You have gone through the process of getting some friends together and you want to introduce them to a new game. The good news is that they are not looking to you as a master of this new game. They really want a guide to get them past the rules and get to the gaming goodness – the reason they came to the event to begin with.
Be Familiar with Your Games
What’s the worst thing you can do with a new game? Read the rules in front of your gaming group. Some of these games come with Rule Guides of over 35 pages. It is not practical to read that as you go. Chances are you won’t have anyone at your next gaming event if this is how you plan to handle it.
The important part of this process is not complete mastery. It is maintaining control long enough for everyone to get the hang of the game themselves. What your friends want from the situation is to play the game with the correct set of rules.
They want to know:
- How do they win?
- What do I do when it is my turn?
- How do I interact with others?
These are the points you need to cover at the very beginning, so they understand where all the explanation is leading.
If you forget certain rules, it is alright to add them later. You’re goal here is to get past the basic explanation so everyone can enjoy the game. You lose control of the situation and your friends’ attention the minute you go to look up a set of rules in the rule book.
Set Up the Game Before You Start
This is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your success in teaching new people a game. Good speakers use props to enhance their presentations. You certainly don’t need PowerPoint for this, but having the game as a reference is a great tool.
This allows for two things.
- You can use the game bits and cards to explain points.
- People can play the game immediately after you are done.
Introduce the Goal
Every game has a goal. Some are simple goals, like “If you have the most points by turn 10, you win”. Other games have more complex, and really don’t make sense until you review the rules of the game. Make sure you explain these goals up front and make sure you repeat them often.
Whatever the goal, people like to know what they need to accomplish. This is what drags them through the process of hearing the rules. With the “end” in mind, they can get through and understand the “means”.
If you don’t do this, your audience will constantly be wondering “how does this help me win?” This is distracting to the learner and you want to eliminate it. If you can’t explain it well at the beginning, give them keywords or something to latch onto, so they understand it when it shows up. “You can even just say something like “victory points are good, knights are good, cities and roads are good, or keeping all your resources is bad”.
Three is a Magic Number
People like to learn things in groups of three. There is a rhythm and flow to things that come in a set of three. Many games have choices to present – do it in groups of three when possible. For example, you can gather a resource, attack your neighbor, or choose an “opportunity” card.
Some games make it complicated – you get three things to do on your turn and each of those items offers several options. The best way to explain that is “On your turn, you are going to do X, Y, and Z. For you to accomplish X, you have three choices. They are 1, 2, or 3. Let’s go over 1 first”.
Don’t force this concept where it does not exist, though. That just leads to confusion. You can look for patterns in the rules, though. Sometimes there are team decisions, defensive decisions, or offensive actions you can take. You can divide your descriptions into these categories if you wanted to.
Wash, Rinse, and REPEAT!
As you are explaining the game, it is beneficial to your audience if you repeat certain things, like how to win the game. Also, it is nice to do this if you are going through a set of choices. How do you do this?
Let’s go back to the X, Y, and Z example from earlier. You are talking about the first action you need to do on your turn, action X. You need to explain choice 1, 2, and 3. When you are done, you say something like “OK, that’s the first part of your turn. That was X. Now, let’s take a look at Y.” While doing this, rephrase the rules you just offered, rather than repeating them again the same way. This will help some of your group “get it” if they had not already.
Introducing Game Terms
Lots of games have common things, but they go by different names. Make these associations for your group and then introduce them to the correct terms for the game you are trying to teach them. A good example of this type of item is money. If you can get away without using the game jargon, that will help your group grasp concepts better. For example, if you are introducing Settlers of Catan, there is no money in the game. But, there are resources. You can equate these to money and talk about how you buy things with combinations of money, or “resources”. This allows you to add your own flair to the instruction and bring people into the game quicker.
Talk to Me
Teaching new gamers a game should be a conversation, not a boring lecture. People want to have fun, not watch you give a fancy presentation. Watch to make sure your fellow gamers are getting what you are saying and don’t be afraid to go back and reiterate something you already mentioned – even if you have to revisit a concept several times.
Don’t single out people that are having trouble grasping the rules. One of the worst things you can do is set them up to look slow. They won’t want to ask questions after that. It is also possible that they may not return for another gaming session.
Here’s A Personal Experience For You
I got a new game, Starcraft the Board Game, about two months ago. I was sure my wife would be interested in checking it out, so she could kick my intersteller butt. This game had a 45 page rule guide. I did not follow any of these suggestions for myself and suggested we go through the guide and try to teach ourselves. Well, four hours later, we had gotten to the point where we actually started to understand what the rules were saying and we attempted to play. This was possibly one of the worst gaming experiences for her. To this day, she refuses to really try to play that game.
We had a better experience this last weekend with Shadows Over Camelot. I introduced it to her and her mother. I watched a few videos on www.youtube.com about the game and was a little more familiar with how the game played. This went fairly smoothly. We attempted a game on Friday night with rules in hand. Then, on Saturday night, we played one game with the rules, but a little faster. We were enjoying it enough to give it a go for a third time – that was the kicker. This was a tense game with great team play and lots of table-talk. But, very little use of the rule book. This one was a success.
It Can Be A Rewarding Experience
Introducing your friends to a new game can be a very rewarding experience and a great way to get your games on the table and into rotation with your game group.
Like any skill, practice makes perfect. Also, don’t miss out on many of the learning tools available online. You can find quick-start guides, visual aids, and other suggestions on web sites like www.boardgamegeek.com.
One Last Suggestion
There is a practice at the country western clubs that actually can be useful for you in your gaming group. About an hour before the club starts hopping, the DJ opens the dance floor and teaches people how to do many of the line dances they will see throughout the night. Obviously, you won’t be line dancing at your gaming party (are you?) but the lesson is solid. Announce the games you will be playing before the event. If someone is new to that game, allow them to come early for an introduction to those games. That way, you don’t have to take up game time with a rules introduction. Also, it allows fellow gamers to try to introduce games in a non-threatening environment.
Once everyone is comfortable with this process, you can rotate who does the teaching at each event.