Sunday, 12 May 2013

Suggestions: Introductions to Boardgaming

It's been said again and again, "We are in the boardgaming golden-age". I'm totally down with this idea -- the sheer number of top rate games released in the past few years really is staggering. Games are getting more and more sophisticated, user friendly and fun!

And with this swelling of quality games, we can also expect a swelling of new gamers. I only returned to playing boardgames regularly about two years ago, and only playing in earnest about ten  months ago. I was raised on Monopoly, Cluedo, The Game of Life, Scrabble (which I still love!), and a bunch of traditional games. It goes without saying that those thematic games are mostly junk. I was overwhelmed with joy this Christmas, when I was back in the UK, to walk into Waterstones and see Forbidden Island, Carcassone, Android: Netrunner and Space Hulk: Death Angel up amongst all those shitty old games. There are tons of reasons for this -- the proliferation of board games on smart-phones; recessions in many countries forcing people to maximise their leisure expenditures -- but whatever, it's great news!

Almost everybody likes playing games. In a boozy situation, pull out a deck of cards and everyone will want to play Kings. If you're lucky, and a little less inebriated, it's pretty easy to get a game of Poker or Rummy going. I don't think most people have anything against boardgames, but their experience of them is based around these long winded and low-strategy games like Cluedo and miserable, festering, attrition slogs like Monopoly. As we see more and more people look to boardgaming for a fun time, we need to think about how we can best introduce them into this wonderful gamey world. And for starters, throw out Munchkin!

A good intro-level game should have a strong and fun theme. It should be easy to learn and hint at the possibilities on the horizon. And lastly, it should offer a new player a chance to win; there's no point of dropping a new player into a game of Android: Netrunner, where they are liable to get beaten into a pulp for the first twenty games. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules and every potential player is different, but today, I'm going to look at my some favourite intro-level games. Most of these choices are not suitable for kids -- instead, you can expect a follow up post for such recommendations.

My favourite intro-level games, in no particular order:



Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island
This game is filled with new and unusual mechanics, totally alien to a new boardgamer -- but this isn't immediately a bad thing! We are showing these new players the diversity offered in modern boardgames. A co-operative challenge, no dice rolls, a modular and random board, player classes, and so on. All wrapped up in a beautifully simple game. The high levels of player anxiety created are sure to drag your friends in. When I recently played this with a bunch of new gamers, there were high-fives all round when we (finally!) won. It was a great feeling!

For more details, you can check out my review of Forbidden Island, here.

The DC Deck-Building Game

If you want to get your friends into deck-builders, I've got to say this must be one of the best ones for new players. Sure, Dominion and Ascension are fun and complex, but the DC variation is so immediately rewarding and a visceral experience. Stats are kept simple and turns are quick -- a treat for any nerdy, comic-book loving friends.

I gave The DC Deck-Building Game a more detailed lowdown, here.

Divinare

Divinare is like nothing your friends have ever played before. It's thoughtful and strategic, filled with mind-games and is very simple. A few straightforward rules and you're in. You do some card drafting, then you lay a card and make a prediction on how many copies of that card will end up being played. I also think that Divinare has the most effective combination of gameplay and theme from anywhere in boardgaming, which immediately draws in players - you are cast in the role of fortune tellers in a divining contest, and the game itself is quite literally the same thing. This means we can all get into character and have a blast.

Love Letter

Love Letter
Incredibly straightforward and incredibly fun. This is a game I've personally used with non-boardgames, to huge success. It's very small and whimsically themed, which makes it welcoming to all kinds of players. Like Forbidden Island and Divinare, storytelling really enriches this game and engages its players.

You can read my review of Love Letter, here.

Galaxy Trucker

A huge game and giggly fun. Players lay tiles to build their own spaceships -- this is the best bit and gives you that sense of Carcassone satisfaction -- and then we all travel through space encountering pirates and meteor storms which ravage our ships. It's fun and it's goofy. But it costs a ton!

The Red Dragon Inn

A card game about adventurers playing drinking games after a successful dungeon-run. The theme is hilarious and the game takes on a "take-that!" attitude, where players force each other to drink or gamble or whatever. As your characters get more inebriated, their drunk meter goes up and their fortitude meter drops down. When these meters collide, you lose! It's funny and silly and straightforward and a great time all around.

Honorable Mention:

Tsuro

A tile laying game with very straightforward rules. It has a surprising amount of replayability and enjoys a tactile and fun movement mechanic. There's a little strategy, a lot of luck, and it nicely scales up from two to eight players. But the theme: it's total garbage.

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