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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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Holiday Gaming Guide

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you can still see that this time of year is special. Winter is nearly here, snow may be on the ground where you live, and the year is about to end. As we scramble to get in as many games as we can before the end of the year we usually find that we get the privilege of gaming with friends or family that don’t normally play games.

So today I present my guide to holiday gaming. Let’s get started with the best introductory games for non-gamers!

Non-Gamer Games…

When gathering together with family for Christmas I usually like to “dumb down” the level of games that I bring along. While I think they would probably enjoy longer, heavier games I find it’s just not worth it to try and teach those types of games. So I like to bring games that are light and accessible, yet still fun to play.

The other day I sent out a tweet and asked what games people like to bring for non-gaming family members. I got a great response:

So let’s run through some of my favorites from those that people mentioned (that I have played before):

  • Have you got your ticket? All Aboard!

    Qwirkle: This is such a simple game but has such excellent tactics. I have the travel version so it’s so easy to bring along!

  • Dixit: It’s like Balderdash without the fiddlyness and with beautiful cards. Can you make up a story? Then try out this game. Plus, it can play up to 12 players so know one will be left out at your Christmas gathering!
  • Ticket to Ride: A classic gateway game renowned for simplicity and accessibility! My non-gaming sister-in-law put it on her Christmas list a few years ago. If you haven’t taught this to your non-gaming family members yet, this is the year!
  • Apples to Apples: It’s simple… play a card that you think the player will choose. While that sounds a little boring, this game is a lot of fun with family members. And it can help you learn about them. So invite your crazy uncle to play so you can learn to avoid what he likes!
  • Farmageddon: This is a fun “take-that” farming game where you scrape by to get any points you can. The theme is funny and the artwork is great. Plus, the price is ideal!
  • The Great Heartland Hauling Co.: For small box games with big strategy this one is a winner. You are a trucker utilizing a pick up and deliver mechanic. It plays quickly and has awesome wooden 18 Wheeler Meeples!
  • Hanabi: It can be infuriating! But it is so much fun. This is a hidden information game where you build fireworks. The info that is hidden are the cards in your own hand. Everyone else can see what you have except you. Work together as a team in this cooperative game to build all the fireworks!
  • Love Letter: About as quick as they come, Love Letter is a card game about winning the princess’ heart. It’s so quick and easy that it would be a crime not to play it with non-gamers.

Any of those games listed above would be good games to play with non-gamers. They are all accessible, relatively light, and all are fun to play. But if you’ve got people who want a little more strategy, here are my mid-tier recommendations for Christmas holiday gaming:

For those wanting more…

Sometimes family will want a slightly heavier game. You may have already piqued their gaming interest with one of the games listed above. So now what? Here are a few games that I think fit the “gateway” mold very well. These are games for people who want to play more and want a little more strategy.

  • How would you build a kingdom?

    Stone Age: I love teaching this game to non-gamers who want a little more. It has excellent strategy. But moreso, there is the idea of trying to do the absolute best with your tribe on every single turn. And the theme is fun.

  • Carcassonne: I would have put this in the upper list, but some people don’t always quite get the placement strategy. Fundamentally it is simple: Take a tile, Place a Tile, Put a meeple on it if you want. But there is a serious amount of fun going on here.
  • Dominion: I have had my fill of this game, but it definitely is a great one for those wanting more strategy and depth. This is the original deck-building game where each turn you can add cards to your personal deck. As the game progresses, the better cards in your deck allow you to do more and better stuff. It’s also pretty easy to teach and learn.
  • Pandemic: While I’m not huge on the cooperative thing in games, this game is greatly loved and adored my many people. You have to work together to stop the viruses from spreading and creating epidemics. The theme is pretty cool and there was recently a newly revised version out. So this might be something for those who want more.
  • Kingdom Builder: I love this game. And I love the variability with the expansions. The concept is simple, but the strategy is deep. Kingdom builder is another fun game where you try to maximize each and every turn. I highly recommend this one.
  • Bohnanza: This is a card game about planting beans. But the strategy here is pretty awesome. When should you harvest? Should you wait one more turn? Should you buy that 3rd bean field? This game involves a lot of fun decisions.

Those are some very good options for mid-tier games that you might want to try with your families. Finally, here are my gamer games that I might try to push on people this Christmas season:

The Big Dogs…

These are games that are deep, strategic, and heavier than what your family of non-gamers might be into. But if you can teach them well and quickly explain the games then they might be worth trying to get to the table.

  • Agricola: The game of farming and family growth.

    Power Grid: This can is a nice heavy game with a ton of strategy and interesting decisions. You are trying to build a power grid and supply power to the most cities. But there is a balance of overentending yourself for money or hanging back and trying to leapfrog for the win. Excellent game.

  • Anything Rosenberg: Agricola, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Glass Road, Caverna. You can’t go wrong. These are heavy games that allow you to spend a long time sitting down with your family. But these games are intense and challenging. I recommend them.
  • Anything Feld: If you want something slightly less intense, but no less awesome, then check out games by Stefan Feld. Macao, Notre Dame, Trajan, In the Year of the Dragon, The Castles of Burgundy, Rialto, Bruges, Bora Bora. Seriously… this guy is a designer of awesomeness!
  • 7 Wonders: The learning curve is a little too steep for this to have been in the previous lists. But this game is seriously awesome. You are trying to build one of the 7 Wonders and you are trying to make yours the best! A cool card drafing mechanic is the main concept behind the game and it works really well.
  • Lords of Waterdeep: If you’ve got any Dungeons & Dragons people in your family then I recommend trying out this worker placement game with them. It’s a fantastic game that works really well.
  • Empire Builder: A classic. This game involves players drawing routes on the board with crayons. Routes allow your trains to access different cities. This is probably my favorite pick up and deliver game.

There you go. I’ve provided three different game categories for you to push on your families. After the holidays I’ll report back since I’m going to ramp up my efforts this year. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it went with you all! So pour yourself some egg nog, eat too much food, and play games with your family!

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