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Subject: The joys of hatching new gamers rss

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C. B. Green
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What makes a gaming session extra gratifying? When you hatch new gamers.

My gf's niece and nephew spent the weekend with us. They're twins, twelve years old, just between the ages of my two kids. My 10 year-old son is already a reasonably avid gamer, because, well... he's 10, and he's my son, so it was kind of a foregone conclusion.

Not too far into the visit, I declared a moratorium on Red Dead Redemption. I was gonna force the kids (the twins and my son; my non-gamer daughter was rehearsing a play) to play a boardgame, and busted out Small World. I thought it would work for them, being colorful, simple and strategic, and I thought the fantasy theme would go over well.

Within one turn, the nephew pronounced it "already one of the best games I've ever played." The niece played fiendishly well; if I hadn't gotten lucky and picked up a last race laden with passover victory points, she'd have won. Though she was also helped by her brother's unswerving fealty... a mutual permanent alliance that somehow seemed to benefit her far more than it did him. He was utterly unfazed by coming in dead last, calling it a great game, something like the best he'd ever played.

Until Arkham Horror. Which they all but suggested without knowing what it was. Some earlier time when I was hanging out with the gf's family, I had described Arkham (a personal favorite) to them that way, as an RPG boiled down to a boardgame. So when the nephew said, "Could we play one of those RPG boardgames?" my heart kind of leapt.

While the family watched the Olympics, I made a pretty big show of setting up Arkham, wrestling the card table next to the dining room table to accommodate the something like three dozen separate stacks of cards. (I'm running Dunwich/Dark Pharaoh these days.) When the twins saw the whole thing all set up, they were genuinely awestruck. They pondered over which character they wanted to be. Nephew chose Dexter Drake; in characteristic fashion, he was unhesitating in declaring Dexter to be obviously one of the very best investigators in the bunch, despite having first seen the game five minutes ago and having no idea how to play. The niece got a little more hung up on trying to choose a "good" character, despite my reassurances that they all had their good and bad points. She finally settled, with a little guidance, on Mandy Thompson, who, to be frank, kind of is the best investigator in the game.

Their excitement as I was explaining the game was enough to rope in my gf, who while a talented gamer, tends more towards the euro Agricola/Dominion end of the spectrum; she'd never played Arkham before. Once we started up, the twins were deep into it, frantically scooping up clue tokens, charging into gates, knocking around (and getting knocked around by) monsters, and doing it all with a kind of giddy incredulity that this game existed at all. The fact that it ended abruptly with a gate burst and the Ancient One awakening and devouring the Earth did nothing to dilute their enthusiasm. (Also, it was pretty late, and just as well that the game ended when it did.)

The next day brought a quick game of my son's newest, Kill Doctor Lucky, and then a Small World rematch, which the niece won handily, again with her brother's ready support. (Though coming in second, he did a little better out of it this time.) Frankly, she might have won without it; she just gets that game in an uncanny way.

They departed about 24 hours after they'd arrived, still buzzing about Arkham Horror. With the 12 year-old certainty that is evidently his stock in trade, the nephew announced his determination that Arkham Horror was not only the best game he'd ever played, but clearly the best game that had ever been invented. Both twins kept murmuring, in amazement, "I had no idea that there was even a game that was anything like that..."

They'll both be accompanying me and the boy to Strategicon over Labor Day; with them along, gf will probably come too. The con can't arrive soon enough for them. Nephew felt pretty strongly that it would be a good idea to get together again even before Labor Day and continue to get familiar with Arkham. Y'know... for practice. (I did warn them that in the event they played something like Small World with strangers at the con, their apparent permanent lifetime alliance might not sit well with their fellow players.)

But the whole experience was something like a crazy, wonderful dream, where you bust out titles of ever-increasing immersiveness and geekiness, and each one is greeted more rapturously than the last. It was as though they'd been waiting their whole lives for someone to introduce them to these games. It just seemed worth reporting, given the experiences so many of us have of offering our hobby up and seeing it greeted -- on the good days -- with no more than mild interest or bemused tolerance. But sometimes, yeah, you get the right players at the right time, and you can midwife full-blown new gamers into the world.
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James Austin
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Solihull
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Nice work - Impressed that they got arkham horror. I've played it a few times and still can't remember the rules.

I have a similar story. A couple of weeks ago I went around to a friends house with a few games in the boot of the car. We had dinner and it would have been customary to then watch TV or maybe play on the Wii but I suggested a board game.

I then had 4 pairs of eyes looking at me like I was mental. Comments basically ranged from....
"a board game? do I look like I'm 12 years old?"
"nooo, I hate monopoly"
"it's not scrabble is it?"
"ha, ha, We're not into dungeons and dragons"

I finally convinced them to sit down and shut up and I pulled out ticket to ride. As I explained the rules they all looked at me as if to say....what the hell are you doing? - we don't play games like this!

...but within 5 mins of starting they were absolutely loving it. Since then we've played all sorts of game, I keep being invited over with the request to bring more games.... So far we've played stuff like Small World, Settlers, Carcassone, Kill Dr lucky, Stone Age, pandemic and lots more ticket to ride.

I don't think that they'll ever manage arkham horror...next on the list. The manhattan project and Bohnanza.
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Michael McDougal
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Worcester
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Great posts, this really is one of the best feelings a gamer can experience. Any time I manage to get a non-gamer to sit down at the table with something, I don't care at all how well I do in the game - I've already won by convincing them to give the game a chance!

I think that attitude is the biggest factor when roping in new gamers. Some people take their games very seriously, and that's fine, but it's usually intimidating to new gamers (unless they're of the seriously competitive sort). Starting out simple is fairly obvious, but not everyone realizes the importance of starting out FUN. Stuff with a lot of player interaction - like Cosmic Encounter, or Dune - is also great.

But I've also had good luck teaching monster games like Descent (1st ed) to new gamers, you just have to have the right mindset and not take the game too seriously.

Thanks for sharing your story loopster!
 
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James Austin
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My biggest regret.... teaching them kill Dr Lucky. Now that's all they ever want to play!
 
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C. B. Green
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Really, Kill Doctor Lucky? I like it too, but that seems like the title with the least replay value of all of them... There's only so many times you can hear the funny text on the failure cards. (Though I should say that I think those cards are truly, genuinely funny and clever, several cuts above most in-game humor. But there are diminishing returns on hearing them again and again...)
 
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James Austin
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I think they just like screwing each other over by not handing out failure cards. - I'm hoping to get cash n guns next... that should keep them amused
 
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