Greatest Hits 2013: Back to School Tips for Gamers

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 27, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

When I wrote this article I put a back to school spin on it. But rereading it I realize that the advice contained within is applicable pretty much year round. If you’re a gaming nerd or just a gaming enthusiast you should do your part to share your love of games with others.

The challenge I’ve found when trying to get new people into gaming is where to start. Most people hear “board games” and think of Monopoly or Scrabble. This is a reasonable response based on their limited gaming frame of reference, and it presents you with a great opportunity to show them just how far board games have come in the years since those classics were invented.

When I talk games with the uninitiated I usually begin by asking them what kind of games they enjoy. If they say they don’t know I present them with some of the gateway games that I love. Games like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan and Forbidden Island. These games are relatively simple and easy to learn. But even explaining what these games are like can scare away a new gamer. I’ve found that to really get someone hooked you need to sit them down and play with them.

When bringing new gamers into the fold simplicity is key. Cooperative games are also very helpful as they encourage cooperation rather than an adversarial approach. Games like Catan and Forbidden Island don’t use a traditional game board which often blows people away as you begin setting things up. Today’s board games are sophisticated, inventive, and usually a lot of fun. These aren’t your parents’ games, but your parents may still enjoy them.

Just remember that your enthusiasm will be encouraging and contagious when you teach games to new people. However, keep the first few games light hearted and simple. Don’t necessarily introduce all the optional advance rules. Purposely make a bad move or two if they’ll demonstrate an important mechanic. Don’t throw the game, but make sure the new players are getting it, having fun, and have a chance of success.

If you got new games for Christmas and you’re going back to school next week, become a gaming ambassador this semester. Find new people with whom you can share the great hobby of board games. And if they’re really keen, then start to talk to them about RPGs and things a little bit more advanced than Monopoly.

From September 3, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Back to School Tips for Gamers.

Going to college was an opportunity for me, as a gaming and comic book nerd, to try and reinvent myself. I could be one of the cool kids if I wanted to be; after all no one knew me so I could try to pass myself off as anything I wanted. Good in theory, but I quickly realized that I’m a gamer and that I couldn’t change or hide that fact. Instead I took my first steps as a gaming ambassador. I shared my love of games – board games, card games and role-playing games – with all of the new people I met while I was away at school. The key was to ease people into it gaming and let them discover for themselves just how much fun gaming can be.

Games as ice breakers

When I was ready to begin my college education, I chose a school in a different city then the one I grew up in. This meant that I was forced to make new friends. Fortunately I lived in a dormitory during my first year at school and was thrust into close quarters with a lot of other students in the same boat. For some people making new friends can be difficult; especially making friends with members of the opposite sex. In my experience board games and role-playing games can help bring strangers together in a relaxed and fun way.

During my first few weeks at school a lot of people spent a lot of time partying. But once they ran out of money and realized they needed to study, they looked for other ways to have fun that weren’t as expensive or time consuming – boards games to the rescue! Board games allowed people to take a quick study break for an hour or less to socialize with their fellow students and have fun in the process.

Party games that allowed for 6 or more players were usually the most popular, but 4 player strategy games certainly had their place as well. In my experience it was a good idea to have a variety of games at the ready. Since I was the one who owned most of the games I got to know almost everyone in my dorm (guys and girls) in a very short period of time.

Once word got out that I was the games guy people would often ask if they could borrow my games. This can be a double edged sword. I was glad to see so many people interested in sharing my hobby, but I was worried about what would happen to my games so I compromised. I did lend my games out but I always asked if I could play a game or two with whomever was borrowing it. This let me meet more people and it let me judge the way in which they’d treat my property. By the year’s end all my games got destroyed or lost too many pieces to be played again, but I felt this was a fair trade given the friendships and social interactions that came from the gaming experiences.

Gamers are gamers are gamers

Playing a board game in the dorm’s common room is one thing, but playing a full on D&D adventures in the common room is an entirely different beast. Most RPGs are not the kind of thing you can just show up for, drop in, sit down, and play. And if this does happen the new players often don’t get it or don’t see the appeal. The result is ridicule. For this reason I usually played D&D behind closed doors with other like-minded gamers.

The challenge I faced at a new school in a new town was finding other role-playing gamers. Today it’s just a matter of going online and looking for a nearby gaming store that runs a public-play program like D&D Encounters. The internet was in its infancy when I was a student so I was forced to more mundane means of finding players. Had there been a gaming shop near my school that would have been my first stop, but I was in a small town with no such outlet. Instead I advertised. What I mean is that I often carried my gaming books with me or read them in plain view of other students.

When we had people over to our room to play games or hang out (my room was one of the only ones with a TV) I made sure my gaming books were easily spotted on the shelf. I even had D&D posters on the wall among all the other movie, sports, rock & roll and classic art posters. By showing off my gaming stuff other gamers would inevitably say something. It took less than a month to find five other gamers and start playing the D&D Bloodstone campaign.

Once word got out that there was a regular Wednesday night D&D game happening in our dorm we found that we became the heart of the campus RPG community. People who wanted to play D&D would either join our group or ask for our help to find enough folks to start their own game. We ended up helping other gamers start groups that played RIFTS, Star Trek RPG, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire the Masquerade and of course D&D.

Don’t forget who your friends are

When I went away to school I made a lot of new friends, many of them gamers. Most of the guys I played with in high school did the same at their respective schools. The result was that my original gaming group split up for many years. After we all completed our studies and moved back home we didn’t immediately get back to gaming together. It was a strange situation because some of the guys wanted to get back together and game like we did when we were in high school. Others were in new groups and didn’t want to leave them.

What ended up happening was that my core gaming group grew apart. What we didn’t realize at first was that our weekly gaming session was the glue that held us together. Without it we just didn’t make the time to see each other and life-long friendships began deteriorating. It took the tragedy of a funereal to bring us all back together a few years after college. As part of our healing process we decided to start gaming again. That was almost 15 years ago and we’ve gamed almost every week since then. Our group has some of the guys who played together in high school as well as a few new gamers we met while away at school.

Forever a gamer

For all the gamers out there starting at a new school this week, I encourage you to become a gaming ambassador. Don’t stop gaming just because you’re at school. Games are fun. They provide a reason for people who might not otherwise spend time together to hang out and have fun.

In my experience being the guy who knows all the great games made me quite popular. When other students needed a cheap night in they often asked me to recommend a game. For those students who really liked to party, I was often asked to recommend drinking games or help tweak some of my favourite board games into drinking games (if you’re going to do this please drink responsibly). Some might see the gamer as a socially awkward nerd but I found as I introduced new people to games it helped give me confidence and certainly help my communication skills. So if you’re a gamer going back to school embrace that part of you and don’t be a afraid to proudly exclaim that you play games.

Did you play games when you were at college? Were you a closet gamer or were you loud and proud? Were you a gaming ambassador teaching the ignorant masses your favourite games? How many people still play games (RPG or board games) with people they met at college? Tell us about your college gaming experiences.

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