Tuesday, 23 September 2008

evening game session, introducing newbies

Han was back in KL on a short working trip, and we took the opportunity to organise a gaming session on Sat 20 Sep 2008 evening. I rarely have game sessions in the evening, but since Han had to work during the day, evening or not, we were not going to miss the opportunity to play. We also invited Sui Jye and Jing Yi.

We played R-Eco, Pickomino, Blokus 3D, Tribune, Lord of the Rings, Diamant, and Category 5. So, very much a focus on simpler and newbie-friendly games, with two "main courses", Tribune and Lord of the Rings, in the middle. My approach was let the new friends try different types of games, and then have them tell us what type of games they liked. Sui Jye liked Ticket to Ride and Pandemic from last time, thus Lord of the Rings this time. Jing Yi liked Risk Express from last time because she "doesn't need to think too much", thus Pickomino this time. Tribune came out mainly because of my own eagerness to play it. It was a new purchase from my recent trip to Melbourne which I had not had the opportunity to play yet. In hindsight, I probably should not have gambled and foisted this on newbies. They were a bit lost because there were too many options in the game. In contrast, they liked Lord of the Rings and felt it to be simpler, because each turn there are limited number of things to do. You must draw an event tile, and then you can (a) play cards, (b) draw cards, or (c) heal yourself one step. I think Lord of the Rings is a difficult game to learn by yourself, but in our situation there was me, an experienced player, to take care of the nitty gritty details and remind the newbies of rules. Also it is a cooperative game, i.e. open discussions, which means it is much less daunting in terms of learning to play.

Han, Sui Jye and Jing Yi playing Blokus 3D. This template was the Wall template, an L-shaped template.

Han, Sui Jye and Jing Yi playing Tribune. This was a first game for everyone.

I hope both Sui Jye and Jing Yi will become gamers and regular kaki's (players). Good thing that they live quite nearby. Thus far, having had 2 game sessions with them, they seem to be interested. Now that I am introducing some new players to the hobby, I started thinking about it, about how to entice people to get into the hobby, and what are the best ways of doing so, what are the best gateway games. Then I read this excellent article on Boardgamenews by Matt Thrower, and I found it to be very true. Two important things that I learned (or realised) from reading the article:

1. Some people just aren't going to be gamers, and some just aren't going to like playing the games you like to play. When I started getting into the boardgaming hobby in 2003 in Taiwan, I was very successful in creating interest among my colleagues, and we played very often, even over lunch time at work. After I came back to Malaysia, I have so far been unsuccessful in creating a regular gaming group like I had in Taiwan. Han was already a gamer when I knew him. Jeanne is interested but has now moved to Australia. There have been a number of other friends who have played with me, but very few were keen enough to be playing regularly. So, I now realise that although I should try to introduce people to the hobby, if the interest is just not there after the first session, then there's no point in keeping on trying to convert the same friend. Better chance at trying other friends who have never had the exposure before.

2. There is no such thing as a gateway game that will make a person who won't like playing boardgames otherwise like it. This is not to say that lower complexity games are no good / not useful in introducing newbies to the hobby. They are still suitable to bring out to show newbies what these games are like, to give them a taste. However I think one need not keep playing only "gateway games" with newbies for the first few gaming sessions. In fact it may be a bad thing, lest they think that these are the best that the hobby has to offer. I almost did not get into the German game thingy after I played Carcassonne for the first time. It was very different from the Ameritrash games that I was familiar with at that time. But of course now I'm very much into German / Euro games, and Carcassonne has later become one of my favourites after I started appreciating it.

I think it is OK to introduce medium complexity games to newbies. Lord of the Rings worked out well enough. I have introduced Amun-Re to relatively new players, and that worked out OK. I think Puerto Rico worked out OK too. If the newbie is keen to play, he/she will be able to handle this kind of complexity. Of course, I wouldn't go so far as to bring out Die Macher. If a newbie is not keen to play, then even Carcassonne will be a challenge for him/her to enjoy. In that case, you might as well not play games and do something else that everyone can enjoy.

In introducing new players to the hobby, I think it is more important to select the type of games that you think they will enjoy. Complexity level should be a secondary consideration. Don't underestimate your friends. No point in selecting a game that they can play. Select a game they can enjoy playing.


Aik Yong said...

haha, matt thrower's article struck a chord with me as well. I terms of separating a gamer and a non-gamer, no amount of 'complex' and 'gateway' games can help to distinguish them. A gamer will just take anything you throw at him/her and a non-gamer will just deflect everything.

The only thing is that a non-gamer will TOLERATE playing a gateway game with you once a blue moon and will not invite you over for a party next time if you spring Age of Steam on them. hehe

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

that's very true. some friends will be willing to play and will enjoy themselves too when you bring games out during gatherings, but they are just not so "into it" that they'd do regular gaming sessions. i have invited some of these friends to my sessions, but after a while i don't bother inviting them anymore and just stick to those who really are gamers.