Category Archives: Board Games

How to Demo Your Game

One of my favorite things things that the Board Game Geek team does is broadcast live demos of recent or upcoming games at game fairs. So with Convention Season getting into full swing with Origins this week I wanted to provide a useful tool for all those fine folks who will be in front of the camera presenting their upcoming games.

Sometimes it seems like some people just don’t know how to demo their games. I recently witnessed a representative from a board game company telling someone about a recent release and it seemed like the guy had no clue how to talk about the game.

Using that as inspiration for this article, I present to you today the Demo Diamond! This handy guide walks you through your demo so that you can bring the relevant information to the viewer and so that you don’t waste time where you shouldn’t.

Demo Diamond

Demo Diamond

Demo Diamond Explanation

Introduction – 15-30 seconds

You should always introduce yourself or be introduced. The BoardGameGeek team always does this really well.

But this is also the time to introduce the game and tell us when it will be available.

Stats – 30 seconds

Briefly cover the player count, the playing time, the ages, and the weight of the game. This helps people know right away if this might be a game for them or their gaming group.

Also mention the type of game that it is. People want to know if it is a family game or a strategy game or a filler game or a war game or whatever.

Prime Time – 3 to 5 Minutes

This is where you can really make your game shine. We want to know all about the game. So tell us the theme, the objectives, how to play, how a turn or round works, show off the components (this can be a really big selling point!), and basically teach the game with just enough information to pique our interest.

We don’t want all the nitty gritty stuff. Hit the high points. Talk about the things that make it special. Make us want to learn more.

Since this is a demo, keep it brief. We don’t want rambling talk or jumping from one thing to the next. Focus on being coherent and flowing through the game. Try to have a stream of thought where you work through the details in a linear way:

Theme > Objective > How you win > How you play > How it ends

Stats Refresher – 15 seconds

Once you’ve worked through the gameplay it’s time to remind people about the stats again. So tell us the player count, the ages, and the play time.

Wrap-Up – 15 seconds

Time to be done. Remind us again what the game is and when it will be available. And it would be great to thank us for watching!

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I hope that this article can help you as you’re demoing your game! Let me know if you have other ways of doing it or if you think the Demo Diamond should be tweaked or modified.

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2016 Recap, The List, Looking Ahead

TheListImage-BoardsAndBarleyAt the start of 2016 I posted an article called “The List.” The article was a list of games that my gaming group owns but had not yet played. It was a pretty good sized list that grew throughout 2016. For the first half of the year I was regularly posting updates to The List and providing brief reviews of the games we crossed off. That tailed off a bit later in the year when I gamed less and lost a little interest in gaming due to life.

But here we are at the end of 2016 so I am providing one final recap to The List. Let’s take a look at how we did. Go back and visit the original article: The List.

The Final Tally

There are 57 games on The List, which does not include games like Great Western Trail, SeaFall, Grand Austria Hotel, and many more that were purchased along the way. I’ll leave those out for now since that’s too much to try and remember (I should have stuck with the regular updates).

Of those 57, 28 were played. 

So 28/57 means we played less than half of the games. Ouch.

Some games got traded before we played them. Others were just not interesting enough. Mistakes were made. Excuses rose to the surface. For one reason or another we didn’t do that great with The List.

This is kind of a downer and I don’t want downers to drown out the joy that I had through board gaming in 2016. So here are my top games from the year:

Top 5 Games of 2016

  1. pic2578828_mdOrleans: This was/is my favorite. I love how it all works together. I love how every decision seems like a good one and that everything you are doing moves you forward rather than backward. It works really well and flows smoothly. I think I might get the expansion for 2017.
  2. Pandemic: Legacy: I’m not a huge Pandemic fan. But this makes the list because of the great group of people I am playing it with. We’ve had a lot of fun trying to work through the ups and (mostly) downs that the game presents. We’ve come up with creative names, like Eko “Flavor-Crystal” Farts. Overall it has provided hours of great gaming time with great friends.
  3. Karuba: It’s so simple to teach and play. I’ve introduced it to a bunch of people and now my family collectively owns three copies between me and my brothers-in-law.
  4. Scythe: I only played once and I played poorly. However, it is obvious that this game has great depth and a truly immersive experience. It takes a special game to make you feel like you are in the game. This one succeeds at that.
  5. The Voyages of Marco Polo: True, classic, solid Euro. Really hit the mark for me. I LOVE the variable player powers. The dice placement works really well. Overall this is a game I can’t wait to play again.

Best Expansion of 2016

pic2623383_mdA little shameless self-promotion never hurt anyone, right? My favorite expansion from 2016 was Scoville: Labs!

What I love most about this expansion is that it adds a great layer of control to the game.

One of the things people griped about with the base game was that it was too tactical and they didn’t have enough control with what they were getting and when they would get it. That’s why i designed the personal pepper lab.

With the lab you can control exactly what you get and when you get it. This allows for a greater level of strategy rather than the more tactical base game.

Plus, as a bonus it comes with a bunch of extra peppers, which helps with the other common gripe from the base game that players would run out of peppers.

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Image via BoardGameGeek.com user mpalframan (link)

Check out Scoville: Labs from your favorite local game store or your favorite online game store.

Honorable Mention Games of 2016

There are a bunch of other games I really enjoyed from 2016. My list above was capped at 5 to really highlight those games, but these games also deserve some attention.

  1. Covert: The highlight of this spy-themed cold war Euro is how you can create fantastic combinations of cards, which allow you to pull of some really great moves. The gameplay works well and the artwork is amazing.
  2. Potion Explosion: This was a hit with some of our wives, which means it’s a winner. I didn’t have high expectations for this game, but once I played it I realized that I wanted to keep playing. The part that sells it to me was the special abilities of the potions.
  3. Quadropolis: So clever and tight and unique. Decisions are interesting and the placement of your tiles matters SO MUCH! I really like trying to figure out the best placement for tiles relative to how other players are playing. There’s actually quite a bit of interaction here as well.
  4. SeaFall: I’m not sure yet whether I enjoy this game. However, the experience is really what you are paying for when you buy this one. This presents a fantastically immersive experience for gamers. Now all I have to do is try to figure out how to get out of last place before we are done with the campaign.
  5. Terraforming Mars: Use the Draft Variant. This is a really enjoyable engine building game (using “engine building” lightly). Players use cards and can create combinations that will help them get ahead. Without the draft variant this game wouldn’t make the list.

Looking Ahead to 2017

I’m not doing another “The List” type thing. That was too much effort to track and bother over.

Another mistake from 2016 was that my gaming group switched to once-a-month rather than twice a month. We will be going back to twice a month.

As for design efforts I have one solo design that I believe has great potential and one co-design that I believe has even greater potential. Development on these two games will be at the forefront of my efforts. It would be great if I could get another game signed, but that’s something that is outside of my control and, as such, is not a reasonable goal.

My 2017 convention schedule is sparse at this point. I’ll probably go to Protospiel-Milwaukee in the spring and Protospiel-Madison in the fall. I’ll definitely be going to Gen Con in August. I’d love to go back to Grand Con in September or BGG.Con in November. Those are both enjoyable gaming-focused cons. Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally get to Origins.

As for this website, I’d like to hear from you. Let me know what sorts of articles you are interested in reading. What would you like to see on this site? Do you want more random design efforts like the Design Me articles? Would you like more tutorials like the “How To Teach Games” type stuff? Or maybe more game design related content like blank card templates or usable vector icons? Please feel free to comment here or on Twitter and let me know what sort of content you would be the most interested in.

Thanks for reading! I wish you a great 2017.

Different Approaches to Game Design

I’ve been messing around with half a dozen designs lately and I seem to be stuck on each and every one of them. The only design that is making progress is a co-design with a friend of mine. So I’ve been thinking about mixing it up to try some different approaches to designing game. Today I wanted to present four approaches that you can use as a starting point. I am going to try each of these four approaches over the next month and see if I find inspiration.

Theme First

One of the most popular ways of starting out a game design is to choose a theme that you think is interesting.

This is a wide open way to design. You could choose to design about paratroopers rescuing chickens stranded on Antarctica. You could design about scuttlefish escaping sea urchins.

Going Theme First allows you to choose whatever you want the game to be about. Once you’ve chosen the theme you can then begin to consider the mechanics that might fit with the theme.

I personally like Theme First design. I like to picture myself immersed in the theme wondering what ways I can bring the theme together and make it feel like a grand experience.

Mechanic First

This is probably the other most popular way of designing a game. The designer might come up with a really interesting way to play a game. This could be a new component, a new way of using a component, a new combination of mechanics, or other things that haven’t been done before. Or you could pick a mechanic that has been done before and add a twist.

Once you’ve figured out your main mechanic and made it playable you can try to figure out what type of theme might fit with your mechanic.

This way of designing assures the designer that their game will utilize a gameplay mechanic that they like.

Scoring Condition First

This is a lesser used way of designing games. Some abstract games are designed with the scoring condition as the driver for the design.

This is essentially a specific variant of Mechanic First design, but with the end-game in mind. Designers choose how they want the scoring to work. Then they will fill in the design with the mechanics and slap on a theme if necessary.

This is something that I’ve been wanting to do but have not found a scoring condition that I like enough to build a game around.

Component First

This is a tough one to do because most designers don’t design around a “final product” type component. But there are times when a designer may make a game from the components that they have available.

When designing component first you would often choose a component or components that you really want in your game. Then you would choose a theme or mechanic that will work with those components.

This can be pretty awesome if you have a great component in mind. If you want to go with this approach it is probably best to be innovative and use either new components that haven’t been used in games before or to utilize existing components in new ways.

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There are, of course, other ways to get started with a game design but I think these four ways are a great starting point to get you thinking about your game designs. If you have other ways that you think are important, please share them in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving (If you are in the US) or a great weekend around the rest of the world.

Grand Con 2016 Recap

Grand Con Logo Revised.pngI had the privilege of being a guest at Grand Con 2016. I was invited to attend, run demos of Scoville, give a seminar about The Story of Scoville, and attend the VIP dinner where there was a special surprise.

Grand Con is a gaming convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It has been growing each year and had an expected attendance of about 2,000 people this year. They are out-growing their facility because there is so much awesomeness!

Attenders could visit the vendor hall, with a nice selection of vendors and products. For gaming vendors there was Tasty Minstrel Games, Floodgate Games, Kids Table Board Gaming, Green Couch Games, Calliope Games, Action Phase Games, and a few more that I don’t remember. For a full list visit the vendor page.There were also some RPG booths, a couple local game store booths, and a few other things as well. It was a nice vendor hall that I will expect to be even grander next year.

Attenders also had access to the Grand Con game library. This one isn’t as large as the Gen Con game library, but I would say that the quality of games in the Grand Con library was better since they weren’t overloaded with a bunch of out-dated inventory. There was a great selection of about 400 games, many of which were brand new. The gaming library room was almost always full.

Another nice thing was that Grand Con had many events and a nice event catalog for the attenders. They had brought in a bunch of game designers and ran charity “Play with the Designer” events. The gamers really seemed to like these events. Proceeds went to the De Vos Children’s Hopsital.

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Craft Beer I Enjoyed

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Some awesome artwork on the Bell’s Eccentric Cafe menu.

You can’t really go to Grand Rapids and not enjoy craft beer (unless beer isn’t your thing). So we made sure to work in a few different breweries along the way. On the way to Grand Rapids we stopped at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. We enjoyed some flights of beer in their beer garden and soaked up a little sun in the beautiful weather. My favorite beers from Bell’s were the Roundhouse India Red Ale and the Special Double Cream Stout.

After we left Bell’s we headed to Grand Rapids and ate dinner outside at Founders Brewing. They have an amazing indoor/outdoor area to accompany their excellent beer. Since I had tried 8 different kinds at Bell’s I was feeling a little beered out. I opted for a low abv beer called CTRL ALT Delete. When I “Untappd” it I earned a special badge that I had been working towards. I earned “Legendary” status for having 500 unique beer check-ins.

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That was a fun milestone to hit and I’m glad that it happened in “Beer City.” During our trip we also visited Brewery Vivant, which was probably awesome but I was struggling from a duel with some bad sushi, so I didn’t partake. It was located in this awesome old church and everyone liked the beers they got.

The other brewery that my friend Jeremy and his wife visited was The Mitten, which is in an old firehouse. He mentioned that the beer was pretty good overall.

It was nice to be able to fit the “Barley” with the “Boards” and make it a complete trip.

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Games I Played

One of the best parts of a game convention for me is that I can usually learn and play new games that I don’t own. My wife and I attended with another couple. So we took advantage of free time and the game library and learned and played the following games:

Port Royal: We played this in our hotel room and we love this game.

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The marble holder where explosions occur!

Potion ExplosionMy friends and I had tried to demo this at Gen Con but the demo copy was always occupied. So we grabbed the library copy and played it and really enjoyed it. The decisions were more interesting than I expected and my friend ended up buying a copy at one of the vendors.

Fauna: This game is kind of like an animal specific version of Wits and Wagers. Players have to guess things like where animals live, the weight, the length, or the height of the animal. We liked it and thought our kids would like it. It was easy to learn and play.

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A look at the box and main board of Coal Baron.

Coal BaronI had wanted to play this one for a long time. Jeremy and I got it out. I had already read the rules so we were able to get started pretty quickly. I really enjoyed this game. The artwork is great, the gameplay is fun and interesting, and it all worked well. The only complaint I had was the paper money. They really missed the mark with the paper money as they could easily have used cardboard coins like most of the game industry. Overall this was my favorite “new to me” game of the convention and I’m glad I finally was able to play it.

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The unnecessary but cool looking ships of North Wind.

North Wind: We sort of enjoyed this Klaus Teuber game since it has some fun decisions. The downside is that you can literally go the entire game without ever being able to complete an objective. This is simply based on the luck of the draw from the tiles you reveal. The other downside for us was the constant shuffling of a tile pile after each player took their turn.

Gold West: I had played the prototype with the designer a couple years ago and I really enjoyed it. I am sad that it has taken me this long to play the final product. I think this game has some fun and interesting choices. The gameplay is pretty simple though the main mechanic can be a bit tricky to figure out how best to use it. I love the theme. The artwork was excellent as well. I recommend checking it out. If I hadn’t played it before the con this may have ousted Coal Baron for my favorite game.

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A nice look at the game board for Gold West.

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The Cacao  board near the end of the game.

Cacao: This wasn’t in the library. Jeremy bought a copy from a vendor and we cracked it open. It is a tile laying game where played collect and sell cocoa pods. Players also utilize the temples for scoring, take advantage of the lakes, and earn sun tiles for bonus overlaying abilities. We collectively enjoyed the game quite a bit. While I was off on a Scoville demo, the other three played it a second time. So it was well liked.

Vikings on Board: Jeremy and I had considered purchasing this at Gen Con. The rules are pretty simple but the gameplay is total chaos. We stopped playing because we didn’t like that you had seemingly little control over what you could accomplish. It was definitely too much of a “take-that” game for the four of us.

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The Vikings on board the board for Vikings on Board.

Going, Going, Gone!I had played this at BGG Con 2013 with Mr. Buonocore and company. At that time of night it was an excellent experience. So we cracked it open here and enjoyed it as well. My wife was great at dumping all her cubes into one single cup, which she would win, and then have very few cubes left. She won one auction 12 to nothing. She won another 7 to nothing. She didn’t win the game. Jeremy managed to get a set of 7 instruments for a big score of 44. We liked it and I’ll definitely play it again.

Train of ThoughtWe got this older TMG game to the table since we wanted a shorter game. In Train of Thought you try to get the other players to guess your secret word by using a pre-determined word in your clue. When (if) they guess, you get a new secret word and have to use the guessed word in the clue. Your round continues with your train of thought until the timer runs out. Some of the words were really tough to connect, but as we went on we got better at it.

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Scoville Experience

It was a privilege and honor to join the Grand Con team to run a few charity “Play With The Designer” Scoville events. At each of these events I was able to award the winner a copy of Scoville. It is always so much fun to play with people who are new to the game or with people who have played it and are passionate about it. I got a good mix of both during the convention. During one event the guy who took second place went to the TMG booth in the vendor hall, bought a copy of Scoville and Scoville: Labs and brought the back to me to have him sign them. That sort of stuff is really what makes game design worth it to me.

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A Scoville conga line!

Overall people who played seemed to really enjoy the game. One couple had me sign one of their recipe cards, which I was happy to do.

The other cool event was a seminar called, “The Story of Scoville.” For this seminar I was joined by the Scoville artist, Josh Cappel, and the TMG representative at Grand Con, Daniel Hadlock. We covered the whole story from my end of coming up with the design, to Josh’s artistic picture of the process, to Daniel’s “behind the scenes” manufacturing and distributing stuff. It was a lot of fun to do. One of the people was a younger guy who is interested in game design. It was a great opportunity to share with him some of the things I have learned along the way about game design.

The other really awesome thing was the VIP dinner on Saturday night. Each of the VIPs and the guests had a special banquet dinner with each other. I had an excellent steak and baked potato and some local craft beer. But the highlight of that party for me was the special cakes that Grand Con had made for the event. It speaks for itself:

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A Scoville (right) and Scoville Labs (left) cake to celebrate the convention!

The whole cake was edible. The hand and trophy were made with rice krispies. The top layer was a bananas foster cake. The bottom layer was a spicy chocolate cake. And the labs flask was a cookies and cream cake. It was a little sad when they started to get cut up and served to people. I couldn’t believe how awesome the cakes were and it was so exciting to be a part of that.

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Overall I’d like to thank Marc Specter and Brian Lenz and all the Grand Con team for putting on an excellent show and for inviting me to be a part of it. I also want to thank those people who participated in all the charity events. Your generosity was excellent. It was great to see good friends and make new ones. The board gaming community is always awesome and it’s so fun to be a part of it!

Non-Gamer Game Night Guide

I recently had a “non-gamer” game night with some neighbors of mine. It’s a great opportunity to be able to get together with people who don’t normally play hobby games. I love it when they play a game and then realize that there are more interesting things than LIFE, Monopoly, and Sorry.

I had tweeted a request for gaming options to see what people would recommend and I was inundated with great ideas. Thank you to those of you who replied to my tweet. Because I got so many results I thought I would bring all those suggestions together into this article to help you host a “Non-gamer” Game Night!

Invite some people!

You can’t have a game night without the people. (Well, you can since there are a lot of solo games out there, but I prefer playing games with other humans beings). So the first thing you’ll want to do is invite those neighbors of yours, or co-workers, or general acquaintances, who may or may not be interested in playing games. Bribe them with snacks or beverages. Tell them whatever you need to tell them to get them in the door.

Once they are there, here are two things to avoid:

  1. Don’t overwhelm them with the depth of your gaming knowledge. Just let them know you like games and wanna hang out with them for a while.
  2. Don’t go all crazy with the lingo by using words like “Meeple.” It may turn some people off. Use layman’s terms like “pawn” or “player piece.”

Did Someone Say “Snacks”

I usually like to have cheese and sausage and Peanut Butter M&Ms for game night. These are pretty safe foods, though the cheese and sausage should be accompanied by napkins to help the finger-lickers in the group have a more hygienic way of cleaning their fingers.

I have a general rule for game night snacks: nothing juicy, nothing sticky, nothing crumbly. 

Cheetos and similar foods are particularly bad because of the residue they leave behind on your fingers. The residue can easily be transferred to your precious game components. And when the typical game costs $40-$50 you just don’t really want to see Cheeto dust coating the cards. There was one time where someone wanted Chicken Wings. I almost uninvited them.

So pick out something dry and clean, like the aforementioned Peanut Butter M&Ms, or perhaps some Red Vines. Finger foods that can be popped into your mouth work well.

The (Gate-way) Games

So you’ve got the “non-gamers” in the door. Excellent work. (Note, I put “non-gamers” in quotes because deep down inside of us all we are all gamers even if we don’t know it). Now it’s time to get the right game to the table.

With non-gamers there are a few things you should consider when choosing the game:

  1. Are the rules easy to teach?
  2. Is the game easy to play?
  3. Does the game take a long time?

The first two mostly go together. You’ll want a game that is pretty simple to teach and play. Games that offer players only a few limited choices are usually good options. The third one is important because you typically don’t want to lose your audience in a 60+ minute game. It would almost always be better to player three 20 minute games.

This is where the tweet came into play. I wanted to get opinions about games that work well for non-gamers. I got a bunch of replies and here are some of the best games that I think fit my criteria for a non-gamer game night, in order of most recommended first:

  • Ticket To Ride – Classic gateway game. Build train routes. Three choices on your turn (Take Cards, Take Routes, Build connections).
  • Lanterns – A lovely game with a simple rule set. Play a tile, people get cards. Try to get the right sets of cards.
  • Camel Up – Qwirky theme and artwork. Players take one of five actions (Roll a die, Guess the Winner, Guess the Loser, Place a bid, Place Oasis/Desert)
  • Carcassonne –  Another classic gateway game. Place your tile and possible a player pawn. Do the best with the tiles you draw.
  • Codenames (And/or Codenames: Pictures) – A great party game where two clue-givers try to get their team to guess the correct words (or pictures). Great with larger groups.
  • Splendor – Basically a theme-less game, but the gameplay is simple and rewarding. On your turn you either 1) Take Gems, 2) Reserve a Card, or 3) Spend Gems to earn a card.
  • No Thanks – It’s a light card game about getting the right numbered cards. Try to get cards in sequence without gaps or you’ll get too many points. You don’t want points.
  • For Sale – Another light card game. This has two phases. Each is pretty simple to play.
  • Sushi Go – The easiest card-drafting game. Players are dealt a hand of cards. They choose one, play it, and pass the rest. Then they draw from the cards that they received. This continues for three quick rounds.
  • Love Letter – Very light and easy to understand yet full of interesting gameplay. On your turn you have a card in your hand already, you draw another, choose one of them to play and follow the instructions. You want to be the last person standing.
  • Qwixx – A light dice rolling game where players try to cross off numbers from 2 to 12 or vice versa. Easy to teach and quick to play.

There are some honorable mentions that are pretty good choices, but I couldn’t recommend them before any of those in the list above. These included

  • Bohnanza (Sometimes the “Bean Fields” idea confuses new players and some of the rules are just a little too much to remember for first timers)
  • 6 Nimmt (Haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Las Vegas (Haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Time Stories (I think this is probably too heavy and I haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Quadropolis (This was close to making the list)
  • Tokaido (This was also close to making the list)
  • Diamonds (Haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Rolling America (This probably could join Qwixx above but I haven’t played it so I didn’t want to put it on the list)
  • King of Tokyo (The special ability cards can make this a little more complicated than I’d like for non-gamers)
  • Forbidden Island (I don’t like co-op games for non-gamers)
  • Paperback (Fun deck builder, but deck building isn’t something I would push on non-gamers)
  • Libertalia (Very fun game but a little too deep for non-gamers)
  • Hanabi (Meets the criteria but it’s so thinky that I’d rather have something slightly easier for non-gamers)
  • Colt Express (Way too heavy for non-gamers)

Final Thoughts…

It is important to be patient with non-gamers. We gamers seem to grok new game rules pretty quickly and it is easy to take it for granted when new gamers or non-gamers don’t understand things. So take your time. It takes hearing something three times before it really sticks. Usually after I teach the rules I do a quick recap.

Remind people that you are getting together to have fun and hang out. Don’t make winning the only thing. Try to avoid back-stabbing play and certainly don’t go after any one player. Make them feel welcome and give them a chance for victory. If they win it will put good vibes in their head and they’ll be more likely to come back for another game night.

So there you go. Get your non-gamer friends in the door, choose some appropriate snacks, and get the right game on the table! Let me know what you do to help your non-gamer friends enjoy an evening of cardboard.

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