The Third Wheel: Bringing new players into the Fold

We have all been there. You are at a convention and things are going great. You’ve got an engaged group of players trying out your game, they are having a great time and everything is perfect.

Then the Third Wheel comes along.

This is the guy or girl that comes up to your table and stares longingly at your game. Attracted by the Law of Gameplay Attraction, the newcomer has taken an interest in your game in-progress and now stands awkwardly beside your table, a proverbial Third Wheel to your gaming group. The moment is awkward for everyone involved, particularly for the Third Wheel and for the game demonstrator (i.e you).

But it doesn’t have to be.

The first thing you need to do is engage the Third Wheel. If the game just started and you have space available, the solution is simple. Encourage the newcomer to stop being a Third Wheel and join in. Keep the discussion brief (lest you annoy your current players) and remember your hook line!

More often than not though, you are midway through the game and allowing the newcomer to join is not an option. So what then?

The main concept to remember is that under no circumstances should you ignore the Third Wheel. Having made this mistake many times early on, I can honestly say that not speaking to the newcomer is the equivalent of giving them the cold shoulder, even if you did not intend to. People that get the cold shoulder rarely stick around or come back and this is a problem.

My solution when a game is in-progress is to take a moment to briefly engage with the Third Wheel. Greet them and tell them what is being played (use a hook line). State how long the game will last, offer to let them watch and if they are going to leave, tell them an exact time to come back to play in the next game.

For example, if I am demonstrating Crop Cycle I may address a Third Wheel with:

“Hi there! [Shake hands] We are playing Crop Cycle, the game of surprisingly aggressive farming! We are just in the middle of the game, but you can grab and chair and watch. If you have to go, the next game will be starting at 2:40 so we can get you in then”

In the conversation above, the Third Wheel was greeted and informed of the game, welcomed to stay and told a time to come back if they decide to leave.

What I avoided was inquiring about interest. Do not ask the newcomer if they are interested in playing. They are clearly interested in the game, otherwise they would not be spending their time staring at your game in a convention room packed with games!

Assume interest, assume the Third Wheel will play the game and make it as convenient for them as possible to do so. In doing so, you show respect to the newcomer which is the cornerstone of an effective demonstration.

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