a little bit about games, and choosing a tabletop game you’ll enjoy

On Tumblr, t wrote:

My birthday is coming up next week and my brother insists on getting me something. He asked me what I wanted and told him I wanted a board game. He asked which one and I kind of blanked ajd told him I’d get back to him.
Being a fan of Table Top I went through and picked out my favorite ones but can’t decide on which game I want. Currently it is a choice between Munchkin, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Elder Sign and Pandemic. Which one would you pick?

This is a fairly common question, though the games are a little different each time. Here’s what I answered:

Those are all very different games, so it depends on what kind of gaming experience you want to have.
Munchkin is silly, pun-filled, and about messing with your friends. It also has about nine million expansions.
Pandemic is about working together in a game that you’re probably going to have fun losing.
Elder Sign is about working together in a heavily-themed game that is very random because of the dice.
Betrayal is about working together — until you find out that one of you is trying to murder the rest of you with kill death. It’s more of an RPG in a box, and is really fun if you treat it that way.
So I can’t tell you which one is best, but hopefully that information can help you make an informed decision.
Happy Birthday!!

I can’t say “Oh, if you are choosing from these games, this is the one to play,” because they’re all great games in their own way. I would, of course, try to direct t away from a game that wasn’t fun at all, or had a terrible rule book, because I believe that’s a moral imperative when games are being discussed.

I was recently at a game shop to pick up this game called Hive that is insanely fun. While I was there, I watched an employee try very hard to help a young woman pick out a game. They went through all the aisles, and he explained each game in depth long after she’d lost interest in it. This happened because he wasn’t asking the right question: what kind of game do you want to play? because he was asking questions about theme (you like Torchwood? Well, this game is blah blah blah) that didn’t help her at all. I didn’t want to jump in, but it was killing me to watch this happen. He was trying so hard, and it was like they were speaking the same language but weren’t able to exchange anything of substance between them.

I don’t know what, if anything, she decided to get, but I hope she left with something because the world needs more gamers. One way we can help make that happen is to know how to talk to them, so they can find their way into our hobby, and feel at home there.

86 thoughts on “a little bit about games, and choosing a tabletop game you’ll enjoy”

  1. I’ve put ticket to ride on my wish list for christmas because its something that people if all levels can play. I’d like settlers ot catan but don’t think I’d be able to explain it to my mum in order to have a meaningful game on chrostmas day!

    Hoping not to have an Anne Wheaton moment though!

    1. Emma, you might want to check Settlers of Catan Junior. It’s a lot easier to understand than the standard Catan fare, takes place in the Carribeans (with rhum and pirates .. so you can even pretend Jack Sparrow is around … or alternatively drink a shot of rhum for every fort being built).
      Despite the fact that it is the “Junior” version of the game and is obviously aimed at younger kids (mine by the way, happen to love it) it is still well balanced and fun, so your mom might “get it” too :)
      (ps: I don’t do the rhum shots thing when I’m playing with my kids … neither should you;)

    2. Awesome game! I have it on steam and on tabletop! Guys got amazing taste never been steered wrong by him!

    3. I definitely recommend Ticket to RIde for families and especially if you’re trying to get your parents into gaming. It worked for me and my parents and you have the benefit of the expansions to change things up when they start to get bored with the same game (assuming they do).

    4. Ticket to Ride is a great game! Cooperative games are also great to play with non-gamers because you are there helping them until they get the hang of things.

  2. At this point, between reviews, working for game companies, and time spent in game stores, I think I’ve given well over 1,000 different game recommendations to people.

    The most important first question is to find out what kind of games they like, and why they like them. I wouldn’t recommend Eclipse or Twilight Imperium (playing time: 4+ hours) to someone whose favorite game is Coloretto (playing time: 30 min.). On the other hand, if someone told me they liked Settlers of Catan and Carcasonne, but wanted something even more serious and “math-y”, I would point them at Power Grid or Imperial.

    Boardgamegeek.com is also a valuable resource for “if you like X, you might like Y” comparisons.

  3. I’ve been thinking a lot about getting people involved in board games and helping people find the right games myself lately. Colby Dauch, chief game designer of Plaid Hat Games posted this lovely piece about barriers into gaming the other day, http://www.plaidhatgames.com/news/311

    And then (warning shameless self promotion) I did a video about getting into board games on my own vlog: http://youtu.be/-pof_PaTqzk

    I highly recommend you share the first and give me a pity view on the second.

  4. As someone who runs a local tabletop conventions and volunteers at a couple other ones, I always see people struggle with this question.

    The best way to handle it is to ask some specific questions about what they’re looking for.

    What KIND of game do you like to play?
    Are there games you’ve played in the past that you like that you’d want to find a similar game?
    What about the game did you like?
    Usually I associate their answers to some combination of gameplay mechanics, like worker placement, euro style vs american style, auction, co-op vs competitive, etc. And then using my experience I try to think of a game I’ve played or heard of that has some or all of the things they’re looking for. Usually I can come up with a couple of answers for them to try.

    And then I send them to Board Game Geek to read a review or two.

  5. Well…

    I just starting “giving in” to my inner board game geek. My gateway was Dominion (Deck Builder) and I can’t get enough.

    I recently picked up a historical game Freedom: Underground Railroad from Academy Games…I love it and I only played it once and can’t wait to play it again with friends, its Co-op, but I can play it 1 player.

    Race for the Galaxy still confuses me, but I do enjoy it. I have on the way a worker placement game: Euphoria and a darker Pandemic like game coming – Tomorrow.

    So it just depends on my mood and if I have people to play with. Next year my collection is going to be insane and I’m just starting. I’m so excited by it all.

    Will I have to thank you, because along with one of my groups of friends brought this part of my geekiness out to the forefront…it was always there, I just ignored it.

    1. I would tend to agree though I suspect it depends on the person. He might have resented someone walking in and showing how much he really couldn’t sell.

      I would have actually approached the salesman after he was done with the customer and suggested a better approach to recommending games.

  6. Thank you for reminding people that the gameplay itself is more important than the theme/setting of the game. I know that I don’t want to play a game for the sake of playing in a (for example) Dr. Who environment for the sake of playing the Dr’s companion if the game isn’t fun to play. (Does anyone make a good Whovian game, by the way?)

    Small World is on my Christmas wish list, but for the Thanksgiving holidays, our 6 year old has requested to play board games with the relatives, so we are bringing Apples to Apples, Dixit and Forbidden Island (for variety).

  7. I’ve chosen Munchkin for my kids. I was addicted the minute I watched it on TableTop. Well Munchkin, and Lords of Waterdeep.

    Being a big kid is hard! I was denied D&D as a child of the Midwest. ” That’s the devil’s work!” (Insert snarky comment, and rude gesture here.) I’m now playing Pathinfinder for my first season, and I’m so hooked. I’ve drug my kids, random other friends, and family, down with me. Online gaming was the gateway. This is totally the lifetime hook.

    Thanks Wil. Everything you do is golden.

  8. We had the best experience at Adventurer’s Quarter in Arvada, CO (gotta plug them. They were awesome!): I went in looking for a board game. I told the guy that I wanted something that two people could play and still have fun, but that more could play, as well. We needed something for someone as young as 12. He pulled a game off the shelf and sat down to play it with us. We played a quick run-through and we were sold. In my opinion, if this could happen everywhere, it would help the decision. The round we played was only about 5 minutes, but it kept us in the store for a good hour looking around.
    BTW, the game we walked out with was Tsuro.

  9. We have a small tabletop gaming shop here my local town, but sadly the guys behind the counter seem to want to keep the games for themselves. They are sort of like the scene from Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts enters a fancy, upscale shop wearing her hooker outfit and the employees react with frozen shoulders and poisoned glances . They’re not particularly helpful, nor are they friendly. And it’s quite a loss, not just for me, but the town as a whole. I kinda need to look at the game with my hands before I buy it; I don’t know why, it’s just .. erhm .. tactilely … Games are both for the mind, the hands and the community.

    Besides that – TableTop has inspired me and my husband to play games rather than watch tv. I even went out and bought a board game for my husband as Christmas gift (a Pratchett game), and I’m quite convinced he’ll love it (and I’m hard pressed to name a better couple’s gift, other than the nsfw material). So if we stay together another ten years, mr Wil, I believe games might have helped to keep things fun.

  10. Thank you for TableTop and your recommendations! My husband and I share a birthday so we decided to gift ourselves a cabin for the weekend and two new table top games–Forbidden Island and 7 Wonders. It made for an awesome, relaxing weekend. Now if we could only find some local gamer friends to join in on the fun.

  11. I understand this completely. It’s so true. I love certain themes but that doesn’t mean I love all the games made for that theme. But, talk to me about game mechanics and we’re on to something. Even so, the problem with game suggestions is it’s really about both and everything. It’s rare that one single factor in a game really sells it to every single person.

    I have a couple of groups I play with (one’s family, another’s friends) and they’re completely different in terms of tastes and the like. The prime example: Pandemic. My parents are happy as clams competing in Ticket to Ride but drop them into Pandemic…no clue what to do. I’ve got to essentially play the game for them because all they know and care about is competing (granted, that might be a personal thing :) ). But, it illustrates the fact that everyone’s going to approach the “fun” in gaming differently.

    I almost want to create a website that’ll walk you through some branching logic to help you determine what games you might want to consider and keep a small database of your choices to fine tune future recommendations…because ultimately it’s true…the more gamers, the more games and I’d hope with enough discerning tastes we’ll keep those opportunistic companies that just ride some imaginary band wagon to flood the market with copy cat games that don’t have the same substance as the original games.

    1. “I almost want to create a website that’ll walk you through some branching logic to help you determine what games you might want to consider”

      Oh, I hope you do! I’m a grandma (63) and I’ve never done much of this new-fangled gaming but my adult son does and it’s such fun to watch them! I celebrated TableTop Game Day last year and Hallowe’en this year by having three or four of my peers (other shall we say Ladies of a Certain Age) over for nosh and games. Last year we played several different games (Trivial Pursuit, Jackass -? Is that right?- and Mille Bournes) and for Hallowe’en this year I finally got to play SPOOKS using the deck I bought when it first came out! And did I squeeeee when Wil cited it as his favorite Hallowe’en card game in his vlog? Yes, I did. Anyway, I don’t have any video gaming experience or “modern” board-gaming experience and I love TableTop games because it gives me Ideas…now if someone could instruct me on how to draw in more little old ladies to learn how to play them with me…

      1. I think, like others have said, you should start by figuring out what they’re interested in. Usually the draw for new players is something that speaks to them in some way. Sometimes it’s a genre or theme (e.g. Star Wars fans could be drawn into a game set in the Star Wars universe regardless of mechanic), other times it might be the mechanic itself (e.g. if people like to play poker or card games, games like Munchkin or even Uno, can reel them in a bit because of the familiar aspects–cards, matching suits, etc.–and open them up to the possibilities–if they like Munchkin’s RPG elements, you could try something else with RPG elements but a different mechanic–and string them along.

        As for the website, I’d love to but I’d have to figure out how to build that logic. I’d want it to be as simple as a running survey/questionnaire but underneath that it’d need to build on the experiences and opinions of various people to speak to the variety of tastes and interests out there. We’ll see, I’m swamped with work right now (building other websites!) but I might have some time over the holidays to play around with something… :)

        1. I would never encourage you to use holiday time to write code! O.O Horrors! Be with your family and friends. This sounds like a big enough subject that it might take time and more than one person to develop it…

          1. Yeah well, a coder’s a coder regardless of the holidays, and I’ve done a lot of development solo so it’s nothing new. :) We’ll see though…

  12. Wil, Hive is the greatest. I love it! Chess with no board and so forth. I’d also recommend Tales of the Arabian Nights. Such fun, but potentially too long for Tabletop. If it isnt too long, I could see it making an awesomely hilarious episode.

  13. I’m reading some of the comments and of those you mentioned, I’d go with either Betrayal at House on the Hill or Pandemic for a couple reasons; thematically they work with non-gaming people and it’s easy to engage them because they are cooperatives and they are rather light.

    As for 7 Wonders as Sonal mentioned – we’ve played it several times and it’s not for us. What we like about Betrayal and Pandemic is was 7 Wonders totally lacks: social interaction. 7 Wonders seems like it’s going to be fun and interactive considering you play it with other people, but in the end, you have a bunch of people sitting around the table playing group solitaire and that’s what we didn’t like about it.

  14. For me picking a game is not always about what I like, but more about what my gaming group likes, because those are the games that get played. I own several games that I really enjoy (pandemic for example) but my friends who also like to play them live 2500 miles away, so they spend a lot of time on the shelf. I own other games (Ticket to Ride, Cinque Terre, Carcassonne) that I also enjoy, and play more often because my wife and local friends also like them. So for me it comes down to helping someone find a game that they and their gaming friends will play often. If I know the person plays WarMachine and has a group of people who are that committed to gaming than I know I can suggest something more complex and that requires more commitment. If they buyer can’t list many Euro or hobby games that they have played (if any) I might start with a gateway game with simple rules so that their friends won’t lose interest before the game begins. Even when I buy new games I am always thinking ‘will my friends and family want to play this too.’

  15. Last year I had really started getting into tabletop games after the launch of Wil’s show. I had picked up TTR and brought it to thanksgiving ’12 and every one of my family members liked it. They actually orderd a copy for themselves that weekend. So I made it my quest to pick out a different game for each of them.

    I did my best to match personalities with gifts but with only a very limited knowledge of games (from TableTop). I decided to focus on my brothers & parents favorite “style of game” and the knowledge of my local game store clerk.

    One of my brothers loves to Sabotage (see screw over) so he got Munchkin. Another loves to negotiate, so he was given Bonanza (?). My dad is all about the strategy and hates the small cards in TTR, so the expansion it was.

    This year they have all requested that I bring more game to Thanksgiving and mm Its all because of Wil & TableTop… so thanks!

  16. Okay readers of wisdom – be my salesperson.

    What should we get as a family game for Christmas? We only have 2 games of our own currently… Monopoly (hate it – takes too long and no excitement) and Uno (like it but can only do so many rounds before it gets old). I want a game that’s not too complex to understand and doesn’t have a million rules. Something that doesn’t take hours to play because we just don’t have the time. Something that’s good for what will usually just be 2 adults playing, but occasionally will involve a 10 year old as well.
    Is this enough info for suggestions? Maybe I don’t even know what it is I like?

    Tabletop always looks fun, but a big group of like-minded people isn’t likely to happen for us.

    1. A good starting point is Ticket To Ride. The rules are straight forward, you have the competitiveness of a game like Monopoly just without the one-sidedness of one player getting the most expensive properties. There are multiple levels of strategy but the basic game is real simple. You match same color cards to “buy” routes between cities while trying to connect two cities together. You get points for both actions. Cards are drawn randomly but there’s a pool of shown cards you can pick up.

      There are a number of expansions to keep things interesting and improve the game (I recommend the 1910 expansion if only to get the full-sized train and destination cards).

    2. A quick, simple game like Tsuro, Catan Jr., Ticket To Ride, or Takenoko would be a good place to start. We’ve done all but Catan Jr. on Tabletop, so you could watch those episodes and see if any of those games strike your fancy.

    3. I second Takenoko. That game is super fun, and I’ve had a wonderful time teaching it to kids.

      I’d like to throw the card game Love Letter into the mix. It’s a pretty simple game (16 cards, you have a hand of ONE card) with a surprisingly deep strategy. And it can be played pretty quickly. (One round can last only a few minutes, you play to a certain number of points)

    4. I’ll quadruple TTR and also Settlers of Cataan. That was our gateway game out of the Monopoly/Sorry/Scrabble world. Tabletop explains it really well and all our kids play, even our 6 year old.

    5. Ha! My current rules for buying a game are: does it work for 2 people? Does it work for more people? Does it work for a 7 (nearly 8) year old? Thankfully (?) she keeps getting older, so the games increase.

      Gloom is fun for 2, if you like the Lemony Snicket vibe, and probably ok for 10.

      Games my daughter *loves* that have been on Tabletop – Forbidden Island, Fluxx (there’s a Family Fluxx version that’s a little easier), Catan (we have Star Trek Catan. It’s a bit over her head, but she loves it. Yours is older, so would probably understand better), King of Tokyo (big fave), Ticket to Ride. Takenoko is on my Christmas list – it looks easy and enough, and cute, and fun.

      Two companies we’ve had good luck with for kids games (preschool/elementary age) are Blue Orchard and Gamewright. They have a variety of fun, fairly short, kids games.

    6. Our spawn is twelve and really loves King of Tokyo, Ticket to Ride, Munchkin and has put Dixit, Formula D, Takenoko and Wits and Wagers at the top of her Christmas list. They are all relatively light on rules but if you’re wanting something a bit more complex, we also play a lot of Pandemic and Castle Panic. In those games you work together as a team to win and they offer a nice break from competing against each other.

  17. I find that it’s also a good idea to think about who you would like to play the game with. The games I play with my family are very different from the ones I play with my friends, for a number of reasons. My family typically enjoys something more casual and social, and because it’s a group that spans age 24 to 80, we try to find something that isn’t terribly dependent on cultural references. With my friends, we tend to get more into themes and references, and are more likely to play something a bit more complex. We are more likely to play a cooperative game, partly because we also play in RPG groups together, so that comes naturally. My family sees that as something unusual, and unless it’s a simple game, will not play it. Then there are games that can be played by anyone, such as Ticket to Ride.

  18. I just watched the episode of TableTop where Munchkin was played. It looks like a super fun game! We have 2 kids (12 and 15) who also love playing games. My question is weather the expansions are stand alone or not. I would like to get an expansion for everyone’s stocking this holiday season, and was wondering if we would have to get the original game as well.

    1. It depends actually. If the pack is called Munchkin and then a number like Munchkin 4: Need for Steed, it is an expansion for the original game so you need the base set. If it is Star Munchkin, or Munchkin Pathfinder, Munchkin Booty, Chtulu Munchkin etc. those are stand alone games that have their own (numbered) expansions as well. So you could get everyone a different base game, or buy the base Munchkin game with different expansions for everyone. Not sure if your kids are Cartoon Network fans, but if so there is also an ‘Adventure Time’ themed stand alone version due out this summer.

      1. I was looking more at the Munchkin Zombies and Munchkin Bites versions of the game, as well as Star Munchkin. I was looking on Amazon and the game descriptions don’t mention if they are stand alone or base expansions.

        1. Those are all stand alone versions of the game, so you would not need the original base set. I know Star Munchkin and Munchkin Bite also have their own expansion sets that you can add to them later. If you visit BoardGameGeek.com their descriptions will tell you if the game is stand alone or an expansion (I agree that Amazon is not always helpful for that information). I really like Super Munchkin too which is a stand alone version that also has an expansion (Super Munchkin 2 the Narrow S Cape)

        2. In addition to those, Munchkin Cthulu and Munchkin Impossible both come to mind as stand alone sets as well.

  19. The most important questions are: ‘Who are you playing it with’ (which includes how old and how many), and ‘how much time are you going to spend playing’.
    All concerns of mechanics, theme, style, etc., are unimportant until you have an idea of the group of people involved and how much time they’re willing to put in to play.
    Five people with a couple flexible hours to spend alternating weekends is different from a couple looking to game for about an hour to spend some unplugged time together weeknights is different from a dad with a wide open day to spend with his two kids…

    But once you have that basic understanding of the group, you can dig into questions that will narrow down the field. Are they already gamers, or people looking to try this whole thing out? Sub-question: did they get horribly, repeatedly scarred at family holiday games of Monopoly? Do they like random or not random? Can they handle an avalanche of components tumbling out of the box? Perhaps most importantly: are they BSG fans? 😉

    As long as they get a game that will provide a great experience and leave them wanting more, it doesn’t matter whether they’re playing the new hotness, an old classic, or something in between.

  20. Ive been a long time fan of board games in general, and was Raised with D&D. I eventually moved onto pathfinder when it came out, and fell in love with the world and its quirks. So when Steve Jackson games announced that It would be working with Paizo to release Munchkin Pathfinder, I quite literally squealed and fanboyed for a good solid hour.

    Of all of the Munchkin versions i own, the Pathfinder one is the most fun, but I may be biased..

    1. It helps that there are places to actually talk about it. I remember having a long conversation punctuated with a number of recommendations with someone on the Amazon comments thread of a review or something. Personally, I love helping people, especially if it helps them finds something great in games. For the longest time, gaming was always relegated to kids or if you were an adult, “those people”. I’m just glad gaming’s becoming more popular and more applicable to all ages (and moving beyond Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders…).

  21. The question of how newcomers make decisions about games can be tricky if you’ve been into games for a long time. For example, one of the most difficult things for me as I build out Learn Tabletop RPGs is getting useful feedback. Veteran gamers are happy to provide their opinion about what will work or not work for newcomers, but they’re not the target audience.

    Presenting a welcoming tone is definitely the right starting point, but beyond that more evidence about how people find the right game(s) would be really helpful.

  22. After watching a few Tabletop videos on Geek & Sundry, I’m really looking forward to trying Ticket to Ride with my family. Growing up we always had a game of Clue or Aggravation at the ready. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until now. Thank you so much for re-opening my game world!

  23. As a game store owner, I would have been thrilled to see any customer such as yourself with a strong understanding of games and of communication step in to help myself or an employee in better serving a new gamer and helping to get them comfortable in our community.

  24. This is the problem I have. I did not grow up with table games being played. I want to play games with my family. But I have one boy who has aspergers and one boy with autism. One boy THINKS he is ready to play, and one boy just wants to say “WHEEE! I WIN!!!” So we have been playing Uno, a lot. Uno has taught the boys to take turns (and reverse turns) but I think we are ready for the next step. What I would like to know is, is there an intermediate game between uno and Takenoko or Dixit? Those 2 games I think are in our future, but we need something to bridge the gap, preferably one that is more visual to help my little low verbal guy.

    Thank you.

    1. Some family favorites for us that I consider between Uno and bigger time commitment games like Settlers are:
      -Sorry (counting practice, turn taking and the all important learning to live with set backs– if they and you are ready to go there!)
      -Zingo! (Bingo with pictures/words)
      -Sequence (matching and a little strategy)
      -Rat-a-Tat-Cat! (memory and making choices)
      -Secret Door (cooperative matching game-loved by every kid in our family)
      -No Stress Chess (learning the movements of the pieces without the stress of figuring out which piece to play- you draw piece cards instead)
      -Pictureka! (picture search game in the tradition of I Spy).
      And as many have said, Ticket to Ride is a great “gateway game” to the longer games and great for people at all stages of game readiness. Also, I don’t know what your parenting situation is like, but one of my favorite “dates” to do with a kid is to go to a coffee shop with a game and just play one on one. Sometimes the kid competition can get fierce and emotional (and I believe there is deep learning in that) but in playing one on one with me, the child could be where they were developmentally without competing or getting emotionally charged up by the other child/children. I understand your situation may be different, but thought I’d throw it out there! Happy gaming!

      1. Ok, apparently I had it wrong earlier – one of the companies I love for preschool/ elementary games is called Orchard Toys (http://www.orchardtoys.com/). My 3 yo loves the Shopping Cart game – basically a memory game using the idea of grocery shopping. We also have Eensy Weensy Spider in which the spider goes up the water spout, and when you spin ‘rain’ it .. washes the spider out. 😉 When you spin sun, the spider can go up again.

        Rory’s Story Cubes are fun for making up stories on the fly (Like Once Upon a Time, but easier & faster). Gamewright (the North American distributor – http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games) has a lot of good kids games – including one called Slamwich where you make sandwiches. We’ve given several of these to classmates for birthdays.

      2. I like the coffee house idea. I do have a hubs that can stay home with the other kiddo. That is what we would have to do if my older son wanted to play an “age appropriate” game.

  25. I just played Pandemic for the first time last week and I want to play it again. I’m not fond of board games (sorry!) but I really enjoyed Pandemic.

  26. i hate when people compare incorrectly. for instance, people kept telling me that Cards Against Humanity was like Apples to Apples. I don’t like AtoA, so i would turn down CAH. and then… then! then, i was at a party where they were playing CAH and it’s a word play game! if someone had told me that, i’d have been all over it much sooner.

  27. Was wondering …

    I have a 5-year old (almost 6!) who I’ve been slowly indoctrinating into online gaming. I really want him to experience the real face-to-face table-top gaming though, and have been trying to figure out what *might* be appropriate. He’s fairly advanced for his age (I’d say about 7-8 yrs old in regards to comprehension). Eventually I’ll intro him to Dungeons & Dragons, but was looking for an interim game besides the mainstays of society (ie, Candyland, etc). I’m thinking Ticket to Ride, since it involves trains (which he loves) and doesn’t seem too complicated for one of his age.

    Anyone have any suggestions? Like I said, he’s fairly advanced for his age, and picks up on subtleties very quickly.

    1. Incidentally, Wil, since you’re a family man, I’d like to see an article/write-up on your opinions on introducing board-gaming (again, not including the Candyland stuff … not that there’s anything wrong with that!) to younger members of the family.

      1. Try “Tsuro”. Very short game, has nice “visuals” (use glas- or semiprecious stones or the dragons instead of the pieces that are delivered with the game if you want to add some glamour;), is easy to understand AND win for kids. As a bonus it’s pretty much violence free and you can have up to 8 persons playing together.

        Catan Junior is very good too if your kid is the piraty phase, although it can get a bit too long to hold the attention of younger children for the whole game (also , for some kids getting “coco cards” is half the fun).

        You can also go oldsschool, and buy a box with all the standards games (
        Mother Goose, Alma, etc …).

        Oh! And stay away from Monopoly Junior! Apart from being Monopoly (so a game that’s designed to be frustrating and unfair) the junior version is also extremely boring and even more unfair than its “adult” counterpart.

    2. I can offer the story of my youngest (age 6) as an example of introducing games at a young age. Since he’s the third and a social guy, he joined us in playing Settlers of Cataan when he was four. Granted he’d spend an entire game collecting Development Cards or building roads but he was playing– and he’s a mighty negotiator because of it. At the same time, he and I were playing a lot of Uno, Rat-a-Tat-Cat, and various matching games including Zingo. Through these he mastered taking turns and game banter and not taking losing personally (if he was well rested and full anyway).
      When he was five, my daughter got Dominion for her 11th birthday and we were all bit by the Dominion bug and he wanted to play very badly but was intimidated by the reading. So he teamed up with one of us and helped make decisions. Pretty soon he had all the cards memorized and became a contender. Now, at 6, he plays Magic and he’s the one to beat in Munchkin (the current obsession for the boys). He’s also good at one-on-one strategy games like Hive and Quarto and chess.
      I think a big part of it is trying lots of different kinds of games (even Candyland–it does teach basic rules very well), rarely saying no to requests to play (because they will stop asking– I’ve been there and had to recover my desirability as a player!), and making it a part of regular life. Younger children can be included in the fun as partners or as players in the bigger games. You can take breaks too. We’ve had Settlers of Cataan games that have gone on for three days because we’ll play for 20 minutes or so before school or bedtime. Oh, and it’s important to understand that losing gracefully is an art and it takes a long time to master! Be patient. We’re still working on this with all our game players. (Including me, ahem.)
      Huh, after writing this, I’m feeling pretty good about my game playing family!

    3. There is a WONDERFUL storytelling RPG called Happy BIrthday, Robot, which is designed specifically for children, but is so much fun to play, it’s perfect for adults, too.

      I second the recommendation for Tsuro, and urge you to consider Catan Junior, and Ticket To Ride. TTR is great for kids if you throw out the tickets and just make it about completing routes between cities.

      1. Thanks guys and gals! Haven’t heard of Tsuro or Happy Birthday, Robot, so going to look those up tonight!

        Heck, I’ll probably just buy a bunch of them, and figure out what he likes best, and then save the rest for when he goes to bed … er, when he gets older.

        Can’t wait to get him started :)

    4. If you’re looking for an RPG style game, I strongly recommend Faery’s Tale Deluxe. It’s a beautifully put together game with a simple dice pool mechanic, and a rewards system that works great with parenting. Seriously. It might sound girly with the ‘Faery’ part, but the Sprites are a more swashbuckling type, and the Pooka is an animal shapeshifter. Or you could always play Artemis Fowl style if your son’s into that. Sadly the book is out of print (it’s a beautiful book) but you can still get the pdf at a few different places. Drive thru PRG, I think, and the Green Ronin site.

  28. We’ve got a great game store in our town and I love going there, even though the prices are of course higher than when I buy the games online. Have a look, this is just a quarter of the shop:

    When I go there to buy something for myself, it’s fine (because I know what I’m looking for), but I also like going there to choose some presents and that’s when I need help. The employee who’s there most of the time is really nice, he seems to know and have played nearly every game they have. I tell him what I want, who it’s supposed to be for, what games they have/like already, and what might be a suitable addition to their collection. But it’s just like you said: He explains every game from the start to the beginning. I don’t really need to know all the rules for a game to know whether I want to buy it, I want to know how long it takes, what’s it about, and so on. I can’t really stop him – and it’s not even like the game is for myself so I need to learn the rules anyway! Maybe you should make an online tutorial on selling games! 😉

    BTW: After reading all of these comments I have added 3 games to my Christmas wish list already! 😉

  29. I started watching TableTop a while back, and was loving it, but it was the Google Hangout where you talked about tabletop games being one of the things that was “yours” with your kids. It made me see games as a great way of spending quality time with my kids.

    My kids are 4 and 6, although I think they’re both pretty bright. I loved the idea of cooperative games (being very competitive myself, and having passed on the genes), which I had never heard of before your show. After a lot of research, I bought Forbidden Island. What a fantastic choice! Both my kids love it, and are surprisingly good for their ages. And the “role playing” tends to continue on well after the game has finished.

    Finding games for younger children can be a little tricky – would be great to hear your recommendations. My daughter (the six-year old) has been picking up the idea of Settlers of Catan on my tablet, so I think that’s on the list. My wife enjoyed Forbidden Island enough (and was amazed at the price) that we’ve bought it as presents for friends, and my parents are getting Forbidden Desert (which looks amazing) for Christmas :)

    I was asked for a shortlist of games as presents, and my current list, which is partly on games that I think look awesome, and games that I might be able to play with the kids, is: Pandemic, Dixit, Settlers of Catan, Tsuro, The Resistance.

  30. Even after all my many years of playing games I still find it hard to make accurate recommendations for most other people, particularly for people who aren’t really gamers. I’ve been married 10 years and I’m only just starting to figure out the gaming tastes of my wife, who isn’t much into board and card games. Maybe there’s no hope for me…

  31. I’ve never actually responded on here before, but feel compelled to do so today!

    When I discovered Tabletop, I remembered how much I love board games. After nearly every episode, it is an exercise in self control not to run out and buy the featured game. My daughters got interested and started watching too (well, the ones I’d pre-screened – not all are appropriate for my then 5 year old!)

    This led to the purchase of games, and the love of gaming as a family. We now set aside one night every week for some good family time at family game night. It was something that I wasn’t sure would last, but we all love it so much we make it work.

    My older daughter has learned to lose gracefully. My younger daughter, upon told that there was one game she probably couldn’t play because there was too much reading, suddenly began to really put effort into reading, and showed rapid improvement. I still have to make an effort to stay within the bounds of strategy she can handle. I am reigning myself in because I REALLY like complex games (I want Lords of Waterdeep!) and have to remind myself that she will get there eventually. It is more important to have games that she can participate fully in so that she stays interested.

    So I guess the point of this long-winded post it – Thank You!!!

  32. As a librarian, we have similar challenges with suggesting books. As you said, the key is asking the right kinds of questions:
    -What’s a game for which you are an “evangelist”?
    -With whom are you playing the game? (I’ve got a 6 year old, so this is important to me.)
    -How long do you like game play to be? (For me, see above.)
    And so forth …

    I’ve appreciated Table Top so much. It’s really helped put some on our list!

  33. Such great insight to picking out a game. My husband and I bought our first tabletop games at Dragon*Con this past year and to say the experience was a little overwhelming is an understatement. But luckily the man who helped us was very knowledgeable and asked all the right questions, so he was able to steer us in the right direction and give us some good options.

  34. Please, please, please help fellow gamers! I want Betrayal at House on the Hill because it ticks off many of the things I like in a board game but my local store didn’t have it and Amazon/Ebay is either sold out or selling it for crazy, insane prices that have gone as high as $400+. So since this particular game has turned into a unicorn, I need something similar that can be played with friends but also my twelve year old spawn. We already have Last Night on Earth, The Resistance and Elder Sign is going under the Christmas tree so what are some other games similar to Betrayal? Any suggestions?

  35. Hi, Will
    Can you show how to play Citadel in Tabletop? I have the game, but it’s in Chinese and I can’t read Chinese. Hopefully you can show it to us, because I think it’s quite a cool game.

      1. http://www.faidutti.com/citadels/citadelsrules.pdf These look fairly accurate (standard disclaimer, I take no direct responsibility, this web site looks innocent but may be owned by Russian mafia hacker psychopaths who will use malware to take over your PC/laptop/tablet/phone/refrigerator etc). If the cards are in chinese, the easiest thing would be to get card sleeves for the characters and stick on the pertinent information/value of the card with post-it’s inside the sleeve. Or invest in a new copy, as it’s well worth it.

        It’d probably be a good Tabletop candidate, but getting a little old?

  36. I’m an independent board game designer, self-publish and the creator of the Battle This Board Game. I enjoy your post, it was text to me by my very good and long time friend, Abraham Dees, who’s been a strong supporter. Because we’re in the age of computer and technology, it’s hard to get the younger generation to sit down with others of their peers and play tabletop games. I’ve always been a lover of board games, they are great for preventing loneliness and social isolation. One of the fun way of meeting new people and making friends is by playing board games. Tabletop games help exercises the mind to become more of a creative thinker. The world needs more Family Game Nights.

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