Do you board game?
A good question that someone who is looking to discover boardgames might ask. While the answer is straightforward - it’s either yes or no - helping a friend to get started can sometimes be a challenge. It’s often related to taste and interest, but also to personality and what type of gameplay one is responsive to. Where do you start as a new gamer? How do you learn a new game? How do you find people to play with?
While not being an expert, I will attempt to address as many of these hurdles; not by digging through the depths of the internet but by recalling my own experiences. We all have different tastes and interests. I don’t want to assume players who like games of a certain level of complexity will want to do this or that. It seems out of place and will not be as helpful in the end.
Right from the start, let’s get one thing straight: I am not a hardcore gamer. I play games, of all kinds: video games, tabletop role playing games, board games, card games, outdoor games. I like variety and I like all kinds of genres, although I have a soft spot for fantasy and science-fiction.
What’s a meeple?
I am not going to turn this article into a history lesson on the evolution of board games. Taking many shortcuts and to put it simply, we have come a long way from the heyday of Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee and other Trivial Pursuits. Not that these games don’t have a place on our tables anymore, but nowadays, board games are so much more than just those classics. The turn of the tide started in the mid nineties and was triggered by so called Euro-games, the most popular and well-known one being Settlers of Catan. Since then, the board gaming market has exploded and we have been blessed by the creation and publication of many great games for the last twenty years!
Let’s have a look now at a few conditions you will need to meet to get started with modern, or old school, board gaming.
Who will you play with?
Finding people to play with can be the biggest hurdle to playing boardgames, or any multiplayer game for that matter. The first place to look is right in front of you. Find out if your partner, wife, husband, best friend or roommate would like to play a game. Ask a group of friends you meet on a regular basis. Have them over for a bite to eat and see if anyone is interested. It’s pretty obvious you might say but just asking goes a long way. If you have kids of your own, or nieces and nephews, try to play with them. In case none of these scenarios apply to your situation, check your local library, game store or pub. There could very well be notices posted about gaming meet ups in your area. Or even better, find out if there is a gaming café in your neighbourhood. Places like that are popping up in a lot of towns and cities.
Of course, you can also decide to play solo games, which makes the immediate need for a gaming partner redundant. And please, don’t let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with that! In my opinion, it’s a healthy habit and very relaxing because it’s just you against the game and you can play at your own pace.
Which games to play?
You have found a group to play with. But how do you know what sort of game you would all enjoy? If you have chosen the route of the game cafe, this part is easy. Just let the staff there guide you, it’s what they do and they will help you find games that you might enjoy. Be open about your tastes, it’s not a test, there is no wrong answer. Except maybe “I don’t like board games!” Go there with a group of friends or your family. It’s an affordable way of discovering the world of tabletop board gaming and you will get advice and help getting started. Some of these places even have a store. If you get hooked on a specific game, you can maybe take a copy home when you leave.
So, what if you are more the stay-at-home type? How do you pick a game? Board games are just like movies, video games or books. They come in all flavours, sizes and types.
Theme specific or not?
Many games take advantage of a specific setting or theme that becomes a defining part of the gameplay. When implemented properly, it becomes the heart of the game. A lot of gamers will tell you that theme does not (or should not) have any bearing on the quality of the mechanics. It’s arguable in my opinion and not relevant to this discussion, so we will leave that for another time and place.
Do you love fantasy, sci-fi, horror, racing, trains, cowboys? Whichever it is, this could be a starting point to your quest for your first game. Narrowing your search to a theme you hold dear can be a good place to start, especially since there is a mountain of games to choose from.
Is art style just cosmetic?
Being an artist and a graphic designer, I see the look and feel as being as important as the game’s mechanics. It makes for an intrinsic part of the design. The way things look affects how we use and perceive them. It is always more natural and involving to play something that draws you into its own little world. Immersion is part of the experience and the more it appeals to you, the better the experience. Of course, beautiful and immersive art is all for naught if the game doesn’t offer rewarding gameplay!
What type of game should you play?
This really comes down to personal preferences. Do you like quick, short games? Or are you in for a session that will fill your entire evening? Do you prefer cards to tiles or meeples? Often, the type of game will more likely be dictated by who your gaming companions are and the length of time you will be playing. I am in a fortunate position, because I often get to play with my wife and/or our two kids who are now respectively 10 and 12. Depending on who is joining me, I get to experience a wide variety of games.
Playing with kids will help you tremendously as their age will, determine what games to play. You do have to look at age ratings for games from a personal perspective, though. No two children are alike in terms of interest, vocabulary, math or reading level, understanding of logic and abstract concepts. It is therefore important you choose games that you think they will be able to handle and more crucially, have fun with! Context and emotional baggage are important and kids will not have much interest in something that is either too complex to grasp or not appealing to them.
Here’s an example. As you might know (I talk about it rather often), I introduced my kids to tabletop roleplaying this summer. A few weeks in, I tried to lure them into a game of Roll Player. It is a dice crafting game where the objective is to create an adventurer, very much like a character you would create to play Dungeons & Dragons. They were not interested whatsoever even though the math and mechanics of the games were easy for them to understand. Fast forward two months: together we have explored dungeons, fought all kinds of monsters, helped numerous NPCs, solved riddles, acquired new abilities by gaining experience and more. In short, they became tabletop role players! As a result, the board game Roll Player relates to them in the best possible way: how the creator of the board game meant it.
As you can see, by having a connection to the theme AND the ability to master the mechanics, the players achieve the primordial goal of the exercise: to have fun!
Fun is the most important factor in gaming of any kind, so do try to keep that in mind. Entertainment is not the only purpose, of course. Some games are great for learning math, logic, geography, general knowledge or team work. But it’s not meant to be stressful or give you a headache, make you yell or get angry. I’m not here to talk about professional gaming. I want to tell you about games that exist for the sole purpose of having a good time, be it playing a cooperative game or a competitive one.
What games are good for beginners?
For the very young, there is a lot to choose from. Card battle games, for example, make for a good initiation. Deal the entire deck between the two players, each flip a card over, the strongest card wins. No skill is required, it’s all down to pure luck. Happy Families games are also a fantastic introduction to cards and have both a treasure hunt and collecting aspect that is bound to appeal. They come in many designs and themes, the one we have (and we still play it once in a while, especially during car trips!) has a fantasy theme as well as fun and colourful artwork.
Other games that have proved a success for us were Animal Upon Animal and Monza. The first one requires the players to stack up four wood-carved animals in a given order as fast as possible. Monza, on the other hand is a racing game where you roll dice and use their sides’ colours to move forward on a colour paved track. Even at their age, our kids still enjoy them. This summer I played with my 4 year old nephew who, with a bit of guidance, quickly got the hang of it and beat me on our first race!
More classical basic games such as any Memory game are a must. You will find themed variants on the concept that are quite amusing and that the younger ones can relate to. I recall playing one that required you to find matching items of a shopping list and adding them to your cart. Grocery shopping is a bit of a family activity for us, as is cooking. In that respect, we were playing a game that related to something familiar.
How about something a little more advanced to begin with?
Some games never seem to get old. They usually have a simple concept or premise, the mechanics are straight forward and they can be learned in 10 minutes or less. Yet, every time you play , it’s different enough that you keep coming back.
Skip-Bo is one such game. Once your players get the hang of it, it quickly becomes highly competitive, especially for young kids who have a thing for numbers.
If you are looking for a board game that will give new adult players a great taste of what the hobby has to offer, look no further than Carcassonne. It offers strategy while not feeling overwhelming. It’s fun and casual but still has depth and variety.
Where do you go from here?
Your first sessions have convinced your gaming companions that boardgames look like they’re actually a good way to spend quality time together. What do you do now?
My advice would be to move on to what hardcore board gamers call “gateway games”. Our collection includes Ticket to Ride, King of Tokyo, Kingdomino and Castle Panic.
If you are still having a good time playing these - or other comparable ones - chances are you will want to discover more and more games. You will maybe find yourself searching for games by types: card games like Exploding Kittens, Sushi Go! or Tides of Time, dice games like Roll Player or Sagrada, cooperative games like Hogwarts Battle or 5-Minute Dungeon, or more complex and strategic experiences like Tiny Epic Quest or Scythe.
What are the best online resources for board games?
At this point you will be looking to consult various resources that will help you find but also learn new games. Your number one port of call should definitely be one of these:
- Your local games store. Ask the staff, they want to sell you games so they are usually as helpful as possible.
- Your local game café. I’ve mentioned it earlier, these places are popping up everywhere so if you live near a town or city, there might just be one. This is a great way of trying out all sorts of games on a budget. As you become an avid player, you will quickly notice that it can be an expensive hobby if you intend to buy everything you want to play. Certain games, because of the quantity and quality of their components, can quickly cost you close to or over 100 dollars!
- If you are looking for podcasts about board gaming, there are quite a few but if I had to choose one it would be The Dice Tower. They do a great job at reviewing games for everyone, regardless of your level of commitment to the hobby. Besides the podcast, they also have reviews on their YouTube channel as well as topical videos such as the Top 10 games everyone should own.
- Finally, if you are looking for accurate details about any board game, visit boardgamegeek.com. Don’t let the dated look of the website deceive you, this is the most comprehensive place to get information about any boardgames ever published. (As a personal note, I would add that a game with a score of 7 or higher on this site is considered as a very good game.)
But what about Gloomhaven or Terraforming Mars?
I did not mention these two as well as a slew of others because I wanted to focus on what I know. I don’t feel comfortable talking or giving advice about something I haven’t played. There are a ton of games I would love to play, one at the top of my list being the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game. But as a fan of all games, I simply cannot find the time for everything I see and think “Hey! That looks like great fun, let’s get it!”. Maybe I do need to take the family to the game café more often!
This isn’t a race to the largest collection in the world and, in our family, we enjoy playing games that we know as much as new ones. It’s nice to be able to get a box out and start playing right away on a cold rainy day, without having to read and study rules every time. After all, it’s supposed to be fun, remember?
I hope my tale of adventures in board gaming will get you closer to starting yours or maybe give it a new direction. Maybe it will simply reaffirm what you already know:
Why you play is more important than what you play!