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Introducing board games to the non-gamer wife

2010 July 30
by Michael Schroeder


Have you ever tried to introduce your non-gamer wife to a game of Arkham Horror – just to end up having horror on her face within 5 minutes of setup? I have. Well, maybe not horror, but I do recall trying to entice my wife, Jill, to play a game of Arkham Horror with me and as I suspected, it didn’t go over very well. Within a few minutes of explaining some things, her interest went from a 10 (out of a 100) to -1000.

I know I may offend some women out there by saying this, but, board gaming (especially fantasy/war/scifi) is for the most part, a male dominated hobby. Just look at board game geek, most of the user submitted photos on the site, are men, sitting at a table, hunched over cardboard and plastic. Now yes, while yes, there are plenty of female gamers out there,  women are clearly not the majority (exception may be word games such as scrabble, boggle, and party games, such as taboo, scattegories, and the like) when it comes to “hobby board gaming.” While there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just sayin’ and I thought it would be interesting discussing this and getting your comments, on suggestions for getting non-gamer wives (or non-gamer girlfriends/friends) to play our board games.

I’m curious though, what makes a non-gamer, a non-gamer. Why are they not interested in hobby board gaming? Now, I must say that most of the games I introduced to my wife, she ended up tolerating or enjoying. But most of these games that Jill enjoys are Euro games, such as Carcassonne, Alhambra and Beowulf:The Movie Board Game. why do you think that is? I’m curious to hear your comments. Do you readers find that non-gamer wives will often pick up on euro games more easily than say, Ameritrash games, like A Game of Thrones The Board Game? I have a thought and specifics for some of the games I’ve mentioned.

Games my wife enjoys and why I suspect she likes them, or comments she’s made:

Beowulf: The Movie Board Game – Jill: “It’s easy to clean up.” Well, there you go right there. Now, while I do not wish to be surrounded by mess, I personally don’t care if there’s chits and board game pieces all over. Is my wife’s comment more driven by the female sex in general do you think, or just her? I do make numerous comments that, say, Small World, has a annoying and large cleanup/setup and maintenance to it, that, in no way would drop my interest in the game. I think my wife likes the game for the reason she mentioned, as well as that the game is quick, and easy to play. While my wife is an intelligent woman, I do feel that non-gamers, not just women, will tend to gravitate towards games with less rules and games that are easier, as well as quicker to play. While I appreciate all these qualities in games, the bottom line is, to me, that it must be fun.

Carcassonne – This is a great gateway euro game. Gateway game, meaning, it’s easy to learn and serves as a “gateway” to more involved euro games. My wife enjoys this game very much, as well as her parents! I can see why, as I’ll say again, it’s an easy to pick up game, and there’s not a lot of rules and it doesn’t take hours on end to play (with a few exceptions to num of players and num of expansions). So do you think this would be a great game for a non-gamer wife? Have any of you readers have trouble teaching or playing this with your non-gamer wife? What methods of teaching did you utilize to enable and help your non-gamer wife pick this game up?

Alhambra, Ticket to Ride – More loved games by gamers and non-gamers. Why? Not a war game, not sci-fi, lighthearted, tense and fun eurogames! I don’t know if I’d say Alhambra would be a gateway game though, but it’s easy enough that it’s darn close. Has anyone had trouble teaching this game to non-gamer wives? What methods did you use that stand out from the norm that enabled them to pick this game up?

Now come in the big boys…







Look at this mess!

I recall my wife being overwhelmed when I first tried teaching her Agricola. Look at the image above! While, yes, there’s a bit more due to an expansion, there’s still a lot of stuff! Our dining room table was filled. This game has so many rules that I had to read the manual about 5 times before I first played it. So you can imagine what non-gamers feel when being presented with this game.

My wife’s method of leaning these games is, “let’s just start and I’ll pick it up as we go.” I totally understand that need to learning. I’m somewhat the same way, as I learn best by example. But me, being the owner of the game, am responsible for knowing the rulebook and rules so I can effectively teach others. So, to teach my wife this game, I used the method she requested, and that I briefly mentioned in an earlier post. I did all the setup myself and started first and talked through my steps as I was doing them. While talking through my steps, I made sure not to sound like a technical dweeb, but to be short and to the point. And now my wife knows the game pretty well!

DominionI put this game in this category as there can be a lot of strategy involved, but this game is so simple, that it wasn’t a problem for my wife to pick up. There’s not much to say here except that, since I’ve got this game a couple of weeks ago, we’ve must have played over 5 games of it! Why? It’s very organized, something we both like, and it’s easy to grasp. Now are these characteristics that non-gamer wives would appreciate? Based off my wife’s reactions, yes. I know, I know, my wife is just one person in a sample size of X (X being a large number…) but let’s face it, non-gamer wives aren’t interested in death, destruction, wars and fighting or sci-fi and fantasy. So this game is a great match. *Side note – notice I mentioned fantasy, you”re probably a gamer if you enjoy these categories.*

heroScape – I was really shocked that my wife didn’t really mind this one. Why do you think that is? Well, aside from all the movement rules and special characters text, there’s not much surprise and the game is relatively simple. I even recall Tom Vasel saying in his 5 part videos, saying something to the effect that even kids could pick up the More advanced version of the game.

My wife really doesn’t like seeing the mess and rubbermaid boxes all over the dining room, but that aside, because of its ease of play, my non-gamer wife doesn’t mind heroScape. I’d give it a try with your non-gamer wife, you may be pleasantly surprised. Just do yourself the favor, and set it up yourself – and maybe randomly pick her characters for her, or just tell her to randomly pick them. My wife, upon first play, did not have the experience or care to sift through the cards and look at stats and abilities. Again, with this game, or type of game, its certainly possible to get a non-gamer wife to play, just set it all up, and show by example. “I’m moving this many spaces because my character can. Where do I get that information? Here *point to the card 🙂 *, What’s my goal? To destroy your characters, so naturally I’m moving towards you.”

RuneboundAgain, surprisingly, my wife played this one for quite awhile with me. We didn’t complete the entire game but she got a good taste of the game. This one was a bit more difficult to teach though. There was a lot of pointing at cards…and demonstration. So as you can see my progression here, not all games are impossible to teach non-gamer wives.

But depending on how your non-gamer wife learns, these games, I failed miserably at teaching.

Arkham HorrorAs I mentioned in the beginning of this entry, she didn’t even stick around for 5 minutes. This way is one of the most complex games I’ve played, yet, it’s so simple enough that once you get in the rhythm of the game, you know what to do. But I would not expect good results teaching this game to a non-gamer, let alone a non-gamer wife. I will try again though at some point, but my suggestion for this game, which I actually think I saw on board game geek, is to do all the administration yourself, and leave the dice rolling to her. But I think that takes all the fun out of it, as you’d also be doing all the skill checks and changing your characters stats, but hopefully after enough times of seeing it, and explaining the rationale behind changing your speed for instance, she’ll understand and want to make these changes herself.

Race for the GalaxyI tried twice playing this with my wife, and there’s something about it that she just can’t grasp. But I believe anyone can pick up on things (minus having a learning disability) so I blame myself for not teaching it well enough. You must admit though that the game is highly complex because of it’s extensive use of symbolism and constantly changing special abilities of cards – that is even confusing for myself and other gamers that I’ve played with.

So that wraps it up for this discussion. I’m interested in your stories. What games have you tried getting your non-gamer wife to play and failed miserably at. Any fights as a result? Any successes? I’m sure there are plenty. The games I mentioned are just a few of many. I believe that non-gamer wives and non-gamers in general all have the mental capacity to learn any game, but the problem is, everyone learns best in different ways, and that’s your job, as a board game owner, to try and identify and find the best method to convey to the most people at once, at a gaming session. The other point is, that non-gamer wives are non-gamers for a reason – they just simply may not care about the hobby, or haven’t gotten introduced to the hobby and simply gotten their feet wet. Don’t dunk them in, but be sensitive about it. I wish you luck!

Michael Schroeder is a board game enthusiast, has written an eBook entitled, “Beyond Monopoly: A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Board Games” (Kindle, Apple iBook), is busy designing games and owns an eCommerce board game store, Meeple Village! He also has a podcast that complements this blog, “Board Game Dialog (also available on other podcast aggregators).” He is mike6423 on BGG.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. August 12, 2010

    Wow, you’ve got her to play many more games than I have with my spouse. My girl isn’t a gamer at all, but we’re working on that. 🙂 You can see my own trials through what I lovingly call Operation GamerWife on the blog I write for.

    Looking forward to more of your posts on this topic.

  2. JZNizzy permalink
    January 17, 2013

    I am actually in the same situation… I can see her eyes glaze over when I begin explaining the game… I know this is an older post; and I am jumping on the replys late, but I played Carcassonne and Hawaii last night. I have a feeling a ‘Euro’ style game that is not so confrontational, and sort of has that mellow game play will appeal nicely. Thanks for the insight!

  3. February 14, 2013

    What’s up, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this post. It was practical. Keep on posting!

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