Xiangqi is a hard game to get to the table, for various reasons. I could really have picked a lot of games here. But the simplicity and abstract character of Chinese Chess allow me to easily make points about what makes it difficult to get people interested in playing games.
Theme – While one could say Xiangqi has a war theme, it is fairly clear once one learns about the game that it is essentially theme-less. The theme is conflict in a general sense, and the pieces don’t really behave in ways their names would suggest. This is a problem as the theme of the game both serves to get people excited about playing it, and also to give them a grounding in reality for when they might not understand why certain game mechanisms are the way they are. Essentially the game is more fun after you’ve played it a few times. But why would you play it if it doesn’t seem interesting?
Iconography – To many people icons symbolize complexity. Games like Monopoly have words written on them. And when the game mechanisms require too many words to fit on the pieces and are replaced by pictures, people don’t want to deal with them. And when the icons are things the have to learn, like a foreign language in Xiganqi’s case, they tend to tune out and look for other things to do.
Strategy – Abstract games and European style games have a lot of depth and strategy, and while hardcore gamers (of both the video and board varieties) relish strategy, regular people tend to know when experienced people will beat them, and don’t want to commit the time to learning something complex that they will lose all of the time at and feel bad afterwards. Glancing at Xiangqi will make it seem simple, but really looking at it will reveal complexities people just don’t want to deal with.
Time Investment – Chess has a reputation for being a long game (an undeserved one in my opinion), and Chinese Chess comes with this baggage as well. People don’t want to commit much time to something new, especially if it has the previously mentioned problems.
Player Count – People don’t like things that require very specific numbers of people because they want to be inclusive and to socialize. Two player games are hard to play for this reason, but so would be games that only play five, or only play eight.
Really, Xiangqi is just a bad game to try to get people to play. If they already like chess and want to learn new things, teaching them might be fun, but playing with people who already know the game is best, either from their heritage, or from discovering it online. People need to be eased into games, especially abstract games. That’s why “gateway” games like Ticket to Ride, Love Letter, and Catan are so popular. People need to be introduced to games that you as the gamer might not like as much but can still enjoy. Starter abstracts like Gobblet and Blokus should be used before introducing some one to Chess and Xiangqi. It’s important that people know they like games before letting these ones intimidate them. And more people gaming means more fun for you.