Depth /complexity barrier


I've been thinking a lot about the perceived depth/complexity barrier to modern board gaming. Conventional wisdom says that it is a barrier but I wonder how much of a barrier it is. 

I had a friend who hadn't played any modern board games and didn't play video games. He came for a board game night. The game he wanted to play was Scythe. Scythe is not super heavy but it is not normal gateway fare.

I have other friends who's gateway games were Race for the Galaxy, they don't mind the symbology. Another one who's first modern game was TI3. 

My gateway game was Fief: France 1429. I had played Catan plus a lot of Risk, Monopoly, and Life. But nothing that grabbed me like Fief. 

So I guess my question is this. How important is it that the game be gateway(ish)? Obviously it depends on the person. But isn't it more important that something, the theme, the artwork, the fact that it looks like a "grown-up" game, is something that they can personally feel invested in?

Obviously, it would be ideal if you could have a blend of both. And, it is getting easier and easier to have that blend but I guess my plea is too not underestimate the new player. Playing strategically might not be as natural to them. You might have to explain what it means to draft a card. But they often can play what they WANT to play. 

Obviously it behooves you /me as the more experienced player at table to try and make sure the that are having fun. And we have to be sure that they know that if they picked out TI4 it will be an all day experience. 

I don't want to shortsell the typical gateway game they have been the catalyst for untold numbers of people entering this wonderful hobby. But let us remember that the interest of the person in the game is vital as well. 

What are your thoughts? Am I way off track? Am I using my experience with a small sample and applying it to broadly? What were your gateway games?

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13 months ago

Highly depends on the person, I think. Willingness to learn and desire to play are going to be the main things determining whether or not they pick up a "heavier" game. A game that has its theme well integrated with its mechanisms is going to be easier to pick up, as well. Bonus points if the person is predisposed to enjoying the theme.

Supporter13 months ago

Theme is what it’s all about! Theme helps make a game interesting and can (should) make the rules make sense.  

13 months ago

I think you're on to something. Gateway games, as they're called, are great for a general entry-level game. And they're good for long-time gamers as well! But I always like to tailor a "gateway" game to the new gamer's preferences. Star Wars fan? Maybe I'll play some Destiny with him. Fantasy reader? If he's a Brandon Sanderson fan, Mistborn: House War is a good choice, along with Heroes of Land, Air & Sea (if lots going on isn't too intimidating for them), or some cooperative dungeon crawler like Wakening Lair. Fan of chess? Let's play Element! 

I think the "complexity" of a game turns off more people than it should. Heroes of Land, Air & Sea is fairly complex according to BGG, and yet I feel like it's fairly straightforward (at least, after a few turns). Depending on how open a person is to learning a new game, the sky could very well be the limit. 

Supporter13 months ago

Yup! I try to not really focus on the complexity of a game when bringing in new players. You just need to get them started and let the theme carry them away!

Supporter13 months ago

I think as long as expectations are set and you know the people well, you can lead with any game that you know well. I wouldn’t take a game like Root to a group of new gamers when I haven’t really learned it well, but after I’ve played and taught it several times, I think any game would be fine.

Supporter13 months ago

I’m in the same camp. To me, you need to individualize the game for the player. In my mind almost any game can be a gateway game as long as the theme is present for the individual. Like Ben said in his response, if they love Star Wars, find a Star Wars game they will enjoy. If they like Vikings, maybe you play Raiders of the North Sea. Once you get the hook into them, many more games open up and you can continue to explore and find more and more games to play. Sometimes starting with Catan as the traditional gateway game is just a really bad idea. 

Supporter13 months ago

Definitely an individual situation.... most of the people in my group prefers to go "slower" so gateway and highly highly thematic games have been the best way to go for them. I like to think of games as groups, if you're trying to get to play heavier game X with the group then first introduce Y gateway game with that mechanic and Z that's a bit heavier before if possible. 

Supporter13 months ago

Also, some of the games that I had considered gateway just aren't. The biggest example is 7 Wonders. We tried to teach it to new gamers and they just had a hard time getting the symbols and strategy on top of the rules and drafting. From now on, I'll probably introduce someone by playing Sushi Go and then 7 Wonders. 

Supporter13 months ago

I agree with a lot of what's already been said. And as for the potential of higher complexity games to be have a gateway status, I think the key is to make the integration between theme and mechanics as seamless as possible. For example, games like Viticulture and Wingspan are more complex than the standard gateways but aren't too hard to pickup due to the intuitive blend of theme and mechanics (for me, personally). I think this is one of the successes of Stonemaier Games in that they offer a good middle ground between the standard gateway & heavyweight games that are very welcoming for beginners. Sure, they might not get a high score on the first play, but a good "complex gateway" is intuitive enough that a player will be able to do much better at least by the second play.

This is what Phil Walker-Harding mentioned in his interview with me (if you haven't heard of Phil before, he is the designer behind games such as Sushi Go and Imhotep, and I regard him as one of the leading creators of accessible games):

"One of the biggest barriers to people playing games is having to learn the rules. I think for people who aren’t used to it having to learn rules and then play with them can feel stressful, almost like a surprise quiz at school! So a huge part of accessibility is that the game is quick and easy to learn. Ideally, it can be learned by simply watching others play, or it can explained in just a few minutes."

"Players also need to feel comfortable that they understand what they are supposed to do on their turn. So I always try and have only few options to select from, very clear decision points, and quick feedback loops. That is, players can opaquely see the results of their actions soon after they take them."

"Another key factor in accessibility is clear and intuitive graphic design. I think it’s important that players don’t have to expend mental energy on figuring out what the components do or how they work."

Supporter13 months ago

Phil, I enjoy that you talk to so many different industry people and can offer informed opinions on many different topics. Thank you!

Supporter13 months ago

Haha thanks Brian, it's been cool to hear so many different insights. An interview in the works is with a board game editor! (never even knew it was a thing)