Many gamers will recognise the story—a lifelong interest in games that one day just took off (probably after discovering BoardgameGeek on the internet), and a partner suddenly inundated with endless talk about games and gaming. Boardgaming is an inherently sociable activity, and since you can’t always find a gaming partner, what better thing to do that get your partner interested in gaming?

Well, it’s not always that simple.

We all have different interests, and to someone not hooked on the joys of boardgaming, it can seem a strange and complex pastime. Not to mention unremittingly geeky. So here are a few suggestions for shrugging off the stereotypes and slowly inveigling your partner into a shared love of boardgames.

Start Off Simple

There’s nothing more doomed to failure than setting up a game of War of the Ring and expecting your partner to sit down and listen to you explain the rules for forty-five minutes. You have to start small and simple. Let’s face it, like most people, he or she’s entire experience of boardgames has been the occasional game of scrabble, a few childhood unfinished games of Monopoly, and a hand of poker or two. So you need a game on the same level of complexity, but one that also sneaks in a little bit of theme, thus opening them up to the possibility that games can be about more than property development or word puzzles. A classic starter game is Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities. This simple, fun card game is well known as a girlfriend/boyfriend ‘gateway’ game. It’s an easy card game, the Indiana Jones-like theme is pasted on, but it’s fun, not too competitive, and if your partner doesn’t want to play another game, you might as well thrown in the towel now.

If your partner shows some interest, you can move on to slightly more complex games. Ticket to Ride is a classic gateway game and brings a board into the mix, along with quietly introducing the concepts of turn sequences, plastic bits and no dice rolling. From here you can move onto to just about any Days of Wonder game, or the old classic Settlers of Catan (the game probably responsible for hooking the most new gamers into the hobby). But as you’re slowly ramping up the difficulty level, keep the following points in mind …

Keep the Competition to a Minimum

It’s a generalisation, but this rule tends to be more applicable to guys trying to get their girlfriends into gaming. Many female players are not fond of games with a heavy “take that!” factor, especially in the tricky early days of their gaming introduction. Once you’re playing slightly more complex games, it’s better to try Settlers of Catan or Puerto Rico than expect her to take a sudden interest in Conquest of the EmpireDoom, or Chaos in the Old World.

Another type of game in your introductory arsenal is the co-operative game, which makes the game itself the bad guy and avoids any possible danger of hurt feelings and after-game conflict: try Pandemic or Shadows Over Camelot.

Some would say that the best way to get a partner into games is to let them win a few times—but surely no self respecting gamer would do such a thing?

Pick Your Themes Carefully

In the early days of adjustment, it’s best to avoid particularly geeky themes that you may know inside and out but, frankly, are going to appear pretty weird to your average person. So Ticket to Ride—perfect for that first couples dinner party (see ‘Keep It Sociable’, next), is not really offending anyone with its friendly, real-world theme of building railways across the United States. The battle between the Space Marine legions of the Traitor Horus and the Emperor of Mankind in Horus Heresy is probably not going to go down quite so well to those not brought up on Warhammer and Games Workshop.

As another example, if your partner is not interested in historical conflicts, stay away from Memoir ’44 and Tide of Iron and stick with the more friendly themes of games like Thebes (archaeology again) and Agricola (farming; can’t get much safer than that). Later on you can sneak in a bit of conflict with a friendly-looking game like Small World, a fun family game which is actually all about wiping out entire nations.

No Modifiers

In my experience, there’s no faster way to turn off a potential gaming convert than to hit them with a game full of modifers. You know the type—those “add +2 to your hit roll if you’re in the forest and -1 if you’re attacking the blue monster with the red weapon” type games.  These games are for further down the track, trust me. I almost undid all my good work when I tried to get my girlfriend to play Arkham Horror back in the early days; she still refers to any game with ‘modifiers’ with derision. Don’t chance it!

Recognise the Irrational Dislikes and Avoid Them

My girlfriend still refers to Cave Troll as the archetypical “I’ll never play it again” game. I still have no idea why.

Never Miss An Opportunity

Going to sit in the park? Pop JamboSan JuanGuillotine or some other small card game in your bag.

Keep it Sociable

The best way to present the joy of gaming is to downplay the geeky factor and emphasise the sociable factor. So get another couple together over for a nice dinner and try the after-dinner boardgame approach. There’s nothing like a successful evening with friends, a few bottles of wine, and a good laugh around a boardgame to shake up the stereotypical image of sweaty, overweight, beardy gaming types in black T-shirts hanging out at game conventions. If you’re lucky, you might even have friends calling you up, looking forward to your next boardgaming night. Games by the publisher Days of Wonder—for example Mystery of the AbbeyColosseumCleopatra and the Society of Architects—are perfect for this kind of night.

Know When To Give Up

You might be one of those lucky few whose partner is always begging you for a game. However, your partner may, despite all your efforts, never take to gaming as the central obsession of your life the way you have. It might be that after carefully following the sage advice in this column and slowly introducing your partner to a series of ever more complex and rewarding gaming experiences, they still fight you every step of the way and refuse to see gaming as a fun way to spend time together. Never mind, you tried. I suggest taking a great interest in one of their activities with the purpose of trading in the resulting brownie points for an occasional game … or having an affair.

Just kidding about the affair.

by Universal Head

Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing graphics from the most corporate to the most creative for more than twenty years. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, most notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent a year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for the computer game ‘The Omega Stone’. In between he’s designed everything from large corporate websites, to postage stamps, to a mobile phone interface. His personal site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.