Your Turn Guest: Colby Dauch, Plaid Hat Games

Posted by Jim {Power Gamer} | 2-Dec-13 | 31 comments

Your Turn Guest: Colby Dauch, Plaid Hat Games

Colby Dauch - President: Plaid Hat Games

Hi everyone, I’m Colby Dauch. I’ve done work on Heroscape, Battleship Galaxies, Summoner Wars, City of Remnants, Mice and Mystics and more. I’m also the president at Plaid Hat Games.

Today I want to talk about barriers that lie between board games and people having fun playing board games.

The term “gamer,” though historically referring to those who played tabletop games, is now a title that most commonly belongs to players of video games; and rightfully so.  “Play” used to be something mostly reserved for children.  Moving out of an agrarian society has generated more free time for adults and play has become an accepted mainstream form of entertainment and at the center of that lays video games.

The word “geek” used to be ammunition in the bully’s arsenal.  Now we have made it ours and wear it with pride.  I believe video games paved the way for that.

So geeky is no longer a bad word.  But even those not proclaiming themselves geeks are playing video games.  Games are ever-present and widespread since the invention of the smart phone.  Everyone plays them.  My mom plays video games.  With geeks and games becoming an accepted part of our culture, the increasing popularity of tabletop games is no surprise. I believe the cross over between people who enjoy video games (even the casual Farmville player) and people who would enjoy board games is much, much larger than the splash over we are currently experiencing.

The problem with bringing “gamers” into tabletop gaming, to discover and enjoy the unique things it has to offer, is that while video games have lowered the barriers to play to be near non-existent, board games haven’t. Below is a list of barriers that stand between tabletop games and an audience of people who would enjoy them, as well as some of my solutions.

Barrier: Rules

Game rules are by their very nature a sort of technical manual.  This is an intimidating or downright insurmountable barrier for some.

Solution: As a publisher we have begun doing how to play videos for all of the games we release.  Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop and Rodney Smith’s Watch it Played YouTube series show full play-throughs of games.  And game stores that provide demo copies of games and knowledgeable staff that can teach them is another way of lowering that barrier.

Barrier: Stage Fright

People are afraid of looking dumb.  They are afraid they are going to get into a game, it is going to be over their head, and they aren’t going to know what to do.

Solution: When introducing new players to games, choose a game with easy to learn rules.  Summoner Wars is a good candidate from our line-up.  Also, try not to turn into a power gamer and go hyper competitive. Crushing them into dust isn’t likely to result in their having a good time.

Barrier: Cost

Someone new to hobby games has the perception that board games cost $20, because that’s what a mass market party game costs.

Solution: Education. As people understand the differences in time spent on these games, materials used, and the economics of much smaller print runs they’ll come to understand why the price tag differs from that of the mass market game.

Barrier: Exposure

Even the biggest tabletop publishers don’t reach all the way out to the mainstream with their marketing efforts.

Solution: Social media has definitely played a part in the growth of hobby games.  Getting out there and talking about your epic game session is going to cause some of your friends call you a nerd.  Others will be intrigued. Quintin Smith of shutupandsitdown.com has an excellent video called An Intro to Board Gaming, For Your Friends.

Barrier: Attention Span

Just because someone enjoys playing Angry Birds on their phone for 5 minutes at a time doesn’t mean they want to sit down and play a 2 hour game of Puerto Rico with you.

Solution: This could be about choosing the right game.  There are some really fun really light and short games out there.  Even though they might not be your favorite, breaking one out at a family get together can be more entertaining than some of your other Christmas at the in-laws options.  And they can be gateways into greater interest in tabletop games for some.

So my question to you is what barriers do you see in tabletop games? What are some solutions you’ve found or can dream up for the barriers presented here today?

Your turn…

Comments (31)

Gamer Avatar
9
Grand Master Grader
Movie Lover
Book Lover
I play blue

Wow, very nice article. I have experienced and dealt with many of those barriers in my recent gaming adventures. I like the solutions you proposed for each of them.

Gamer Avatar
6
Gamer - Level 5
I Love Playin' Games
Amateur Advisor
Rated 100 Games

Another barrier, for me at least, is finding games in my language where I live. I am an American who lives in Germany. Yes, there are some language independent games and I can find some English games on occasion, but overall I typically have to order through a website and possibly have it shipped from the UK. I am sure I am not the only one who has this problem, or just the simple fact that some games never come out in languages other than English (which I could see as a major barrier for widespread distribution).

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8
Intermediate Reviewer
Copper Supporter
Viscount / Viscountess

Two more barriers: difficult to buy games in countries that do not have many publishers with designer games and difficult to find a group that matches your game taste.

Gamer Avatar
1

Hi everyone, sorry I’m late to the party. Andy told me it was going up but work for Dead of Winter pushed it right off my radar. Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to respond, I have read all of them. It seems that a common theme in your responses is that theme is a barrier. I would suggest that if you are trying to introduce someone new to gaming being aware that certain themes are likely to be off putting or attractive to them is important, but when looking at the board game industry as a whole I’d say variety of themes is a strength rather than a barrier.

Gamer Avatar
2

Rules understanding is the biggie for me. If I am an expert at the rules, I can often prevent the attention span issue. If I’m fumbling through rule books during the game…I lose even seasoned gamers sometimes.

Gamer Avatar
9
My First Heart
My First Wish!
My First Favorite!
Gave My First Grade

@ Andy

I’m right there with you in that thought – it’s a lot easier to build if we don’t start off trying to tear down what’s already there.

Besides, games like Risk and Monopoly didn’t become household names by being bad games – they got it be being the best games at the time.

I get tired of the “bash it because we’ve got things that are SO much better mentality” because it denies one of the greatest things about this hobby – that there are games for everyone and that some are going to like those older games best.

Risk might not be as sophisticated as many would like, but it doesn’t stop it from being somebody else’s sweet-spot of a game that they have the most FUN they can have with it.

Do I want them to try out some of the games I think are fun? Darn tootin’, but I’d gladly play their favorites as well because ultimately this hobby is about having a fun, competitive, social evening with people who are – or will shortly become – friends.

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4
Tasty Minstrel Games Fan
Pet Lover

Well said, Colby! I’m truly a fan of your games and thoughts.

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8
Rosetta Stone
Football Fan
Explorer - Level 5
Junior

Andrew L.

Your analysis for how Theme is important is spot on, and Gamers are not immune.

I recently taught Keyflower to a group of gamers, saying it’s a worker placement game where you bid on tiles for your own area with a secret pool of workers.

The first question I got was, “What’s it about?”

Theme is definitely important.

Gamer Avatar
8
Plaid Hat Games fan
Cave Goblins - Summoner Wars
I Am What I Am

If you want to hear Colby talk more about this subject, check out the Plaid Hat Podcast – Episode 109.

http://www.plaidhatgames.com/podcast/109

Gamer Avatar
1
maverick:muse fan

Is there an online barrier? I am unaware of a site that is really friendly to prospective new gamers. Sites such as this one are great for established gamers but if there was a resource promoting those games that new gamers could learn fast and have fun with then it would also be a resource for gamers to point their prospective gamer friends towards. Such a site could have rules explained in video form, example turns in video form, recommendations, reviews, next steps, etc. but be totally focussed towards the ‘casual’ (aka gateway) games. Would this help?

Gamer Avatar
4
Gamer - Level 3

As far as the rules barrier it may be possible to emulate the video game industry and implement some kind of play as you go tutorial for the first game or two. The design of the game itself could be structured for pick up and play as you go as well.

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10
Critic - Level 5
Professional Advisor
Expert Reviewer
Marquis / Marchioness

I’ve found the learning curve with games (which likely here falls under rules), or even the perception of a learning curve, serves to keep many people away from boardgames.

Another thing I’ve seen too often, but seems to go unrecognized, is the way some ardent boardgamers go about discussing more standard games. For every “is this like Monopoly“, or “so it’s like Risk” story I’ve heard, I’ve seen proponents of more modern games quite vocally bash those games to prospective gamers.

For instance, I’ll watch a non-gamer approach a table with a game being played at a coffee shop and say “Hey, is that like Risk, I liked playing Risk when I was younger”. Instead of building off of this common ground, many gamers will immediately start talking about how terrible Risk is, and how this game is so much better. The same thing plays out for many classic games.

Do gamers really expect someone to want to hear more of what they have to say, or spend time with them, now that they’ve just told the newcomer that they have no taste and they’re stupid for liking something? That’s really not a good way to get someone to share your interests, but I see it over and over and over again.

I get that there are people that don’t like the classic games, but by voicing that disdain to prospective gamers all you’re doing is ensuring that they’ll never move on to games you feel are worthy of play. In many cases, it’s gamers themselves, or at least their overly smug and condescending attitudes, that serve as barriers to new gamers entering the hobby.

Gamer Avatar
5
USA
Book Lover
Video Game Fan

@ Jeff W.
I didn’t mean to imply that theme was always a barrier. It can certainly be something that draws people in, but that’s really true of any of these barriers. As Andrew L. points out, it’s simply a matter of finding a game with a theme that people can get into. Then once they get into one game, you can then try to break down additional barriers, such as unappealing themes with fun mechanics.

As both Andrew L. and X-hawk point out, though, the theme can really be a deterrent for some people. Some people hate fantasy or sci-fi. A lot of Euro games have themes that might seem too mundane or (sometimes) bizarre for some people to get past, particularly non-gamers who aren’t already into games with similar mechanics or that were designed by the same designers. Your experience may obviously vary, but in mine, it’s probably the biggest thing deterring non-gaming friends from even attempting to play with me.

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8
Legend of the Five Rings Fan
Advanced Reviewer
Tactician
Guardian Angel

One of the best ways to overcome barriers is to know your audience. While you may be excited about the more complex tabletop games you enjoy with your fellow gaming crowd, introducing non-gamers can be tricky. Fortunately there are good casual games which can help bridge the gap.

Where several of you cite Theme as a barrier, it can also be employed positively. Clever children, for instance, can be eased into gaming using games that wear an interesting skin: King of Tokyo, with its giant monsters, colorful graphics, and easy-to-understand dice can be taught to kids as young as 5 (perhaps younger, though I have no anecdotal evidence), easing them into understanding the extra powers cards. Smash Up! is a great game for adolescents who can handle the math, and the blend of themes keeps them hooked.

Another way to dodge around theme is to use games that have familiar mechanics. My 70-year-old mother has played Dominoes, Uno, Skip-Bo, and any variety of playing card deck games, so introducing her to Guildhall (at its heart, a set collection game) was not terribly difficult. It took her a few games to understand the various professions’ abilities, but once she got the flow of it, she won games as often as I did. I’m not sure what to teach her next, but at least she’s open to the idea of other new games.

Most tabletop games are going to have to be debuted among other gamers, but you can prime your family or acquaintances with games that speak to them in some way, then ease them into some of your favorite, more complex games.

Gamer Avatar
8
Norway
Plaid Hat Games fan
AEG fan
Tasty Minstrel Games Fan

@ Wade C.
Theme has nearly been a show stopper trying to get my gf and her family to play with me as well. Thus far I’ve only introduced Lords of Waterdeep and Belfort which both have been successful. I’ve introduced LoW to some of my non-gamers friends as well also with success; first they be laughing at the D&D logo making som Big Bang Theory jokes (which I don’t get cuz I’m not watching BBT) but at game end everyone agree that they had fun and want to play it some other time.
If I’d try introducing Runewars or Dominare I think I’ll lose them though…
So I agree theme might be an issue for me as well, but if the game mechanics are edible (not too complex) I’ve been doing ok.

Gamer Avatar
6
The Gold Heart
Plaid Hat Games fan
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
Bronze Supporter

Funny – in my most recent “Your Turn” I mentioned that it seemed that more and more new game designers and players are coming to the table top industry and many new games have a video game-like feel to them. With the exception of euro-games, alot of recent games have an unmistakable video game feel to them – attributes like upgrades, leveling, bosses, first person shooter, story telling, moderate role-play. Mice and Mystics sort of feels this way. I know that that wasn’t Jerry’s inspiration, but I can almost see a 3-d environment, story scenes popping up between scenarios and encounters and Mice and Mystics, I was fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to be a teenager when the first Atari launched. I had every system since then – but at the same time I was playing Star Fleet Battles and D&D. I appreciate a design that immerses a player in a world as video games do. But not all games are like that.

So regarding a major barrier I would have to agree with Wade C and say theme. Just like a movie or a book, if someone – no matter their gaming experience level or personal Geek rating – isn’t interested in a specific genre or theme, they wont want to play that game. That’s why Euros are a tough sell to near-non-gamers. With little or no theme you are hard pressed to describe the experience they will have.

Me: “It’s a great game! You terra-form land with shovels and build buildings with workers to get victory points… um…you can be Mermaids or Dwarves!”

Them: “Huh? But what’s it about”

Me: “Never mind. Ever hear of The Walking Dead?”

Them: “Woo Hoo!

Solution? Find the games those themes are accessible to your play group or family at that time. And if you cant sell your particular group on a certain games type, well you will have to wait till a convention or find a group who wants to “go there” with you.

Gamer Avatar
5
Greater Than Games fan
1A Games fan

I find misconception of what tabletop games really are is a huge barrier! Not everyone knows the term tabletop games but if you say board games they have a better understanding. However, people instantly think of games like Clue, Monopoly, Sorry,etc. A lot of people I talk to who don’t play tabletop games instantly think this is what I’m playing all the time. To them this is what boardgaming is. My husband and I have worked hard with family and friends by introducing them to more modern games with unique themes and mechanics. We know how much complexity our family and friends can handle in a game so we make sure not to overload them. We learned by trial and error. As we get them into gaming we have slowly increased the difficulty as they get more comfortable with unique mechanics,

Gamer Avatar
7
Treasure Chest
Smash Up Fan
Platinum Supporter

Thanks for the insight Colby. Just yesterday, I used Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on Pandemic to ease family members into the world of more interesting board games.

I also have found that the barrier of time is a hefty one, and end up playing solo – mostly via iOS gaming.

Gamer Avatar
7
Pet Lover
Treasure Chest
The Gold Heart
Novice Advisor

It’s definitely not just attention span that will turn people away. Theme can be just as big a barrier as well as something that helps you. Knowing a friend’s likes and dislikes make it easier to find a game they might like. For instance someone who loves alien movies might be interested in a Sci-Fi themed game but might not be as keep to bust out a game about building a castle.

Along with theme another barrier is game mechanics, too many of them will turn people off just like long winded stereo instruction like rules. Too few and they might get bored. Gateway games like Ticket to Ride help because set collection is something picked up really easily and enjoyed along with the bit of route planning to get to victory.

Gamer Avatar
7
Miniature Painter
Stone of the Sun
I'm Completely Obsessed
Novice Advisor

Great article and subsequent discussion. I agree with a lot of the barriers already identified. I know I was certainly taken aback by cost when I was first introduced to the non-mainstream board games and it has taken a while to get over the sticker shock. Of course, now when I see a new game I just have to have, I’m like – just take my money already! And I know that some will call me superficial but I’ll admit that I’ve been turned off by plenty of games simply because the theme didn’t do it for me. (I’m sorry, the train theme just doesn’t do it for me, and for that matter, I don’t want to trade clay for bricks and wheat for bread.) I’ve been known to drool over and even buy a game or two just because it was cute. (Oh Mice and Mystics, some day soon, I will have you, you adorable cooperative adventure game. But I digress. Rules can threaten a game. However, if folks are determined to learn to play it, even poorly written rules will only slow folks down. I found in Zpocalypse, that the rulebook was to me as the sandbags were to the zombies of the game – a deterrent that slowed progress, but did not stop me from sinking my teeth into the subject. 🙂

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