No, this isn’t about sex. But thanks for clicking on that baity title.
Opening, a term coined by the great Shut Up and Sit Down board gaming site, is the process of taking someone who isn’t a gamer and making them into someone who is.
See, here’s the theory: gaming is, objectively, awesome. Not subjectively. Objectively. Once people get over their initial snags about acting like nerds, they are going to enjoy gaming in some form. Maybe they aren’t going to be hardcore tabletop RPG wonks, but I can tell you that, over the course of a year, I made family gatherings at my cousin’s house more about the board games I was bringing over than the alcohol, and that was pretty cool. We’re now transitioning from board games, and we’ve played our first evening of Pathfinder. The seduction continues.
- Start Simple.
Twilight Imperium is an amazing game, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s a grand, epic adventure…and no way is it an opener. Aunt Janice isn’t ready to sit down for a ten-hour slugfest over trade, politics, and galactic conquest. Whip out a little, innocent-looking card game like, say, Spyfall or Codenames and you’ve got a simple entry into the idea that gaming can be fun.
- Watch the Theme
There are a lot of games out there that love using nerd tropes. Cutthroat Caverns, for instance, is an amazing game…if you’re already a nerd.
But non-nerds get really edgy when you start talking about dungeons and dwarves. They’re not necessarily big fans of the concept that one should fight monsters for loot. And so a lot of games need to be set to the side because, even though they’re great games, their themes are going to scare folks off. Ethnos might have been a perfectly good opener if it weren’t for the cut-and-dried fantasy theme slathered over it. But something like Ticket to Ride, with its simple mechanics and passive theme of building train tracks? Perfect opener.
- Go co-op
Ok, you have them into the idea. Now it’s time to bust out something they have never, ever considered. To a non-gamer, the very concept of a cooperative game is completely foreign.
The fact is, your neighbor Marv is going to have his ass handed to him any time he goes head-to-head with you and your experienced gamer friends. He’s never thought in terms of victory points before, so playing Power Grid with him is going to be a complete turn-off as he loses the game in Round One and then has to sit there watching you skin him for two hours. Not fun.
A co-op game? That’s the solution. Let Marv be a part of the team. Now he benefits from your years of experience. Everyone’s working together, coming together with one goal in mind. Marv never knew that was even possible. He’s only played Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders before this.
Pandemic and Ghost Stories are pretty good for this. Pandemic: Legacy might be really fun, but it requires a level of commitment Marv likely isn’t comfortable giving the first time up at the plate. But for my money, the ultimate co-op intro to board gaming is Mysterium. I have turned more people into straight-up gamers with one night of Mysterium than I can conveniently count.
It’s simple. It’s cooperative. It’s gorgeous. It’s an experience that I guarantee your newbie friend has never had before, and it’s one that they’re going to want more of. Mysterium is a fast, simple game that immediately shows people there’s a whole world out here that they can come play in.
Whatever opener you choose, make sure they have a good time. Allow yourself to be taken into the game (you’re already good at that, or you wouldn’t be reading this), and your friend will follow right along. As soon as they’re at the table, if you’ve got the right game in front of you, you can sink this hook deep.