The Gumbo’s Guide to Your First Game Night

So, you and your friends would like to start a game night. You’ve read a few articles (like this excellent one from the Washington Post), visited a friendly local game store (“FLGS”) or two, and maybe even checked out Punchboard Media or Board Game Geek.

But with thousands of games out there — and hundreds of thousands of voices and opinions — how do you choose where to begin?

Let the Gumbo be your guide, with our failsafe plan for picking games!

What is the interest of your group? Is your group just starting out in board gaming? Maybe your friends are little skeptical about this “wonderful new hobby” you have been discussing with them. If so, you need to find games that are easy to teach, will get your friends starting their turns quickly, and have some good player interaction.

Here are a few suggestions for quick, fun games that everyone will enjoy:


We listed a few requirements: quick set up, quick turns, easy to teach.  The first game on the list ticks off all of those checkmarks.

Check out The Climbers. It is a 2008 game that just got re-released in a beautiful edition by Simply Complex Games. You and four of your friends will take turns moving colored blocks higher and higher, and moving your “climber” on top of matching or neutral colored blocks in an attempt to be first to reach the summit. It is a race game with a twist, because the person standing on the highest block when no one else can move wins the game.

The designers have thrown in a couple of cool wrinkles. Each player gets the help of one-time use ladders to get a boost up to the next level. Plus, there is a blocking disc that prevents anyone from going on a block that you need, but you can only use the disc once. And if you and your friends are especially spicy, you can always use that blocking disc to block a move that one of your friends desperately needs to make to catch up to you….

There is one downside that gives me a little pause in recommending this game. The rule book is not very good, but if you have any questions, tweet me @boardgamegumbo and I will walk you through them.

Another great game to start out with is Las Vegas, which you can find in a brand new edition at Target for a very reasonable price (between $10-20 usually). Your friends are going to arrive at your house fully expecting to chuck some dice at this new game night, and Las Vegas will not disappoint them.  Players take turns throwing dice on the table, trying to have the largest combination of dice matching the requirements of each of the casinos. Each of the casinos themselves have a reward, usually a pile of money, and the person who rolls the most amount of matching dice wins the biggest part of the pot. The game looks good on the table, the box package is shaped like a big giant dice, and there are some tense moments at the end of each round that will make your friends say, “Let’s play it again!”

Finally, I always recommend that players start out with a game of Ticket to Ride. A classic train game with an easy to teach rummy-style mechanic from Alan Moon and Days of Wonder, it comes in a ton of flavors, but I would start with the American edition or the European edition. These have simple layouts and only three main rules (play cards, take cards, or get more destination goals) so you will have your friends playing in just minutes. Ticket to Ride is an essential part of any players development as a gamer. It will show your friends that rolling dice and moving around a board is a very old fashioned mechanic that has for the most part falling out of favor with modern gamers. Yes, there s a slight bit of randomness in TTR, namely the way that the destination tickets come out and of course the way that the individual train cards come out of the deck. But nearly all of the game is strategy — when do you pick up cards, and when do you lay down trains? Should I push my luck and grab a few more destination tickets? Or should I try to close out this middle section of the country to prevent someone else from accomplishing their goals?

It is the kind of game that players can chat about social life or about the game while playing, especially if you play the full complement of five gamers. There is not much downtime between turns, however, so pay attention to when other players start laying down the tracks or else you will be blocked out of your goal.

All right, now that we have the night started, we next need to think about what types of games your friends will like. My advice? Pick one from a few categories and bring them to the game night and let your friends pick which one looks interesting.


Do your friends like dexterity games like pool or table tennis? There are board games that rely more on physical rather than math skills that may appeal to them. Here are some of my favorites to show off to your new group:

Ice Cool is a fun little thirty minute game about penguins playing hooky at their ice school. The box is actually the board game, so your friends will be impressed as you pull out box after box to set up the “school.” Four players will take turns being the hall monitor, while the other three penguins are flicked across the board trying to catch fish.

Think back to those “weeble wobble” toys we played with as kids, and you will get an idea about how the penguins move when you flick them. But, once your friend play a turn or two, they will be trying trick shots, attempting to bank the penguin through two or three doors to win the game.

Flip Ships is one of the best games to come out in 2017. Renegade Games has a hit on their hands here, as players recreate their old experience with Space Invaders the video game on the table top. Up to four players cooperate to stop the Mother Ship from invading our planet, and the mechanism is easy. If you have ever played flick paper football at school, you have the gist of this game.

Players stand on one side of the table and flick their space ships onto the invading ship cards. The more you hit, the quicker you have a chance to attach the mother ship by flicking one of the ships into the giant card board space ship. There is a lot of tension because players take damage from invading ships — but that damage also gives each player more ships and special powers.


Speaking of co-operative games, if your friends like working as a team, they may really enjoy one of the hottest trends in board gaming, co-operative games. In these games, players work together to defeat the game. Two of my favorites are:

Fireside Games’ Hotshots is a fun little thirty minute co-operative game about fighting wild forest fires. Each player has a unique character with special powers, and must work together to put out the blaze. The only way to win is to push your luck when rolling the dice that generate the symbols to put the fire out, but roll incorrectly and you could cause the fire to burn out of control. The production is top notch, and the random tile draw to build the board makes it infinitely replayable.

Forbidden Island is one of Matt Leacock’s co-operative masterpieces. Matt is known as the King of Co-op games for good reason as his games like Forbidden Desert, Pandemic, and Mole Rats in Space have sold millions of copies and are very popular. In Forbidden Island, players work together to grab four different MacGuffin pieces, and attempt to escape the sinking island. Each player has their own special ability, and teamwork is a key. It is easy to set up and takes just twenty minutes or so to play, plus this game can play very easily with your family.


A popular category of games is racing simulations, but those are probably not going to interest your group right away. Instead, give them the thrill of racing but with top quality production to get them hooked. Here are two great examples:

Camel Up is an award winning racing game all about betting on camel racing. That’s right, you don’t actually pick a camel and race it yourself, instead you and your friends will advance the camels around a desert track, betting on which camel will win each leg and which camel will win the entire race. You can influence your favorites with tiles and dice rolls, and there are side bets like which camel will come out dead last. Sure, gamers that know probability will probably win, but when that orange camel defies the odds to finish first, there will be lots of laughs and howls around the table.

If you are more into regular racing, the new release of Downforce from Restoration Games is a beauty. It is easily one of the top ten games of the year, and very accessible to new gamers. You and up to five of your friends will bid on colorful racing cars plus the cards you need to play to propel your car around the track. The trick is that the cards you play can also help other cars move, too, so there is a strategy that your friends will quickly pick up on to know when to play which cars. Each driver has a unique power which adds another layer to the strategy. The game itself is gorgeous, and the tracks are huge, so this will really make an impression on game night.


That’s a lot of categories to consider, but there are plenty more to discuss. I’ll be back in later blog posts to add party games, puzzle games, small box games, and strategy games to the mix.

If you have any questions about these or other recommendations, you can always reach me on Twitter @boardgamegumbo or on Facebook at Feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

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