Imagine with me for a minute…
Your co-worker rounds the corner into the breakroom as they nonchalantly ask you about your weekend. You explain that you were up to your usual activities: grocery shopping, some various errands, and then the words escape your lips, “I played some board games with some friends.” You feel uneasy as you realize what you just said, “Oh no, not again,” you think to yourself as panic quickly grabs your mind. You have just mentioned board games and all these conversations usually end the same, dread hangs in the air for a split second. “Oh, you mean like Monopoly?” they respond in a chipper tone and flash a quick inquisitive expression. Your heart sinks, “Well, not really. We played Settlers of Catan,” you lie through your teeth but you are fishing for the chance they have at least heard of it. “I haven’t heard of anything like that but my brothers and I used to play LIFE.”
Your legs feel weak and your joints ache, surely you can turn this around and lead the conversation back. “I think everyone has played those but…” you try to recover but they interrupt you excited by the prospect of talking about their experiences. “I remember playing Candyland with grandma when I was a little kid.” Beads of sweat build up on your brow, you feel sick to your stomach and the words Candyland, Monopoly, and LIFE ring in your ears. A fog settles over you, your thoughts incoherent and your heart beat getting faster; you struggle to maintain consciousness, you strain as you hear the words Clue and Guess Who?. Surely the world cannot be this cruel, surely it cannot be this unforgiving; these are your thoughts before your vision goes dark.
Now I’m sure everyone has an experience just as dramatic and scarring as this but sharing your cardboard addiction with others can be a daunting and difficult task filled with tip toeing and vague descriptions of games you enjoy. So, what can we do about that? Well luckily I have devised a simple acronym that I use to introduce people into the world of board games. And that acronym is W.T.F. Now before you think what I think you’re thinking, let me explain. W.T.F. or (Why, Time, and Fun) is the logic I use when making recommendations or am trying to introduce board games to people. Obviously this isn’t scientifically proven and is mostly my opinion that I have came up with after several years of working at a game store working with people to help them have an enjoyable time playing games. Without further ado, let’s start with Why.
Why is it your favorite game? Why do you dedicate time in your day to a board game? Why would I bother trying a new game when the ones I already own are already some of my favorites? Why board games instead of something else? These are all great questions that we need to ask ourselves and think about when we want to show the wonderful world of board games with others. If you can understand exactly why you or your friends play the games you do you can start to understand more about what makes them work. Things like theme, mechanics, complexity, player count, time requirement, social pressure, and many others.
For people to start playing games there needs to be a reason why. Maybe their friends play games; I started playing games because my older brothers played games and it looked like fun and I wanted to be included. My wife is someone who will try any game as long as she likes the art style, although I don’t make an entire decision based off of that assessment but everyone has a little different taste and how they evaluate things as being worthy of being played. I posit “Why” as the first step to involving others into board games. I’ll share a quick story that illustrates the importance of Why.
So in the context of a friend asking you about board games that may show some interest, ask yourself “Why would they want to play a game?”, “What would they be interested in that board games could offer?” Trying to answer the why of someone can be difficult depending on how much you know them but knowing what they do in their free time might be the ticket to getting someone involved. The reason why someone plays needs to be organic and there needs to be a drive for that person to play, otherwise they will just end up frustrated and disappointed. You may end up playing a few too many games of Ticket to Ride but these open the door for more excited players and more games.
It’s something that all of us meticulously try to balance but always seem to not have enough of. Time is an extremely important factor in a board game, in the world of instant streaming of music and video, social media, video games, and all kinds of “instant” entertainment. Many times people say “Ah I just don’t have the time.” or “I don’t know if that might take too long.” Even as someone who plays and owns a collection of board games even I say that; I may go as far as saying “I don’t have the time” and then proceed to spend an hour and a half watching a YouTube video about a guy in the woods building a cabin from pretty much scratch. Honestly, a lot of board games can be quite quick and some are even made to fit in small packages so they take little to almost no time to set up. It’s important to think of time constraints when giving recommendations or introducing games to people, obviously breaking out Diplomacy or Twilight Imperium at a small gathering with friends when you’ve only got around an hour or so to play games is a good way to make your friends not like board games. But even games that are “quicker” may not be as quick as one might think; complexity of the rules, set up time, how long it takes per turn or per action are important things to think about.
Now more than the time it takes for one game you should also think “Can this game be played on a semi-regular basis?” It’s fairly easy to pressure someone into playing one game with you but to get them to come back and make a habit of it has a lot to do with when you play. If you can mange to find a game that fits their time requirements then they may in the future start to prioritize board games more and put aside more time and play a more diverse group of games. Case in point, I had a customer a few years back come to me and say the words everyone who sells something wants to hear “I’m looking for a game to play, do you have any recommendations?” She was looking for a game that took about an hour or so that was fairly simple and maybe a “beer and pretzels” kind of game that isn’t a party game. More specifically she wanted a game to play at a weekly get together with some friends. With a quick explanation and demo a copy of Settlers of Catan walked out the door. Several weeks later they kept having these regular get togethers and overtime she got the expansions, and then Ticket to Ride, then Tiny Towns, and so forth. Make regular timed events and keep the games that are played appropriately timed.
And lastly, a game has to be fun. Like the former Nintendo President and CEO of Nintendo Reggie Fils-Aimé once said, “If it’s not fun, why bother?” Fun comes in all flavors whether it’s the way a mechanic works or the feel good moments you get when you play a sweet combo. Simply put, without fun a game is not worth playing. It doesn’t mean you have to be grinning from ear to ear and filled to the brim with excitement every time you play Splendor and in a lot of cases I wonder if Sam is still alive halfway through most games of Splendor. Fun for me is getting a good deal buying a power plant in Power Grid for a good price, or harvesting a good crop of soybeans in Bohnanza. To people who don’t play board games these probably sound like the most mundane and boring tasks imaginable but for me it’s things I look forward to. Finding what’s fun to others can be difficult but the beautiful thing about board games is that within the past decade the type and variety of board games has increased dramatically. I think also more than just the game as well; it’s important to make the game fun for those people you play with, and that’s going to look different for every play group but it’s important to think about before taking a game off the shelf.
Conclusion – W.T.F.
These are some of the biggest points to think about and employ when trying to get people involved in board games and more importantly enjoy each other’s company and to have fun. Especially in this upcoming holiday season as it’s a prime time to start another tradition with friends, family, and others. So remember when someone asks about board games think (probably not say) W.T.F, answer why they would want to play, what time do they have to play and could it be regular, and finally, have fun with it. Games are meant to be fun and as someone who sees the back end of how games are made and keeping track of games in the industry, sometimes it can be easy to miss the forest for the trees and what it’s like not knowing hardly anything about board games. So have fun out there and with some luck and the right questions you may find yourself in front of a good game and good company.