Sometimes it can be scary starting a new hobby, especially if you go to an official event (more frequent than casual meetups in a lot of places) and everyone is bandying around in-jokes and jargon that you don’t understand like “Jumpers” “Wars” and “Fun Police”. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community and our closeness, but it can be somewhat intimidating to be an outsider in a room of bearded dudes getting to first base with each other.
So how do we as members of the best community in the world make our hobby accessible and approachable to these sweet summer children? Well, I have an idea or two!
1.) DEMO DEMO DEMO DEMO BATMAN
Coming from a Games Workshop background, I have always found it odd that neither FFG nor the community have done more to introduce raw recruits to the game. Most new starters either stumble upon the Core in some store or run into some people playing, and then find themselves mired in the poor man’s Smash Up that is Kingslayer (the single core format you all forgot about), or have to jump straight in to constructing decks to play against experienced players with their tried and tested builds. The former option leads to confusion (we once had a guy turn up to a Regional in 2016 with a single core deck) and an inferior play experience; the latter leads to frustration as new players struggle to interact with, let alone compete against, more grizzled decks and players.
Kingslayer decks are a terrible way to intro the game, and most popular competitive decks require a lot of prior experience and understanding to pilot. I appreciate that players have attempted to make cost effective demo decks before (and I thoroughly recommend LGBs Melee starter decks1) but they still have a pretty high price tag when we need an accessible dip-your-toes-in product. The World Champ decks are at the ideal price point for this, but may be too nuanced for beginners to get to grips with. However, recently we’ve had an amazing product announcement that breaks down these barriers. Enter the starter decks.
I’m currently organising demo days at my FLGS where I will be using recreated versions of the starter decks. I know from my GW experience that after someone has enjoyed playing a game, pointing at a product and saying “buy this and you’ll have that exact army you just used” really works. And if it works at a £95.00 price point I’m pretty damn sure it’ll work at a £15.00 price point, especially since the ASOIAF IP is HUGE at the moment.
Hang on, you said ‘recreated versions’ of the starter decks. Why not use the actual product? I’m glad you asked! My argument for this is two fold:
A) I don’t want to break the bank.
B) I really really really do NOT want existing players buying these products, not at first anyway. Yes extra copies of auto includes and the pretty Fealties are very nice BUT we need to think about how slow FFG’s distribution is, especially in Europe. Every deck bought by an existing player is one that’s not going to someone who needs it a lot more than you. Feel free to pick them up further down the road when stock allocations inevitably increase due to us being an utterly infectious and ridiculously attractive bunch.
Right, where were we? Oh yeah so we’ve recreated all of the intro decks our collection can support at once, what do we do next? Call your meta mates and get them to do the same. Don’t necessarily worry about getting the best players on board – just make sure you get the most charismatic, likeable, approachable, sexiest mofos you can (looking at you, Sweeney). Sort out a couple of days when your FLGS/Community Centre/Bar/wherever you play is happy to have you take up a bit of space. Pool your starter decks – make as many as you can of each, especially for fiction fan favourite factions like Stark and Targ.
Smile. Make eye contact. Engage people who float over in conversation. If nobody comes over then two of you pick up some decks and have the noisiest, most energetic game of your lives, even if the game ends up as a blowout laugh. Nothing is more enticing than pure laughter shared. People will come over. They may be few and far between or maybe you’ll have a queue. In either case patience is key.
When you’ve got an interested party, find out their name and use it constantly. Never forget they are a person and potentially a new friend (or rival?) Ask them open questions about their favourite House/characters/plot points, pick appropriate decks and relate things that happen in your demo to these themes. If there’s two of them that’s even better – people are always more competitive with friends and siblings, so they’ll get right into the cutthroat spirit of Thrones!
After the game ask them what they liked and didn’t like, tell them that the starter decks they just played with are available for pocket money prices and let them know about your meta’s regular meetups, Facebook page etc. Ideally, give them a promo after the demo – people like free stuff and if nothing else it’s a memento of the fun they just had. I’m looking at printing a double sided agenda with Greensight and Crossing, as they can be used instead of Fealty with all 8 starter decks, and I think they’re both fantastic agendas to learn with because of the extra decision points they bring. If anyone wants to collaborate with me on this, please get in touch!
2.) BEGINNER FRIENDLY FORMATS
Just doing straight Joust all of the time can put a lot of new players off, especially when they don’t understand why they keep losing to Targ/Martell/Tyrell Wars to Come. Try some of these formats every now and again to keep things fun and level the playing field a little:
Melee: Yes, Melee is utter chaos, but it can be a great way to play for a mixed-experience group. It will often be in the interests of more experienced players to point out more optimal routes of play to our fresh faces, as one player being bullied makes for a terrible game. And hey, at the very least they get to see a lot more new cards faster. Note that this multiplayer experience may also be more comfortable for those coming from a board gaming background.
2v2: If you can sensibly team up new players with your veteran wiz kids, they’ll have someone to mentor them through the game and even help them with deck building concepts. Also has the melee pro of seeing more cards faster and the melee atmosphere of utter madness.
(Benjen’s) Cache Refresh: I ran this years ago, but only just came up with the name for this article after finding out Netrunner does something similar. I ran this just after the Kingsroad cycle finished back in 1st edition and I had a bunch of brand new local players. The event only allowed use of a single core, one deluxe of your choice and the Kingsroad cycle in deckbuilding. This actually turned out pretty great, with a variety of builds played, but I’m not so sure how it translates to 2.0 at the moment as not all factions have deluxes yet and we don’t have a cycle as awesome and varied as the Kingsroad Cycle. Worth putting the work in to try and crack this one though!
Draft: Oh yeah boy, this is the real good stuff! Aside from being the most fun format ever drafting teaches players a lot about deck building, especially about the sorts of otherwise-unexciting cards that ‘glue’ a deck together. Cube drafting has these benefits, but it’s worth getting your hands on actual draft packs – the added benefit of increasing new players’ cardpools is real.
All that said, there are also some other formats you should probably stay away from when teaching new players:
Kingslayer: I really don’t recommend this for many reasons, mostly the fact that people will be frustrated by the extreme variance and some will be confused when it comes to building legal decks for normal play. Also, a game store not far from me recently ran a Kingslayer event and it had near-zero turnout.
Rookery: No, oh god no. Never play Rookery ever. Ever. Personal tastes aside, this
really isn’t a great format for beginners due to the extra labyrinth of decisions in deckbuilding and during the game setup. Additionally, meta knowledge and cardpool knowledge are even more important in Rookery, putting our fresh faces at a massive disadvantage.
3) BEGINNER FRIENDLY YOU
So let’s say you haven’t been involved with recruitment, but you got lucky and a bunch of new players have turned up to your meta’s meetups and events. How should you act? I’m not going to tell you that you to go easy on people in competitive events, but I am going to ask you to consider the following:
Play cleanly: By this I don’t simply mean “don’t cheat” – that goes without saying. I mean try to keep the board state as tidy and understandable as possible. If you’re going to stack your non-uniques explain what you’re doing and why so that your opponent doesn’t get confused thinking you can dupe them. Also, please stop that annoying half knelt-half diagonal bull shit so many of you do, the cards should be upright or ninety degrees sideways please. On the topic of kneeling and standing, verbally declare attackers and defenders, especially ones who don’t kneel or can participate whilst knelt. New players will appreciate this and so will experienced ones who need to know if you’re playing around something like a Watchers on the Walls or a Like Warm Rain, so you really should be doing this anyway. Another favourite good habit of mine is taking through the entire framework, not just through DUCK, making sure every action window and framework step is acknowledged in its proper time. This builds on both players understanding of the game and ensures nothing untoward happens rules-wise. Lastly, I always have my plot cards facing my opponent so they can read them easier (I already know what they do after all). Against very new players I’m always happy to play all of my cards upside down. If you do this though make sure to reassure them that I’m cooperating with them rather patronising them or showboating.
Be a human being and treat them like one: Shake their hand, learn their name and use it often, don’t avoid eye contact, smile, laugh at their jokes and say please and thank you, god damn it. I don’t care if you burn down their entire board, just be courteous whilst doing so.
Help bridge the cardpool gap: At casual meetups, be chill if people want to use proxies of cards they don’t yet own. At competitive events loan someone cards they want to run if you can, or maybe hook them up with another friend who can help.
The elephant in the room: Should you allow takebacks? Ultimately that’s up to you, especially in a tournament setting. What I would say is, if you don’t allow a takeback, be apologetic about it and try to make a constructive learning point out of the moment. If during the game you notice some ways your opponent could have played more efficiently, offer some polite, friendly advice after the game and do try not to sound condescending.
Bear these tips in mind and, with a little luck, we’ll be able to capitalise on the current LCG climate and get our numbers up! Finally, and most importantly, ALWAYS remember the twentieth card in the Sands of Dorne 😉
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