How do you get Ungamers to join in the fun

Richard Dracass | March 6, 2018


Welcome them into your world

Players learning Villagers and Villains at the Unrivaled 2017 IL Regional event

We’ve all been there at one time – you’re at a gathering of friends or with family members and someone brings up the topic of your board game hobby. It could be fueled by a friend pointing to your collection of board games on a shelf, not one of which are titles they recognize. Questions ensue: “Do you really play these?” or ‘How much time do one of these games take to play?” or “I thought you grew out of your gamer phase.”

Translated, they are really asking, “Do you need a degree in math to play these?” and “Is the time spent playing these worth it?” and “I thought you were an adult by now.”

Congrats! You have been grilled by Ungamers. They are the folks who neither understand the hobby of board gaming, nor seek out the hours of entertainment that may be had playing them. Some are intimidated by the complexities of any game more daunting than Chutes & Ladders, while others have a near phobic reaction to seeing game boards with hexagonal markings. Simply put, they don’t know what they don’t know and more often than not, they don’t know what they’re missing.

So, what’s a board gamer to do? Well, I avoid the defensive remarks like, “You know, Fantasy Football is D&D for sports nerds,” and “There’s more strategic plotting and counter moves in a standard soap opera than in one of these games.” Instead, welcome them into your world. Let them know the times you spend unplugged from the digital age and sitting at a table with friends and family members are infinitely more entertaining than being glued to a monitor, TV screen, or cell phone.

But where do you start? It’s not with a battle-hardened copy of Axis & Allies (great game, just not for beginners). You want to offer something less convoluted, but as intriguing as possible.


Judge Approved Gateway Games

Unrivaled Judges CJ and Josh on their way to an Unrivaled board game event

I asked a few of the judges at Unrivaled and they suggested five starter board games that have a simple-to-modest learning curve, but may bring out the true gamer in anyone. In no order of importance or favoritism, they are:

  1. Carcassonne is a tile-placement game in which the players draw and place a tile with a piece of landscape on it. The tile might feature a city, a road, a cloister, grassland or some combination thereof, and it must be placed adjacent to tiles that have already been played, in such a way that cities are connected to cities, roads to roads, and so on. Having placed a tile, the player can then decide to place one of his meeples (play pieces shaped like a human) on one of the areas on it: on the city as a knight, on the road as a robber, on a cloister as a monk, or on the grass as a farmer. When the area is complete; the meeple scores points for its owner. Since players place only one tile and have the option to place one meeple on it, turns proceed quickly even if it is a game full of options and possibilities.
  2. With elegantly simple gameplay, Ticket to Ride can be learned in under 15 minutes, while providing players with intense strategic and tactical decisions every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars they then use to claim railway routes in North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who fulfill Destination Tickets – goal cards that connect distant cities; and to the player who builds the longest continuous route. The tension comes from being forced to balance greed – adding more cards to your hand, and fear – losing a critical route to a competitor.
  3. Settlers of Catan – Learn to play in about 15 minutes, then enjoy countless hours of fast-paced fun! Begin a quest to settle the island of Catan! Guide brave settlers to victory by using clever trading and shrewd development. They will use resources – grain, wool, ore, lumber, and brick – to build roads, settlements, cities and key cultural milestones. They need to gather resources by rolling the dice or by trading with other players. But they must beware! They never know when someone will block their way or if the robber will strike and steal their hard-earned goods! Which avenue will bring them success – as a trader, builder, or settler?
  4. In Dominion, players take the role of monarchs seeking to make their kingdoms more than just a simple castle and holdings, but expand it to the successful realm of a Dominion. In all directions lie fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. All are small bits of land, controlled by petty lords and verging on anarchy. Players will bring civilization to these people, uniting them under their banner. But wait! It must be something in the air; several other monarchs (the other players) have had the exact same idea. It’s a race to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible, fending off the competition along the way. They will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up their castles, and fill the coffers of their treasuries while striving to build the supreme Dominion.
  5. TSURO is a beautiful and beautifully simple game of laying a tile before your own token to continue its path on each turn. The goal is to keep your token on the board longer than anyone else’s, but as the board fills up this becomes harder because there are fewer empty spaces left… and another player’s tile may also extend your own path in a direction you’d rather not go. Easy to introduce to new players, Tsuro lasts a mere 15 minutes and actually does work for any number from 2 to 8 players.

One of the nice things about the above-mentioned games is they have all been around for enough time to have spawned sequels, expansions, and even other type of games from the original source material. The depth of options for these board games provides multiple options for gaming down the road.

If you’d like other suggestions for your Ungamer friends to try, just visit your friendly local game store (preferably with them in tow) and speak with one of the folks behind the counter to get their opinion on what would make a great new game for their discovery. Who knows, this may turn into a monthly event where everyone gets together to enjoy the company of friends over a new and exciting board game!


—Kevin “Kevdog” Sullivan