The Jaded Gamer

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A few thoughts on Christmas gaming with new players...

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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First of all it is only correct and nice of me to thank everybody who has contributed to or thumbed my blog over the last few months. Even those who have vehemently disagreed with me have been appreciated. Thank you.

So my (probably) last post of the year is about managing your expectations over Christmas. As proud members of the boardgaming community, it is easy to get swept up in this period of enhanced openness to frivolity and enjoyment for its own sake.

After all, every family plays board games at Christmas, right?

Well, there's a trap here of which we must remain aware. I think I've talked about it before, but our choices here are absolutely crucial if the eventual aim (yours may vary) is...

"To generate a permanent increase in the tendency of someone outside the hobby to agree when we suggest playing a board game we like"

While this sounds entirely selfish when put in these bald terms, the basic point is that obtaining the willingness to play a single game at Christmas is barely an achievement on its own. One should aim, if this is one's wish, to focus on ensuring that the other players have a good time and leave the table with as positive an experience as possible. The reason for this is obviously to try and create new players and thereby to increase the number of opportunities to play.

If you want to get altruistic, we could also say that we are acting as a "fun wrangler" for our friends - opening them up to new alleys of enjoyment that are clean and pre watershed. Nice.

Of course, in this capacity a little selflessness is crucial. I managed, through some major cajoling, to play Android with my family (including my 60 year old parents) one New Year's Day. Generally everyone had fun and my mum asked for a second game on the next day(!) but in hindsight this was an absurdly risky tactic. Certainly it has put my dad off forever.

Simply wanting to play a game we like is a selfish act - wanting to supply enjoyment to other people is more selfless and it is this that we should aim for. It is very likely that my family would have had considerably more fun by playing several simpler games (I had more lasting luck, for example, with Power grid, I'm The Boss and Small World) which, while being maybe less fun to me, would induce a higher total level of fun for the group and are more likely to lead to permanent increases in openness to gaming.

So, if trying to take some of your friends beyond Monopoly (with apologies to the owners of that name) this Christmas, I will repeat some of my advice from an earlier post.

1. Know your audience - you can destroy your chances by bringing a game with Orcs and Goblins in it to your Tolkien-phobic friends. You can also screw things up by skewing too complicated. If they've only ever played Scrabble and Cranium, don't jump to Agricola. Start with something they can relate to better, like Wits and Wagers or Say Anything. Baby steps all the way.
2. Pick something short - Christmas involves alcohol and people develop very low attention spans after a few drinks. We'd do well to give a brief view into the world outside Cluedo than a three hour game of Steam. If they want more, play the game again - they'll enjoy it even more the second time. Don't necessarily switch to something else. Having to learn yet another new game may simply be irritating.
3. Be forgiving of mistakes - Alcohol again, but even more fundamentally these games involve concepts a new player may never have experienced before (things like worker placement, jostling for turn order etc.) so if they mess up and it can be undone without too much hassle - do it. Just let them know that they can't always do so.
4. Pick something that can be taught quickly - attention spans again. Even if teaching Agricola it is better to give the very basic method and smash through a round or two rather than frontloading everything. You can always restart once everyone has got the hang of it.
5. Again, eliminate/limit frontloading - This is DEATH to getting new players, so I've written it twice. Avoid where you can. Get them into the hobby before melting their brains!
6. Play well, but don't worry about who wins - us gamers are a competitive bunch, but with new players try your best not to splat them to death in their first play. I'm not saying you should throw the game or anything, but I prefer to take the least aggressive option where one is available for this reason. Even better, sit out the first game and teach it to everyone so they have a level playing field. If you can bear it.
7. Be prepared for stupid questions - and WHATEVER YOU DO, don't huff at the obvious stuff. It may seem obvious to a regular gamer how the selection works in Puerto Rico, but to these players it isn't, so be generous of spirit.

So, basically, my Christmas message is that in this situation one should be selfless, kind and generous of spirit. All very appropriate, I should think.

I am not religious, but whatever Christmas means to you (even if it means little or nothing) I hope you and yours have a marvelous time.

Thanks again to everyone and Merry Christmas!

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