On more than one occasion, gamer friends I know have tried to introduce their significant others to gaming. In one extreme example, the spouse was exceptionally intimidated because the games seemed relatively complex and being the only one who would be unfamiliar with games like this, this person felt uncomfortable at the game table.
Take heart dear reader, for there is a solution to this dilemma, but it does not involve just playing a gateway game. There is a particular type of gateway game necessary to overcome this problem. These games are small, and as such, I call them “guest room games”.
The problem with many gateway games is that the basic size of the game intimidates new players. A large game means complexity (whether or not it’s actually true), and so seeing a huge board opening up with obscure iconography and graphic design can tend to alienate people. By going small, you’re able to make it seem like this is a game for children or it’s a small investment of learning. The presentation gives the illusion of matching the complexity.
The other element to get right is the player count. If a player is already intimidated by a big game, they will be even more so by a game with more than two players. Multiple opponents to keep track of also create fear. Alleviating that fear and allowing the new player to get comfortable with mechanisms is what it’s all about.
That’s why my pick for the best “guest room game” is Jaipur. Here are the reasons why:
1. Jaipur is friendly. There’s a guy with a huge turban on the cover inviting you in to inspect some goods. The gentle soft palette colors and near-comic visuals don’t scream hardcore or intimidating in the least.
2. Gameplay is straightforward and the rules are exemplary. A lot of credit goes to Game Works for making this game inviting and easy to learn. There are only two options for a turn, but the implications for those during the game can be huge.
3. Each round takes only a few minutes. However, that round feels like a complete game. Play then proceeds with a second round that repeats everything from the first round. In essence, it operates like a best two-out-of-three game. This allows for the player to slowly build confidence in the game. This is crucial to building confidence that the player can digest “complicated” rules and understand the strategy. Without understanding the strategy, it really isn’t fun.
I was on a flight once sitting next to a woman next who invited to play Ticket to Ride on the iPad. She politely declined, but really the problem stemmed from the fear of gaming I saw in her eyes. I think this kind of expectation that board games are above understanding is fairly common. Getting through to new gamers and helping them see that there really isn’t anything much more complicated than what an everyday job entails is the key to letting them see through to the fun.