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I started with this question about good games for new players and got plenty of good answers. But now I want to look at things from the other end and figure which games I should definitely avoid.

I was thinking about buying Power Grid, Puerto Rico, and Arkham Horror to play with my family because they have tons of good reviews and are widespread. But when I asked if they would be a good choice at our local game store I was told to steer away from them due to complexity, and it seems there aren't many reviews on the complexity of games and friendliness to new people.

I love board games to death, and when I see a 40 page manual I think 'bring it on!' and have no trouble sitting there for a half hour learning to play the game. Many of my friends aren't as hardcore, and they start to get bored if we don't get started in 15 minutes.

What are some good ways to recognize if a game is probably not suitable for non board game enthusiasts? The outside of the box is usually unhelpful, and it can be difficult to figure this out before actually buying the game. Sadly I don't live very near a board-game store, so I can't try all of them out. If you list a game, please include why it doesn't meet the criteria, how this can be recognized, and its implications for the game.

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@Crazy -- is there any particular reason you insist on spelling games lower-case and hyphenated? The game is called Power Grid, not power-grid. It's very difficult to see what games you have listed in your questions for reasons that have been stated before. –  LittleBobbyTables Jan 2 '11 at 16:21
    
A suggestion: this question is in danger of becoming 'name every complicated game', which is bad. I recommend everyone makes their answer strictly according to "what other games deceptively conceal their inner complexity"... Yes, Twilight Imperium is for the hardcore only, but it's obviously so and doesn't hide its incredible complexity. It's not an answer to this. (@Crazy: I recommend you rephrase the question to emphasise this, otherwise you'll just get a grab bag of really-complex games, whereas you want an 'avoid list' of complex games which look simple enough to teach quickly.) –  Tynam Jan 2 '11 at 19:32
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what other games deceptively conceal their inner complexity, making them more unfriendly to beginners I don't understand this. Isn't this a good thing? i.e. they are complex but appear simple, so people will actually start playing and learn them on the way...? Why would you consider that "unfriendly"? I guess I'm missing something. –  Lohoris Jan 2 '11 at 19:48
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@Tynam @Lo'ris I've edited the question, see if I did any better. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 2 '11 at 21:53
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@Crazy: I like the new edit; seems clearer to me. @Lo'oris: I think either form of the Q makes the problem clear: it's OK for the game to seem simple and have depth emerge in play (e.g. Ingenious), but this group simply won't play if it takes more than 15 mins to teach the rules. So Crazy needs to avoid even simple games if the rules are complex to teach. (This seems a clear distinction. Consider, e.g., Space Alert: actually complex, but basics easily taught in a 15-minute-chunk and then play, and lets you gradually build up to full detail.) –  Tynam Jan 5 '11 at 0:21
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Instead of going on to list one game after another I'll try to find some common points to help you out. I'd say there are three main factors in what might put off less hard-core gamers:

  • Upfront intimidation (should resolve during first game)
  • Continuous complexity (remains an issue indefinitely)
  • "Obscure effects" (should resolve after one or two games)

"Puerto Rico" is a good example of "Upfront intimidation". If you take the time to read the rulebook upfront that's gonna be a huge time investment. For many casual players that might be intimidating having to remember all of it. Having "Lots of bits and pieces" also falls into this category. For some that's a turn on for other's not so much.

"Agricola" is much faster to explain upfront but much more complex during gameplay. Handling all those bits and pieces, making sound decisions and trying to form some semblance of a strategy challenged me big time even after several solo games. There are so many different aspects to keep track of, that it requires a lot of concentration.

"El Grande" would be a good example for what I classified as "obscure effects" (to your choices). The game does not have much of upfront reading nor too many continuous choices. The problem is that it usually takes a few turns before your choices have their effect on your score. Some players don't really mind playing along and waiting to see what they get but others will find it frustrating. Especially in the beginning. This is something you can only find out through reviews or first hand experience.

Boiling it down to a few signs to watch out for: Avoid games that...

  • have lots of material. (The more abstract the material the worse it is)
  • take close to or more than 90 minutes. (Anything above that is either complex or boring)
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+1 for making my poor question something better than just another list. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 4 '11 at 1:20
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Agricola

My first and only game of Agricola involved about 30 minutes of setup and explanation before we got going. It took a few turns to get the hang of it, and I think that's got to be on the short side of average. I have two things going for me:

  • I'm probably more of a "hard-core" gamer than it sounds like your friends are.
  • I've played several games of Twilight Imperium, so I'm used to the core mechanic of choosing an action that no one else can do that round.

I think this review sums it up nicely. Agricola is not a game your friends will be used to. For starters, there's no direct interaction between players. And the sheer volume of choices is likely to put unprepared players into a daze. So if you're thinking about buying it specifically to play with that one group of friends, I'd recommend you stay away. I'm not sure they'll like it enough to keep playing until they figure it out.

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I think Agricola is much more newbie-friendly than, say, Puerto Rico. Yes, the rules are pretty involved, and explaining sowing, ovens, fences, harvests, etc etc before the game has caused many a beginner's eyes to glaze over and fill with panic simultaneously. BUT! In the end Agricola is about building a farm. Most people "get" sowing grain in a ploughed field or putting sheep in an enclosure. Whereas what does a "hacienda" or a "factory" do, if you don't already know? Plus Agricola has fun cartoony pictures. I think it's newbie-difficult, but not newbie-unfriendly! –  thesunneversets Jan 3 '11 at 18:06
    
I would say that Agricola (if started with family version) is quite easily teached to newbies (from experience - can start in 15 min), mainly because the rules can be explained as the game progresses. Basically the big rules are - try to build the nicest farm by sending a worker to a free action space each turn - and that is it. AFterwards just explain shortly each action spot and new card as they open. You dont have to delwe in deep strategies in first few sessions, then it will be quite satisfying to even non-gamers. –  Krišjānis Nesenbergs Jan 5 '11 at 23:31
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Axis & Allies

The 30mins+ Axis & Allies takes to set up the hundreds of peices would switch most people off - even before you get into the convoluted turn process and thick rule book.

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(Mentioned above, but worth adding here for easier voting / commenting) –  Jon Hadley Jan 3 '11 at 13:44
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Civilization (or Advanced Civilization). It takes at least 30 min just to explain the framework of the rules. Then more time to explain all the details of the different advanced and calamities if you want to explain those upfront. (I usually leave those until later). And it can take many hours to play a complete game.

The Advanced version actually is easier for non-hardcore gamers, because the changed rules make it easier to play a shortened version of the game. But even then, it has a very high time-cost of new players.

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I find it very easy to teach Adv. Civ. As long as folks are OK with the playing time, it is pretty easy to learn as you go. You start out with one token. It will be 4 turns until they even have a city. At least a couple turns beyond that before trading begins, and so on. The game builds on itself pretty well. –  Pat Ludwig Jan 3 '11 at 19:17
    
+1 I haven't actually tried to teach Adv Civ that way. I'll try it that way next time –  David Oneill Jan 3 '11 at 21:22
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one other piece of advice I give them is to tell 'em that whoever gets involved in a conflict in the first 5 turns will lose. Both of them. They need to reach some sort of an agreement for the powers that have close borders. Of course, what you and I know is that on turn 5 (if not before) they will create cities thereby shrinking their population and putting off war a couple more turns ;) Right about then the first Volcano should hit and your first war will start! –  Pat Ludwig Jan 4 '11 at 4:41
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Pat's right; Civ is very complex but lends well to teach-as-you-go. Don't let a new player select Crete, though. Ship management takes more understanding. –  Tynam Jan 5 '11 at 0:23
    
A few days ago I tried Adv.Civ. with a group who never played it. It went like a charm. The only annoying part was dividing the trade cards before playing, but if you do that in advance, even the setup will be fast! –  Lohoris Jan 12 '11 at 16:36
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On the whole, I would say that dice games lend themselves more to non hardcore gamers than card games. The idea is to move pieces around the board, either in a "race" with others, parchesi or backgammon, or achieving objectives along the way; Monopoly, Easy Money, Life.

Among card games, those using the "standard" 52-card deck are better for non hardcore gamers; gin rummy, spades, bridge, poker.

Games using "specialized" cards peculiar to the game are harder, especially if they require a long set up time. Agricola, Puerto Rico, etc. I'd even put Axis and Allies (with its specialized cards) in that category, even though it's technically a dice game.

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