Growing up, our family played a decent amount of board and card games. We didn’t play anything too exotic. We were somewhat limited in what games we could all enjoy together. (small children tend to have shorter attention spans) We played lots of Hasbro games as a result. Some of the ones I remember are Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Sorry!, Life, Mouse Trap, Monopoly (yeesh), Trouble, and others. These games are fine if your only goal is to pass the time or entertain siblings. The one thing they have in common is that they are all deterministic. There isn’t any meaningful input given by the players. This means that all the games are up to chance, and as a result, everyone has a roughly equal opportunity to win them. There are very few (if any) skill-based decisions or strategizing going on. These games all use a rando-miser of some kind to determine what you can do on your turn. Examples; rolling dice, drawing a random card from a stack, or flicking a cardboard spinner that never works.

My first foray into tabletop gaming came from extended family parties. You know the kind, on Thanksgiving after everyone gorges themselves. There is a haze of laziness as the conversation dies down and somebody recommends a board or card game. These events are where I found out that games didn’t have to be only a time-spender. They could actually be interesting and thought-provoking. One of the first of these that I began to learn is Rook. You have a teammate and information you need to communicate only to them. This was my first introduction to the meta-game. It gave me an opportunity to move into skill-based games. Now, there still aren’t many direct decisions in Rook. You get the hand you’re dealt, but the communication aspect is what interested me. The next game I remember is Ticket to Ride. It’s good because it forces you to plan moves ahead and fight against others to make those plans happen. I like it as an introductory game because it gets people involved. Everyone cares deeply when their route gets stolen. Vengeance is a good motivator to learn to be more strategic. (“I’ll get you next time!”)

I visited my local game store and they offered family game nights. The employees teach and play a game of your choice with you. This is good because rule books, especially for more technical games, can be intimidating. They would also make game recommendations based on genre, number of players, and playing time. I chose Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot.

There isn’t much to teach in this game, and it can be best described as a journey through absurdism where the winner gets picked at random. This game is one people either love or play once and vehemently oppose whenever it gets brought up thereafter. I happen to be in the first camp, but I can see why others dislike it. Because of the large amounts of dice-rolling and general chaos involved in barely increasing your chances of winning. When people lose after two hours, especially when they played better than everyone else, anger results.

The game store also had Magic: The Gathering tournaments and a game rental program. You could rent games for 5 dollars a week. When you brought it back, you got in-store credit. Brilliant idea! I chose a game a week and played it with my family. After getting enough credit I bought the one everyone enjoyed most. This is what got me into tabletop gaming. Board games are expensive, so being able to try them for cheap or free is perfect and well worth it. I rented Carcassone then bought it. (It’s very, VERY good for introducing people. Every extended family party features multiple plays now.) Some others we tried include; Munchkin, Queendomino, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, Century: Golem Edition (this is the second game I use to introduce people after Carcassone), Sushi Go Party, Bang!, etc… I can’t remember all the games I’ve tried.

After a while, I got interested in the other events at the game store. I caved and asked my future cardboard dealer what this Magic: the Gathering I’d been seeing is all about. I was given a couple of free Guilds of Ravnica intro decks (the first hit is free…) and taught the basics of how to play. I was also encouraged to try Magic: Arena and come back for FNM (which I learned means Friday Night Magic). I bought Domri and Vraska planeswalker decks and ended up playing standard with my Dad for a while. When I got back up to college, my roommate (who also plays YuGiOh) had also gotten into Magic: the Gathering. He introduced me to the Commander format. We had some good and frustrating game nights with the other roommates. (He has been playing YuGiOh for over a decade competing in regional tournaments, so he brewed some spicy decks and never misplayed…) I could still get some lucky fast wins with his Dino tribal deck, but I was out of his league. Magic is even something I was able to introduce my girlfriend (and now wife) to. Every so often we break out the commander decks or brew and play some standard. It’s a great hobby, but lately the prices have been out of control. I also have less time than I did when I was single. (which is a great thing)

So that’s my introduction to tabletop and trading card games. It’s amazing what we can do with cardboard and imagination. I recommend you try Carcassone, Century: Golem Edition (you can play normal Century but the art isn’t as gorgeous…), or Pandemic to get started. It’ll be way more interesting and enjoyable than Monopoly or Sorry!, I guarantee it.