Saturday, March 14, 2015

So You’re Interested in Playing Cooler Board Games: Handy Tips Before Diving In

Posted By on Sat, Mar 14, 2015 at 9:08 PM

click to enlarge NATE WARREN
  • Nate Warren
Most people have been casual board gamers their whole lives and are comfortable with tearing through a few pages of rules and ironing out the kinks with their first few plays. If you’re one of these folks, your enthusiasm for tackling hobby or designer board games might be considerably dampened the first time you see a 12- or 20-page rulebook. It’s enough to drive you right back to the exquisite contours of your PS4 controller. Or worse, Cards Against Humanity

Are you ready to have some friends over and marvel at just how cool board game design has become? Dive in with these three important things in mind:

Box art means nothing.
When I first started buying designer games, the 12-year-old in me was naturally drawn to sci-fi and fantasy boxes, preferably ones that promised combat. When I went into a game shop, everything else was edited out of my vision. So I consciously overrode my inner pre-teen, started reading a wide range of game reviews, and browsed more games that offered themes and looks I wouldn’t have given a second thought to before.

Without correcting my natural bias, I never would have discovered Power Grid, whose cover depicts a power plant worker standing in front of a bank of instruments. Lame, right? Wrong! Power Grid turned out to be awesome, an elegant triple-layer strategy cake that includes auctions, area control and a really cool supply market mechanism that is a wonder to see in action. (I’ll be giving you a more in-depth introduction to this Euro classic in a future post.)

I never would have thought before of tracking down the now out-of-print Pax Porfiriana, whose cards are so ugly and cluttered with information it defies belief, yet delivers a playing experience so bracing that we’ve devoted a regular Thursday night session to playing it.

Box art and theme tell you virtually nothing about what is going to happen and how a board game is going to feel the first time you break it out with your friends and see its peculiar dynamics at work.

Your friends are the most important component.
Let’s say you’ve read a ton of reviews and you’ve decided on a game that’s perfect for you. That’s next to meaningless if you don’t have a good group to learn and play with you.

Do you have a friend who takes losses personally? Know any overly competitive people or someone who just doesn’t have the bandwidth to see a symphony of strategy to its crescendo? Or can’t set their phone down long enough to understand what’s happening on the board? If so, your “perfect” game is going to suck, guaranteed.

Good friendship is the loam from which good board gaming grows. The social dimension is the intangible that enables the whole enterprise. Take a good look at your friends. Do you think they have the IQ, integrity and patience to play hard and fair through a game that might take them a whole session before they get their heads entirely wrapped around it? This appraisal will tell you more about whether or not you’ll enjoy hobby games than any review ever will.

If you’re dying to try these games and just don’t think you have the right group, go visit the group that gets together at Enchanted Realms  (6799 Bismark Road, Ste. A). They welcome newbies and their deep collections will give you a chance to see the variety of experiences inside a game box before you spend your first dollar or beg your first acquaintance to play with you.

Learn the rules.
There may be one more hurdle between you and the rich rewards of modern board gaming: all those rules and pieces. Trust me, they’re worth mastering; but there’s a method to tackling the process that won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed — and your friends bored and irritated.

Luckily, I don’t have to tell you what this method is, because I couldn’t imagine doing it any better than Jonathan Wolf of islaythedragon.com, who delivered this superb guide for taming the complexity of learning new board games.

We often refer to the well-patrolled forums of BoardGameGeek.com, where there’s a community for nearly every board game ever published. Are you sideways with your playmates about a rules question? Many a night, we’ve found our precise question answered in their forums.

How well you teach the game will have a huge impact on whether anybody wants to play it with you again. The quality of folks at the table will have a huge impact on whether or not you ever want to play with them again. So go forth, do your research, find some accessible, middleweight games that sound interesting — and some good folks to play them with. And if all else fails, keep reading this blog. I’ll be featuring lots of accessible games that can tear the lid off your conception of what a board game can do and draw you deeper into the best social hobby on the planet.

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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