Tuesday, February 5, 2008

General Gaming Rant - Casual Gamers

If I were to poll everyone who reads this site, I predict that 95% or more of you are pretty serious gamers. You might even call yourself casual gamers, but let me try a quick litmus test on you.

1) Which do you like more, Risk or Risk 2210?
2) Do you like the simplicity of HeroQuest or the depth of Descent?
3) Which is better, Soul Caliber or Tekken?
4) What is your favorite CCG?
5) Do you prefer pre-painted plastic miniatures or unpainted pewter?
6) Would you rather go to GenCon or Origins?
7) Old-school Basic red box or Third Edition?

If you're even able to answer any of these questions, you're not a casual gamer. You may not play games as often as I do, and you probably know someone who smells a lot worse than you, but you're not a casual gamer. You may be casual compared to the guy who has five thousand dollars invested in his Warhammer collection, but in order to be an actual casual gamer, your answers have to look something like this:

1) Is Risk like that Truth or Dare game? We played that a lot in high school.
2) Hero what now?
3) Those are video games, right?
4) What the hell does CCG stand for?
5) Do you mean like Precious Moments? I thought those were all porcelain.
6) I went to Ensenada once.
7) I have no idea what you're saying right now.

Casual gamers don't know that the biggest board game market is in Europe. They don't even know Europeans make board games. They play Parcheesi, Monopoly, and Life. And when you ask a casual gamer about card games, he thinks you mean poker or pinochle.

The ironic thing is, casual gamers are most of the market for games. You may not like Monopoly, but you have to have seen the hundred different versions of the game that are out there. In fact, for those of you who do care about Monopoly, did you even know that they're working on a version right now called Here and Now: World Edition? You can go to www.monopoly.com and vote for which cities should be on the board. In case you care, Montreal and Paris are currently beating the pants out of anything in America. For that matter, Istanbul is beating Chicago.

Most of the guys you think of as 'casual gamers' would rather choke on rat poison than play The Game of Life - and who can blame them? There's virtually no strategy, just rolling the dice and moving your car. You win if you can manage to have a lot of kids and get richer than God. And yet that game outsells anything Reiner ever created, plus every single game from Avalon Hill, plus Battlelore, Memoir 44 and C&C: Ancients put together.

Like it or not, we're outnumbered. For every gamer who can build a Magic deck, there are a hundred gamers who can beat your ass at bridge. For every gamer dad who buys a copy of Drakon to teach his kids, there are a hundred families playing Sorry. And for every video gamer who reserved a copy of Halo 3, there are a thousand drunks playing video golf in a bar somewhere and thinking they're bad-ass at it.

You know what would be awesome? If those casual gamers would join us for a game of Settlers of Catan. Or if you could hand one of those poker sharks a pre-built Magic deck and see if they could last four turns. Or if you could get those barflies playing trivia games on the big screen at Friday's to join us for a Halo LAN party.

Of course, that's not likely to happen. Anyone who has ever been to GenCon can tell you why those people don't play with us - too many of us avoid soap. I have known way too many gamers who bathe every Sunday, whether they need it or not, and all too often I meet them on Saturday. We're scary, because we're the epitome of counter-culture. Those gamers with greasy hair and cold sores mention Yu-Gi-Oh just once in a crowded restaurant, and no casual gamer within a quarter mile is going to consider learning how to play.

And then add in that we're kind of scary, even if we're clean. We use terms like 'elegant rules' and 'twenty-sided dice.' For casual gamers, a dice mechanic sounds like a guy who fixes games of craps. We can open up a game, read a twenty-page rulebook, and sit down to beat the pants off everyone at the table. We're not going to play Monopoly. We hate Monopoly, even though we love to talk about German games that involve lots of resource management (there's another term - for casual gamers, that means making sure you don't run out of paper clips).

I don't have a really good answer for how to get casual gamers to play with us. We're such big fans of games that we turn up our noses at Clue and then get all excited to play Mystery of the Abbey. We're bored by Connect Four but love to play Ingenious. There's a huge gap between the people who play games when they spend their weekends at the lake house, and those of us who schedule monthly game nights where we break out Ca$h N Gun$.

I think what we have to do is take it one casual gamer at a time, and be willing to compromise. Play Trivial Pursuit all night, and then see if anyone might be willing to learn Carcassonne. Learn how to play that ridiculous Golden Tee game, then mention that with reflexes like that, your buddy might dig Wii Sports. Don't break out games with really complicated rules, and for God's sake hide your miniatures and D&D books. Remember, these are normal people, not real gamers.

And for God's sake, wash your ass, you smelly bastard.


Anonymous said...

Nice rant, not sure the point, but I liked it all the same.
You know it is funny, to me , that you did this rant to me because I am teaching a bunch of people games at the moment. Some are gamers ( maybe not as serious as me with well over $3,000 just in HS stuff ) some are not and a lot of times I am like " I have to sit here and teach these people these games and then invest more time playing with them even more just to get them up to speed. " But it comes down to , if I want to get a good game in - in the future I have to get people up to speed with the games I love or games in general - since we don't want to play Monopoly

Unknown said...

Pretty much agree overall, and when teaching new gamers I think that compromise is key. Like you said, play something they like and then bring out one of your games that is similar but a step closer to the more in-depth games you tend to play.

I think it's easy to fall into game snobbery, which is bad as well. You know what? Clue is a perfectly fine game and good for what it is. Heck, even Connect Four can still be fun. Play it with these people and then try something else as well.

I'm amazed at how many gamers I've met though. I've talked to many more people that I ever expected that actually know of a few games. They're starting to appear in places like Barnes and Noble. Stores like Games by James have a nice presence in the Mall of America and are also starting to carry more "hardcore" games. They're slowly getting out there!

Also, how you introduce them is important as well. Invite friends over, have a nice dinner or watch a movie and then break out a couple of games. Don't ask them to come to the game store with you for the weekly game night.

Nice little rant ;) Although I do think the stereotypical gamer image is slowly starting to go away. None of the gamers I game with even remotely fall into that category.

Truth said...

I know you are trying to group in video games with the things you write, but I don't think it works here. They are no longer counter-culture. They are mainstream.

Anonymous said...

This is the perfect spot to mention that, for the very purpose of introducing new games to kids who might not otherwise get a chance to play them, in Topeka our group is collecting money to buy games for our local Boys & Girls Club. If you can, help out by sending a few dollars through Paypal. www.topekaboardgamers.org.

JR said...


Anonymous said...

"For every gamer dad who buys a copy of Drakon to teach his kids, there are a hundred families playing Sorry." - Oddly enough I am somehow both and played both games with my kid in the same day??? WTH does that mean?
I can't say I am a casual gamer. I can say that I was a casual gamer before HS took over my soul. A $1000 plus of a mini game and 2 trips to Gencon says I am a hard core gamer.
I also agree with truth that video game and console gaming has become mainstream. When WOW is used to advertise Toyota's on TV you know it is no longer living in mom's basement type stuff.

Andrew said...

Pander to their interests and ply them with beer. That's how they got me hooked. Knowing I loved Zombie movies they casually started me on Last Night on Earth before switching over to Dominion.

Admittedly I was drunk by then but it seemed like it was fun. And it was fast too.

Also don't make me play Race for the Galaxy or other 'solitary' games because they are AWFUL.