One Gamer's Journey
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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As of last year, there weren't any FLGSs in my area, and none of my friends were gamers, so I was literally unaware of the existence of hobby boardgames. And somehow one of my friends talked me into opening a game store with him, so I found myself violently thrust headlong into this world.

But this isn't my story. I'm a computer programmer and confirmed geek; the fact that I would immediately be drawn to complex, fiddly things like boardgames is neither surprising nor particularly interesting. And considering my wife is fairly geeky herself, works at our FLGS and is constantly surrounded by gamers, the fact that she would get into games is also not particularly interesting.

Then there's my sister-in-law. My wife's sister is not a gamer, and she's not a computer geek. She's a hairdresser. And six months ago, she had never played anything more involved than Clue. But she's intelligent, a good friend, and hangs out with us all the time. So we tried to bring her into the world of boardgaming along with us.

This is her story.
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1. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:74] [Average Rating:7.66 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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The first hobby game I purchased for myself was Dominion. My wife and I instantly fell in love with it, so we introduced it to her sister. And I can still remember the terrified deer-in-headlights look on her face as I explained the rules. I like to think that I'm a good rules explainer and have successfully taught a lot of games to a lot of people, but I felt like I was trying to explain Arkham Horror to my mother. Her eyes glazed over at the thirty second mark, and despite taking pains to help her with her turns and explain what we were doing on our turns, it was clear that she had little idea what was going on.

I expected that that would be the end of it; if I couldn't even make an extremely simple game like Dominion make sense, there wasn't a prayer of continuing down this path.

But she persevered. By the second or third game she got the hang of it, and she constantly wanted to play it after that.
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2. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:75]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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After a dozen or two games of Dominion, I introduced her to Pandemic. She found the theme and overall idea appealing, and the rules explanation went a little better, but unfortunately the game itself just wasn't her favorite. I'm still not completely sure why the game didn't click with her, but for whatever reason it didn't.
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3. Board Game: Small World [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:194] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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We tried Small World next, as another relatively light game with an appealing theme. This time she had little difficulty grasping the gameplay and enjoyed the game, but unfortunately my wife wasn't a huge fan of it, so we mostly stuck to Dominion still.
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4. Board Game: Kingsburg [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:276]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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Our next purchase was Kingsburg, and once again it didn't go as well as I had hoped. My wife and I quite liked it, but I think it was too dry for her sister. After her second play, she announced that she had had quite enough of Kingsburg. I began to despair of ever playing anything but Dominion.
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5. Board Game: Talisman (Revised 4th Edition) [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1259]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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My sister-in-law came over one day while we had an unfinished game of Talisman on the table. It was a huge board covered with dozens of cards, with tons of bits and minis and decks and discard piles everywhere. I was worried that the piles of components would turn her off, and I said "I know this looks really complicated, but it actually isn't that bad...". She cut me off with "I don't think it looks too complicated - it looks like fun!"

One problem came to light during our first game - she is vehemently opposed to conflict, and had a lot of trouble being even the slightest bit aggressive to other players. She ended up Toading me without realizing the full consequences of it during our first game, and as all of my hard-earned treasures fell to the ground she was so upset about it that she was on the verge of tears. I reassured her that I wasn't the least bit upset and that she had done the right thing, and eventually managed to recover my stuff and make it to the Crown of Command before anyone else.

Her words, as she desperately threw spell after spell at me: "Before, I felt bad about Toading you... but now I just want to f***ing kill you!". I was so proud of her :-)

Finally I was getting a better sense of what sorts of games would work well with my wife and sister-in-law. They both absolutely love this game and have probably spent more time playing it than any other game.
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6. Board Game: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:573] [Average Rating:6.98 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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After Talisman, I looked for a game positively dripping with theme which would help get her more comfortable with conflict, and settled on Last Night on Earth. This was another success; though I mostly play it with my wife, her sister enjoys it as well. The B-movie theme is good for getting her more comfortable with attacking me (they're zombies, of course you're supposed to use the shotgun on them!) and this game is notably more complicated than anything she had enjoyed before.

Another success!
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7. Board Game: The Red Dragon Inn [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:1212] [Average Rating:6.57 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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For a while after this, it was hard to get her to try new games. She had found a few she liked, and found the process of learning new games to be fairly exhausting, so we mostly stuck to Talisman and Dominion. At one point I managed to get the very light Red Dragon Inn to the table, and that went well.
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8. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:81]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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I wouldn't have picked this to try with my sister-in-law, but another member of our gaming group wanted to try it and she agreed. It didn't go well. She seemed to feel more like she was doing schoolwork than playing a game, and hasn't played it since.
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9. Board Game: Claustrophobia [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:207]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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I had purchased Claustrophobia months before, and never even considered playing it with my conflict-averse sister-in-law. It's an aggressive tactical game that is nothing but conflict, and I thought there was no way on earth she would enjoy it. Given that she was seldom in the mood to learn a new game, I didn't want to waste an opportunity on a game I knew she'd hate.

Turns out I was wrong. She saw the box and expressed a desire to try it, so with some trepidation I taught her to play. She and my wife played the humans as a team, and we all had a remarkably good time. I realized I had misjudged her, and started broadening my search.
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10. Board Game: Space Alert [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:165]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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I had always thought Space Alert sounded great, but had figured there was absolutely no way it would work with my wife and sister-in-law. I've heard hardcore gamers complain about how tense and overwhelming it is, and both of them get flustered very easily and hate being rushed. Still... after the pleasant surprise of Claustrophobia, I thought I should at least ask them about it. I told them about the basic mechanics of the game and tried to set their expectations by warning them about the time limit and the possibility of getting flustered and overwhelmed, and both of them told me I should buy it.

It went remarkably well, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed it. As she got familiar with more games she was having less trouble picking up new ones, and despite the long learning process with multiple tutorial missions this was a complete success.
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11. Board Game: Ascension: Deckbuilding Game [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:523] [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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I brought a bunch of new games back from Gen Con, and given her love of Dominion, this seemed like an obvious first choice. It wasn't the slightest bit difficult to get this to the table or teach it to her, and Dominion hasn't hit the table much since.
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12. Board Game: Defenders of the Realm [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:391]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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It was still a bit of effort to get a new game to the table at this point, but I had a huge backlog of Gen Con purchases to get through and was eager to get some of them to the table.

I was absolutely confident that she would enjoy Defenders of the Realm, but as she hated Pandemic I knew I had to approach this carefully. I told her that yes, it played a lot like Pandemic, but that was only a mechanical similarity and it felt completely different, and I promised that she would enjoy it. Plus, since she was already familiar with the core mechanics, it wouldn't be that hard to learn! She wasn't too excited about it, but agreed to try.

Despite the fact that this is a relatively complicated and long game, with mechanics very similar to one she hated, Defenders of the Realm was a huge success. She said it was "about ten million times better than Pandemic" and that it was remarkable how different it felt despite the obvious underlying similarity.

This seemed like a turning point to me: from this point on, I seldom heard "I don't think I can't handle a new game tonight... can't we just play one I already know?" We continued to regularly play old favorites, but it was no longer hard to get new games to the table.
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13. Board Game: DungeonQuest (third edition) [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1333]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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Instead of me spending weeks hinting that I'd like to try such-and-such new game before she finally gave in and humored me, she specifically requested to play a new game and picked this one herself. And despite the fact that she died horribly every time she played it, she still loves it.
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14. Board Game: Road Kill Rally [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:2644]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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This one hit the table only a couple days later, and again I hadn't had to beg to try a new game. My formerly conflict-averse sister-in-law, who had once nearly cried about Toading me in Talisman, was now happily blasting us with rockets and laughing as we wiped out. She won, if I remember correctly.
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15. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:247] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
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Wake Forest
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This was it. The culmination of six months of patiently and carefully molding my sister-in-law and dear friend into a True Gamer. I had purchased Arkham Horror months and months ago, and had never dared suggest it to her. No, Arkham Horror isn't the heaviest game out there, but it definitely isn't for the faint of heart, and we're talking about a woman that, just six months ago, found Dominion overwhelming and Pandemic hopelessly complex.

Well... we lost. None of us had played before, and we made some rookie mistakes. But we were close. Ithaqua woke up literally one turn before I would have sealed the sixth gate and won the game, and we came close to defeating him in combat but ultimately failed. Most importantly, we all had fun.
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16. Board Game: Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:640] [Average Rating:6.97 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
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Wake Forest
North Carolina
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After hitting her with Arkham Horror, I took it easy next with Castle Ravenloft. We have only played this a couple of times so far, but she likes it and I think it's going to be heavily played over the next few months. She's still mad at Gravestorm the dracolich for killing us when he had only one hitpoint left.
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17. Board Game: Cadwallon: City of Thieves [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:2503]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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She was once again willing to try a new game without any prompting, and picked City of Thieves for its cool theme. She played tactically, attacking us and using the militia against us without the slightest compunction, and ultimately won the game. All three of us thought it was a great game, and I'm sure it will hit the table again soon.
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18. Board Game: Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:64]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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A scant two weeks after the gigantic Arkham Horror, she was already willing to try another big complicated game. We had a great time playing Battlestar Galactica, even when my wife the Cylon played so convincingly that I was sure she was human, and I mistakenly threw my human sister-in-law in the brig. I still haven't lived that down, but hopefully I'll be able to redeem myself next time.
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19. Board Game: Journey Through Life [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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So, that's been the journey of the last six months. From a terrified deer-in-headlights look when faced with the incredibly simple Dominion, to fearlessly tackling Arkham Horror and Battlestar Galactica, I'm proud of how far she has come. And as my wife and her sister are my two best friends in the world, I couldn't ask for better gaming partners.
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