The 3 Laws of Games

Did you know there are laws of library science? No they are not

  • A librarian may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A librarian must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A librarian must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Although, one would hope that a Librarian would follow at least the first and last one.

There are actually 5 laws of library science, which I guess it means they are more complex, or less elegant than the laws that govern A.I. Today I’m going to only talk about 3 of those laws:

  • Books are for use.
  • Every reader his [or her] book.
  • Every book its reader.

The truth is I love to quote these three laws in the context of games. Largely because I’ve seen this scene way too often:

I am at a public gaming event. There are tons of board games brought in by many of the people attending the event. Almost everyone is involved with a game. At some point someone who has never played a real game before stumbles into the event, and is curious. A well meaning person walks up to them, greets them, and offers to show them a game. This greeter then, wisely, asks about their gaming experience, and tastes in games. The people who walk in of course will have all sorts of unique answers, but then as if the person who greeted them didn’t hear those answers the new players find themselves in front of a copy of Settlers of Catan, or some new fancy game that is currently hot at the moment.

I need to be careful here, and explain why I’m calling Catan out by name. I’m not commenting on the quality of Catan. I’m commenting on the fact that gamers mistake it as a gateway game, because it use to be one. It’s not that it can’t fill that role now, but it’s not the right game for everyone. In fact with such a huge library of board games on the market (30,000+), there are plenty of other games that have greater universal appeal than Catan. Yes, 10 years ago Catan was one of the best gateway games. That was a decade ago.

Now, I need to also address the followup question my previous comments are sure to bring up. Yes, I also suggested that newer games are a bad idea, so this probably leaves a few of you wondering what I would suggest?

The truth is there is no universal answer. Catan is a mistake, sometimes, because it use to be one of the safer bets, but that has changed. The “new” game I’m talking about might be a super safe bet, but too often I’ve seen it be a game that is a less elegant derivative of an older game, and the only reason it is suggested is the person suggesting the game is bored of the older game. It’s understandable to want to try a new spin on an old idea, but the new player hasn’t seen the old idea yet.

The common thread to all of my concerns with this approach is it violates the laws of library science, as it applies to games, in that the person suggesting the game doesn’t bother to try and find the right game for the person they are trying to bring into the hobby. Instead, they accidentally bring their own personal bias into the equation, or try to follow a mental macro.

With all of that said, I’m not saying it’s easy to meet someone, and instantly put them in front of what will be their new favorite game, but there are a few tricks you can use to help match a person to the right game.

One is to find out what kind of time they have to explore games. Don’t scare them by saying “do you have 8 hours to try new games?” but you can say “I’ve got a few games I’d like to show you to see what appeals to you most.” This helps the person feel OK with not liking one or more of the games you show them, and you’ll get less polite, and more honest feedback. Also, remember to get feedback after each game. Ask the player if the game felt too complex, too long, etc.

Another trick is to hit them with some of the more modern fusion games. These games tend to be faster, have interesting themes, and some strategy to boot. When in doubt go with fusion games. This of course isn’t a universal rule, as some fusion games might be the latest gimmick game I was concerned about earlier.

The idea is to really focus on what might appeal to them, so if the person had said “I use to play The Longest Day 20 years ago”, you know they likely want something with some depth. However, if they said “I’ve only played Risk.” then maybe you go with Memoir ’44.

Finally, make sure you put yourself out of the equation as much as you can. If the game you think may appeal to them the most doesn’t appeal to you, and you can’t find a good alternative, then it’s OK to teach them, and then walk away to play something else. The goal is to help them ease into the hobby.

There’s a lot more to matching a person to a game, and at some level it just takes practice. I think the biggest thing is to be aware of the potential problems and, if you just keep those 3 laws in mind, then you’re more likely to naturally avoid them.

One comment

Leave a Reply