Outside the box: How to get into board gaming as a hobby

On one of our early dates, my husband brought a board game for us to play together. I don’t even remember exactly what game it was, but I do know that before then, my board gaming experience was limited to classic games like Monopoly. 

I felt pretty lost, and I wasn’t totally sure what was going on throughout the course of the game. The rules seemed super complicated and none of it made much sense. I think I still had fun…maybe?

Of course, I really, really love board gaming now, but at first the hobby can seem a bit intimidating. Some of these original concept board games come in huge boxes with tons of plastic and cardboard pieces, and rulebooks that are dozens of pages long. Is it really worth it to spend half an hour reading the rules and then setting up for just one board game?

I’ve been board gaming for about six years now, and I promise, it’s worth it. A lot of the popular original board games today do take more time to learn than simpler, old-school games like Monopoly or Sorry, but the more board games you play, you’ll start noticing common patterns and play styles. And once you get comfortable playing a new game, you can play it over and over and over again, for hours of enjoyment. 

Tip #1: Find a local game store

The best way to get started in board gaming is to head to your local board game store and ask for some recommendations for brand-new gamers. Granted, this can be a little trickier to do during the time of COVID-19, when it’s not as safe to go out and about as it used to be. 

However, I’d still recommend calling or emailing the store nearest to you, and see if they can give you some tips on what games to buy first. A good game store will be able to put together a personalized recommendation for you based on your skill level and other interests. There are literally hundreds of different board game themes out there: if you love pirates, you’ll definitely be able to get recommendations for the best/easiest pirate games. Enjoy gardening? There are board games with nature themes too!

If you’re not comfortable leaving your home right now, your local board game store might have curbside pickup available or be able to ship something to you. Plus, I feel like it’s more important now than ever to support local geek businesses.

While it may be tempting to just scroll through a website and buy the first board game you spot that looks “fun,” I definitely don’t recommend doing that. If you start with a game that’s too complicated, you’ll get burned out and frustrated. It’s better to start with games that are simpler to learn and play, and then work your way up from there. 

Tip #2: What to know before you buy

Some things to keep in mind as you decide what to buy first: pay attention to the recommended number of players, and watch some reviews. If you’re quarantined with just your roommate, you won’t want to buy a game that’s best with five or more players. 

One of my favorite online board game reviewers is Tom Vasel with The Dice Tower YouTube channel. He and his team do a great job providing concise yet detailed overviews of board games, showing you all the components and giving you a basic rundown of the rules. Before my husband and I ever buy a board game, we always try to watch The Dice Tower review to get a better idea of whether or not the game will be the right fit for us. 

Another great website is Board Game Geek. It has everything you want to know about any game — and I do mean EVERYTHING. It has links to reviews, polls about the ideal number of players per game, pictures of the contents inside the box, forum posts that cover commonly asked questions, and so on. Importantly, it also ranks games based on how hard they are to play, so you don’t accidentally end up with a complex war strategy game that takes four hours to play when you’re looking for something lightweight that you and your friends can play in 15-20 minutes. 

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid of sticker shock 

Another important detail for new board gamers to be aware of: there will be some sticker shock when you buy your first couple games. 

Board gaming is not the cheapest of hobbies. Some games cost $50 or more. To be fair, it is a long-term investment; board games are designed to be played over and over again after you buy them. 

However, it’s still not a purchase you want to make on a whim. It’s always a crummy feeling when you buy an expensive board game that you just don’t love playing (it’s definitely a lot worse than paying $10 to see a bad movie).

This was a lot easier to do pre-COVID, but sometimes my husband and I would try out demo games at our local game store or borrow a copy of a board game from a friend and play it before deciding if we wanted to add it to our own collection. 

There are board game YouTubers who have recorded play-throughs of board games, so you can at least virtually watch people playing a game before you buy it. 

It’s also easy to get sucked into the world of Kickstarter, where board game developers invite you to invest in a game with a really cool concept and incredibly detailed pieces. If enough people back the project, the game can be manufactured, and you’ll also get lots of neat little bonuses for being an “early adopter.” 

Yet there’s no guarantee the final game will be all that great — despite how awesome the pitch on Kickstarter looks. I definitely wouldn’t recommend Kickstarter to new board gamers; it’s better to get some experience first, so that you know what kind of games you like before you take a risk like investing in a brand-new game. 

Tip #4: Seek out online resources

In my first post in this blog series on board games, I talked a lot about how one of the best traits of board games is encouraging in-person social interactions in our increasingly disconnected, digitally-dominated world. 

Of course, getting together in large groups to play board games isn’t the best advice right now. Maybe you’re lucky and have a big family group that you can play games with, or you might be very limited in your social interaction. 

To me, playing board games online isn’t nearly as fun as playing them in person. However, there are still resources you can use. There are a few online sites that replicate the experience of in-person board gaming. There also are a number of games that can be played via apps. 

I’ve played board games using Board Game Arena and I’ve also heard good things about Tabletopia.

Next up in the “Outside the Box” blog series: My top board game recommendations for both new and experienced players!

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