The first foray into 'non-traditional' games that my wife and I had was with Carcassonne: Hunters and Gathers about four years ago. This past weekend, we used it as a gateway game to introduce a new couple into this crazy collection of games we have.
Crystal (my wife): A self-proclaimed 'Fluffy Gamer' who loves the game but has had limited plays (i.e. 4).
Catherine (new player #1): A Monopoly lover who was interested to learn about our 'crazy games'.
Jason (Cat's husband and new player #2): Jason doesn't really like games and is very nervous/shy around new people - according to his wife.
Elly (Cat's 7 year old daughter and new player #3): I am a teacher and it is my professional opinion that Elly is at the same mental level as a ten year old.
Me: C:H&G is my favorite game, that we own, and I have had about twice as many plays as my wife with generally stiffer competition.
As I began pulling the pieces out of the box, Crystal began giving a run down of the objective and basic actions on a turn. She wasn't able to get a lot further than that because both Catherine and Elly were fascinated by the meeples! We thought this was a good sign. However, while the girls were distracted by the little green men (and blue and green and...), Jason was looking at the tiles with a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. I assurred him that the game was very simple to learn, and promised him fewer rules than Monopoly.
This is the part of the game that I was actually most afraid of: explaining the rules. I still remember back when this was all new to me and my wife, and we would sit down at a brand new game - oh, the horror. Depending on the game, the rules explanations were anywere from mildly painful to horribly evil. I was certain that I would lose Elly and scared to death I would run-off Jason (which, by default, would take away Catherine as well). But, to my surprise, it was no trouble at all. Elly was able to pick up on how to play the tiles without me having to explain it (), the mechanics of play a tile, place or don't place a , and then score were already well received thanks to Crystal's explanations.
Now on to the complicated stuff. Only one per resource - easy. You can't score a resource until it's finished - no problem. Scoring, two points each, one point each (plus fish) - ok got it. Fishing Huts: count the fishes - Elly's peersonal favorite and she helped explain it to her father. All in all, it took us about 15 minutes to go over the rules (not bad at all), and by the end of the second round everyone was doing great - even Jason!
The Play of the Game
This was a very interesting and competitive game. Elly got off to a fast start thanks to being able to finish a forest, place a , pick it up, and score on two consecutive turns.
Elly: 8; Me: 3 (fishing); Crystal, Cat, Jason: 0
After a round of placing and no scoring, I see a chance for a bonus tile, but I have to complete Elly's forest. It's still very early; let's do it. My bonus tile is nothing to write home about and doesn't help me much. But, Elly realizes that she can get extra turns by completing other people's forests (with gold nugguts). The race is on!
Elly: 38; Me: 23; Crystal: 28; Cat: 25; Jason: 10
We're a little more than a thrid of the way through (maybe closer to a half), and Elly is starting to take a sizable lead. Jason has opted to play for hunting: with 1 large hunting ground with around 8 live (not dead deer) animals running around in it and 1 small hunting ground that his wife is trying to merge into. Everyone else has no hunters yet.
Elly: 43; Me: 33; Crystal: 48; Cat: 39; Jason: 14
The piles of tiles are starting to get noticeably small now. Elly has lost her lead to Crystal and Cat is starting to catch up. Jason and I are falling farther and farther behind. I lump myself in with Jason because of his huge farm. But here comes the plot twist. Crystal plays a tile which finishes two different, occupied forests at the same time. Each had it's own gold nugget! Short pause for rules checking. This had never happened before! After consulting the rules, we were unable to resolve the situation. We found one rule that said no chain reactions - that a bonus tile could not trigger another bonus tile. This wasn't a bonus tile that did it, but we generally felt that the spirit said 'only one bonus tile per turn'. However, we also found a rule that said whenever a forest with a gold nugget is completed, the completer gets a bonus tile. Hmmmmmm. In the end the table voted that since it was not a bonus tile that triggered it, Crystal should get two bonus tiles, one for each forest with a nugget that she completed on that turn.
Elly: 43; Me: 33; Crystal: 56; Cat: 47; Jason: 14
This turned out to be the game breaker. Crystal's two tiles were, in order, the Shrine (or temple - the one that allows the that's placed on it to own the hunting ground it's in regardless of any other player's ), this she placed very near Jason's hunting ground hoping to butt in. [A small aside: Jason thought this was the coolest thing ever! He said he loved the idea that she might be able to take his points, but the the tile did not just hand it to her - she had to work for it.] Her second tile was a four-sided plains card with two mammoths on it - the perfect card to push on in on Jason. The remaining few turns played themselves out, and sfter the dust cleared we were left with this final score:
Elly: 77 (She scored 21 off of her two fishing huts - go girl!)
Me: 52 (yes I lost to a 7 year old - but I broke 50!)
Crystal: 104 (this was the first time I had seen a 100+ score in a 5 player game)
Cat: 81 (a very stong showing for a new player - she's addicted now)
Jason: 26 (unfortunatly, Jason's low score is probably part of the reason that the girls scored so high)
The Final Break Down
After we had tallied the final score and Elly had given her mom an evil look for her come-from-behind second, and Crystal had given me that 'I kick your butt bad' grin, we began to put away the pieces and talk about how our new players liked the game. My concern was Jason - remember Catherine said he didn't like board games - and I was looking forward to doing this again. Jason, was not the happiest player at the table, but given how he lost, he was ecstatic. He was by far the biggest proponent of a rematch, and outright demanded that we bring the game with us when we came to their house for dinner in two week! Excellent! We assured them that we would and that we would introduce them to other games that had much more to offer than the couple's normal board game selection.
There is a good reason why Carcassonne is listed as one of the best gateway games. But I contend that for a smarter new player and for a faster ramp-up into the more serious of board games that Carcassonne: Hunters and Gathers offers a great mix of easy to learn rules and mechanics balanced with complex decisions, strategy, and fun (as opposed to: 'Not another road tile...'). C:H&G was the gateway game for my wife and I and we enjoyed, more than any other gaming experience we've had, passing on that experience and feeling to another new couple. Thanks for reading - I hope it helped or that it was at least entertaining!
Great session report. I really liked how in your description the suspense of the gameplay was all mixed up with the suspense of the (more difficult) challenge of introducing a game to new players who are your guests. I have walked in those shoes a number of times, but with mixed results. I especially stumble with explaning rules...which is why my I have decided from now on to download or make player aids/rules summaries in advance for everyone...including myself!
Hey I liked reading your game play. I've only played Carcassonne the original and was wondering what Hunters and Gatherers would be like. I've looked at some photos but it was good to read how the game is played and now I think it is worth buying. I'm gonna buy it for my friend as her wedding present.