give yourself a budget and take a weekend out to play, try and buy some new games.

Building a boardgames library

Over the past 6 months I have been slowly collecting games to build up my library. As I researched and looked into games I might want, I was surprised how many different elements influenced my decisions.

I currently own, according to BoardGameGeek, 39 games. In fact, due to BGG counting expansions, I actually own more like 28 core games.

A few of my games on the shelf.

A few of my games on the shelf.

I hope that recounting the experience of building my collection might reveal helpful insights for you, or better prepare you to get the most play out of the games you buy. I have found that starting a collection isn’t as straightforward as just buying the newest games or the ones with the best rating. There seems to be quite a few factors taking place.

Many of the initial games I purchased were through seeing reviews, getting recommendations and making snap decisions about what I might want and who might play them. Pandemic and Arkham Horror were both bought this way. I also thought about what non-gaming friends might play and so picked up simpler games such as Carcassonne and Ticket To Ride.

At the same time, I began to look for games that my girlfriend might like; she had been a little resistant to opening up a boardgame. However, when we were playing Top Trumps at the pub (I have a collection of old TT cards from 80’s/90’s,) it dawned on me that I should actually be looking for cardgames. These have become a big part of my collection now – fun cardgames that we can play at the pub and with friends. Although these are hard to get out at my gaming group, they are a significant and important part of my collection. Games such as StakBotS and Fzzzt!, that I found cheap at UK Games Expo, get more play than most of my bigger box, ‘better’ boardgames.

As I started going to game groups and listening to gaming Podcasts, my knowledge of games and game mechanics grew. The next main element to buying games has been to try to increase variety. To this end I have attempted to try and buy games that have differing mechanics. My first big purchase was Terra Mystica. I played this at a game group and loved it. I immediately bought the first copy I saw available, on the first week of its release. It was expensive, but well worth it as I knew I had a good game. Then a problem arose. I can’t really get it to the table with my gaming groups because people have copies – so I end up playing theirs and mine sits in a cupboard. Since then I have, instead, tried to buy games that are different to ones my groups have. This often means buying without play-testing, which seems a risk, but if I have noticed games being played by twitter, instagram and online friends living across the world, I can be pretty sure the game works. Watching reviews and reading blog posts and descriptions of the game have ensured that I know what I am buying. I have also focused much more on theme and artwork. With this method I have recently brought Exodus (in place of Eclipse), Among The Stars (instead of 7 Wonders) and The Manhattan Project (as a worker placement game). These have gone down well at game nights because nobody else has them and they add variety to the games played there. These choices were made usually based on them having a theme I like (space stations in Among The Stars) or having nice artwork and added aspects to the game (Espionage and Planes in Manhattan Project)

Price has also, sometimes, made a difference. When offered a second hand copy of Rune Age, I snapped it up to give myself a deck building game. It has a cool theme and different play variants.

So, when buying, consider not just buying buying the ‘best’ game of the moment, especially if you won’t ever get to actually play it. Think about who you will be playing with most and what type of games mechanics and themes you, and others, might like to try. Games are about socializing and having fun. Buying a fun, lighter, less strategic game might get you hours more enjoyment than an awesome, big box game. It all depends on the context. Don’t be dissuaded by others either. Advice is great, but I have often been told ‘don’t get X because Y is better’ However, if no-one I know wants to play Y, or my gaming group already has 6 copies of it, why would I buy it? I am buying X because it has cool dwarves in it and my girlfriend has already expressed an interest to play it. Hold your own. Context is important and games are subjective. Buy what you want and what you know you will get most play from.

For reference, my full collection can be seen here. Please bear in mind it is continuing to grow.

Terra Mystica – An Extended Play-Through

Terra Mystica is a game about terraforming land, building and expanding. There are various ways to earn victory points; from end round to end game bonuses. Set on a large board, each faction needs to terraform spaces to their chosen land type, then build and upgrade structures in various ways to gain advantage over the other players. With added elements such as power and cult bonus abilities, this game offers a lot of choice and variation. Although it is a heavy euro and has no all-out war mechanism, it feels like a very interactive game. Here is an extended play-through which I hope gives you some insight into the game.

2 player #terramystica. I'm the Swarmlings and am Vs Engineers.

2 player #terramystica. I’m the Swarmlings and am Vs Engineers.

An interesting element to the start of the game is choosing the factions. Each faction has different abilities, as well as different costs for building and upgrades. The faction player board controls what resources you receive – a mechanic used in games such as Eclipse. Each faction has differing costs for resources, upgrades and income, and this is something you need to pay attention to when strategizing. The faction also specifies which land type you can build on – for the Swarmlings it is swamp.

Initial placement is quite spread out. This could cause problems for gaining power.

Initial placement is quite spread out. This could cause problems for gaining power.

When playing the game, you are caught between wanting to be far enough from others to enable you to build in hexes you want, but also wanting players to build adjacent to you so that you can gain power. In Terra Mystica, you can choose to lose victory points and gain power each time an adjacent hex is built upon. Power becomes quite a useful mechanic. This makes 5 player games very intriguing. Balancing your needs to build versus giving power to opponents in an interesting dilemma.

Went for an early stronghold, to get more use from my action. Spent all my workers…

Went for an early stronghold, to get more use from my action. Spent all my workers…

Each faction’s stronghold has differing abilities too. Usually these are abilities you can use once a round, but sometimes they are passive abilities. For the Swarmlings, the stronghold ability enables you to upgrade from a dwelling to a trading house each turn. Every trading house built gives you power and money as income. However, returning dwellings means you are losing your replenishment of workers, which are integral to building.

One of the reasons I went for an early stronghold was the round bonus. Each round (of 6) gives you a bonus. These are chosen randomly at the beginning of the game. Round 1 gave victory points for building a Stronghold – an extra incentive to get that done this round.

Stronghold Vs Stronghold. It's left me, and my opponent, a little low on resources though.

Stronghold Vs Stronghold. It’s left me, and my opponent, a little low on resources though.

My push to get my stronghold built used up all my starting resources. This means I was low on resources, and therefore actions, this turn and needed to pass early and use the bonus cards and clever play to re-balance my income.

As you pass each round, you choose a new ‘bonus card’ from a limited stock. This adds extra strategy to your decision of whether to pass early or keep going. You always keep any unspent resources for the next round.

As you can see from the picture, all of my buildings were set on swamps. I had to pay to terraform that land before building.

Along with the bonus card, I've accumulated quite a bit of power.

Along with the bonus card, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of power.

Power is an interesting element of the game. With enough power you can utilise a number of special ‘power’ actions that are available on the board, to be used only once per round – these can range from terraforming spaces to gaining workers or gold. Each of these actions can be integral to giving you an advantage over other players should you choose them first.

Finishing the town got me a huge worker bonus, thanks to my faction's ability too.

Finishing the town got me a huge worker bonus, thanks to my faction’s ability too.

Each time you build a town, you gain a town tile. The tiles have victory points on them but also a bonus. As my faction had high worker usage for building, I chose the ‘bonus’ workers. My faction’s ability also enabled me to gain workers every time I built a town. This way, I was able to gain the workers I needed to do more building.

Built a temple and gained a favor. This one should combine well with my trading post ability.…

Built a temple and gained a favor. This one should combine well with my trading post ability.…

Whenever you upgrade your trading houses to temples (or a temple to the sanctuary) you gain a favor. This gives you points on the cult track and/or a special ability. I chose the one that gave me bonus victory points for the amount of trading houses I had at the end of the round. As my Swarmlings’ stronghold ability enabled me to upgrade to a trading house every turn, I was able to maximise this bonus.

My second town. Gonna bust out the priests on the cult track, as it is round 5.

My second town. Gonna bust out the priests on the cult track, as it is round 5.

There are only 6 rounds in the game. Here I was coming to the end of round 5. As we were close to the end, I chose the town card that enabled me to gain a priest. Along with the priests I gained for temples, it enabled me to spend them and move up the different cult tracks for the endgame cult track bonuses.

Grabbing a quick 6 victory points in the spade track before endgame.

Grabbing a quick 6 victory points in the spade track before endgame.

On the final round, the end of round bonus no longer applied, so I grabbed as many victory points as possible. I upgraded my spade track. This gave me 6 victory points, but also enabled me to terraform land for cheaper – something it was too late in the game for me to take advantage of.  In retrospect, I should have done this much earlier.

Score track is very close, just endgame bonuses now.

Score track is very close, just endgame bonuses now.

At the end of the game, there are extra victory point bonuses for certain conditions. Each player gets points for being first, second, or third on each of the four cult tracks. First, second and third bonuses are also given for having the most adjacent buildings. This means many of your built hexes must be adjacent – which some factions’ abilities help with. However, the towns in the game cannot go beyond one if all your builds are adjacent. This means that balancing your playing decisions and style is quite a task.

I won with only 7 points in it. It was the cult track that tipped it over in the end.

I won with only 7 points in it. It was the cult track that tipped it over in the end.

There are four different cults that you have to vie for. As you go up the cult tracks you gain extra power. You position on the tracks also count towards endgame bonuses. Many people have said the cult track is just tacked on to the game. This may be true. However, I have won, and lost, games because of points scored from the cult track. It often makes the difference.

On the whole:

This isn’t a review of Terra Mystica. You should be able to tell from this play whether it is the type of game you would enjoy and research further from there. I enjoy it. It is a medium to heavy euro with lots of choices available. The lack of dice and cards makes you feel that you are really in charge of strategy and that your destiny is yours – except when clashing with the choices made by other players. I believe this game will have a lot of replayability, with a lot of variation everytime you bring it to the table.

Theme could be the key…

Choosing which boardgames I would like to buy has been a daunting task. I have no real context for making decisions and don’t always have easy access to playtesting – the obvious avenue for ensuring you will like a game you buy. Even before this, though, you need to sieve through the wealth of games available. How do you narrow this down?

I have spent much time reading reviews, listening to podcasts, watching walkthroughs and review shows on You Tube. This can be quite time consuming and some of this media is quite inaccessible to new gamers. There are some things that can help you with this, though.

Boardgames are categorised and have genres, so this is a good place to start. Work out whether you want a co-op game, Vs, card game, deck building, worker placement game, 4X, area control, and so on. Decide what play times are most suitable for you. The play times are available online and sometimes on the box. This will help you choose something that is right for you. All of these decisions have to be personal and based on your own preferences. I have found that games have a lot more longevity if they have a game mechanic or play time that is suited to me.

And this is where I get to my main point. When choosing a game that I think I will get the most playtime out of, I focus much more on the theme of the game. I am finding that if a game has a theme that I am interested in, e.g. Sci fi, fantasy, world domination, history, geography, etc, that game gets played a lot more – even if the actual game mechanics are not as good as other games I own. This shouldn’t be a surprise really, as this happens with much of the other media we engage with. If we look at films, or books, or CD’s, we often choose by genre or theme first. Do the same for your boardgames and find a theme you enjoy. If you want a co-op game and love the fantasy genre, check out Castle Panic or Shadows Over Camelot. If you like light games and zombies, try out Zombie Fluxx or Zombie Dice. The theme really carries a game and it will often be the first one you pull out of the game cupboard for that very reason.

The local boardgame group is an essential experience for newcomers…

When I finally made a trip to my local boardgame store, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of games in there. I hadn’t even heard of most of them. I had a chat to the guy running the shop and he advised me about a few boardgames I had been considering and I made the leap to buy a couple. He also told me that they ran a gaming night once a week that I could come along to. I thought about this for a few months, never actually taking the first step. As a beginner gamer, I felt somewhat daunted going to a games night on my own. I was worried about not knowing any of the games, about affecting other people’s enjoyment and about making stupid mistakes. I also thought that they would all be playing heavy, complicated games that took me way beyond my Catan experiences. However, none of this happened. Instead, people were playing all types of games, seemed really up for teaching me and quite prepared for the fact that I would totally suck at them! It was a really great experience and I would say an essential one for new gamers. Here is why:

The boardgame market is massive. There are all kinds of great reviews, walkthroughs and advice online but nothing is quite the same as playing the game yourself. Boardgames are quite expensive (although no more so than video games, a good meal, or a couple of nights down the pub) and you want to ensure you are buying games you will actually want to play again and again. The only way to really know this, is to play test. If, like me, you have a small group of board gaming friends, you can share purchases to offset the cost but I have found that playing at the local group will cement your purchasing choices really well. You will also end up playing games you never thought you would enjoy and trying genres you may not have experienced before.

So, basically, if you are a new boardgamer then go to your local games night. It will save you a lot of time, effort and regret in the long run. It’s loads of fun and you’ll meet people who want to game on other nights of the week, find out about tournaments, and become part of your local gaming scene. One step at a time though.

N.B. You can easily find out about local boardgame groups online, at your local store or put a shout out on Boardgamegeek.com

And so it begins…

If you have found my little blog, then welcome. My wish is that over the coming months this will grow to contain interesting thoughts and some guidance about the world of boardgaming.

As a relative newcomer, I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of games out there. I had been playing Catan (all expansions), Magic The Gathering and Ticket To Ride for a few years, when an American buddy started telling me about all the games he had been playing with his boardgame group: Pandemic, Twilight Imperium, Through The Ages, Dominant Species – to name but a few. I started looking into getting some boardgames myself and found that there were loads and loads of them (I am too scared to put an actual number here because I am sure it would be a massive underestimation). So, I have been researching, playtesting, reading reviews and chatting to people about games to make decisions about which ones I should purchase. My aim is to try and pass this info on to other people who are trying to get into boardgames, as well as help non-gamers realise there is a world of brilliantly simple, but innovative, games out there that they would love. I also want to gain more knowledge and get better myself, as well as have gaming encounters with more experienced gamers and more complex games.

To this end I will be blogging, livetweeting games I am playing, making concise video reviews and generally trying to have a presence in the boardgaming community. Please follow my twitter, and my other online incarnations, to share and participate in these endeavors.

One last thing… I’m based in the UK which has a smaller gaming presence than some other countries. This isn’t a judgement or an issue for me, just something I hope we can build on here. I hope that, through my videos especially, my innate Britishness will add something new (if just via the accent alone!) Anyway, let’s build upon the awesome, worldwide gaming community that’s out there, share knowledge, and get more people playing.