Games for the (non-gaming) geek
Mike Kozlowski
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Most the people I know are geeks, but virtually none of them are board game geeks. They read SF, they play elaborate computer games, they might play RPGs, and some of them are even pretty solid chess players -- but phrases like "Spiel des Jahres" and names like Reiner Knizia mean nothing to them.

So when I play games with these people (which is, really, about the only time I play games), it's an interesting situation. Everyone's comfortable with complexity and strategy, and a game with broken mechanics will quickly be sussed out and discarded (although if it's "amusing," some people will continue to enjoy it); but everyone's playing the game for the first time, so if it's hard to explain (and since this is the only group I play with, we don't have experienced players to teach -- we're all learning as we go) or if its charms are not quickly apparent, it's probably not going to get picked up again.

Here are games that have worked and not worked for this crowd.
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1. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:139] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
Mike Kozlowski
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Failure. I thought it was pleasant but light, but the opinion of the other gamers was heavily against it. They thought there wasn't enough strategy there, and that farm-scoring rules were too complex. I suspect the second (which caused them to undervalue farms significantly) is the cause of the first, but we'll never find out, as nobody wanted to play another game and I didn't care enough to push the cause. If this were the only game we had, I suspect it'd get some takers, but with other games waiting, it gets shoved aside fast.

 
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2. Board Game: Citadels [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:316]
Mike Kozlowski
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Success. Huge success. This is one of the first "German" games I introduced to the group, and people love it. Gameplay has enough variety to make it interesting, people's turns interact enough that you don't get bored when you're not playing, and (perhaps most importantly) the social interaction that you get is great. Players are encouraged to screw each other over, but it's tricky to figure out just who you're screwing -- the result is strong interaction without leading to a piled-on feeling for the guy who people are trying to prevent from winning.

As we've played it more, we've tried swapping out various cards with their "bonus" equivalents, but the only switch we've made permanent is the Navigator/Architect, which balances the game out a bit more.

 
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3. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:16]
Mike Kozlowski
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Success. This was touch-and-go to start with, because it's obviously got 1.5 trillion little pieces, and a thick ruleset that seems to be light on the basic principles and heavy on special cases. There was strong resistance to sitting down and learning this game; I had to pull out all my "It's considered a classic!" entreaties to get us through the learning phase. With that out of the way, it's quickly become a favorite. Everyone wants to play it, all the time, making it even more difficult to try new games.

 
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4. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Mike Kozlowski
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Success. This one is the odd-man-out in that other people had played it before; its appeal obviously extends far enough outside of the hardcore-gaming crowd that a bunch of gaming-friendly geeks were familiar with it. It's been in moderate rotation since, but...

... well, truthfully, I don't care for it much. It's not a bad game, and I haven't played it long enough to really work up a solid critique, but it doesn't grab me and demand to be played. Obviously, though, mine is a minority opinion.

 
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5. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:54]
Mike Kozlowski
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Enormous failure. We couldn't even get through the rules of this one. So many special cases, so little sense for what was important, and gameplay that just didn't sound fun. Even I, who you'd think would want to justify a $30 expense on the game, didn't really think it sounded good and I wasn't at all upset when nobody wanted to finishing learning it. There's something about the style of this one that just didn't sit well with any of us; maybe if we'd played it, it'd've grown on us, but we'll never know. Or at least, not until we get desperate enough to try it again.

 
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6. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:260]
Mike Kozlowski
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Success. We first played this alternating with Puerto Rico, and while everyone else was more interested in Puerto Rico, it wasn't pulling teeth to get them to play Amun-Re. It was quick to learn, and everyone agreed that it was a fun game. For my own part, I like Amun-Re better than Puerto Rico right now, but it's not clear whether it'll really hold up in the long term; much of our play was sussing out which strategies work at all, and once everyone is familiar with those strategies, the gameplay could radically change.

(I suspect that this is a game like Citadels and Puerto Rico where, once someone finds a consistently winning strategy -- "Corn!", "Be the merchant all the damn time!" -- it quits becoming a viable strategy as people either block it or try to adopt it in unison, and you need to adapt. If so, it has a very bright future ahead of it.)

 
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7. Board Game: Chez Geek [Average Rating:5.73 Overall Rank:5626]
Mike Kozlowski
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Qualified success. My reaction to it was that it was a fun novelty the first time, and lame thereafter. Others' reactions ended up being the same in the end, but spread out over 40 games or so (during which period I was going mad -- not Chez Geek AGAIN). I think at this point very few people want to play it any more. Whew.

 
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8. Board Game: Torres [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:401]
Mike Kozlowski
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Failure. We played it, but between the board feeling too kiddie, the rules being very exception-laden, and strategy unclear, it just didn't seem like an especially interesting or rewarding game.
 
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9. Board Game: Fluxx [Average Rating:5.69 Overall Rank:6641]
Mike Kozlowski
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Qualified failure. Same basic thing as Chez Geek (that is, a one-game novelty for me, a dragged out novelty for others), only everyone got tired of it a lot faster. It's one thing for a game to be totally luck-based, it's another thing for it to be completely in-your-face about it. Combine random game play with incredibly boring waits during people's turns, and it gets old fast.
 
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10. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:125] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Mike Kozlowski
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Enormous success. There was some initial theme-based skepticism (building railroads seems a bit twee), but very short-lived, as the game got going fast; and once people played, they loved it, and wanted to play again and again. This is right up there with Puerto Rico in the "mandatory play" category.
 
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11. Board Game: Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:505]
Mike Kozlowski
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Failure. People didn't quite understand the rules during the first game, so did some frustratingly wrong things. Combine that with a highly chaotic feel, and it was hard to discern where the game was hiding amidst all the different kinds of fiddly bits.
 
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12. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:226]
Mike Kozlowski
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Success. One person didn't care for this at first, as they felt it was too random; but we all overrode the person, and they came around. The main complaint about this game is that it's physically chintzy -- the money chips are cheap feeling and there aren't nearly enough of them, leading to constant "Anyone have change?" money-trading frenzies. But the gameplay itself combines simplicity with depth in a way that's great when a light game is called for.
 
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