It’s your first game night and you want it to be big, so big your friends can’t stop talking about it and keep coming back for more. But when your friends think of board games, they think of Pictionary, Cranium and Monopoly. So how do you introduce them to the wide world of awesome board games, without scaring them off?

If your friends have only played mainstream board games before (the kind you find at Walmart), your favorite game might not be right for them to start with. You will want one that gracefully guides them from party games to more serious (and ultimately, more fun) stuff. Here are some suggestions, starting with the most casual options:

Party Games

A night of loud, casual fun might be just what the guru ordered, especially if your friends are more comfortable with games like Pictionary or Scattegories, or if your fellow gamers are only casual acquaintances. A good party game gives people a chance to talk and get more familiar. The stakes don’t feel too high, so winning and losing isn’t a terribly big deal.

There are a lot of unique party games that will introduce them into the not-so-mainstream part of the hobby, such as Dixit or Mascarade. For an even more casual start, there are decent party games found toy sections of major stores: Apples to Apples or Wits and Wagers are easy winners.

Cooperative Games

Trying to figure out how to play a new game with lots of rules (relative to what they are used to) can be intimidating and potentially embarrassing for people. So one way to put people at ease is with a cooperative game. Pull out Forbidden Island, or if they want to think, unveil it’s bigger brother, Pandemic. These cooperative games will keep your friends from being embarrassed, since everyone loses or wins as a team. And when everyone is a loser, no one is a loser. Okay, not exactly, but it does feel that way.

Cooperative games are a great middle ground because you can guide them through the strategy, helping them as much as they want or need, so they don’t get lost or feel overwhelmed. They won’t even care if you are slightly dominating, because they are new.

One word of caution: be careful not to overdo the advice in a cooperative game. If people feel they are being forced around, or just told what to do, they won’t enjoy it. Get the balance right, it can be extremely enjoyable.

Gateway Games

Gateway games are games that are commonly people’s first games when they get into the hobby. These games are  fairly easy to learn, and fun. They work best with people who already like board games of some kind, or just tend to be a little on the geekier side.

To pick a good gateway game, find out what games they have played in the past and try to pick one of the simple, easy to learn strategy games similar to what they have already played. If they’ve played Risk, try Small World. If they’ve played Monopoly, pull out Settlers of Catan. If they don’t have much previous board game experience, two easy winners are Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne.

Put Your Friends First

Even if it’s not necessarily the type of game you are dying to play, warming up your friends with a great first game night can pave the way to the less casual games you want to play. When the night of fun is over, ask them if they are open to other, more serious games. If not, try find other friends for your game nights. There’s no point in forcing them to play games they don’t want to play.

Most likely, if you’ve picked a good first couple games, they’ll be back.

Let us know how you first started in the comments!