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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Holiday Gateways

Holiday time is a great reason to introduce people to new games – games other than what they’re used to playing in typical American Monopoly Pinochle Clue Sorry families. So which games?

Here’s our list of games that we ‘typically” bring to family gatherings, office parties and other get-togethers with friends over the holidays. And to be clear, these would be “non-gamer” parties. For our hard-core friends it’s the latest Essen releases or bust!


The Great Dalmuti
This one is simple – get rid of your cards to win. Play cards by playing lower numbered cards than the person who played before you. And if they played 3 of a kind, you play 3 of a kind. If you played 5 of a kind, so do you. There’s a few more rules, but most the fun is the order of finish, from Great Dalmuti to Merchant to Lesser Peon and finally to Greater Peon. We always use bizarre hats to denote each finish position around a table.

“Draw one, play one.” That’s the whole rule set, at least at the beginning. Then the rules change as more cards are played … A game better for teenagers in my opinion, unless you like to play on auto-pilot. But it’s wacky fun for a game or two.

A surprise to us. Try to collect guillotine victims for points, by messing with the order of the line that’s waiting at the foot of the gallows. Cartoony fun which gets the theme well away from its more grisly possibilities. And enough game that new folks say, “I didn’t know there were games like this” in a good way.

Havoc: the Hundred Years War
Well, we have to put this on our list eh? With the popularity of Poker these days, we introduce this game as a crossover between “our” games and Poker. It has a theme, really nice art and strategy that gives it some depth.


Solodice, Solowurfeln or Choice
Here’s one that travels well. One set of 5 regular dice and a score sheet for each player. We play it multiplayer, regardless of its name. The dice are rolled. Each player picks one dice to “sit out” and makes 2 pair of the remaining four. The trick is, in the entire game you may only choose three numbers (1-6) to be your “sit-out” numbers. This limits some rolls later in the game as you try to collect at least 5 of any dice-pair-total that you mark on your sheet.

Liar’s Dice, Perudo or Bluff
A great bluffing game. There are 30 dice in the world to start, divided among players, and ones count as wild cards. Each rolls secretly, and someone starts by saying (example), “There are 14 threes.” The next player has to increase this bid to at least 15 threes or 14 fours (increasing one of the two measures) or call the previous player a liar. When a LIE is called, all players show their dice – if there are 14 or more threes in the world (in this example), the person who called “Liar!” loses a die, otherwise the previous player loses a die. There are a few more rules, not many. This is a great one for loud friends who enjoy cursing at each other!


A tile-laying game where you build a countryside in medieval France with roads, walled cities and farmlands. You score for completing roads, cities, areas around monasteries and farms. Carcassonne has a lot of cousins, many of which work equally well for first time gamers.

Settlers of Catan
Here’s the granddaddy of the European game invasion. The base game is as playable today as when it first came out for folks new to these games. While Ticket to Ride and its siblings are excellent examples of modern “gateway games,” Settlers and its kin still make our list for introducing German boardgames.


There’s a new kid on the block, Simply Fun http://simplyfun.com/ that Mike and Chris have mentioned in their blogs. It’s Tupperware Parties for the American could-be-a-gamer set. They have quite a few cute games, some real party games, and a few lighter family strategy games. Simply Fun is a great way to invite people to at least taste the hobby, get a sense for games that aren’t Monoply, and see other adults having fun over a few games. Bravo for them.

If you’re playing along at home, feel free to send me your list, especially if you have some sure “winners” that work for you. The more we find these easy ways to make bridges to our less-fortunate non-gaming friends, the more new gamers will cross that bridge.


  • At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Scott Nicholson said…

    Thanks for your list. I've recently done two segments on local TV demoing games that would be good for non-gamers to get into the hobby.

    So far, I've done:
    Ticket to Ride, Ingenious, That's Life, Nexus Ops, Techno Witches, and Wits & Wagers, Blokus, Niagra, Cluzzle, Villa Paletti.

    You can see in the clip how well each goes over with the non-gamer hosts. Niagara sank, while Wits & Wagers hit the jackpot.

    Clips are at

  • At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Dave Wilson said…

    The games with which I've had the most success in these situations are those with the incredibly simple rules:

    6 nimmt!

  • At 11:36 PM, Blogger dave said…

    Like Dave Wilson, I'm a fan of incredibly simple rules. My top pick here is Cartagena.

  • At 5:02 AM, Blogger John Steadman said…

    I have had good experiences with introducing people to games using:

    Metro- Easy to explain- you build the longest tunnel possible to score.

    High Society- an auction game where the person with the most toys wins... as long as they don't go broke in the process.

    The key is to be able to explain the mechanism easily so that they can jump in and feel comfortable with it.


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