Teaching games can be difficult, especially if you don’t know where to begin. If it’s a new game and you’ve never played it before, it can be even harder to teach it to new players. But fear not, you can get better at it. I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to get better at teaching games.
For the purposes of simplicity, I will assume you’re teaching this game at a gaming meetup you’re going to, but realistically, these tips can be used in any circumstance that requires you to teach a game.
Believe it or not, teaching a game doesn’t start when you sit down to play, it starts hours, or even days in advance. But preparation is important!
1.Read the Rulebook
Read the rulebook the day before or a few hours before the meetup. Try to comprehend what the rulebook is saying, but don’t burn yourself out trying to understand a single rule/concept. It will likely become more clear as you continue reading. If it doesn’t become clear, look it up online, or ask about it in the forums on http://boardgamegeek.com if you have time.
Most well-written rulebooks will include a ‘component-overview’ with pictures and explanations of the different components. Familiarize yourself with the components while reading the rulebook. This will eliminate any confusion later on when you actually sit down to play with others.
2.Play the Game By Yourself
Set-up the game up for as many players as will be playing at the meetup. If you’re not sure how many will be playing, it’s usually safe to set up for 3 or more players. (2 Player games sometimes have rule changes from other player counts, but 3+ players usually don’t.) You don’t have to play through the entire game by yourself, just play through 1 or 2 rounds to get a feel for how the game actually plays. Then when you sit down to play with other players, everything will be more familiar to you.
Teaching the Game
Okay, so you’re prepared to teach. Now you’re sitting down with a group of players waiting to learn the game.
1.Ask if Anyone Has Played Before
If any of the other players have played the game before, ask them to correct you if you make any mistakes in teaching the game. If anyone has played before, it also means you have one less person to teach.
2.Start with the Theme and Main Mechanics
First tell the players what the game is about. Is it a pirate-themed worker-placement game? Is it a semi-cooperative zombie survival game? Let them know. This will give them a frame of mind for when you explain the rules. If it’s totally abstract, do the best you can. If the players aren’t familiar with terms like “worker-placement” and “semi-cooperative,” just give them the theme at this point.
3.Explain the Goal or Win-Condition
What are the players trying to do? Everything else they do in the game will bring them to this point, so tell them the overall goal of the game first. Nothing else really has a purpose if they don’t know why they’re doing it. Try to avoid saying just “score the most points.” Instead, say something like “You want to complete as many tickets as possible, because you score points for every ticket you complete and lose points for every ticket you don’t complete.” Or “You want to power the most cities in the last round of the game, so you want to build a big network of cities and have power plants with enough resources to power them.” If the game doesn’t use victory points, this can be easier. “First one to pass the finish line wins.” Or “If all the other players are eliminated, you win.”
4.Explain the End-Game Trigger
Sometimes it will be natural to explain the end game trigger while explaining the win-condition. If that’s the case, just do it then. But if it’s not obvious, explain it shortly afterwards. “The game ends, when any player has 2 or less trains left in their supply. At that point, everyone takes 1 more turn, and then we add up our scores.” Or “Once any player has 17 or more cities in their network, we finish the phase, and the game ends. Whoever powered the most cities wins.”
5.Explain How Game Play Works
If the game takes place in rounds, explain that, and explain what happens in each round. If the game takes place in turns, explain what a player does on their turn. If everyone plays simultaneously, explain how that works.
This is the step where most of the explanation will take place. You want to cover what a player can do, and happens as a result. For instance, if it’s a worker-placement game, you’ll want to explain what happens at each location where they can place a worker. If a player can play cards on their turn, show them examples of what the cards look like and some of the effects they might have.
This part of explaining the rules will vary the most from game to game as most games play differently at least in some aspects.
After the Explanation
1.Ask If Anyone Has Questions (And Answer Them)
Allow the other players to ask questions if they’re unclear about anything, and be willing to answer them. And encourage them to ask questions during the game as well, if they’re not sure how something works, or they simply forgot a rule. If you’re unsure of the answer, either look it up in the rulebook or agree to house-rule it, but stick to the house rule for the rest of the game. If you later find the answer to the question during gameplay, let everyone know, and ask them if they want to continue ruling it with the house-rule, or with the real rule. Try to remember the real rule for your next play.
And that’s my advice. Hopefully this will help you become a better rules teacher. If you have any additions, suggestions, comments or questions, please leave them in the comments section.