Recently, I was watching a PBS special on people’s memories of Chicago and one sweet-looking old lady recalled how you used to be able to walk into a store, grab some sheet music, hand it to the piano player and he’d play it from sight so you would know that it was the song you wanted and that you liked the arrangement. Essentially you could try it before buying it; which you don’t see that often anymore. But last week I was in New York and stopped by F·A·O and they had two little tables set up and employees were demoing games for the public. It was outstanding!
We all know that learning a game from someone else is so much easier than mucking through the directions (even if the writers did follow the tips I laid out in my last article, Poorly Written Rules = Everybody Loses). It’s why they have people demoing the games to buyers at Toy Fair – otherwise they’d just hand out printed directions. (Just imagine how painful that would be.) But when someone shows you how to play, you can often learn and play at the same time!
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many opportunities for the general public to learn game before they buy them. As a consumer, your best bet is to invite yourself to a friend’s house and play their games. Checking out your local library is also a good idea, but most of them keep the decent copies in a back storage room for use only during special gaming events, but they might have a couple games with missing parts for patrons to play any time. There are some other specialty game stores that, like F·A·O, are demonstrating games in their store, but it’s very limited. F·A·O only had two games out and in a section with 75+ skus and the odds that one of them is the exact game that peeked a consumer’s curiosity is slim to none. So if a consumer wants to try out a hundred games before deciding which ones to purchase, they need to find a game fair.
I know the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTag) has been mentioned before on this site, but it’s because it’s one of the largest, open to the public, game fairs in the United States. And what makes ChiTag different from some of the others, like Origins or Gen Con, is that it has mass games, specialty games and what I call specialty mass-appeal games. These are games that could easily fit in the game aisle at your local Target or Toys R Us if there was more aisle real estate because they’re casual-gamer friendly (not the ones you have to read a bible-sized direction book and set aside 40% of your weekend to play). And while game fairs aren’t ingrained into our culture like they are in some other countries, they’re definitely growing. This is ChiTag’s eighth year and it has over a hundred exhibitors all teaching consumers how to play their hot new games just like they teach buyers at Toy Fair. It’s really an amazing experience to see the end-user, learn & play new games and then decided ON THE SPOT whether or not to purchase that product. Just think of the feedback that provides! Amazing.