Learning Curve of Board Games

Arkham Horror As Seen on Tabletop

David and I love to play board games. Not just one type of board game, but all types. We also tend to not play the same game twice in a row. We may repeat the game in a single evening, but over multiple game nights we will often switch up what we are playing and who we are playing with. This change in who is playing and what we are playing has led me to observe that board games have a learning curve based on past experiences or gameplay.

A while ago I read an article where they talked a little about the learning curve of computer games. Specifically about teaching their mom how to play. Things that seemed obvious to the long-time gamer were very foreign to their mother who had never played such games. I would argue that the same can be said of board games.

If you had not grown up playing games, what would it be like as an adult to play a game? And how quickly would you understand the rules of that game? What if you had only played card games, and never played board games like Chutes and Ladders or Trouble?

Playing games with a multitude of people from a multitude of backgrounds has shown at least a couple types of games that seem to have this sort of learning curve. One type is what one might call Pre-Built RPG Board Games: things like Munchkin Quest, Battlestar Galactica, and Arkham Horror. These games provide players with a pre-built character, with certain skills, who have to get cards with items, abilities, or situations to help them conquer their goal.

It is interesting seeing the difference between someone playing for the first time who has played traditional RPG, such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), and someone who hasn’t. Playing D&D helps you to understand the basics of rolling a dice for combat, collecting items, using skills, making skill checks, etc. All of which are elements that you find in these RPG Board Games.

An experienced tabletop roleplayer has no problem understanding that Sneak(-1) means that you roll a dice to make a sneak check, but you are at a -1 penalty to make that check. Also, that when making the check you use a specific stat to either add to your roll or determine how many dice you can use depending on the system. It is amazing how these thought processes can start to seem so obvious after you have been playing for a while.

At the same time someone who has not played something like D&D would not understand the difference between a skill and combat check, or what the modifier is supposed to signify. It can take a while to explain how to read your character sheet and understand their strengths and weaknesses. This is not a bad thing, but it can seem to get frustrating for the new player, and they may need more than a couple times to get the rhythm of the game down.

I have specifically talked about RPG’s, traditional and board, partly because that is where I have really seen a stark difference in how easily someone picks up the basic mechanics of a games. But there are probably many other types of games that it could be hard to understand if you had never experienced something similar. How easy would it be to understand a deck building game if you had never played one before? Understanding how the cards can work off of each other, and choosing not to grab more cards as a specific strategy, is not necessarily intuitive.

We have picked up a number of deck building games, such as Dominion, Ascension, Penny Arcade: Gamers versus Evil, and Miskatonic School for Girls. After spending some time learning Dominion, each subsequent deck building game we have picked up has been easier to learn. We have also found these other games easier to teach others once they have figured out Dominion.

These are just a few of our experiences with some of our favorite games, but there are still definitely a lot of games we haven’t played. What are some of your favorite board games? And do you remember what it was like learning a new type of game?

Top Photo is our submission to As Seen on Tabletop, a Tumblr of people’s experiences playing board games!

One response to “Learning Curve of Board Games

  1. Pingback: 7 Wonders: A Learning Cycle – Cross-Disciplinary Connections

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