The holidays seem like a great time to share our adventure gaming hobby with others, especially those not yet initiated into such enjoyable entertainments. Families spend time visiting, we receive games as gifts, kids have a few weeks off from school, and we seek some sense of the season’s fantastic wonder in escapist games. We’re often sorely tempted to invite non-gamers to try our latest pursuits, often prompted by queries of “Hey, what’s that?” upon unwrapping a new acquisition or “That looks neat, can I play?” as we show off our game libraries or peruse our rulebooks. But sharing our adventure game hobby with the uninitiated through a positive play experience takes a bit of restraint
What went wrong? I think we were doomed from the start by a few
problems gamers don’t always take into account when sharing their
hobby with newcomers. (They’re also issues I see occasionally at
game conventions where, even among gamers, exposure to a new game or
system can seem overwhelming despite the referee’s experience and
enthusiasm...or perhaps because of that.) In some cases we were
trying to run games we’d just received as gifts, so we didn’t
really have time to immerse ourselves in the rules, run a few
practice games, and get a good handle on how to run or explain the
rules. These games frequently run several hours, far more time than
we actually had and way longer than some of our attention spans.
Sometimes the games are just far beyond the ability for newcomers to
comprehend and play, let alone enjoy. It’s an issue I’ve faced
recently trying to introduce my young son – and other kids under
the age of eight – to various games that might engage them.
So how do we handle non-gamers asking to try out our new
game-related holiday present? How do we give in to our urge to share
our adventure gaming hobby in a positive way without overwhelming the
uninitiated? Here are a few strategies that have worked for me in the
Offer A Suitable Substitute: When newcomers express an
interest, channel that curiosity about a game that isn’t suitable
(either for its complexity or play time) toward something similar yet
more manageable. Try explaining that the current choice might seem
exceedingly complex, but that you could try something similarly
themed yet far more accessible to newcomers. Instead of running a
full AD&D adventure module I might break out Dungeon!
for a similar theme and much simpler game play. I’d even recommend
Risus: The Anything RPG or even Hero Kids for short
forays into roleplaying games for the uninitiated. But not the full
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons experience.
Streamline Rules: If you know a game well enough you might
streamline the core rules to become comprehensible to a new player.
Some games make this easy. I’m thinking of the X-wing Miniatures
and Star Trek: Attack Wing games, which come with a fairly
basic quick-start set of rules to get people engaged in a meaningful
play experience right away; games that introduce core concepts useful
when they move on to the full rules. My recently acquired Best
Treehouse Ever game offers some rules modifications for play with
very young players. Sometimes playing a fast card game with open
hands helps teach the rules and gives new players a chance to ask
questions and form strategies.
Know the Game: Whatever game you choose, make sure you know
it inside and out, including the best way to explain mechanics to
newcomers. Gauge how long it could take, including additional time to
set up components and explain or even demonstrate the rules. An
awareness of the players’ tastes, too, can help determine what kind
of mechanics or theme the would best enjoy.
Take your time and enjoy the holidays. If games are part of your
celebration, make sure everyone interested has an opportunity to join
and contribute to the experience. The game might not be what you
personally want to play, but finding a game to accommodate newcomers
looking for an introduction to your hobby might just cultivate a few
new gamers in your circle. I hope everyone has a joyous holiday and a
game-filled New Year!
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