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.