Apart from being a great way to meet new people and make new friends, just like any other hobby, for many of us in the hobby, playing board games is a social activity. We enjoy spending time with friends or family and catching up over a game or two. We have snacks and drinks and chat away in between turns. However, not everyone shares that view and there are good reasons for this. So in this article, I want to investigate why games can be a great conduit for socialising while also potentially being a hindrance.

Gloria Liu‘s recent article in The Atlantic beautifully describes how games can be a help, as well as a huge barrier for people to enjoy their time together. If you’ve been part of the hobby for a while and have a number of games under your belt, you will have come across that yourself. Everyone’s journey from absolute beginner to board game pro, whatever that actually means, is different. Some of us will have grown up with games, while others not so much.

Social Blocker

Whatever your experience though, you probably know board games that require the players’ full attention. They don’t lend themselves to socialising. Even though some games offer space for socialising in between turns, it can make the conversation a bit haphazard. After all, when it’s your turn, you need to stop talking and start thinking. These games also tend to require a lot of attention for the rules teach.

So if someone comes to games night to socialise, they will be disappointed when they are exposed to half an hour of someone explaining complex rules, which is only interrupted by the odd question. When the teach is followed by an hour or two of focused gameplay that leaves no space for even simple small talk, many people will reject the idea that game nights are fun and a great social experience.

You could argue that this is still socialising, in the sense that you spend time in the company of others. However, most people expect socialising to include catching up on what people have been up to and generally chatting about life, the universe and everything.

Even quick and easy party games can actually be a turn-off for people. Not everyone likes having the spotlight put on them or having to perform in front of a group of people. Even though you work together as a team, at some point one of you will have to be the spokesperson. There are also party games that can be a bit cringy. Some try to force funny situations that not everyone finds funny. While in a smaller group that might not be an issue, in party games that problem is exacerbated, because of the larger number of players.

Social Aid

Of course, we know that there are also games that actually help with socialising. As I mentioned above, having a shared interest is a good basis for a relationship. If a game then helps people build trust, we’re onto a winner. Gloria quotes Rachel Kowert, the research director for Take This, in her article as saying: “[…] in a game, if you helped me kill this dragon, I immediately have some foundational level of trust.”

So games that are easy to teach and don’t require your full focus tend to be ideal to introduce new people to the hobby. You’re looking for games that have maybe one or two core mechanisms and that don’t have a huge amount of depth. I would say that many card games are a great place to start. Fluxx, Love Letter and similar basically have only one core mechanism. There is very little rules overhead, because the rules are basically on the cards in front of you. Both games also tend to encourage conversation about the game itself, which can easily be mixed with idle chit-chat or catching up with the people sitting around the table.

So when someone joins your games group or friend circle, don’t bombard them with your favourite medium-weight game, but start somewhere lighter and simpler. I was recently reminded that people who are new to the hobby still need to learn the terminology that we take for granted. While we know what draw decks and discard piles are and that you usually shuffle your discard into a new deck, to someone who only knows Monopoly or chess these concepts are completely new.

a selection of cards from Love Letter laid out on the table
a selection of cards from Love Letter laid out on the table

Draw Them In

Once someone has learned one or two mechanisms and played a couple of games a few times, they will feel comfortable and be ready to absorb new mechanisms. They will also start to realize that you can still have a conversation while playing games, if you choose appropriately. They might even start to think about strategies and how they can get better at winning.

Either way, you need to slowly introduce them to heavier and more rules-involved games. You need to constantly check that they’re still comfortable. Everyone has their limit when to comes to games. Some of us want to play more and more complex games with more and more depth that take longer and longer to play. Others prefer to stick with medium-weight games that take an hour or less to play. Both are equally valid, but we need to be aware of what the people around us like and where they draw the line.

If you do it well, you will have made a new friend and added another person to your circle of board game players. If you’re lucky, you will have infected them with the board game bug and they will start to introduce their friends to our hobby.

At the same time, it’s absolutely fine if someone really doesn’t get on with games at all. If they prefer to meet in the pub and chat over some drinks and snacks, then that’s perfectly valid. Everyone likes what they like and it doesn’t have to be board games all the time.

How About You?

Have you got friends who just don’t like board games? Do you think they have been put off by heavier games? Have you tried introducing them to lighter games? Or do they literally just want to spend time with you, but without board games? As always, I’d love to hear about your experiences. So please share them in the comments below.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Village Ambiance by Alexander Nakarada
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/6586-village-ambiance
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

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