I have always been a geek. I’ve never felt ashamed of it, but I did struggle through my school years. and well into my 20s, with constantly being surrounded by people who could not understand that geekiness. Even some of my best friends still don’t fully understand my obsession with fandoms or gaming after a decade of knowing each other. (Fortunately, we don’t judge each other on that basis alone.)
In short, I know all too well how lonely it can be as the sole geek amid a sea of people. But I also know it’s possible to introduce those same people to the amazing world of geekdom — and specifically, board games. Frankly, I think gaming is probably one of the easiest gateways to all kinds of nerdy fun.
Some people are perfectly OK getting thrown straight into the deep end and swimming (or, you know, gaming). But in a lot of cases, it’s easier to convince people to dip their toes in the water first and ease them in.
But before you can start playing games with people, you need to find them. An obvious place to find potential fellow gamers is your place of work. You see them regularly, you probably have some sort of friendship with at least one of them. (There are plenty of other places to meet people, though, including at conventions, the Internet, get-togethers with other friends, the Internet, local book clubs, the Internet, etc. You get the picture.)
I actually went and did some Googling to see what others have said about gaming at work. Most of them recommend games like “Photoshop tennis” or “invisible string.” That’s not quite what I had in mind, which just kind of reinforces my suspicion that not enough people play board games. The rest of what I could find is your usual lengthy game fare for people who have played board games for a long time — Monopoly, Catan, etc.
I don’t think that’s the best way to introduce your colleagues to the wonderful world of board-gaming. And those certainly work for people you meet outside the office. In thinking about what kind of games are the best gateway titles, I had to narrow down the field. A lot. So I focused on what criteria I felt were most important, which would make a game easy for a newbie gamer to grasp and allow you to play it almost anywhere, any time.
My qualifications for games appropriate for introducing people to gaming for the first time are pretty simple:
- The game needs to play in less than an hour. A half hour is preferable. Think lunchbreak length.
- The game should not be a party game. That means no Cards Against Humanity.
- The game should be best suited for 3-4 people. More than that and playtimes go up, it’s hard to teach everyone, etc.
- The games should be rather compact — no bulky boxes, giant boards or complicated setups.
- Keep the rules simple. If you have to constantly reference the rule book or you have to juggle multiple stats, it’s probably not a good choice. (Checking the book for score-keeping is a different matter entirely.)
- Make sure it’s a game you’re familiar and comfortable with, or one you can at least learn the rules for quickly.
That’s it. That’s all you really need for a good game that your coworkers and friends are going to love.
So which games made the cut? Let’s get on with it already:
1. Sushi Go
I love Sushi Go! I really, really do. It is fun and cute, and quick to play. I’ve had success introducing non-gamer friends to gaming with it. There’s zero set-up beyond dealing the cards, and you can keep score on your phone or on a scrap of paper, depending on what’s available.
Sushi Go! is a card-passing game where you’re collecting different types of sushi (and sushi-related menu items). It’s almost like a conveyor belt of dishes sliding past your table where you grab whatever you want. The game plays in three rounds, with most of the points tallied at the end of the round (there’s one card you collect that is only tallied after all 3 rounds).
Since it plays quickly and it’s food themed, I think Sushi Go! is the perfect lunchtime game. In my experience the hardest part will be getting people to understand the scoring, but usually after 1 round of play they get how the game works.
Tsuro almost didn’t make the cut because 1. It works for up to 8 players, and 2. It has a decent-sized board. But despite that, it plays super quick and the setup is almost nonexistent. The board will fit on all but the smallest of tables.
The premise of the game is shockingly simple: Everyone is a dragon, who must follow a path determined by the tiles you lay down. Your goal is to be the last one left on the board. Every turn you lay a tile and progress further. Just make sure you don’t accidentally run yourself off the board or run into another player.
Not only is this an easy, fun game for beginners, but it’s great in situations where there are a lot of distractions (like small children, or other people popping in and out, or loud noises).
Bonus: Require all players to make “nyooooooom” sounds on their turn.
3. Zombie Dice
Zombie Dice is so simple I barely consider it a game. It’s low-investment and plays as many people as you want. I almost want to classify it as a party game — but unlike a lot of party games, which often just go until you all get bored, there’s a very clear end to Zombie Dice. I think it’s a good way to catch the attention of some of your bored coworkers or break the ice at a social gathering.
In Zombie Dice, you and your fellow players are the zombies. Your objective is to get brains, while avoiding shotgun blasts. And so, on your turn, you roll 3 dice. The dice might reveal brains (yay! nom!), footprints (your target got away, boo!), or shotgun blasts (ow!). Each time you’ll roll 3 dice (re-rolling any footprints as necessary and drawing new dice from the cup). It’s very much a game of “press your luck” — stop before you hit 3 shotgun blasts and you get to keep any brains you collect. Get hit 3 times and you lose any brains collected on that turn — and then you have to start all over.
Rolling dice frequently can be a bit noisy. A dice mat will reduce the noise —- or just play in an environment that already has some ambient noise going on. This is the perfect game to play at the table in a restaurant, while you’re waiting for your meal, or waiting for the check.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’re probably tired of hearing about Carcassonne! But it is a really good starter game. It’s far less intensive than Catan, and while you do need a decent amount of table space to play, it’s a fairly compact box (especially if you opt for the travel edition).
Your goal is to lay down tiles and claim cities, pastures, roads, and cloisters for your own. All of these will give you points, but beware another player hijacking what you’ve built! You also only have a limited number of Meeple you can use to stake your claim, so you need to manage your resources effectively.
There’s a lot of variations of this medieval-inspired game now, including a kid-friendly My First Carcassonne, Carcassonne: South Seas, Carcassonne: Winter Edition, and the expansions: Inns & Cathedrals, and Traders & Builders.
5. Bang! the Dice Game
Bang! is still one of my all-time favorite games, but that may be because it was one of my first. Bang! The Dice Game carries on the spirit of the original, but it plays much faster.
One player is the sheriff, and everyone else is either a deputy, an outlaw, or the renegade. Each player has their own agenda — for the Sheriff, it’s to stay alive, and for the Renegade, it’s to be the last man standing. The outlaws just want to kill the Sheriff, and the deputies need to keep the Sheriff alive (and preferably not get killed in the process).
Instead of drawing and playing cards, you roll a set of dice to determine what actions you can take. It’s not just adapting the game for a new format, either — the dice variant also introduces a new gameplay mechanism with its Indian tokens.
As an alternative, you can try Bang! Samurai Sword, which does away with player elimination and also speeds up gameplay.
6. 7 Wonders
7 Wonders is not a game that you want to play at the office unless you have some colleagues who already grasp gaming. Like Sushi Go!, it’s something that newbie players are going to likely have trouble understanding until they’ve completed a round or two. It also isn’t the most portable game out there. You need table space (and a LOT of it), and it will be to your advantage to keep all the pieces neatly stored and organized.
But if you’re at home or somewhere else with at least a moderately sized table, this is a really good starter game. It goes quickly, everyone makes their decisions at the same time, and the rules are relatively easy to grasp (and forgiving if you forget a couple now and then).
The goal is pretty simple: Be the person with the most victory points at the end of the game. The theme is historical — set in the ancient world, at the site of each of the 7 wonders (the Pyramids at Giza, the Library at Alexandria, the Colossus at Rhodes, etc.) Each turn, you’ll pick a card from your hand and play it to help build up an important aspect of your civilization. Gather natural resources to construct your wonder. Build up military power, or focus on trade, the sciences, or guilds. Every player can choose a different strategy, but you need to keep an eye on what the players around you are doing, for trade or military purposes.
I’m relaxing my criteria here to include this game, but that’s because it’s one of my favorites and it’s easy to learn. And once you have gotten the hang of it, you can add the expansions to make the game even more interesting.
Timeline is a great little card game to carry around with you. It’s small and it plays quickly. It can also accommodate anywhere from just 2 players to 8. But it’s not really a party game because it will definitely end at some point. I also like that there are so many variants of it. You can really tailor the game to your interests, whether you’re good with a wide range of topics, American pop culture, or movies and music.
The whole idea is to get rid of your cards by laying them out in the correct order in a communal timeline. Any time you make a mistake, you replace a card in your hand. The first person to run out of cards wins.
I love how portable Timeline is. You need some sort of space to lay the cards, but the cards themselves are fairly tiny (I’ve played it at small restaurant booths before with no problem).
8. Deck Building
Deck Building: The Deck Building Game is a 2-player game only. It’s also incredibly meta (in case you didn’t get that from the title). I didn’t think I’d enjoy it when I first heard of it, and so I put off playing the game for a while. I should have known better — it’s designed by Greater Than Games, the same people who made Sentinels of the Multiverse (also an incredible game, but not something I recommend as a gateway game), and they are generally pretty awesome.
The whole premise is that you’re in suburbia, so naturally you want to build the best deck in the neighborhood. So you’ll collect the best materials, stain your deck, and build railings. It seems innocuous, but throw in the fact that you can build onto your neighbor’s deck using rotten timbers (and stain them, to prevent your neighbor from building over them) and you can inflict lots of pain upon the other player.
Deck Building is very simple to learn and it plays quickly. This particular genre of games tends to be pretty complex, so this is a great primer before you move onto other games like Tanto Cuore or Dominion.
How to Introduce Your Friends to Gaming
Trying to convert some of your colleagues, non-gaming friends, and people you’ve just met into gaming fans can seem like a daunting challenge. Trust me, I know. The good news is that if you’re already friendly with them, they’re probably willing to give gaming a shot! All you have to do is ask. Maybe let them see you playing a game with someone else. (This is why I like travel-sized games.)
Where to Play Board Games
So you’ve found some people who might want to play tabletop games with you! Now it’s time to decide where (and when) to meet up.
- Lunch breaks are a great opportunity to play games, especially if you have a decent-sized breakroom and some coworkers you hang out with regularly. You might even find that your job schedules some events where people are free to relax or celebrate a special occasion — happy hours, holidays, potlucks, etc. These are also wonderful chances to make friends and get some gaming in without creating any sort of pressure.
- If gaming on the job isn’t an option, you can still get together with some of your coworkers (or other acquaintances to play games. Try a coffee shop (my favorite shop has a back room with larger tables that are great for gaming, and occasionally has late-night hours) or even a local game shop (my favorite game shop has an entire room just filled with tables and chairs and has open gaming nights). This takes off some of the pressure for everyone because you’re meeting in neutral territory.
- If you’re like me and the idea of hosting events actually makes you excited, go for it! Invite a couple of coworkers over to your place to play some board games. Break out the drinks and snacks, maybe some mood music.
Game Night Organizing Tips
Some other things to bear in mind:
- Keep the gathering small. Parties are great if you’ve got several people who know how to play games and don’t mind breaking off into different groups, or you have a selection of party games. However, a lot of tabletop games are designed more for groups of 3-6. I think 4-5 people total is a good number and will give you a wide variety of games to choose from, and it won’t be too overwhelming for someone who’s new to gaming.
- Alcohol and gaming go together pretty well. And alcohol is an excellent social lubricant. So if you’re hosting game night, be sure to provide something to drink, or encourage your colleagues to bring something. And don’t forget some snacks!
- Have patience. Be willing to help your new friends understand a game and make the best move for them. They’ll feel far more welcome and involved than if you leave them to fend for themselves.
- Have fun! Seriously, this is the most important part. Make sure everyone is having a good time.
Finding new people to play board games with doesn’t have to be difficult! The odds are really good that the people you already know might be willing to give board games a try. Whether you invite your coworkers to play a game with you at lunch time, visit the game room at a local convention, or meet up with people you met online, there’s plenty of new gaming friends to be made!
How have you introduced people to gaming before? Which games are your favorites to play work or on the go?