Continuing our week of board games articles, with an emphasis on gaming groups, here are some suggestions for great starter games. By ”starter game” I’m talking about the first game you play at a session, often while people are still arriving. For me, a good starter game needs to meet several criteria:
- It’s relatively quick to play.
- It’s simple to learn, preferably with rules you can learn while actually playing.
- It doesn’t lend itself to analysis paralysis (players taking too long to make decisions), ultra-competitiveness or rules arguments, all of which are not a good first impression for first-timers.
- It can cope with people joining in midway rather than have newcomers feeling left out.
One of the favorites at the group I attend is Pickomino, also known as Heckmeck. It’s a simple game of rolling up to eight dice, keeping all the dice of one value (1 to 5 or a worm, also worth 5) and rerolling, at which point you take all the of the same value (but not one you’ve already taken.) You then repeat until you can take no more dice (at which point you go bust), take a tile from the center that’s at or below your total, or take a tile from another player of exactly the same value.
The beauty is that this (and the few other rules) can be learned from watching other players take their turn and it’s always simple to explain the options a player has at any point. While there’s a disadvantage to joining in late, it’s a game where building up a lead doesn’t always last, so even latecomers have a decent shot of pulling back a victory.
On a similar note, Zombie Dice is even simpler yet surprisingly compelling. Players simply roll three dice, which can be brains, feet or shotgun blasts. You keep all brains and blasts and have the option to reroll the feet (drawing up new dice to make sure you always roll three.) Red feet are more likely to go bad when rerolled, orange are middle and green the most likely to produce a good reroll. You keep any brains you have when you decide to stop rerolling; if you ever get three shotgun blasts your turn ends and you take no brains. Once somebody has 13 brains, you finish the round and the player with the most wins.
Again, there’s a disadvantage to joining in late, but one way round this is to simply give a newcomer whatever the average number existing players have already collected. Even if you don’t do this, the rule about finishing the final round means remaining players have the incentive to go for broke and our group has seen some amazing last-ditch totals.
I also couldn’t miss the starter game at the first session I ever went to, namely Fluxx. It’s a card game available in numerous themed editions, but in every case the key is that both the rules for which cards you can play and exactly how you achieve the win are constantly changing because the cards themselves lay out the rules. It has a big disadvantage in that a game can just as easily end in a couple of hands or go on seemingly forever, but it does mean a new arrival can start playing instantly with no disadvantage and grasp the rules in a couple of seconds – before they change, that is.
If you’ve got any suggestions for greater starter games, please do share them in the comments below!