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Discussion of Best Ways on Teaching Board Games

2010 July 11
by Michael Schroeder

Properly teaching a board game can either make or break the gaming experience, in my opinion. If you don’t want a dragged out, miserable experience, where nobody is really interested in learning or playing the game, then make sure you are mostly familiar with the rules.

We had this experience around the 4th of July this year when my friend, Jeff, brought a new game purchase out for us all to play. He purchased the game, Pirates Cove, by Days of Wonder. We fumbled through the rules that night while playing and completely missed the boat (no pun intended), on the main mechanics of the game. Overall, it was a confusing experience. Eventually, after a second sessions, we got the rules. Now, I don’t consider myself an expert at teaching board game rules, on the contrary, I think I”m quite bad at it. I often will misread or forget certain rules that can effect the overall game, but I do try and follow these standards…

  1. Know the game before your first play. It’s completely understandable that you won’t have the entire game in your back pocket upon first play. But what I like to do is make sure I read the manual in its entirety before first play. In fact, I’ll read it over again, and again, if necessary, depending on how big the manual is. I must have read the Agricola manual 10 times before first play.
  2. Play the game solo, before first play. Yeah yeah, it sounds like your a real loser doing this, but I think it’s critical, if you expect to teach the game well. It’s great when a game is meant for solo players, like Agricola, Arkham Horror or Runebound, but if the game isn’t playable for one player, just set up a mock two or more player scenario at your game table and just go through a round or two, acting as everyone. It will help you get a better understanding of the flow of the game, better than just reading the manual.
  3. Find tutorials online in video form. For example, I found an awesome video tutorial for Race for the Galaxy, I’m glad I found it. If you can’t find something on YouTube, search reviews or sessions on boardgamegeek.com.
  4. Work backwards. Personally, I find it best to teach the rules backwards so people have the ultimate goal in mind when learning and playing. For example, in Race for the Galaxy, your goal is, to get the most victory points. How do you do that? I start working backwards at this point, showing the victory chips, well, how do you get those? You get those or Victory points, by having these cards out. Oh, how do you get those cards out? By doing this…so on and so forth. Eventually tracing yourself back to the basic setup of the game. The going backwards method actually made me successful at logic proofs, in course 2 math! Same logic applies here. With this in mind, the people you are teaching will have a better grasp on the big picture of the game, making it easier to stomache the rules.

So there are my four basic rules, for teaching board game rules.

Impatient Learners – What do you do if you are teaching the rules to people that don’t want to hear the rules and just want to get started and learn that way? My wife is like – learning by example is a great way to learn. I love learning this way, but when I’m the person teaching the game, I want to make sure to get it all out there first. I don’t have a method to satisfy everyone here, but if you have a mix of people that are more impatient. I would recommend making just giving the ultimate goal, and teaching segments by example, or teaching individual facets of the game, by example.

For example, my wife seems to enjoy heroScape, which is awesome. But when I taught it to her, I’d do a “quick bulleted list” teaching – with examples. So I’d say, here’s the skinny, first, place order markers, then I showed her, easy enough. Then we roll – nothing complicated there. second, move, then I’d quickly show her moving examples. Lastly, attack. Then I showed her a couple quick examples of variations of it. That seemed to work. When teaching people that like learning by example, this method seems to work pretty good.

As far as a game like Race for the Galaxy goes though, some games like this are a bit too complex and it just has to click with the person. I failed teaching my wife this game, miserably. Hopefully Dominion goes much smoother.

I’m curious of how my readers teach games and have suggestions? Pass ’em along!

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