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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.


Two Types of Game Nights

My friend Jeremy and I have been hosting board game nights for quite a while now and I’ve come to a realization lately that there are two different types of game night. There is the type of board game night where you get a bunch of people together and struggle to decide what to play based on number of players, difficulty to learn, setup time, etc. Let’s call this the “Big” game night. Then there is the type of board game night with only a few people where you choose to play the heavier, deeper, more intense games that typically can’t make a showing at the first type of board game night. Let’s call this the “Level 1” game night.

Today I’m going to examine the ups and downs of each type! Note: I’ll write about Board Game Days in a separate article.

Big Game Nights

Big, as in a large number of games. Not as in the size of the game!

Big, as in a large number of gamers. Not the size of the game!

I love big game night. But that’s partially because I love any game night! It’s great to get a bunch of guys (note: I’m not sexist… my group is just all guys) together for some board game awesomeness. But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some downsides to the Big game night, at least compared with the Level 1 game night. Let’s look at the good things first:

  1. You’re playing games, perhaps enjoying a nice brew, and escaping all the other junk of life.
  2. You might even be enjoying some nice refreshments.
  3. With more gamers you often have more games to choose from.
  4. Robo Rally. Chaos embodied in a board game can be quite entertaining!

There you go… the upside to the Big game night. What downside could there possibly be?

  1. You might wreck your budget trying to buy games for 8 or 10 players.
  2. Nuns on the Run, a hide-and-seek nun game, just doesn’t have the right theme!
  3. Players might get sick of finishing the night with a lap of Bisikle every time (gasp!).
  4. Indecision enters the gaming arena. Players struggle to agree on what to play.
  5. It’s often more difficult to break out new games. It always feels like you’re teaching new people old stuff.
  6. It’s often more difficult to break out heavy games. Big game night is more open to the casual player.

An 8-player recommendation!

When our group was getting to 8 regular attenders I really did a search for 8+ player games. At one point I was ready to pull the trigger on Nuns on the Run. I ultimately went with Robo Rally, which ended up being a great choice. I also looked into Formula D, but never bought it. One of the issues with a larger board game night is that it is hard for everyone to play a game together. One 8-player game that I’ve found to be a lot of fun is VivaJava: The Coffee Game by designer TC Petty III and published by DiceHateMe Games.

The problem is that most games are not 8 player games. That means what was a big group of people is now split in two or three. That’s often less fun. You’ve got cross-table banter. People feel left out of the other table’s conversation, and a disconnect forms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of fun… just not as fun as the “Level 1” game night!

Level 1 Game Nights

Several of us in our group use the phrase “Level 1” to refer to each other as awesome, tight, “I got your back” type of friends. On occasion we have an impromptu “Level 1” game night where it’s just a small group of us getting together. I wanted to refer to these game nights as “Intimate” but that just didn’t feel appropriate with all the finger-bending. These nights include the kind of friends you never hesitate to play any game with. These game nights also have an upside and a downside. This time let’s start with the downside:

  1. Less beer options to choose from.
  2. Fewer refreshments.

3 hour games are acceptable at Level 1 Game Nights!

While those two can be tough to swallow, the Level 1 game night can make up for that in the quality of the games that hit the table. Here’s the upside:

  1. Heavier games make the table. Enter Uwe Rosenberg and Stefan Feld!
  2. New games can be played since there is usually a high willingness to learn together.
  3. Playtesting of prototypes happens more freely.
  4. You’ve learned what to expect from the other players.
  5. Inside jokes, Jerks!
  6. You never have to split into multiple games.

There’s a lot to enjoy with a Level 1 game night! But the bottom line here is that any game night can be fun. Go into them with the right expectations and you’ll have a good time. And remember, playing to win and playing to have fun are not necessarily the same. So get to your local game night and have a great time!

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