How I “tricked” a loved one into taking up board games.
A few months ago, I met up with my boyfriend at Symonds Yat. As well as a picnic, I also packed a small, pocket-sized box. Beautiful scenery. Gorgeous weather. It felt like the right time. They say you just know, don’t they? I reached the box out of my bag and opened it slowly. There they were: ornately cut gems. A million thoughts ran through my head all at once. What if he said no? Would the people around us start applauding if he said yes? I popped the question:
“Fancy A Game Of The Fox In The Forest Duet?”
Ok, maybe I’ve overplayed the scene for dramatic effect. For context, my boyfriend and I live two hours away from each other. When lockdown restrictions were eased in April, we would meet up at a halfway point every other weekend. The Wye Valley was often the location, going for a nice long walk and then a drink in a beer garden. Sitting indoors wasn’t an option, so entertainment was limited. Once he agreed to play, I explained the rules and we had our first game. This was the start of me introducing him to board games. Yes, I realise The Fox in the Forest Duet is more of a trick-taking card game, but it does also have a board. It counts.
It seemed logical to me that he would enjoy board games. We have a lot of the same interests. He likes puzzles, quizzes, and plays video games too. Introducing board games just felt like the next step. A cooperative game also felt like a nice way into the hobby. Instead of being super competitive, we’d work together. It’s also a very short game. I didn’t want to bombard him with lots of rules and complications.
We won our first game but realised we’d made a slight error with the rules. We played it again, and another six times after that. Once we got back to near the car park, we played another twice. We talked about other games we’d be able to try once the world was back to normal. It felt like a success (I had learned what succeeding in our relationship felt like early on. Instead of wishing me a happy six-month anniversary, he congratulated me on passing the probation period of our relationship.) After that, we tried a couple of card games. We tried the competitive version of The Fox in the Forest, as well as The Mind. The Mind was an immediate success. Once we found our rhythm, we were completing it comfortably. We enjoyed playing The Fox in the Forest too (until he started beating me every single time). Maybe sticking with cooperative games was the way forward. We then started to play games online, playing Pandemic and Hanabi on Board Game Arena, as well as playing Codenames Duet. Often it would be him asking me to play rather than the other way around. Then came the next step: purchasing a board game with him in mind.
A couple of months ago, I was invited down on his family’s holiday to Cornwall. As it was over Halloween, I purchased a copy of Horrified. A lot of the mechanics are like that of Pandemic, so it felt like a safe choice. We stayed in one afternoon and read the rules and played it using the monsters recommended for your first attempt. We won comfortably, so we played it again straight away, this time with three monsters chosen at random. From then we made time for it every single day, even if it was only one game. Also, a card game of some description would always be taken out in case we found a nice pub on our travels.
Thinking about this journey made me wonder if there is a right way of introducing loved ones to board games if they aren’t already part of the hobby. My first suggestion is to choose a cooperative game as a first game. I know that Pandemic is the classic gateway game for a lot of people, and honestly, I think it’s the ideal game for that reason. Because you’re working together, it is an easier model for teaching than competitive games. As I mentioned, Horrified has similar mechanics (plus a slightly better theme given the last couple of years we’ve all had) and would also be a great choice.
Secondly, card games can be an equally effective way of introducing board games. I think if I’d gone gung-ho into a game with lots of components and possible actions, it would do more harm than good. The Fox in the Forest Duet was an ideal game because essentially the only choice you’re making is if you want to win or lose a trick. There’s also the stillness and quiet that comes with the game. I can’t tell him what’s in my hand and vice versa. When we play Pandemic or Horrified, the competitive player in me sometimes tries to make me take charge. That can’t happen in cooperative trick-taking games, which makes it feel like an actual team effort.
Thirdly, it’s important to go at their pace rather than yours. As a more seasoned gamer, it’s easier for me to jump from playing an abstract strategy game to a heavier euro. However, my boyfriend is happy sticking to the handful of games he knows. I’m sure he will broaden his horizons at some point, but I’m not going to push him to do so right now.
Finally, but most importantly, is to not put too much importance on their interest in board games. If that first game in the pub garden hadn’t sparked an interest in the hobby, that would have been completely fine. Just the willingness to give it a go was enough for me. Fortunately, that one game in the Wye Valley led us to this point a few months later. He’s even made his first purchase, and we are taking HIS copy of Bandida away with us this weekend.
Who knows, maybe we will be brave enough to venture into more competitive games. Unless, of course, he beats me as often as he does on The Fox and the Forest. I’m sure he won’t though, after all… I might have passed my probation; the jury is still out on him*.
*This is of course a joke, I’m not that petty.