Boardgames in Blighty asks… What do Non-Gamers REALLY want? The Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer



Boardgames in Blighty asks… What do Non-Gamers REALLY want? The Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer

Happy New Year 2015 to you all!

I’ve been giving some thought to some  game designs that I have been toying around with over the last year and have come to the conclusion that they would have very limited appeal. The truth, is that although I am interested in these designs, the audience just isn’t there to make them worth publishing.

What I have realised is that for a board or card game to achieve success, it has to meet a need other than my own interest. Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice has clearly struck a chord with quite a few people and hopefully we can broaden the distribution to the much wider audience of millions of WWE and Lucha Libre fans around the world.

From this experience, I believe that to be really financially successful, a game needs to appeal to the vast audience of non-board gamers who would be open to giving it a go. It needs to be really accessible.

How to do this… hmmm….

The first problem is the perception, self-inflicted I might add, that the general public, made up of a vast majority of non-gamers, has of us.


You know its true, don’t you?

We all have loads of non-gamers in our lives right? And indeed for some, the mere invitation to a board game night makes them feel like…


And we don’t get it really, let’s be honest…


But I suspect that the key lies with bringing on the non-gamers.  And I think that designers need to ensure that there is no disconnect between the game design and the user experience, especially for non-gamers.


But rather than assume, I decided to ask a number of Non-Gamers a simple question to see if I could discover the secret to attracting them to a game.

“When you can be persuaded to play, or you are attracted to a particular game despite not being a fan of games normally…What exactly do you look for in a board or card game that will attract you?”

Here is what they have told me so far…

For me it has to be able to be played within a 20 minute time frame, that’s from opening the box to finishing the game, rules need to be simple and yet allow complex play. The Builders: Middle Ages is a perfect example of a game that meets those requirement, Wings of Glory is another.

Non-gamer design fail
Non-gamer design fail

I like games that are funny or games that are in teams and they have to be simple!

Teamwork fail
Teamwork fail

One that requires a bit of thought


Ones that don’t embarrass but make you laugh. Thought is a good thing too.


Hardly any time to explain the rules. And people don’t take 20 mins on their turn.


Strategy and simplicity in rules….best board games I have played in younger years were Diplomacy and Risk.


Simplicity wins for me but also funny factor- like mad gab or apples to apples.


Other people’s turns are somehow interesting to me, perhaps influencing what I do next. Don’t like just sitting and waiting for someone to just be done with their turn. I like minimal rules to explain, easy to understand/catch on quickly. Laughing without humiliating.


I don’t play board games all that often. If I play them at all with family, our current favourites are “Articulate“, “Sorry!” and the “Pointless” board game. Oh, and we just discovered the “QI” travel version, complete with claxon. Of which the main appeal WAS the claxon!

Although I have a moderate amount of general knowledge stored in the deep dark cavern nestled between my ears, “Trivial Pursuit” doesn’t appeal as much as, say, “Pointless”, where each round varies from the last in how it is played. It helps if there’s a definite beginning and end to a game too.

A friend has introduced me to a few new little games along the way – some dice-based, some card-based, but all with a strategic element that helps give them extra depth! 

Games like “Sorry!” and “Ace of Spies” have plenty of scope for twists, things never quite work out how you expect them to. No. That’s not quite true. I expect to lose Ace of Spies  But the twists are good, it’s probably the only time it’s ever hilariously funny to lose something  And I do lose. A lot.


Simplicity. And I love it when even if you’re losing you can still have a chance to win.


I had success this holiday period with introducing my non-gamer dad to certain games. It was very clear the games he preferred were ones that had a theme or mechanism that appealed to his “hobbies”.


Interesting comments don’t you think? The main themes that pop out here are clear. For the most part, non-gamers are saying that they would be willing to play games that:

  1. Are simple and easy to play
  2. Can be taught quickly
  3. Have fast-playing turns and are short in duration
  4. Allow for some thought and strategy
  5. Allows you to laugh with, not at other players

I christen these the “Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer”

In a crowded market place, it is very important to stand out. Especially if you want to attract non-gamers and the huge potential that they represent in terms of units sold. My sense is that too many games have been designed at the very least, ignoring the needs of non-gamers. I don’t know why this is but would guess that designers mostly design for personal taste and preference as has certainly been my own case.

Kickstarter has proved that many games can be designed and published independently. But I think that this is a false reading of success and very short term. Take a look at what has been successful on Kickstarter. Effectively, they have almost all been pitched and supported by niche audiences so they will definitely not become “evergreen” and will ultimately die away.

There are reasons why extremely few games have been really successful. Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Uno, Sorry and more recently, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Qwirkle and a few others have reached the heady heights of what I would consider to be really successful games. I would argue that their success has come because the they each have addressed the Magic 5 Needs of the Non-gamer as illustrated above.


So, if I want to design my definition of a really successful game, NOT just a game for a small niche just because it interests me, I need to think about and cater for the needs of non-gamers and I would suggest to any designer that they should do the same if they want real success.

Publishers need to be thinking about this as well or they will not be as successful as they would like for sure. Actually, come to think about it, Game distributors and retailers need to think more about how they attract non-gamers. And yes, we gamers need to think about this too. Those gamers who pooh pooh the idea of evangelising our awesome hobby in a way that attracts non-gamers are ultimately selfish and damage our hobby.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for niche games. Far from it. We need them and want them of course. I love to play niche games that others design. And there is certainly a level of success in bringing a game to publication for sure.

But why not aim higher? For me, real success for Luchador and any future design will mean lots of people across the globe recognise them, have given them a go and have had fun. If many of them are non-gamers who have been introduced to gaming through one of my games, that, my friends, will be real success.

So the ball is well and truly in my court and and the same for anyone else who wants to design games with potential for what I would call, real success.  Game designing is a bit of a mystery to most people. Even myself…


But it is a fun and frustrating activity in equal measure. If I can design really successful games and this allows me the space to design games of personal niche interests, I will be a happy camper. So going forward, I will remember the Magic 5 Needs of the Non-gamer and design accordingly.


3 thoughts on “Boardgames in Blighty asks… What do Non-Gamers REALLY want? The Magic 5 Needs of the Non-Gamer”

  1. Great article, I think the biggest issues is the play testing. Too many game designers rely on experienced board gamers to play test a product, you see it all the time on related forums where designers are looking for play testers and what you end up with is a product that is influenced by veteran players rather than say the target ordinance or new/novice gamers.

    The reason I mentioned Wings of Glory ( is because it is an incredibly simple game mechanic that can be taught to anyone even through language barriers. Chose 3 maneuver cards in secret, you both play the cards simultaneously (Yep your turn is at the same time as everyone else, so NO WAITING!) if the opposition is in range and firing line you can shot (At the same time as everyone else!) and EVERY SHOT HITS!

    That’s right no dice rolling, no working out hit ratios or factors, the opposition takes a damage card and keeps it secret, you keep playing until the opposition is either shot down. (Damage cards tally up to Damage limit, or other factors come in to play, such as explosion card or pilot killed etc).

    This games dynamics was so simple it spawned the very successful and rather controversial X-Wing Miniatures Game ((Disgusting how a big firm like Fantasy Flight Games will happily rip off a small games designer) which in my opinion has become a monster of a game and over designed now.) Sails of Glory (By the same designer), Star Trek and one about riding and fighting Dragons. (The last two should be avoided like the plague apparently).

    What’s even more amazing about this little game is that you can take it anywhere and play it without the miniatures, as each maneuver deck also comes with a handy little aircraft card that can be used in its place.

    The Builders ( was a game introduced to me at my first ever Games Day meetup here in Japan and I was instantly hooked, straight away you could see how the gaming dynamics allowed for cunning and complex play and the mad rush at the end of the game (As you play with a set number of turns) was hilarious.

    Another Japanese card game I was introduced to was a farming card game and by the end of the 4th game (6 of us had never played before and were instantly hooked) we had spawned our own catch phrases such as “This really is the best card for you!” “Just take it before I give it to him/her” and “I Told you it was the best card for you!” etc. again this was played cross culture and language (English, Korean, Japanese and Finnish) and we had a really good laugh. (for the life of me I really can’t remember the games name)

    Lastly another great game I was introduced to was another card game called ‘Coloretto’ ( again simple to very complex play 20 minutes max and again with a set time frame dictated by a card placement.

    But these games all meet the 5 requirements you stated and one other factor which in my experience is the clincher.

    It is how an outcome is decided, non of these games use dice. I have found that non-gamers and novice gamers are really put off by fist fulls of dice or dice-centric games. There seems to be a disconnect there, that you are no longer in control of your fate, however fate/outcome decided by drawing a card seems to connect to the player that some how even though the cards are random you still have control of your fate and this in my opinion is a key element.

    And this brings me to a final point Mark, game designers don’t look at the psychological impact a game has on the players and how it effects them both in game and after.


    1. Great comments and suggestions James. Thanks. Of course, Luchador is the exception re dice in my experience 😉 Actually Zombie Dice is a huge seller and I doubt its sales are solely down to experienced gamers.


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