Do As I Don’t is a series of mistakes I’ve made when introducing friends and loved-ones to games, so that nobody else has to replicate my stupid, stupid, oh, so incredibly stupid decisions.
I literally have no idea why I’m doing what I’m doing.
The first time I tried to teach a modern boardgame to my friends was a disaster. I had recently fallen in love with the hobby when, after a summer spent playing Scrabble and Life, some of my online buddies introduced me to Shut Up & Sit Down and I found a world of games that spoke to my inner competition junkie. I was hooked instantly, and quickly began building a small collection of games I was dying to get to the table. Which brings me to the time I brought Space Cadets to my friends’ apartment to play for the first time.
Space Cadets is a brilliant co-operative game which places players as the crew of a poorly-functioning space ship trying to complete a fairly simple task which gets complicated by the crew’s total ineptitude. Filled with seemingly-simple minigames that each player takes part in, the basic tasks become beautiful chaos when a time limit and the distraction of the ship’s core melting down lead to hilarious failure after hilarious failure. Everyone on the team gets to watch and see the weapons officer spend 15 seconds lining up a shot with his little wooden disk — that’s right, a physical disk-flicking challenge is how you fire on enemy ships — only to choke and nudge it two inches forward, well short of a hit. It is one of the most fun and unique experiences you can have with a bunch of cards and cardboard.
My friends wouldn’t know that.
This was my first time teaching a “complicated” game to someone other than my then-girlfriend, and much like the weapons officer, I choked big time. Embarrassed by the “nerdy” theme, and worried that teaching all of these mechanics that they had never seen in a boardgame before — programming movements with cards; feeling in a bag to find pieces of a certain shape — I flew through the rules explanation. I mentioned our roles as spaceship crew in passing, and taught the basics of each mini-game to the extent I was sure they could be played adequately. What I didn’t dwell on was why she was loading those tetrominos from the bag, or where exactly he was supposed to be programming us to go with those cards. I had read all about this game online, and watched Let’s Plays and I just knew that once the game started the madcap insanity would speak for itself and we would all be having a great time by the end of the third round.
We didn’t make it to the end of the third round.
By neglecting to properly dive into the nuances of the different stations I had failed to make clear what they should be hoping to accomplish on their turns. By underselling the story of a crew struggling to make their ship do what they want in order to complete their most simple of missions I gave them no motivation for why they should have been trying to accomplish those tasks.
In short, I gave the game no chance to succeed on its own merits. An unwillingness to be open to a new experience outside of their comfort zone is the worst game-killer that a new player can possibly possess. A built in assumption that unwillingness is present in your friends is the worst game-killer you can bring to the table when teaching them.
If you don’t think your group is ready to approach a game with an open mind, don’t take it out in the first place. Play something you think will be more-positively received and save the questionable game for another night when its chances for success are greater. If, however, you look at a game and think “This is something my group will have a great time playing,” the least you can do is give them the chance to. Embrace the theme and teach the necessary mechanics so that nobody ever finds themselves like my friend above, not playing the game, but instead doing what she was told to do because she was told to do it.
A game night filled with players with no interest in learning or engaging with the game on the table is a guaranteed bad night — please don’t ever assume that’s what’s ahead of you before you even start.