We’ve got a new contributor in the form of Jonathan! He’s Kit’s brother. Like Kit, but also not at all like Kit. Because that is not how brothers work.
Mornin’ all, I’m not Kit. Instead, I’m his brother Jonathan, the younger, slightly sillier version. Now, we don’t know much about each other, but I hope you won’t be alienated if I say that I like fun. Do you like fun? It is pretty fun. That’s why I like tabletop games, as they are basically little engines that produce fun, and I like to play them with as many people as possible. Today, we’re going to look at the best games to introduce people to the hobby. Maybe you want to give them a go, but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you are sick to death with playing Articulate with your in-laws. As I said, I don’t know you either.
Let’s be clear, these games aren’t my favourites. Instead, they are easy to pick up, instantly engaging and fun to lose. After all, nothing will put someone quicker off the hobby than losing painfully at something they don’t understand.
“But Jonathan, this isn’t even a board game?!”
I know, dear reader, but if you can get people to have fun with pieces of card or paper, getting them around a board will be so much easier.
Monikers takes the good bits of Articulate, but doesn’t have you playing with cards 20 years out of date. It starts off very similarly, teams taking it in turn to have one member trying to describe the thing on the card without saying anything on the card, with the others trying to guess what the hell they’re on about. So far, so ordinary.
Second round, same cards, this time you only get one word. Starting to sound more interesting? Third round, you can make gestures, but no words. Round four, you go behind the sofa and describe your card with nothing but facial expressions. Round five, back behind the sofa, but now you can mime with anything except your head. This would be impossible, if you hadn’t built up in jokes and familiarity with the cards beforehand.
There are a set of cards you can buy, which I hear work very well. I, however, feel that this game is at its best when you choose your own things to guess. Let each player write down five things, perhaps in categories, and use these as your cards. This makes every game of it different, taking on unique flavours due to the people playing it. That said, if you feel your group isn’t too creative, or you don’t have time to produce your own, the cards linked below are cheap and of high quality.
Now, as you may imagine, this is a silly game, and requires people to be willing to make a fool of themselves. I still remember trying to communicate Madagascar using nothing but my head. Ah, good times.
Monikers can be found here
4) The Resistance: Avalon
Be honest, you think you’d be a brilliant evil genius, don’t you? Perhaps it’s just me. Regardless, The Resistance: Avalon gives you the opportunity to be just that. You and your group will be noble Knights of the Round Table. Unfortunately, some of you are secretly evil, and are trying to corrupt Camelot. Each round, you’ll vote on which members of the group should go on quests, then the quest goers will secretly vote on whether or not they want the quest to succeed. If one votes to fail, then the quest fails. Over the course of five quests, once three go to either good or evil, that team wins.
A couple of additional touches make this spicy curry of intrigue even spicier. On the side of good is Merlin, who knows who the secret evil people are. To balance things out, at the end of the game, if the forces of evil can guess who Merlin is, they win, even if they didn’t corrupt enough quests. Ooh, such secrecy, such possibilities for deception.
This game needs to be played with people who won’t hold grudges. Occasionally, the rules can get a little complex for first time players, so you’ll need to have studied that rulebook, ready to field any questions. The game excels, however, because people don’t spend ages staring at a board. Instead, they are looking at each other, using intuition and logic, those wonderful things we all possess, to suss out each other’s motives.
Not convinced yet? I’ll tell you one story, from early in my Avalon days. A friend was playing for her first time, and she was nervous. She haltingly asked who Merlin might be, and I replied by slyly winking whilst stating Merlin would never reveal himself. She nodded, and a bond was built between us. We voted together, we swayed things our way. The final quest came, and we got our people on the quest.
Only, I wasn’t Merlin. I was evil. I had gone full Machiavelli, and tricked my friend into trusting me. My betrayal was beautiful, and yours will be too.
The Resistance: Avalon doesn’t have a designated website page, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find it quickly if you want it.
Pandemic brings something to the table nothing else on this list does. It is a co-operative game, with all players on one side, fighting the board. This makes it ideal for groups who you fear may get a little too rowdy if they’re set against each other.
You play a team of doctors and scientists, trying to prevent four deadly diseases from wiping out humanity. On your turn, you do your best to stop the spread of these diseases and research their cures. If you come up with a cure for each disease, you win! If you run out of turns, you lose. If too many places suffer an outbreak, you lose. If you run out of disease cubes to play, you lose. In other words, you’re all going to have to pull together to get through this.
When you pull off an awesome manoeuvre, playing just the right card at just the right time, you feel incredible. The games best feature is how each player will have at least a couple of moments when they get to save the day. When your group becomes a team, chaining together moves to pull off a complex set of actions that save the earth, you’ll feel pretty great. Furthermore, it is very easy to modify the difficulty of the game, making sure that any group will have a fair shot.
The one thing you’ll need to make sure of is that no one becomes a mini-dictator, telling people what to do on their turn and browbeating them into subservience. The other thing to be aware of is that after numerous plays, you risk ‘solving the puzzle’, and realising what the optimal plays are. The expansions do a good job of mitigating this, but beware, dear reader, for one day you may need to shell out for them as well, to recapture Pandemic’s wonderfulness.
Pandemic can be found here.
Codenames is probably the single tensest game I’ve played. It is also a thankfully quick one, otherwise I suspect my head would’ve exploded from sheer stress the first time I played it.
It is also a simple word game with incredibly simple rules. 25 words will be placed out on a table, with players split into two teams. One player on each team is the ‘spymaster’, knowing which cards are secretly their colour, the enemy’s colour, a turn ending innocent bystander, or the fatal assassin card, which results in an instant loss if it gets picked. To communicate which ones should be picked by their teammates, they get to say one word and one number each round. The word will hopefully hint towards some of the ones they want their teammates to pick, with the number an indication of how many to go for this round.
That’s it. A simple, fun game, that is incredibly easy to understand, but rather tricky to master. It is great for those you suspect will be reluctant to try anything too unusual. It may not work so well for those who aren’t too wordy or strong on lateral thinking, but its swiftness and its tension make it a great way to fill 15 minutes.
Codenames can be found here
Without a shadow of a doubt, Dixit is the best game to introduce people to the hobby. Just show them the cards, and they are hooked. In Dixit, you are rabbits, running around a field, dreaming. Trust me, it is great.
On your turn, you choose one of the frankly beautiful cards in your hand, and play it facedown, providing a word or phrase to describe it. Each other player chooses a card in their hand that could match your description, and adds it to the pile. These are then shuffled and revealed, with everyone else voting for which card they think is yours. If they get it right, or trick someone into voting for theirs instead, they score points. You score points if people get it right as well, but you get nothing if everyone or no one gets it right. That way, you want some people to guess correctly, but not everyone.
That is the whole game. Playing this game is far more fun than winning or losing it, making it ideal for first time players. You’ll probably need to be the one keeping track of the scores, as I’ve seen people occasionally get muddled with it. This game shows people just how much more a board game can be than what they’re used to. And seriously, look at this card with a bag on it.
Is it not glorious? How could you not want to play a game with something as wonderful as that in it?
Now that we’ve got to know each other a little bit, I’ll be honest with you. I’m tired of Dixit. One day, you will be too. But the first time you play it, you’ll have a brilliant time. The second time too. It’ll take you a long time to get sick of it, and that first time brilliance is exactly what you need in an introductory game. Play it, dear reader, and make others play it too.
Dixit can be found here.
Now, there were other great games that didn’t make it into the list. Some were left off because they were too complex, others because they were too similar to things already on the list. Let me know if you feel any absences are travesties of justice. Trust me with these five though, and you’ll be a bringer of joy to your loved ones. In time, you’ll get to introduce them to more complex games, and you’ll never have to play Monopoly again.
Check out The Nomadic Lighthouse, Jonathan’s own site totally in keeping with the ‘lighthouse’ theme.