Hang around board gaming Facebook groups long enough and you’ll soon see people asking what games to introduce to their non-gamer friends or family members (those can often be mutually exclusive). Or someone will share that Robert Downey Jr. meme where the poster signals his or her exasperation at a perceived judgment from their non-gamer acquaintances. It usually goes something like, “Yes, I play board games. No, not like Monopoly. No, they’re not for kids.” At any rate, I figured it was time to write some suggestions on not only what to introduce new hobbyist to but how to decide what to introduce to whom.
The first step is to know your “customer”
I was never a bartender. But I’ve sat at many a bar. A good bartender is not just someone behind the counter that knows what’s currently on tap or that an ideal pour into a glass need not be to the brim (stop overfilling my glass!). No, I contend a good bartender is one who can listen to your request for a beer they’re out of but still make a good suggestion of something similar. “Sorry, I’m all out of Ommegang Witte but I just got some Icelandic White Ale by Einstok that you may like. Let me pour you a sample.”
A good gaming host should be like a good bartender. Size up your new player and offer them a curated experience based on their tastes. Don’t bring Twilight Imperium to the table just because they happen to be fond of the Latin language or anthropomorphic cats. So how do you assess what your new player is like? Ask them for what games they played growing up and which they have the fondest memories. I assure you that almost everyone has played something at some point in their lives. War. Spades. Uno. Monopoly. Try not to laugh too hard at them for their basic replies. There is likely a time you hadn’t played “hobby” games yourself.
Here are 7 games to introduce to your basic friends.
1. Azul by Next Move Games/Plan B Games
Azul is an award-winning pattern-building game that is perfect for abstract thinkers. People who enjoy Sudoku or puzzles should feel fairly comfortable with Azul after just a few brief examples of how to play. I wrote a review of this game a while back and it still remains a favorite at my table. I have enjoyed it so much that I actually sought out solo variant rules so I could play Azul when I don’t have anybody to play Azul with!
There are other games, too, that have a similar pattern-building mechanism such as Bejeweled and it’s bajillion variations.
2. Onitama by Arcane Wonders
Everyone has heard of Chess and Checkers/Draughts. Grid movement games are practically as old as gaming itself is. The great thing about the 2-player Onitama game is that your available moves are limited. Unlike Chess, you have only two primary moves you can make at any given time. Based on the cards you have you decide which of your 5 pawns you’d like to move using one of the two cards and do it. Then you pass the card to your opponent and slide the reserve card into its spot. Now it’s your opponent’s turn. It’s a simple to learn as Checkers.
But there is something else about Onitama that makes it shine. It’s simple to learn, as I said, but there is a complex strategy you can develop over time. So the gamer who loves Chess will likely enjoy this game as much as the player who has little patience for the complexities of long-term strategy. Onitama is fast, accessible, and elegant. Reach for this one for people who are familiar with Chinese Checkers too.
3. Ticket To Ride by Days of Wonder
As a child I would often play Phase 10 and Rummy with my mom and dad. My mom was nearly unstoppable at Rummy mostly because of her lightning reflexes. My dad’s strength was his nearly eidetic memory and ability to recall who was holding what cards. Ticket to Ride is a bigger game than either of the previous two entries and perhaps a bit more complex. But it’s a good choice for gamers who like set collecting and perhaps also for people who like trains and/or geography.
4. Skull King by Grandpa Beck’s Games
Spades is another game that got a lot of mileage when I played cards with my older brother. It was a good game to play with a couple of players mostly because you could teach it just a few minutes and it uses a standard 52-card deck.
Hearts is one that I didn’t become familiar with until our family got our first Windows computer. Similar to Spades in trick-taking but you want to avoid the tricks and make your opponents take them instead. Unless you get lucky and shoot the moon. Skull King, although not quite as simple to grasp as Spades or Hearts, is a good starting place for anyone already familiar with the genre.
5. Jaipur by Asmodee
Like Uno and Skip-Bo, Jaipur is a game with a good blend of luck and skill. Unlike Uno or Skip-Bo though, Jaipur is only for 2 players. That being said, it’s a great choice for someone who wants to jump into hobby games but is apprehensive to do so in a larger setting.
Also, for the trivia buffs, the insert to this game is a bright pink because the city for which this game is named (Jaipur, India) is known as the Pink City due to its buildings’ primary color. Just don’t suggest this game to your friends who like going out for beer and trivia…this game is not for them.
6. Coup by Indie Boards and Cards
If your prospective target—err, gamer—is a Poker fan then Coup is a good start. A simple set up, straight-forward rules, and a low cost means the barriers to entry to this game are practically nonexistent. This is one of my favorite bluffing games. You can play it straight. Or you can bluff. Or you can feign bluffing. You can even counter-bluff an opponent’s bluff.
Even with 6 players, a hand rarely takes more than a couple of minutes. A hand always comes down to 2 final players in a face-off and the winner takes all (glory in the case of Coup but if you wanted to up the stakes…I don’t see why not). As with Poker, deduction and deception abound in Coup.
7. Sheriff of Nottingham by Arcane Wonders
Yeah, another entry by Arcane Wonders. I chose this one not because of any specific game that came to mind. But because the good Sheriff player tells elaborate stories when bringing their goods to the market and that reminds me so much of my childhood! Reduced to the most basic functions, all you’re really doing is putting cards into a velvet bag and, depending on what you included, hoping the Sheriff for that round does or does not inspect it. You hand over a piece of cardboard to sway his decision one way or another.
But if you use your imagination a bit more then you’re suddenly in a bustling city market trying to smuggle contraband black pepper into the market stalls alongside your totally legit chickens and apples. This game is ideal for anyone with an active imagination or for strong little liars. My kids are excellent at this game!
As I said in my introduction, “what games should I introduce to my non-gamer friends” is a common inquiry. It’s not a simple question to answer but it’s not too hard either. Remember Vizzini’s discussion with the Man in Black while discussing which goblet is poisoned?
But it’s so simple! All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy’s?
Don’t poison your friends. But consider who they are and what they like when deciding what to suggest. Maybe skip Onitama if they despise Chess. If you think they don’t like player elimination then don’t offer to play Coup. What titles would you add to this list of “7 Games to Introduce to Your BASIC Friends”?