Setting the Mood
Look, I get it, pulling out a game on a first date might be kind of awkward at first. You’re having a great conversation with your new friend and suddenly you get to the topic of your hobbies… I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me. “Do I tell her about my niche hobby that I spend all of my free time with? What will she think?” Usually about ten minutes later my internal dialogue turns into, “No! Why did you show her a picture of your collection/game room?!” which eventually turns into, “Ok. Ok. She hasn’t run off yet. Whew.”
Now, in almost any other situation you put me in, I will have no fear in evangelizing the hobby and I’ll probably find a way talk about how great it is for building up community and relationships. Yet, when I’m sitting in front of a pretty girl, that becomes much much harder to do. Still, I end up bringing it up anyway and it has always spawned great conversation.
One thing I have always wanted to try is to actually break out a game on a first or second date. I’ve never quite gotten up the nerve to actually bring a game with me… but I swear one day I will.
This Top Six will be great for you if you have more courage than me!
Keep in mind, this isn’t just for first time dates. Whether it’s your first your your 50th, I hope you are able to find something here that may make a date with your partner just that much more special!
Let’s jump in!
The First Date
You pull up to the local coffee shop, palms already sweaty from your nerves. You keep thinking, “Did she notice that I put ‘boardgames’ as one of my interests?” and worry that somehow she swiped right without noticing that your instagram feed was full of artistic board game photos.
“Alright. You can do this. Don’t be nervous.”
After sitting down and getting past the awkward introductions, you realize that things are actually going pretty well. Conversation is flowing like the notes in a symphony. Suddenly she asks the question… “What do you like to do in your spare time?” Nervously you reply, “I play board games.”
The moment freezes after you come to realize that this could be the make or break moment of the night.
She responds, “Oh! I love board games! We played monopoly all the time when I was growing up!” You let go a sigh of relief, but then also process exactly what she just said. “Well… not exactly like Monopoly. Have you ever played Settlers of Catan? You see, over the past 20 or so years, games have completely changed! They say we are in a renaissance in the industry!” As the words leave your mouth, you realize that you are about to go into an explanation of modern board games that will be way too much information for her.
“That’s really neat! I’d love to try one sometime!” She says with excitement.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, you reach into your bag, pull out a small box, and say “How do you feel about camels?!” without realizing what words just spewed from your mouth out of excitement.
Jaipur – Sébastien Pauchon
She looks at you confused and caught off guard and says, “Camels?”
Immediately you backtrack, “Well, that’s not what I meant… here let me just show you. So, Jaipur is one of my favorite games made to be played with just two people. You see, you lay out these cards and try to collect sets of the different items. When you sell the sets you get these chips that are worth points. Whoever has the most points when we run out of these point chips wins the round. Best of three wins the game! What do you think?!”
You can tell she’s a little thrown off by your excitement, but she smiles and nods her head in understanding.
“Ok, well the reason I love this game is that it is so easy to learn, but there are still a lot of challenging decisions to make! You see, on your turn you either take some cards or sell some cards. If you take cards, you either pick one from the face up cards and put it in your hand, trade 2-5 from your hand (or your camel pile) with ones from the face up cards, or take all of the face up camels. The camels help you get more cards, but don’t worry too much about that yet. Once you get enough cards of the same kind to sell, you can turn them in for points! You can just sell a couple if you want, but if you hold onto them you get bonuses for selling a bunch at a time. But, the earlier you sell them, the more points the point chips are worth. See, interesting decisions! Make sense?”
“Um… I think so. Maybe once I try it I’ll understand it more?” she says.
“Ok then, let’s give it a shot!” You say with excitement.
30 minutes later
“Wow! That was lots of fun! Did you bring any more?” She says with a smile.
Again, without processing the words coming out of your mouth, you pull another box out of you bag and exclaim, “How do you feel about quilting?!”
Patchwork – Uwe Rosenberg
Giggling, she says, “You sure have a strange way of describing these games!”
“I really don’t know why I keep doing that… we don’t have to play it…” you say somberly.
“No, no! I love quilting! What do you like about this one?”
You can tell that she is trying to keep you from being too embarrassed. It’s too late for that, but the sentiment is certainly appreciated.
“Well, remember how I said that the last game was fun because it was pretty simple, but still allowed for challenging and interesting decisions? The same thing goes for this one. So we each have a one of these grid boards that represents our quilt. Throughout the game we’ll buy quilt pieces that are worth different points from the middle and build our quilt with them. Then whoever has the most points when one of our pawns gets to the middle wins!”
“Hm.. so what makes those decisions so interesting then?” she says.
“Ah, yes. So buttons are like money and you have to spend them to buy all of these weirdly shaped patchwork tiles. When you buy one, you place it on your board and then move your pawn how ever many spaces of time it says to on the tile. So what is really neat about this game is that the player in last place on the time track gets to keep taking turns until they leapfrog to first place!”
“Interesting…” she says carefully.
“So when it’s your turn, you can either buy one of the three tiles in front of the tile marker, or you can leapfrog your pawn to the spot right in front of the other player’s pawn and take as many buttons as the number of spaces you moved! So basically, we keep going back and forth until one of our pawns gets to the middle. If you can fill in a certain amount of the board without leaving any spaces, you’ll also get bonus points in addition to the points on the board and your leftover buttons. See, that’s not too bad, right?”
She looks at the pieces and then back at you and says, “Ok, the whole ‘last person goes first’ thing is kind of weird and I’m not sure about this whole button thing, but I seemed to pick the last one up more once we started playing, so let’s give it a shot!”
30 minutes later
“Wow! I never thought I would enjoy quilting so much!” your date exclaims.
“Wait… I thought you said you said that you love quilting!” you retort.
“Hey, are you hungry? Let’s go get some food!” she quickly exclaims.
As you drive over to the local taco joint, she begins to ask you all kinds of questions about this new world that you have given her a peek into. “How long have you been playing these games?” “How did you find out about them?” “What is your favorite?” Her questions seemed to keep flowing out like a curious river, only being halted by the wafting smell of delicious tacos. As you both get out of the car and start walking in, she glances back and says, “Wait, aren’t you going to bring your bag of games in?”
You look at her, shocked, and try to keep your jaw from hitting the floor. “Oh, hold on one second.” you say with disbelief. As you head back to the car, all you can think is “she must be the one!”
Once you both order and sit down, she playfully says, “Ok nerd” winks and continues, “ What are we going to play next?”
“Hm… How do you feel about…” You trail off realizing that you were about to do it again.
“Go ahead, say it!” she replies.
You can tell that she thinks it’s funny, and so you continue on, “How do you feel about exploring ancient lost cities for treasure?”
“Oh, that’s so much more normal! How do we play?!” she exclaims.
Lost Cities – Reiner Knizia
“Ok, so we are exploring these five different lost cities of the ancient world represented by the five different colored cards. Each city has exactly 12 cards. Nine of them are numbered 2-10 and the other three are multiplier cards. Similar to Jaipur, we’ll play 3 rounds and whoever has the most points wins. At the end of each round you get points for the cards that you play in order from lowest to highest. The tricky thing is that you only gain points if the colored row you are scoring is worth at least 20 points. If it is worth less than 20, than you lose the difference! It’s like it’s your expedition cost and if you don’t make enough money, then you go in debt for the difference.”
“So, you’re just playing whatever cards you draw in order to get points? I don’t get it…” She states in confusion.
“Well, not exactly. So the other tricky thing is that you can only play cards in order. So if you play the blue number 10 card first, there’s no way that row will add up to 20 since you can’t play any of the lower blue cards cards. Plus, once you play a card in a color, you have to score that row at the end of the round. If you don’t play any of that color, you don’t score it. You’ve also got those multiplier cards to play. You can only play them as your first cards in the row and each one multiplies that colors score at the end of the round. So if you add one, you have to multiply it by two whether it is positive or not.”
“Wow! That sounds risky… So I get to play a card every turn? What about the spots on the board? She asks.
“Yes! You can either play a card from your hand to one of your color rows or to the matching colored spot on the board. Once you’ve played a card, you draw a card from either the top of one of the colored piles on the board or from the top of the deck. Trust me, it seems easy, but it can be challenging! Are you ready for this one?”
“You’re going down!” She confidently exclaims as a grin stretches across her face.
30 minutes later
“Hah! I was so zoned in on beating you that I totally forgot our food was here!” she says victoriously. You laugh as you start to pack up the game. “Ok, I have to admit… This has been surprisingly fun! Could we try one more game while we eat?” she says excitedly.
“Ok ok. One more. If you insist…” you say with a grin. Luckily, you were smart enough to bring multiple options. It just happened that you brought exactly four. There’s no way you thought you’d make it through all four though!
“Wait, wait! You’ve got to do the thing!” She says.
“…The thing?” You say in a confused tone.
“Yeah! The whole, ‘how do you feel about blank?’ thing!” she said excitedly.
Laughing, you continue on, “Oh… Hah! Alright. How do you feel about chess?”
Onitama – Shimpei Sato
“I love chess!” she exclaims.
As you jokingly roll your eyes, you say, “You mean like how you love quilting?!”
“Shut up! I really do! I used to play it with my dad when I was a kid.” she says in a reflective tone. “But, chess doesn’t seem to fit in with all those other games we played.”
“True. This one isn’t exactly chess, but it does sort of feel like it in a way.” She curiously looks at the oddly shaped box as you continue on. “So in this game, we are each trying to capture each other’s leader or move our leader into the other person’s castle. Each of us will have two of these movement cards which show exactly how any of our pieces can move. There will also be one that is set of to the side of the board. Once you move a piece, you swap out the movement card that you used with the one that is off to the side. At most, there will only be 5 cards out at a time. Ever game you chose five new random cards from the stack, so every game is always different!”
“Wow, that actually seems pretty easy. Let’s give it a shot!” she says.
Three games later and she has beaten you two out of three times. You don’t really care that you lost, though. You’re just too happy that she’s enjoying these games with you. Suddenly, a wave of confidence comes over you. “It looks like they are about to close. Do you want to head back to my place? We’d have more room to sprawl out.” you say, obliviously. As soon as you see her expression of awkwardness, you bite your tongue and quickly exclaim “You know, for a bigger board game!!”
“Oh.” she says quietly. She starts to smile and laugh while saying, “That isn’t what I thought you meant at first…”
You attempt to hide your embarrassment while you laugh awkwardly.
“Sure, let’s do it!” she says.
On the drive over, the questions continue: “How many of these games do you have?” “Who do you play them with?” “Where do you find out about them?” You never thought that this date would have gone so well! “What are the chances of things working out this way? They must be extremely small…” You think. As you try to focus on the road, you can’t help but realize what you’ve just gotten yourself into. “Sure, It’s one thing to show her these games in a public area, but what will she think when she walks in my game room and sees hundreds of games lining the wall? Does she even have a framework to understand why I would have a special board game table? And the game posters… Oh man. What have I gotten myself into?”
You pull up to your house and begin to nervously walk up to the door. Cautiously, you say, “So, just so you know, this might be a little overwhelming at first.”
She looks back with eyes that are both gleaming with curiosity and also still with cautiousness. “I think I can handle it.” she jokes.
As you walk in and start heading toward your game room, she begins to say “This isn’t so ba…” and trails off as you flick the lights on. You look back at her and see that her eyes have grown twice their size, while her jaw has seemingly dropped all the way to the floor.
It’s too late now. No turning back.
“So this is my game room…” you say as you try to figure out what is going through her head.
“Oh. My. Gosh. This is so cool!” she squeals with excitement. Immediately she goes back into her waterfall of questions. As you try to keep up with her, in the back of your head, all you can think is, “Whew. That was a close one.”
Once the questions die down again, she asks, “So what are we going to play with all of this room to sprawl out?” She winks, clearly still poking fun at your miscommunication from before.
You think for a second and then say, “Well, how about a classic? How do you feel about Western European city building?”
Carcassonne – Klaus-Jürgen Wrede
“Well, I’ve always been more of an Eastern European city building girl myself, but I guess I could give it a shot.” she retorts jokingly.
As you laugh, you pull out the box. As she sees it, she remarks, “That one definitely looks more… classic than the others.”
In defense, you say, “Trust me, it’s a classic for a reason. This one is one of my favorites!”
“If you say so! You haven’t steered me wrong yet, but it’s not too late!” she says while sticking out her tongue.
“Ok, so in this game, we will both playing tiles with matching sides to grow the city bigger and bigger. The game keeps going until we run out of tiles. The winner will be the person who has the most points from creating certain patterns in the city. So on your turn, you draw a tile from one of the stacks and find a place where it connects visually with another tile on the city. Wherever you lay it down, all of it’s sides must match the sides of the other tiles that it touches. So, roads match roads, cities match cities, and fields match fields.”
“So it’s like a big puzzle? I love puzzles!” she exclaims.
“Yeah, sort of! There’s no right or wrong place to put them, but you want to find the best place to give you points. Connected roads each give you a point, the cities give you 2 points each if you complete them and one point each if you don’t, the monasteries give you points for surrounding them with other tiles, and the farms give you points for connecting them to other completed cities. So on your turn, when you play a tile you can take one of your meeples…”
“Meeples?” She says, cutting you off.
“Oh yeah, the little people you have! Meeples… ‘My peoples’. They’re kind of the face of the hobby. You can see them in all kinds of board games, but they started here in Carcassonne.” She laughs at your nerdy trivia and nods, encouraging you to go on. “So anyway, when you play a tile you can take your meeple and put it on the tile you just played. Either on the a road, city, monastery, or field, but just on one and only on the tile you played. Once you complete a road, city, or monastery, you get to take your meeple back and reuse it later. You have to be careful though, because if you put too many down at a time, you might not have one to place when you need it! How does that sound? Not too bad, eh?”
“Yeah, I think I get it. I mean… it is Western Europe, but I’ll just have to get over that.” says with a smirk.
45 minutes later
“Hah! I’m getting good at these! But I am starting to get a little tired… Maybe one more?” she says with a yawn.
“Ok, one more game it is! How about we finish the night with something cooperative instead of competitive?” you suggest.
“Wait.. Cooperative? Like we’re working together? But who are we playing against?” she says, dumbfounded with confusion.
Emphatically, you say, “Yeah! We play against the game! After all this, haven’t I gained your trust? Would I really steer you wrong now?”
“I guess not… but if we play cooperatively, I can’t keep beating you!” she says playfully. “Still, you’re right. I guess I’ll defer to your wisdom here.”
“Ok, great! Well, for our grand conclusion, how do you feel about global pandemics causing worldwide chaos?!”
Pandemic – Matt Leacock
“Um.. generally negatively?” she says with a confused look in her eyes.
“Perfect, because in this game we will be working together to save the world from them!” you say excitedly.
“Oh! Much better! How do we do this?” she responds.
“Ok, so we will be traveling across this world map, city to city, trying to clear off these cubes which represent the four diseases. We win if we can find the cures to all four diseases. We lose if we allow too many outbreaks to occur, we run out of any diseases cubes, or we make it to the bottom of the player deck. On your turn you get to take up to 4 actions. You can move one of a few different ways, remove one disease cube from the city that you are currently in, give a card to another player if you are both in the city represented on the card, build a research station which helps you get around the board, or find one of the cures.”
“Wow. That’s a lot of pressure… The whole world is in our hands!” she says.
“It is! So in order to find these cures, we’ll need to collect 5 cards of the same color and discard them while we are in a research station. We get to draw two at the end of every turn, so we have to be strategic about trading them. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t want us to win. There are epidemic cards mixed into the deck that cause all kinds of nasty problems. Plus, once we draw our two cards, we have to flip over a certain number of disease cards that place more disease cubes on the board. If there are evey more than three of the same color cubes in one city, it causes an outbreak and spreads one to each other connecting city.”
“This doesn’t sound very easy…” she says apprehensively.
“Oh no, it’s not! It’s definitely a challenge, but working together to beat the challenge is what makes it fun! Luckily, we both have special role cards that give us some help. I’m the medic, so I get to remove all of one disease cube from a city instead of just one. You are the scientist, so you only need to get 4 of the same color cards for a cure instead of 5! Plus we can draw these event cards that allow us to do special things that will help us out!”
“Ok, ok. Let’s give it a try and see what happens… I might need some help though…” she says timidly.
“We’re working together as a team, so I’ll give you all the help you want!” you say with a smile as you think about just how perfect this night has been. As the night fades you can’t help but think, “I sure hope I get to keep saving the world with this girl for as long as she lets me.”
For more 2 player game suggestions, check out our Andy’s Top 6 Two Player Games article. Also, if you’re looking to learn how to teach games to your first date well, check out my previous article “The Goal of the Game is to Win” – How to Teach Games in an Engaging Way that Sticks.