My Intro Games: Blood Rage and Roll for the Galaxy

This is an atypical introduction to intro games. Let’s take it a little sideways; the games I mentioned are usually considered terrible for intro games, and were the first two modern board games I played, and they obviously hooked me. So let’s talk about why games you might not think of as intro games, (as an experienced gamer), or feel intimidated by, (as a new gamer), might actually be great introductions to the hobby. It’s why no beginner should hesitate to come down to It’s Your Move, or any friendly local game store, and jump right in.  

So there’s a class of games that’s thought of as “gateway,” “family-weight,” or introductory.  Meaning that the rules explanation won’t scare away friends and family. The games in my title, for the uninitiated, do not fall in that category. But they hooked me, and I was never a big gamer. I played a lot of Risk at teenage hangouts, and Con, (my twin sister), and I always ended up fucking everyone else over with twin power- or, in a strange dichotomy, were fucked by my endlessly savage christian youth group counselors. I played “You Don’t Know Jack,” “Cranium,” and probably something else I’m forgetting in the mid to late aughts. There was something I only played once called Settlers of Catan.

No games from that play of Catan until I walked into It’s Your Move looking for juggling balls almost a decade later. And Catan, if you’re wondering, is by general consensus one of the top two gateway games. The other would be Ticket to Ride. Catan is a trading\territory control game and Ticket to Ride is a set-collection\blocking other players game. I don’t really like them. I don’t really like Blood Rage these days either, and think Roll for the Galaxy is Meh. I don’t know If I can really say that I liked them then- but they were very interesting. So interesting that I came back. So interesting that I’ve come back almost every week for three years, (come say hi some Friday night).

Catan and Ticket to Ride are usually considered great gateway games for several reasons. Catan literally created the US market for European or “euro” style board games.They are simple, but still engaging, and habituate new players to mechanics used in innumerable other games. You’re trading in Catan, and building routes, (collecting sets),  in Ticket, but the resources you have in Catan, and the route you’re building in Ticket, is based on your position on the board. Their variability comes mostly from the variability of the map, and the actions of your opponents.So they’re great for dipping a toe in, but they’re also huge fun for a lot of people.

There are serious gamers who love Catan- they have a huge, (physically large version of the game and tournament), presence at GenCon and Origins, the two largest cons in the industry. Some of the most avid games I know compulsively collect each new Ticket map. I don’t get it. I will at least play Ticket today, in the hope that if I power through it we might get to a game I like. But not Catan, never again. So if I had walked into It’s Your Move that first Friday and played those two games, I might not have come back.

BloodRage is a horrible introductory game. It takes at least two hours with the rules explanation, which is about half an hour. Both significantly more than double the time of either of the games I’ve discussed. Worse, it is a drafting game, so new players are at a disadvantage without knowledge of the relative value of the cards. And drafting is just how you get a hand of cards which drive the movement of figures on a board, which follow an area control/war mechanic that’s almost similar to Risk, but so twisted by the cards- and it’s completely different because you’re trying to score points, also largely based on the cards you drafted, not just wipe your enemy from the board.

Might sound intimidating. But imagine having an enthusiastic guide, who painted all the miniatures up super-awesome, and who keeps emphasizing this last bit: the game ramps. There are three rounds, and it is easy to score more in the third than anyone else has in the previous two. That means that big comebacks, and even rookie wins, are possible. But much more important is that the rhythm of the game swings dramatically, as experienced players set themselves up for that crucial final round. And even if you know you won’t catch up, trying, seeing how close you can come in that final round when you really start to know what you’re doing is awesome. Like trading goods isn’t, like laying little lines of trains isn’t, like watching your friends duking it out over Africa for three hours isn’t. Not for me, at least. Even if you can’t fully understand these games immediately, you can still see how much better they are.

Roll For the Galaxy is another example. It’s the second hobby game I played, and it was pulled out by a game designer who’d been playing “for the Galaxy” games for many years. That’s the problem with Roll- that’s why Chris, one of the kind proprietors of It’s Your Move, recommended I get something else when I biked up the next day, determined to buy a copy. Roll shares an elaborate symbology with two sister games that is, honestly, dense. But I was clever enough to catch on to the symbology well enough to play the game- and I bet you are too. That act of comprehension, the feeling of accomplishment it generates, is its own reward. And the game has all these cool custom dice, and you’re betting on what other people are going to do, and building up a tableau, (an arrangement of tiles or cards), and an engine, (a system to generate points with your tableau), and pulling tiles out of a fancy velour bag- it’s awesome. Even if you don’t get all the nuances from the first turn, and even if you don’t have a chance of winning.

These are great games and a great time with great people you’ve just met. Jump in, is my point- and hope. Go to a game night, (try meetup), and jump into whatever’s being played. Every game is an introductory game, is the point. Going out into any group of strangers and hard, but this is worth a try. All gamers have games we love, that give us joy we would have been surprised by before we started this hobby, and which we generally love to share with new people. As a new gamer give yourself the best chance to find that game for yourself regardless of whether its a “good intro game.”

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