GAMES THAT CONVERT! How I Converted [Most] My Family to Gaming in 12 Months
Shane Larsen
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Christmas, 2009; Number of games gifted among the members of my immediate family (and their kids): One. It was Agricola. Given to me from my mother. She would have never known it was something I really wanted if I hadn't blatantly told her.

Fast forward 12 months...

Christmas, 2010: Number of games gifted among the members of my immediate family (and their kids): 20!

This is just one stat of many that shows how my family has been [mostly] converted to gaming during 2010.

So how did I do it? How does one successfully convert a family/group/circle of friends/etc. to gaming?...A lot of research, a lot of effort to discover the likes of every family member, and a lot of late nights hashing out rules and wading through first plays. But most of all, a lot of fun and great memories with my family.

Below is a list of games that worked to convert my family and how each of them shine as a converting tool. I think this will be useful because I have family members of all types. Fortunately I've found a good converting game for [almost] every one of them. For many, I've found numerous.

For me, a big part of a game's converting power comes down to the first play. If somebody doesn't enjoy their first play of a game, it's usually difficult to talk them into another play of any game. So picking the game for the right person is important. A lot of my comments below have to do with how each of these games work best and for whom they may work to convert in your family/group.

Please feel free to add a game that has worked for you to convert non-gamers to the religion we call GAMING.

EDIT: I've now created a microbadge for anybody who wants to show their pride as a Gaming Missionary. If you try to convert everybody you know to gaming, you owe it to yourself to pick up this microbadge!:

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Thanks and happy converting!
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1. Board Game: The Resistance: Avalon [Average Rating:7.86 Overall Rank:32]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary Quote: I bet you already know what I'm going to say. Well, you can believe everything I tell you, I promise. Trust me.

This game has been, by far, the most successful converter game in my entire collection. If you want to convert people to the hobby, there is no safer bet, IMO, than The Resistance: Avalon. Why is that, you ask?:

1. It feels as much like a social game as it does a board game. So people who might be repelled by a "board" game, are easily sold on it. The small box helps in this regard.
2. The rules are very simple. You can basically jump right in with a brief description. After one round, they'll understand the flow of the game perfectly--and a round only takes a few minutes. After one game, they'll understand the subtleties and nuances of the bluff, the lie, and the strategic decisions involved in the game. Which brings me to the next point:
3. It has the highest let's-play-again-right-now factor of any game I've ever encountered. I rarely pull this game out when I don't play it at least 5 times in a night.

As a side note: I strongly recommend buying The Resistance: Avalon over its predecessor, The Resistance. You can easily convert Avalon to the base game, while converting the base game to Avalon is much more involved. Additionally, the characters that come in Avalon are fantastic. Lastly, if you want The Plot Thickens expansion (which comes in the base game), you can buy it for $5 or $6 in the BGG Store.
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2. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:50]
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Missionary quote: "Hi, do you believe in dice?...I'd like to teach you how the luck factor in dice rolling can be mitigated by a couple very interesting mechanics."

I introduced Stone Age to two of my sisters and their families in Spring 2009. Needless to say, their conversions were the easiest. One sister went out and bought her own copy two days later. The other still ranks it as her #1 game and always wants to play it.

Stone Age converts people who already have interest in the hobby. These people do not need to be convinced of the hobby. They already have desire to find out what is out there in terms of strategy gaming. If you have a loved one in this category, use Stone Age.

Stone Age does not do a great job with the stubborn non-gamers. If you're trying to convert someone who is resistent, stay away from Stone Age. It's too big. There are too many bits and pieces. The game length can drag a bit. And most of all, the scoring system is too complex for somebody who doesn't want to learn anything...well, too complex.
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3. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:30] [Average Rating:7.77 Unranked]
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Missionary quote: "Hi, I'm here to show to you that the 'a-ha' moment is possible for you."

Dominion is easy to learn. But it takes a few shuffles and plays through the deck before a new player atually 'gets it.' This is the greatest converting feature of Dominion. For some people, that I-get-it moment is a hook that will bring them back over and over. Dominion is great to use with someone you're sure will be a gamer--with some people you can just tell.

I also recommend Dominion for people who claim to only like card games:

Non-gamer: "I only like card games. Board games are stupid."
You: "Perfect, I've got a card game I think you'll love."

Lastly, Dominion is fast to play, offers great replayability (newbies get excited about trying new action-card options), and it offers great strategy training.
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4. Board Game: Tobago [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:305]
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Missionary quote: "Hey you...over there...hi. Do you like what you see? Well come on over and check me out."

Tobago may not be the greatest game in terms of intriguing play. But it is definitely one of the most beautiful games I own. It's also very easy to teach and therefore scores high in attraction value. If you're looking for a game to play that will suck people over with interest, Tobago is a winner. I also really enjoy the bidding mechanic with the treasure cards. This mechanic, on several occasions, has created loud cheers late at night among my family. That's a good thing when trying to convert.
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5. Board Game: Battle Line [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:133]
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Missionary quote: "If I told you there was a way for you and your loved-one to be happy forever for under $15, would you want to learn more?"

On BGG, I see the word "gem" thrown often to describe games. I've gathered that is usually describes a game that wasn't much money and/or has simple mechanics or is relatively small, but surprisingly offers great value fun, strategies, etc.. By those terms, there is no greater "gem" in my collection, than Battle Line. It's true, my wife and I (girlfriend when we first discovered it), probably spent more time playing Battle Line than eating together during our courtship. I personally believe it was Battle Line that opened my wife's mind to the great games that are out there to be discovered.

Battle Line is my favorite 2-player game of all time. If for nothing more than the power it has over my wife--I can get her to play Battle Line almost any time I want.

Battle Line is portable. So you can take it anywhere. It's also very, very addicting. If you can get somebody to play this twice, they'll be dying to play again because there are strategies to discover and experiment for every level of player.

Battle Line is, in my humble opinion, THE best two-player gem to convert non-gamers to gamers. If this is your objective, you need Battle Line. And it sells for less than $15 at most online retailers.
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6. Board Game: Parade [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:645]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary quote: "Hey you, if you think that game above is too exclusive, you should join our parade."

Parade is a consolation choice to Battle Line. A two-player game of Parade feels somewhat similar to Battle Line--I personally prefer the extra layers of strategy offered by the tactic cars in Battle Line. The advantage Parade has over BL, though, is scalability. It plays up to six players and it is ridiculously easy to teach. It is the best game in my collection for adding more players every round. Parade makes the following scenario possible:

Curious Guy: "Hey, what's that you're playing?"
You: "Oh, it's called Parade. Here's how it works. When I play this card, I do this...Now it's so-and-so's turn."
Curious Guy: "That's it? Sounds fun. Can I play?"
You: "Yes! We only have a couple more rounds and we'll show you how scoring works, and you're in the next round."
Conversion Tracker: +1

I can honestly say that one night, in two hours with Parade on the table, I opened the doors to gaming conversion for five of my family members. What a night in 2010! Parade got major kudos from me on converting power.
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7. Board Game: Dice Town [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:535]
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Missionary quote: "Kids, gather 'round! I'm about to teach you about Poker in a fun way. And while we're at it, I'll show you how it feels to make critical decisions!"

Dice Town was the first game with which I had mass success among the younger kids in my family. Titan, my 7-year-old nephew, wanted to play this game over and over for three days straight. While this game doesn't score high points on strategy offerings, it does plant the seed for strategy thinking. Players are forced to make critical decisions while considering other players' choices. Can you say "preparation for greater things to come."

If you want a game that will groom the young'ens for future quality game nights, get Dice Town.

BTW, I recently traded mine away because among my family there are now two other copies as well as a copy of Pony Express. I'd say that's a successful converting game.
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8. Board Game: Castle Panic [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:620]
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Missionary quote: "Hi, would you like to learn how to stop killing people in your family and learn to work together for a shared cause?"

For me, this was--and still is--the best co-operative game for converting non-gamers to gaming in my family. I researched and played that other co-op game...Pandermal?--whatever it is, and I absolutely loathed the mechanic of repededly replacing cards on top of the deck. If fact, it's that same mechanic that makes Forbidden Island the runner-up to Castle Panic. Forbidden Island is quicker and easier to teach than any of them. Plus, the components prove to be less intimidating then either Castle Panic or Pandemic. If it weren't for that loathsome mechanic, it may have replaced Castle Panic for the best converter co-op.

In the end, I rank Castle Panic above all the rest in the co-op category. For its simple rules, superior theme, and scalability.
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9. Board Game: Dixit [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:119] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary quote: "Don't let those people put words in your mouth. Isn't it about time you start speaking for yourself?"

A gaming mentor of mine once said, "Monopoly should be replaced with Acquire in everybody's game collection."

I'm going to steal his line and re-phrase it: Apple to Apples should be replaced with Dixit in everybody's game collection.

Most of my family has played Apples to Apples. And we've had a lot of fun with it in the past. So moving somebody from AtoA to Dixit, is easy. I just say, "It's like a more creative Apples to Apples." And it is.

So how does it help in converting? It shows people that great art can be a vital element to the quality of a game. When you play it, talk about how cool the art is and convince them that the game would be flat without the incredible art. Down the road, it will pay off when you introduce more thematic games. Plus, it's a lot of easy fun. If nothing more, you'll gain trust for future games that you choose to present to them.
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10. Board Game: Chinatown [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:308]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary Quote: Can we come in? Maybe we could just sit around the table a while, discuss some sort of arrangement, and make some kind of deal. I promise, it will benefit us both.

The rules in Chinatown are about as easy as rules can get. Draw your cards, discard the required number. Place your player discs on the town spaces--you own those spaces. Now draw business tiles--you own those business tiles. You want to build businesses in adjacent space on the board. You can trade anything you own. You get money at the end of each round according to this chart. The person with the most money at the end wins. Go.

It's really about that simple. But the game is so much fun. The trading, risk-taking, positioning, luck-of-the-draw, calculating, property valuations, etc. etc, are so engaging that a game can really become an exercise in group manipulation.

I can't recommend it enough for people who want pure interaction with a taste of competitive nastiness.
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11. Board Game: Lifeboats [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:903]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary quote: "Wouldn't it be nice if you could get rid of all your anger, jealousy, and animosity?"

Most people wouldn't consider Lifeboats a "good idea" with people who are new or investigating the hobby of gaming. But I believe it's all in the presentation. For me, Lifeboats was the perfect tool for teaching my family how to be cutthroat, and not care! We have a saying in our family now: "Leave your feelings at the door." When I introduced Lifeboats, I told them they couldn't play it unless they all swore to leave their feelings at the door and when they got angry, to learn to laugh at it. It worked! We had a blast. And their conflict tolerance has been greatly increased.

Lately, as I'm introducing new games, if they sense potential conflict in its gameplay, they ask, "Do we need to leave our feelings at the door for this one?" It's awesome. Most of my family has learned how to have fun being the backstabber and/or the backstabbed, and it's all because of Lifeboats. What a fun game when you go into it knowing what it's all about.

Libeboats converts people to be okay with conflict in gaming.
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12. Board Game: Shadow Hunters [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:511]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary quote: "Would you like to know who your real friends and real enemies are in this life?"

Hidden identities, unstable alliances, and social deduction! All three of these game ideas are presented in an easy-to-explain manner with Shadow Hunters. My family LOVES this game. The first night I introduced it, we played it four times! It's so easy to teach. Just explain how the cards work, the three different types of characters, help the first couple players through their first turns, and wham-o! Game taught.

Shadow Hunters is my go-to game for large groups of newbies. Every time I've introduced it, the group has wanted to play again.

I warn you, however, that the game gets dry the fewer people you have. Large groups is key, 7 or 8.
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13. Board Game: Witch's Brew [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:460]
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Missionary quote: "Come with me, little dearies, I'll teach you three important gaming mechanics with simple little recipe."

Witch's Brew is a great converter game. I read through the rulebook once and had a clear understanding of how it plays. I was able to teach it very quickly. And it teaches three great gaming principles that will go a long way in your group's gaming maturation:

1. ROLE SELECTION - So many great games use role-selection as a core mechanic. When teaching something a little beefier like Puerto Rico, it's nice to be able to say, "Remember in Witch's Brew when..."
2. MULTIPLE PATHS TO VICTORY - In Witch's Brew, although not a daunting amount, there are several ways to score victory points. It teaches this in a very non-intimidating manner.
3. X + Y = Z, AND Z = VPs - Witch's Brew uses recipes, other games use production and shipping of goods, you get my drift. Again, Witch's Brew teaches how VPs come as a result of a multiple-step process. Thus, easing the blow for the introduction of more complex scoring systems later.
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14. Board Game: Ra: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:814]
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Missionary quote: "No, I am not a sect!"

In a long-list of Yahtzee-style games, I've played only a few. Among them, RA: The Dice Game and Roll Through the Ages. For converting purposes, RA:TDG is better then RTtA. Here's why:

1. MORE INTERACTION. I personally don't have much converting success with multi-player solitaire games. So since RA:TDG involves a lot of player interaction, I recommend it over RTtA.
2. A BOARD! Remember, we're converting people to board gaming. I hate that in RTtA, you are using a pencil and note pad. Bring out the board and battle for space and dominance. That's teaching better board game mechanics.

I'm not saying Roll Through the Ages is a bad game. I just don't think it converts as well as RA: The Dice Game.
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15. Board Game: Summoner Wars [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:228] [Average Rating:7.41 Unranked]
Shane Larsen
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Missionary quote: "Got tact?"

I have one particular nephew who is obsessed with Heroscape. All he wants to do in a game is move and attack. Anything else in a game is of no interest to him. Or I should more accurately say, "was" of no interest to him. I used Summoner Wars to help him start seeing the light to a deeper side of gaming.

While Summoner Wars is still very much on the thematic side of games, it welcomes the thematically-obsessed and quietly teaches some great deck-management and tactical-movement skills. My nephew was easily convinced to play because he saw the dice and the wound tokens. But I saw him thinking harder as he learned the game and wanted more and more to beat me. It opened his mind to more games and I can say he's now more versatile in his gaming preferences.

Lately, we've also been enjoying Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation and Dominion. My long-term goal for him is Chaos in the Old World.
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16. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.14 Overall Rank:5]
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Missionary quote: "Hello, friend. I've been waiting for you."

I have a few family members with whom I have the pleasure of enjoying Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico may be my favorite game at this point. But I don't consider it a good game to convert non-gamers to gaming. Instead, I think of it as a game that converts light gamers to medium-heavy games. The only downside to introducing Puerto Rico to these people is that it may be a while before they want to learn any new games. Puerto Rico sets a deep hook into the right audience. They'll want to play ONLY Puerto Rico for a decent length of time.
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17. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:184]
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Missionary Quote: "We value what we want to value in life. When will you start valuing the things I value the same?"

Modern Art is a work of art in its own right. It's simple, but makes perfect sense in the world of art collecting, buying, and selling. The players (or collectors) are the ones who determine what's popular or valuable, and they do it by buying. There's really no other value in art. The game goes right along with that.

The various auctions that can be triggered are fun. They teach all the different types of auctions a gamer would ever encounter in other games. So that's a huge bonus. Plus, there's a real hand-management game involved once players get to know the deck and the game play.

This game has replaced For Sale as my go-to, pure-auction game for beginner players. It's a must-have in a converter's collection.
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18. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:219]
Shane Larsen
United States
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UT
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Missionary quote: "That feeling you're feeling now in your stomach. It has a name, it's called Gaming."

For Sale is hands down THE most successful converter game I have for non-gamers in my collection. It does so many things perfectly: it plays quickly, it is explained easily, it scales well, it teaches the importance of timing, it teaches auctioning as a core mechanic, it teaches phases in a game, it presents difficult decisions and creates "oh crap" and "heck yes" moments, and I could go on.

The greatest filler game is also one of the greatest converter games. No matter who you are, I think you should own For Sale and introduce it to as many non-gamers and gamers as possible.
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19. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:66]
Shane Larsen
United States
Pleasant View
UT
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Missionary quote: "So you like trick-taking, eh? Well what if I told you you could have that, and more?"

My mother likes Hearts, Rook, Pinochle, and Gin (the card game). I tried and tried to get her to play so many games. But I finally gained her trust when I introduced Tichu. Tichu is really a trick-taking game, so it might seem like a small step for someone who already loves trick-taking games. But...Tichu did two very important things for me:

1. It introduced a chaos element to the traditional games she was used to. The Mah-Jong, Hound, Phoenix, and Dragon forced my mother to step outside her Ace-to-King thinking. A "gateway" some might say.
2. It gained her trust in me for future opportunites. She had fun, and next time I say, "Mom, I think you'll like this game." She might believe me and give it a shot.

Since Tichu, I have held my mother's hand on a walk to the following games: Bottle Imp, Battle Line, Parade, and Dixit. Soon we'll step out of the card-only category. Soon...
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20. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:148]
Matt Brown
United States
Okemos
Michigan
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The best gateway co-op going.

The Goal: To sort 5 different suites of cards into piles numbered 1-5 with no gaps or repeated numbers.

The Problem: You can't look at your cards. Ever.

Player's Turn: Play a card, discard a card, or use one of the limited clue tokens and give a clue to another player. Clues are either they have card(s) with a specific number, "These two cards are fours," or color, "These three cards are red." If a player makes an illegal play, the players earn one strike. Three strikes and the game end with a score of zero. Players can earn clue tokens back by discarding or completing a stack.

But is it fun? The games that separate themselves are the games with dynamic moments. Like a player showing their initial hand and reviling 3 green 1s. The two other players laughing and the person holding the cards going, "What?" Two clues later and everybody is laughing.

The moment when there is a stack of green cards with a 2 on top. You and another player have a green 3. Both know they have a green or a 3 and see the other players green 3. The one player discards his and you suddenly know you have a green 3 and play it.

Knowing only one thing about a single card out of the hand you have and deciding it is worth playing since if it was worth discarding you would have hoped the other players would have clued you in. You play it successfully.

Asking a person what they know about their hand, finding out they are wrong about two of them, you only have one clue to give if that, and you can't correct them. There's only two copies of fours. Was one of the cards they had wrong a four? Yes, yes it was.

The ultimate fun one, there's no clues to give so you have to play, and you literally know nothing about any of your cards. And yes, this will happen often. Good luck.
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21. Board Game: China [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:414]
Shane Larsen
United States
Pleasant View
UT
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Missionary Quote: "What do you think your mom would want you to do?"

My mom is does not join in on games. Ever. But somehow, I was able to get her alone with my wife to play a game of China. Even as we sat, she said, "Wait, I don't build cities!" I assured her the game was very easy, and would be over before she knew it. And it was. She immediately wanted to play again.

Many people have argued with me about the converting power of China. But I'll only say this: It's very similar to TtR, only I think it's cleaner, takes 1/3 of the time to play and explain, is less intimidating from the beginning with its minimal components, and it's FUNNER!

(This is where I'm sure maNy will come to bat for TtR.) Just to clarity: I'm not saying TtR is a bad converter game. In fact I think it's fantastic. I just think China is better, and funner.
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22. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:26]
Shane Larsen
United States
Pleasant View
UT
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Missionary quote: "Bet you didn't think you'd see me here, did ya?"

I requested that El Grande be put on a list of "gateway" games a few months back. Unfortunately, my request was denied by a vote of my BGG peers. But to be honest, I have had more success teaching El Grande to newbies than I have Stone Age. I think this game is a great converter game to somebody who doesn't need a super-light game to start out. The way the scoring happens several times over the course of the game is brilliant for a new player. After the first scoring round, I guarantee, everybody knows how to play and there's still plenty of time left to implement strategies.

This game is the king of area control and the king of teaching it. I converted several non-gamers into gamers with a session of El Grande. Any time I think someone can handle it, I introduce it right away.
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23. Board Game: Wits & Wagers [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:370]
Shane Larsen
United States
Pleasant View
UT
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Missionary quoted: "My message is one of trust. And I send it to all who are withing the sound of my voice. Join us. You will find happiness and long-lasting joy if you do."

I was in charge of games at the 2010-2011 New Year's party. A huge group of my closest friends would be there and I needed a game that would (1) be fun and engaging to suck people in no matter what they were doing at the party, (2) invoke trust from my friends in order to bring them closer to gaming in the future, and (3) work for a very large group of rowdie party-goers. Wits & Wagers did it.

Here's the crazy part of the story. I found Wits & Wagers at a thrift store two months ago for $2.99. I had no idea this would be the successful converter that it was. Since the New Year, I've received several texts asking for info on the game. And several friends have asked to do a game night some time.

The best party converter I know of is Wits & Wagers.
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24. Board Game: Space Alert [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:78]
Konata Izumi
United States
Madison
WI
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Believe it or not, this convinced some of my friends, including a very judgmental one (who didn't want to be seen as "geeky") to begin playing games with us (she now owns Dominion, Stone Age, and Settlers). While it does take a little time to explain, the mechanics are actually very straightforward in the end, and coupled with the flash mission player and the flash turn resolution player, you have an instant hit. It's the most unique game anyone will play and is only 10 minutes per mission, which is a big draw. There is no one who doesn't enjoy watching a video of their cute colored space cadets scampering around a ship and pressing buttons.
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25. Board Game: Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:193] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Wind Lane
United States
Albuquerque
New Mexico
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RPGs - Natures way of saying "You would never be able to do this in real life." NOT A BAD THING.
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All the world's a stage, and I feel like the janitor.
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This game works on nearly all younger boys and a good percentage of grown-up guys as well.

It's a giant box of toys with a really good rule set. This is the main game I used to get my nephews interested in gaming and it's so easy because you've got all that great eye-candy and then when they sit down to actually play, it's a fun game too.

Building the maps is like playing with legos, so there's that bit of fun to be had without even playing the game.
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