NY Times tackles board games

I’m not a board gamer myself, but I found this article intriguing. It seemed like about as serious and respectful a take on the world of geekdom as you’re likely to see in the Times.

Anyway, I was curious as to what the board gamers among us think of the portrayal, and it also got me thinking about wading into the hobby. What’s a good place to start for a total novice, especially one hoping to recruit some equally novice friends to play with him?

Where do you live? If you live in a populated urban area, check www.boardgamegeek.com for conventions and other groups in your area. In any case, boardgamegeek is the online destination of board gamers all over the world and is very helpful for getting started with boardgaming.

Search the Geeklists for the word “gateway” and you’ll get plenty of lists of so called ‘gateway’ games that should be fine for novices. There are certain topics on there that may get you embroiled in a lot of controversy, so avoid saying things like “Monopoly is the greatest game ever”, “I like to game with my wife and I do everything possible to make sure she wins” 'There are too many WWII games", stuff like that.

Welcome to boardgaming! I’m a 24 year veteran of the hobby and still love it, in fact I’m going to the infamous Gathering of Friends for eight days of non-stop boardgaming. It’s a lot of fun, not a lot of money, and for the most part the people are very nice and friendly:)

The best thing is to look for an existing group near you and see if you can join. Finding one is the hardest part. Once you have a regular group of people to play with everything else should fall into place.

Although you don’t need to find a specific boardgaming group if (and I know this sounds strange) you already have friends. Assuming the friends are interested in boardgames enough to give 'em a good try, anyway.

For some, it is the fact that “themed” games exist and provide a bridge to things you already love (or think you might like) that create an entry point to boardgames. In my case (and that of my wife), Arkham Horror was our first “real” boardgame despite it being regarded as complex. For us, the intelligent use of the Lovecraft theme provided the hook we needed, and having mastered a game with a long set of instructions, we felt ready and able to take on other genres and games.

Other people are much more drawn in by clever mechanics, whether it is the “euro” game style of somewhat indirect competition with other players or the “ameritrash” style of direct confrontation through layered mechanics (those are not very good summaries, but it’s not really the either/or debate many will make it seem). I suggest paying close attention to the average game time of each one you look into, and the number of players people on the bgg actually recommend versus what’s on the box: it’s good to have a clear idea of how much you should set aside for each game, and sometimes just because X number can play the game doesn’t mean it’s an optimal experience or one suited for beginners. Once you have the game you are starting around, try to walk through a few sample rounds on your own before everyone else who’s new to the game shows up. Your friends will thank you.

Lastly, BGG is a great place to link up with vendors in your area. I have yet to go to a gathering of boardgamers, but having an extremely knowledgeable source of boardgames who can provide links to introductory games, open boxes so you can check out what they look like, and build upon your existing library in a way that leaves you many options. Then again, the wisest thing I’ve heard in this vein is “don’t buy more until you’ve played all that you have”, and that obvious restraint probably would have saved me piles of cash.

If you have friends who are interested, great, but my personal experience is that while I can get friends to play board games with me it’s done maybe twice a year. Finding a gaming club meant I’m now playing board games once or twice a week. If your friends are more enthusiastic than mine then that’s obviously not a problem but as with all hobbies it’s usually a lot easier to seek out people already interested than trying to convert others.

Also, a good gaming club usually has it’s own games or shares the cost of them among the members, so you can play more games while investing less money in them.

Articles like this are nice to see in the big publications, but this one, like most, is a fairly big failure. There’s always at least one huge gaffe (this time it was the description of Fairy Tale, which is most certainly not about creating a story), and one head-scratching game reference (does anyone know anyone who plays The Da Vinci Game?).

A big problem is not telling people where to buy these games. I can see someone noting a few games in here that sound interesting to beginning board gamers, like Pandemic or To Court The King, walking into their local Target, not finding anything, and that’s that. It’s nice that this article included the requisite link to Boardgamegeek, but even that site is pretty scary for people who are used to playing only Monopoly or Yahtzee. Someone like my mother, for example, wouldn’t make it past the cluttered home page.

The biggest failing of this (and most other mainstream articles like it) is how dismissive it is of the complexity of these sorts of games compared to stuff you find on the shelves at Target. Even relatively straighforward stuff like Pandemic is difficult to teach to people who are used to playing mainstream games and aren’t used to sitting through 15-60 minutes of rule explanation before the ball even gets rolling. They aren’t used to having to track a bunch of special powers and counters, or to sitting through a relatively long game where they actually have to think the entire time. Agricola is mentioned in this article, and while it is a very easy game to learn for people who play a lot of board games I can’t imagine what would happen if the average person cracked the lid, saw those hundreds upon hundreds of cards and wooden pieces, and started trying to explain rules that don’t fit on the bottom of a box lid. It would be a disaster with the potential for turning them off of board gaming completely, and it should be stressed more in these articles that you need to have a bunch of like-minded people or someone to guide you through if you want to experience today’s designer board games.

Now that’s how you do a board gaming article. An bonus points for teaching me how to pronounce Teuber – people will no longer think I’m talking about potatoes when I discuss him from now on.

I’m almost scared to hear what you do with Knizia.

No. It has 1 user comment and 10 owners on boardgamegeek. They most likely told the writer about Vinci which has 979 comments and 2164 owners, but the writer goofed.

A few links to online retailers who discount board games

www.funagain.com not great discounts but they are probably the most newbie friendly online gamestore, plus they’ve been in business a ton of years

www.thoughthammer.com good discounts, has a good reputation

www.timewellspent.org again good discounts, good rep

www.boardsandbits.com

www.gamesurplus.com they get in a lot of imports, as does funagain

www.bouldergames.com

As others mentioned I think game groups are a great way to get exposure to a lot of varied games without having to buy them yourself. If you want to get started right away and have some friend who are interested you couldn’t do much better than picking up some beer, pretzels, and Settlers of Catan and having a board gaming afternoon.

Settlers of Catan is gateway drug of the boardgaming world. ;)

www.boardgameprices.com is your best friend when shopping online. I avoid Funagain because their prices are generally through the roof, and although Thoughthammer used to be my go-to store their prices have crept up a lot in the past year. All the others mentioned are great, especially Bouldergames now that they offer free shipping on all orders of $100 or more.

A few others that I’ve had great luck with and that offer free shipping are www.superherogameland.com, www.fairplaygames and www.coolstuffinc.com. Keep in mind that these are often small mom-n-pop shops and most are more than willing to work with you on price matching, compiling an order until it meets the free shipping threshold, etc. if you just email them before ordering.

Those wacky Germans.

I have this annoying problem of hating the idea of playing generic party games yet becoming super competitive once I start. I’m an ugly American exactly as described by Wired. I wonder if more serious board games would help this or not affect it.

Not that I have any friends to play boardgames with, nor do I want to find a group. I’m still curious.

I’m fairly new to board-gaming myself, so these might not be the most informed suggestions. If you’re interested in Euro-games, which generally approximate to competitive city-builders, Settlers of Catan seems to be the most often entry point. I don’t much like Catan myself, and it did nothing to break me into the habit. I think Dominion is easier to learn and more fun, so I’d suggest starting there. After that, Agricola must be loved for a good reason, but looks pretty complicated (haven’t played it yet). Princes of the Renaissance and Puerto Rico are also pretty complicated but really satisfying and fun (Princes is my current favorite, but has one of the worst rule-books ever).

Knizia is famous for tile-laying games (or so I’m told) with simple mechanics that appeal to non-gamers as much as gamers. I’ve heard a lot of people say Lost Cities is the only game they can play with their significant other. Personally, I really enjoy his game Modern Art, an auctioning game about selling off paintings. Those games are much simpler than the Euro-games described above and may grow stale quicker because of that.

Dominion is the game that got me to start buying lots of board games. Now I play at least twice a week with my friends. If you do invest in a game and don’t like it, I’d recommend not giving up. There’s a lot of breadth to board games and you might have just gotten one that didn’t click.

Heh. Knizia is famous for designing games, period. He’s published hundreds of designs that range from simple dice games to some deep stuff like Taj Mahal and Tigris & Euphrates, and was one of the first people to be able to make a good living designing board games full time.

http://www.convivium.org.uk/kgludography.htm#

Thanks for all of the advice! I actually saw that Wired article a few weeks ago, and that piqued my interest as well. I’ll have to look into this - it seems like a really interesting hobby, but of course complicated by the fact that you need actual human beings to play with.

If you fear humans, you might try downloading Catan or Ticket To Ride on XBLA, where you can play against comfortable AIs or faceless homophobic racists, at your leisure.

As others mentioned, the “Euro games” are the best entry point into board gaming. I cannot warn you enough about avoiding the “big” board games if you and/or your gaming pals are new to the hobby. By “big” board game, I’m referring to games that take a long time to play (4+ hours; usually a lot more), have a lot of complex rules, and more pieces than you can fit back into the box it came in.

While these games are fun, they require a WHOLE different geek commitment level than the Euro games. Not only are they usually more deep and engrossing, but along with that comes lots of unaswnered rule questions, FAQs, rule versioning, misprints, updates you name it.

Exmaples of some of the more popular “big” games (and ones you’ll think look cool and want to jump into), and ones I only reccoemend playing if you play with a well-season gaming group:
[ul]
[li]Axis & Allies[/li][li]Anything from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG): Descent, Starcraft, Warcraft, Twilight Imperium, War of the Ring, Arkham Horror[/li][li]Civilization[/li][li]Titan[/li][li]Almost all war recreation games (Squad Leader, Panzer Blitz, Johnny Reb)[/li][li]Warhammer anything[/li][li]Many more…[/li][/ul]

Unless everyone in your group has played these games multiple times, your session will take 10+ hours to complete a game, guranteed.