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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.

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4th of July Family Gaming

With the Fourth of July on a Thursday this year it is likely a few of you are taking some extra days off for a little family vacation. That means you’ll likely have a good opportunity to teach/play games with people who probably don’t typically play games. So today I present a short list of games that are accessible and enjoyable to gamers and non-gamers alike.

Here are the criteria that a game needs to meet to make it into today’s article:

  • Easy to learn (Can teach in under 5 minutes)
  • Easy to play (Decisions are relatively simple)
  • Under an hour (Sorry Uwe, your games are awesome, but not accessible for family get-togethers)

With those simple criteria in mind here are my top five board games that you can play with your family this holiday weekend:

#5) HANABI

Disclaimer: I have not played Hanabi. But Hanabi is a fireworks game in a small box that seems like it would fit the criteria above. Here is a video by Tom Vasel showing how it’s played:

This game looks like a really fun game to try out with your family. And since fireworks are so appropriate for the Fourth of July weekend I just had to add it to the list.

#4) CARCASSONNE

Here’s how I teach Carcassonne: Take a tile and lay it down.

This game is so simple from a mechanics perspective and yet their is so much depth in your decision of where and how to place the tile and then whether or not to put a meeple on it. That’s what I love about games like this: simple mechanics with deep strategy.

With just the base game this one definitely can appeal to non-gamers. Add in the Inns and Cathedrals expansion and it adds some depth. My favorite expansion is Traders and Builders where you’ve got wheat, beer barrels, and Fruit by the Foot to gather up for more points.

This game is just such an easy game to teach and play that I love to bring it along to family gatherings.

#3) STONE AGE

This one probably goes beyond the 5 minute teaching rule, but it’s simple enough that I like to bring it along. People really seem to like the cave-man theme. I like this game because there is some fun, deep strategy. Here’s a look at the components in the game:

If you really want to spruce it up try visiting the Mating Hut!

This game can give non-gamers a little bit of component overload. But teaching them how simple it is to play will get them going in no time. As a bonus, have them smell the cup. If you own the game, you’ll understand!

#2) KINGDOM BUILDER

Our founding fathers were building a kingdom (of sorts) when they signed the Declaration of Indepence, so what better weekend to try this game with your family?

Kingdom Builder is another game that is really easy to teach and play. On your turn you basically place three settlements on the board. Based on where you place them you may or may not have earned points (which get scored at the end).  If you place a settlement by a special location then you have earned an ability which can help you the rest of the game. This game has a rulebook that is easy to follow and is quick to learn. I also like the cool boards in the game and the replayability (I know some people won’t agree with me on that… oh well). I’ve probably played it 30 times and it hasn’t gotten old to me, though owning the Nomads expansion helps.

#1) TICKET TO RIDE

No Settlers of Catan here. That game doesn’t meet the simple to learn criteria. Ticket to Ride does meet the criteria. It is so simple to setup, teach, and play. On your turn you can do one of three things:

  • Draw train car cards
  • Claim a route by placing trains
  • Draw destination tickets

That means the game moves along pretty quickly. And this game is a lot of fun. Players work toward connecting their routes. The inevitable blocked route will occur and someone may get a little grumpy. But the bottom line is that this game is so easy to introduce to non-gamer family members that you might just convert them into a gamer!

Here’s a video from CoolStuffInc.com describing the game:

So there’s my round-up of the best games to play with your non-gamer friends and family this holiday weekend!

But… what about YARD GAMES? I don’t want to be stuck indoors during the beautiful summer weather! Okay. Here’s a quick list of four fun yard games to play with your friends and family this holiday weekend:

#4 BOCCE

Grab that palino and huck it! The palino is the name of the small white ball. One player tosses the palino and then players take turns bowling, tossing, chucking, heaving their bocce balls toward the palino. The players closest to the palino score points. This game also provides a fun way to give people a tour of your yard. If your yard is weedy and gross, maybe skip Bocce.

#3 LADDERS

Growing in popularity, this fun tossing game involves players throwing strings with balls on the ends at makeshift ladders, usually made from PVC. Players score points based on which rung of the ladder the string and balls land on. You can build yourself a set of this pretty easily. But if you choose to drill through golf balls, don’t smell the burnt plastic inside. I almost passed out by doing that!

#2 CORNHOLE / BEAN BAG TOSS

Another tossing game. This time you are throwing a bean bag into a hole. Players take turns lofting a bean bag through the air trying to get it to fall through the hole in the board. Here is a particularly striking and appropriate version of Cornhole:

#1 KUBB

If you squint it looks like a monster with a serious underbite!

We have the Vikings to thank for this game. Apparently they were into tossing things as well. Weird how all these outdoor games involve throwing things. Perhaps I should have added Croquet to the list to mix it up a bit.

Kubb is a game where you throw batons at chunks of wood. Your objective is to knock down all of your opponent’s kubbs and then knock over the king. This game is a lot of fun because of the ability to stack the kubbs when they’re knocked over. It takes a while to play, but time with family is always worth it, right? Just ask your crazy uncle!

Here’s a nice boring video about the game:

Looks pretty awesome, huh?

HONORABLE MENTION: Hammerschlagen

Thanks for reading! I hope that you get in some nice quality gaming with your non-gamer family and friends this holiday!

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