Making something out of nothing: Part 4

This time we are going to look at adding another “type” of member to our group.  This is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding and important members: the doubting Thomas.

Doubting Thomas

My daughter is 2 years old, and she is awesome[1]. Just because my daughter is awesome though, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t frustrate me sometimes. My wife and I work really hard to make sure she has really good eating habits[2].  So we give her veggies every night, don’t give her juice or pop, rarely give her sugar snacks, and generally try to foster well-rounded, healthy choices for her.  So far, it has worked out really well.  I, on the other hand, am not the healthiest eater and I enjoy a fair share of garbage food.  Being her dad, once in a while I like to give her a little taste of something unhealthy and delicious.  Every time I offer her something, she doesn’t want it at first.  I offer her a bite of chocolate chip cookie knowing full well this will be the most delicious thing she eats all week and yet, I have to battle her to try it.  Once she does, I ask her if she liked it, which of course she did, and she enthusiastically asks for more.  What frustrates me is that we go through this every  single time.  She loves everything I’ve ever asked her to try outside of the dinner table.  Yet, every single time I offer her something new she fights me.   At what point is she going to figure it out?  Let’s be honest,  I’m not in the habit of browbeating people to eat part of my amazing Scotcharoo[3] bar.  I would think my track record would speak for itself with her.  Apparently, Dad still does not have her convinced.

I suppose we can all be like my daughter.  So stubborn we find ways to get in the way of our own enjoyment.

One of my best friends was the ultimate Doubting Thomas.  I’ve known him for the last 10 years, and in that time I’ve gone from disliking him (the first 3 months) to tolerating him (the next 6) to having him be in my wedding.  He’s a great guy, and while he comes on a little strong, once you figure out that’s just who he is, everyone seems to love him.  Once he caught wind of my “minis[4]” he would mock me at every chance.  He often would ask me how my “red dragon” was doing against the elves, and then laugh to himself as if he were quite hilarious.   Here’s the thing though, this guy is a huge nerd.  He loves Top Gun, Star Wars, and Superhero movies.  He hung his “coolness” in high school on buying a Jeep and driving with the top down.  He’s admittedly unsmooth with the ladies back in the day, and due to colorblindness can’t dress himself properly without his wife’s help.  He loves video games and texting me messages in military speak.  Basically, he’s the poster child for a guy who would love playing a miniature’s war game.  However, no matter how many times I talked to him about it, he was completely against it.

So the situation as it stood was one of my best friends was a prime candidate to play and enjoy Warmachine, but he was unwilling to give it a shot.  In fact, he was actively mocking me about the hobby when given the chance.  This was in the face of my enjoyment of the game, as well as the enjoyment of a couple of our mutual friends.  I could have just avoided the subject with him, but clearly this was a big get for me because the only thing better than engaging in your hobby, is doing so with your good friends[5].  With that hope in mind, I went to work.

There are many barriers to getting a new person into the hobby.  We’ve discussed some of them before, but the most obvious one is the stereotype[6].  I knew my buddy would love Warmachine, but he was clearly dead set against even giving it a fair shot.  What I needed to do was chip away at that façade.  I was never going to get him to just sit down and try the game, but if I could lead him down the path, my hope was that eventually he’d be look up and realize he was already there without even knowing it.

The Path

First up was expanding his Geek culture.  The guy loved Transformers, Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Superhero cartoons and all the other stuff we all grew up on, so it wasn’t too hard to get him to start watching some geeky stuff with me.  It felt safe to him, and was enjoyable for us both.  Despite his penchant for movie talking, he became my go-to invite for all nerd movies.  Further, after a fateful purchase at BestBuy with a gift card, I was able to convince him to give this Battlestar Galactica show a shot.[7]  Neither of us had a kid at this point, and it became appointment television at my house to watch 2 episodes of the show a week.  This was a great way to reconnect him with his Sci-Fi nerd roots.  Additionally, I started recommending books to him[8] that he could read.  He began to enjoy A Game of Thrones, The Dresden Files, and we got to a point where he even recommended some books to me.  This was phase one.  We are lucky to be in a time when there is a lot of EASY access to great geek culture.  When I person begins to watch and read about those type of worlds, I think they start to develop an interest in exploring and playing in those types of worlds in different ways.  Take advantage of this!

After the show finished,[9] we transitioned into playing Gears of War 1 and 2 together.  This was another great step.  Video games allow people to begin to understand how fun gaming and games can be, but again, somehow they don’t carry a stigma of being an activity that only “those” type of people do.  Don’t ask me to explain why people don’t give you a second look if you say you like Call of Duty but act like you have two heads if you tell them you enjoy a card game called Mage Wars, because I honestly can’t explain it.  We had a ton of fun playing Gears together and it was a very positive gaming experience.  It may have been video games, but it was still playing games together.  Additionally, after having enjoyed BSG and Gears so much, my tastes in entertainment were starting to build up credibility in his mind.  If you like video games, they are a great way to get people to dip their toe in the water.

The big jump was board games.  I think this was probably the biggest key.  He would probably still have enjoyed nerd movies and video games if we had never become friends, but I feel pretty confident that the move to board games was all me.  I think board games are the ultimate gateway into miniature gaming.  First, they are familiar.  When pushing our limits, we always gravitate towards the familiar.  Go to a bar in Germany as an American, and chances are your first drink will be the most American looking beer you can find.  Spend some time there, and you’ll branch out.[10]  The same is true an all areas.  Agricola might have little in common with Monopoly, but in a new person’s mind they can use Monopoly a point of reference, and thus a safety blanket.  Second, board games are a fully packaged product.  Everything you need is included in box.  A person doesn’t have to outlay any cash to play with you.  They don’t have to do any work outside the game to be ready to play.  Also, most board games provide a fairly compact game time.  Third, board games tend to not be as complex as miniature games.[11]  We tend to forget that most people have never seen a game outside of Monopoly, Risk, and Apples to Apples.  A very limited rules set to a you, a veteran gamer, usually seems like a complex undertaking to a newbie,.  Now imagine giving that person who thinks Zombicide is super complex the Warmachine rulebook.  You might lose a potential player right there just based on their frustration level.  Eventually the rules will become easy for them in the board game, and this will expose them to the idea that there are lots of great games out there with really cool rules and mechanics.  Finally, board games are great because there is pretty much a board game for every theme.  This allows you to suck people in by playing on their known likes and interests.

I introduced my friend to board games around the time we were finishing up with Gears of War 2.  We started off with Fantasy Flight’s Battles of Westeros to play on his love of The Game of Thrones books.  That went well, and I got a good idea to expand on our success.  We had finished BSG and all the Gears games, so to replace that, I organized a game night.  I got a couple other casual gamers (you’ll meet them later) and Doubting Thomas.  I decided to have the group play Descent: Journeys into the Dark.  I decided on Descent for various reasons.  For one, I was much more experienced than the others, so the game allowed me to be the overlord and go up against their combined might as the heroes.  Since they were all new to the game, no one “hammerhead” would be calling all the shots and crushing the fun out of the game for the other players.  For my part, I was able to adjust my play based on their play.  Early on I went a little soft on them so as not to hammer the fun out of the game, while later, I had to start playing my heart out because they got really good at the game.  Another benefit was we were playing the Sea of Blood campaign, which meant the game sessions were shorter, and had a narrative that would help ensure they would play multiple sessions.  I also liked that Descent used miniatures, which got him and the others use to the idea of playing a game with involving miniatures.  The final benefit was by far the biggest.  Descent requires the four heroes to work together.  In real life, this means they succeed and fail together.  That creates a really fun social aspect for the players.  My buddy loves being social, having fun, and getting worked up.  Descent really fed into that where a more traditional, me vs. you vs. you vs. you game might have stifled it.  This translated into him have an awesome time playing this game.  What bigger sell is there than that?  We didn’t finish the campaign, but we did have a great time, and everyone really enjoyed themselves.

This really did lead Doubting Thomas into being willing to try Warmachine.  He asked for a demo, and enjoyed himself and the game.  Of course this did not come as a shock to me, but since it as a long road to get to that point, I didn’t gloat for a while.[12]  We then went through the process of picking an army for him, and he selected Skorne because he loved the big titans.  He bought 25 points worth of models and an army book, and had become a member of the Warmachine community.  I wish I could say that upon receiving his models in the mail, he turned into a Warmachine fanatic and loved playing from there on out, but that would be a lie.  He did assemble them, and played a couple small skirmishes with me, but that was about it.  I’d gotten him interested, which was huge, but had not really started the fire.  Fast forward to today; he has expanded his force greatly and loves playing the game.  The fire is raging.  A recent baby arrival has curtailed his gaming in the short term, but I have little doubt we’ll pick back up in the summer.  Rest assured, we’ll look at how his change occurred in a later article when we discuss the importance of hosting a tournament.

The main lesson from today is that you likely know someone who would love Warmachine, but is unwilling to give it a shot to find out.  Trying to get that person to jump right in and play is unlikely to yield good results.  My contention is that through deliberate, progressive steps, you have a high probability of opening them up to the fun and enjoyment of miniature gaming.  This process is slow, but ultimately very rewarding, because you gain a new member of your group and because of the personal satisfaction that can be had by turning someone new on to the hobby.  Take a look around and start leading your Doubting Thomas down the road to where you really know they want to be!


[1] All that lame stuff people talk about their kids is totally true, and as cliché as it sounds, you just have to have at least one to really understand what I mean.

[2] Much better than her father.

[3] Never had one?  Do yourself a favor: http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1710,158171-247200,00.html

[4] short of course for “miniatures,” which were, at the time, Warhammer and 40k

[5] Clearly this is a bit of hyperbole, but indulge me.  I know there a ton of things better than both those, but they’re still pretty great.

[6] Its kind of an interesting mental exercise to think about the dynamics that go into making a huge money sink like golf “cool” and accepted, while miniature war gaming is clearly not.

[7] See my last article for my gushing on BSG.  Sidenote, I hate the word gushing.

[8] God Bless the D6 Generation, from whom many of my favorite books have come as recommendations.

[9] No spoilers, but let me say one more great thing about BSG.  It has a great ending.  Have no fear that this is going to be a show that you dedicate tons of time to only to have the writers gut punch you with some stupid ending, thereby invalidating all the great stuff that made you sit through multiple seasons in the first place.

[10] And be grateful you did

[11] I know… I know…  What about game X, Y, and Z you say.  Save it smart guy, I’m dealing in generalizations and you know that.

[12] I did eventually gloat, and then it was quite a bit.

Author: Nitz

Nitz is a man of many interests. His journey into nerd games began with a fateful purchase of Axis and Allies from Toys R Us, but got in full swing on an even more fateful stop on a whim to Mayhem in Ames during VEISHA '97. He enjoys all manner of games, movies, video games, professional wrestling, and sports. Most of his hobby time is spent in painting and theorymachining, as he lives in gamer no-mans-land, but he's working on that!

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