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Board Games for your Family Get-Together!

Pandemic board game boxed set.

The holiday season is just “that time of year” for which we need to prepare for some positive family engagement.

Thanksgiving and the December celebrations come fast upon us and often mean dedicated time is set aside for some family engagement like no other time of the year. Many of those family time traditions have become part of the holiday rituals your family embraces over years of practicing them. And so, maybe it is time for a little bit of change, or for adding a new tradition to the annual mix of activities. If you plan on visiting family for the holiday season you should come prepared. Why not start a new tradition of bonding over board games? Beyond the fun of games, there are noticeable benefits.

Why bring games?

Humans are a species that loves games; this is indisputable. We have played them even before written history. Indeed, there is a burgeoning scientific field attempting to reconstruct those long-forgotten games that did not have a written ruleset. This only reinforces the point- games have always been a fantastic way to bond with others. Whether collaborative or competitive, games allow a group to enjoy structured play. Play has always been a way for children to create relationships. This is especially valuable, not just for children (who need structure as an alternative to impulse) but also for adults (who might feel that they’re too old to play). Modern games are perfect for building strategic, collaborative, and creative skills. Still, there are many misconceptions that non-gamers hold against the hobby.

Everyone- and I mean everyone- has played Monopoly. Most people have also played Candy Land, Life, Sorry! and Clue. For those familiar with more modern titles, the ones I just mentioned now seem like relics of the past. For most people, these titles may be the only games with which they are familiar. While many have fond memories of these games, most do not. They are seen as childish, too long, often unfair, and are simply very little fun to play. For that reason, it can be an uphill struggle to convince potential players to try something new; their experiences have primed them against it. Some clever thinking will be required to overcome this hurdle.

Gryn
Gryn
What was your first game, Grump?
Oh, I remember when Chess was the hot new thing. How many centuries ago was that?
Grump
Grump

How to convince non-gamers to play board games

I’ve managed to get nearly every member of my extended family to try modern board games, with varying degrees of success. While most enjoyed the experience, some admittedly did not; but I was successful in getting everyone to give it a try. Don’t forget – you have a leg up on the competition of push your agenda on relatives- you are family! With that being said, I have some pointers to offer: 

  1. Wait for an opportune time.
    • Wait until everyone has settled in before asking players to join a game. Do not begin unpacking Catan the second you walk into the door. Instead, socialize and catch up with family. As time passes, you will notice a lull in the conversation where everyone has settled in and are enjoying each other’s company. Perhaps someone might notice your game bag and inquire what’s in it. This is a perfect opportunity to share that you have brought board games to play.
  2. Ask, don’t tell.
    • You should not force anyone to play with you. Instead, be aware that not everyone will want to play at the moment of your asking, and some will want to watch. Some will need to see a game in action, others may not be interested. Respecting this will make others more likely to join and create a lasting appreciation for the hobby. A great way to invite others is to say something along the lines of “I’ve brought a few board games if any of you are interested in playing? These new games are easy to learn and are a lot of fun!”
  3. Bring gateway games. 
    • It is usually an internal struggle against your impulse to share the newest, best game out there. Fight this impulse with everything you’ve got. Instead bring established gateway games that are easy to learn. Always assume that your test subjects have little to no experience with the games you enjoy playing. If you bring out a title that is too complex for your players, it will establish beliefs that games are not fun to play. Only bring out the big guns after running through simpler titles first.  For ideas see the “Gateway Games” section of my article Every Board Game Genre You Should Know).
  4. Be prepared.
    • You should be prepared to teach most of the games you bring from memory. For heaven’s sake, do not waste time fumbling through a rulebook when you are trying to attract new players. Luckily gateway games are generally easy enough that remembering all the rules should not be too big an issue. If you are not confident, be sure to skim the rules before launching into an explanation.

 

Always keep a club handy in case someone tries to cheat!
Grump
Grump
Gryn
Gryn
Bring plenty of snacks in case anyone gets hungry!
Show newbies no mercy! The world is a hard one and they need to learn quickly.
Grump
Grump

Closing thoughts

I hope we can all agree that playing board games with close friends or family is a fantastic experience. I bring games to nearly every family gathering I attend. During your next family get-together, try teaching something new to your relatives. Who knows? You might even light the spark of another future gamer!

Potential Games to Bring to your Family Gathering.

Consider the following gateway games:

  • Resistance
  • Kingdomino
  • Azul
  • Just One
  • Codenames
  • Pandemic
  • NMBR 9
  • Barenpark
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Colt Express
  • Magic Maze
  • King of Tokyo
  • Dixit, and
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

 

 

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About Kael Barend

Kael is a graduate of University of California Berkeley and longtime gamer. He was the founder and president of three successful campus board gaming club and has held various positions including game guru, Magic: the Gathering Dealer, and Video game reviewer. He considers himself a gaming evangelist, always eager to spread the gaming hobby far and wide. Check him out on his gaming site OmniGamer.website. Favorite games right now: Castles of Burgundy, Rising Sun, Sagrada, Codenames, Onitama, Fresco, Alhambra, Kingdomino, Star Wars Rebellion, X-Wing and Armada, and Magic: the Gathering.

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