Boardgame night is fun. You know this, but to the uninitiated, it can be a little intimidating. They’ll probably be expecting to just roll some dice and move around a track. But now they are going a little pale looking at the strange board you just put on the table and all the weird components you are laying out. So, how do you introduce a newbie to your gaming group without scaring them off? Here are a few helpful hints.
Pick The Right Group
Make sure the people you have gathered know there is a beginner in the gaming group and are all ok with that. It’s quite reasonable for them to be upset if this was meant to be Diplomacy or Twilight Imperium night and now you are playing something else. So don’t spring a new addition to the group at the last minute. It’s also a good idea to make sure the group has the more patient and helpful members of your friends circle.
Play A Game That More Than One Of You Doesn’t Know
There is a difficult balance to this. Introducing someone with a game you all know well means anyone at the table can help them with the rules. You can also offer good strategy advice borne of many games experience. But it can be isolating being the only one at the table that doesn’t know something. Picking a game new to all of you isn’t a good idea either as no one will know what they are doing, making the whole thing more confusing. So ideally make sure at least one other person in the gaming group hasn’t played this game either. This way they can ask questions the new player might be a little scared to ask or just not have considered. More importantly, they will not be the only person at the table that doesn’t quite know what to do..
Ask The Beginner What They’d Like To Play
It’s easy to think you know the best game for them to start with, and you may be right. But they’ll be more invested in something they picked, even if they don’t quite know what it is. They might like the meeples in Meeple Circus. The pictures of Maki Rolls in Sushi Go might look cute. They might think the colours in Sagrada look cool, or they just like the idea of making train lines in Ticket to Ride. It doesn’t matter what the game is actually like. If they see the box and say ‘that one looks cool’ they are already a little invested at least.
Pick Something Short
Chances are your new player will need a run-up to get the hang of a game. If you pick something short and it all goes wrong you can either start again or give up and try something else. At worst you’ve only lost half an hour or so. But if an hour in they are finding it dull or confusing and you say ‘we’re nearly at the end of the first turn’ they are going to want to give up. If they enjoy a short game you can always play it again. As it was over quite quickly they may be willing to try again, even if it didn’t go well. If they did enjoy it but didn’t quite get it, they may be eager for another chance now they understand it a little better.
Don’t Say “It’s Easy!”
While this might seem helpful, it’s actually very off-putting. Having been told it's simple and straightforward, the beginner will feel foolish if they don’t understand anything. That means they may be scared to ask or clarify something and it will all get worse. You can say “it’s not as complicated as it looks” or “it’ll make more sense as we get going”. Just don’t make them feel dumb for not picking the game up quickly.
Define The Win Conditions
The rules may be the heart of the game, but make sure the first thing you tell the new player is what the object of the game is. This might be "you need to collect the most triangles" or "you need to get to the end of the board first". The objective might not make much sense at the moment (what the hell is a triangle and how to I get one?!). But now they know this they can see how every other rule you are about to explain pertains to that objective. This will make all the rules make more sense as they know what they are building towards.
Don’t Tell Them All The Rules
After about ten minutes of rules explanation, they have probably switched off. At the very least they probably won’t remember the first thing you told them. They do not need every rule and every strategy to start playing. Just tell them how the first turn works and that you’ll have to explain a few more things as you go. Then make sure they know it's ok to ask questions. Ideally, you can prompt them now and again by checking if they have any. Otherwise, get playing as quickly as possible because that’s what you’ve come to do.
Make Them Go Last
While it may be a disadvantage, making the new player go last (at least on turn one) means they can see what everyone else does before their turn. That may be 3-4 examples of play before they have to make a choice. Remind the other players in your gaming group to talk through their turns as much as possible so the new player can see what they are doing. This will help them figure out what they are meant to do in their turn.
This really goes without saying, but cut them some slack. There are many concepts of board gameplay that might be second nature to you now but will not be clear to a beginner. Let them take time to figure a turn. Answer their questions and let them undo something if they make a mistake.
Don’t Make It All About The Game
You may be there to game but the beginner may need a break. Take time to chat a little between turns and take breaks. Make the atmosphere a little more social. Sitting in silence and glaring as you all concentrate on making the best play on your turn is just going to be intimidating. Having moments when game night is just an evening with friends will be something the beginner will already be familiar with and give them some breathing space.
A cooperative game has a lot of very good points for introducing a beginner. With no adversarial aspect, everyone can help everyone else out with their turn. But this is also the problem. These games can often end up with one player dominating the game strategy or the group playing the beginner’s position for them each turn. They get to the end of the game without the faintest idea of what was going on. I’m not saying you should avoid playing a cooperative game. But think about your gaming group and how they usually behave before you make that your choice. If you do pick a cooperative game, make sure the beginner always feels they have agency when they play their turn.
Finally, make sure it’s a fun evening for everyone. It’s what board games are for anyway. It will be nice if the beginner enjoys the game and wants to play again. But you’ve not failed the gaming community if they decide it’s not for them. A fun evening with friends is one of the best parts of any board game, and that is what will often bring a beginner back for another go