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Stephen Hall
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I have written before about teaching games to newbies. Today, I'd like to revisit this, and elaborate on one point in particular.

When teaching a game to an inexperienced player, don't front-load all the rules. Players don't need to know each and every intricacy and tiny rule of a game in order to start playing. No new gamer wants to sit through a 20-minute rules explanation. They want to start playing.

My view on teaching games is give the players as much as they need to get started. It is perfectly fine to introduce new concepts as the game progresses. Let me give some examples:

If you're teaching Betrayal at House on the Hill, the newbie player doesn't need to know how monsters work at the beginning of the game, because there won't be monsters for a while. Early on, their objective is more or less to explore the house. That's it. Usually, after giving a brief overview of movement/cards/traits, I'll say something like "At some point, one of us will betray all the other players, and that's sort of the second half of the game. I'll explain that part when we get there." Understanding movement, exploration, and haunt rolls is about enough to get players playing.

Similarly, if you're teaching Thebes, players don't need to know how exhibits work until an exhibit card comes up. Usually, it's enough to explain how excavations work, and say "The tokens you'll get from these excavations are good, and they will help you get more points down the road."

So many games have rules and concepts that don't come into the game until later. It's okay to skip these at the beginning. Of course, you need to make sure you introduce new concepts in a timely manner, so players aren't surprised by a "You didn't tell me that rule" situation, but it's ok to not front-load the entire rulebook. Give players a chance to grasp the basics of the game, and then explain new concepts incrementally as they come around. In Small World, you don't need to explain Decline until at least the second or third turn. Let players figure out how units move/conquer, and then you can explain this mechanism.

If a player is confused before the game even begins, you can bet they are not going to have a good time. Starting off slowly can really help newbies have a good experience.
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John Burt
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I try to do this for all the good reasons you've given, but on more than one occasion I either A) forget to bring the rule up (my fault, but I lose track easily), or B) get, "Oh, NOW you tell me! If I'd known that rule at the start, I'd have done something completely differently several rounds ago!" shake
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Stephen Hall
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quill65 wrote:
I try to do this for all the good reasons you've given, but on more than one occasion I either A) forget to bring the rule up (my fault, but I lose track easily), or B) get, "Oh, NOW you tell me! If I'd known that rule at the start, I'd have done something completely differently several rounds ago!" shake


A) Yeah, it's easy to forget to introduce a rule, and that can be frustrating to players. Usually, though, you can collectively find a way to resolve the issue, even if it means fudging the rules a tiny bit. For example, suppose you're teaching Catan and you forget to mention the rule that you can't build a settlement adjacent to another settlement. When a player inevitably attempts to build said adjacent settlement, you can say, "whoops, I forgot to mention this rule," and promptly introduce it. Perhaps there is another, legal spot on which the player wants to build. But even in an extreme case where not being able to build the settlement would completely derail that player's strategy, it might be okay to make an exception, since you didn't explain the rule. (Obviously, make sure everyone is comfortable with this, but it shouldn't matter that much.)

B) In my post I linked to at the beginning of this thread, I mention giving players not only the basic rules, but also some slight strategic guidance. It's one thing to know the rules of a game, it's another thing to understand the strategy. I try to teach players not only the "how," but also the "why." Continuing my Catan example, during initial placement of settlements and roads, I often tell players that, while they can place their settlements anywhere (legal), early on, wood and brick are quite useful, perhaps more so than ore. If a new player didn't understand this, they might think, "Well, no one else is going for these ore spaces, so I can have them all to myself!" They might think they're being strategic, but that might turn into a rough game for them. Just a tiny bit of strategic help can prevent this.

It's impossible to completely prevent the "I wish I would have known that 5 turns ago" situation, but there are ways to minimize it.
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non sequitur
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juggler5 wrote:
I have written before about teaching games to newbies. Today, I'd like to revisit this, and elaborate on one point in particular.

When teaching a game to an inexperienced player, don't front-load all the rules. Players don't need to know each and every intricacy and tiny rule of a game in order to start playing. No new gamer wants to sit through a 20-minute rules explanation. They want to start playing.

My view on teaching games is give the players as much as they need to get started. It is perfectly fine to introduce new concepts as the game progresses. Let me give some examples:

If you're teaching Betrayal at House on the Hill, the newbie player doesn't need to know how monsters work at the beginning of the game, because there won't be monsters for a while. Early on, their objective is more or less to explore the house. That's it. Usually, after giving a brief overview of movement/cards/traits, I'll say something like "At some point, one of us will betray all the other players, and that's sort of the second half of the game. I'll explain that part when we get there." Understanding movement, exploration, and haunt rolls is about enough to get players playing.

Similarly, if you're teaching Thebes, players don't need to know how exhibits work until an exhibit card comes up. Usually, it's enough to explain how excavations work, and say "The tokens you'll get from these excavations are good, and they will help you get more points down the road."

So many games have rules and concepts that don't come into the game until later. It's okay to skip these at the beginning. Of course, you need to make sure you introduce new concepts in a timely manner, so players aren't surprised by a "You didn't tell me that rule" situation, but it's ok to not front-load the entire rulebook. Give players a chance to grasp the basics of the game, and then explain new concepts incrementally as they come around. In Small World, you don't need to explain Decline until at least the second or third turn. Let players figure out how units move/conquer, and then you can explain this mechanism.

If a player is confused before the game even begins, you can bet they are not going to have a good time. Starting off slowly can really help newbies have a good experience.


I like to explicitly ask at the beginning of the game.

That is, I'll say something like "Hey, I can explain all the rules now, but it might take a while. I can also explain them as we go, and it'll still work pretty well. What do you think?"

That works pretty well. Every once in a while you'll run into someone who would prefer everything up front, and this covers them too! This cuts down on post-game or mid-game "hey I didn't know that was a rule!" stuff too.
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Steve Duff
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I absolutely despise "I'll explain that later" technique, because 99 times out of 100 it's followed by "Oh, if I had know that, I wouldn't have made that move / I would have done something differently".

There's a massive difference between introducing a concept while leaving some details for later, vs not mentioning the concept at all. Far too often the "explain later" guys do the latter, they should be doing the former.

In your Thebes example, it's good to know that exhibits require multiple different colours. Leave the specifics for later, but tell me up front that collecting some tokens of different colours is good, not just "tokens are good" like you said.
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
I absolutely despise "I'll explain that later" technique, because 99 times out of 100 it's followed by "Oh, if I had know that, I wouldn't have made that move / I would have done something differently".

There's a massive difference between introducing a concept while leaving some details for later, vs not mentioning the concept at all. Far too often the "explain later" guys do the latter, they should be doing the former.

In your Thebes example, it's good to know that exhibits require multiple different colours. Leave the specifics for later, but tell me up front that collecting some tokens of different colours is good, not just "tokens are good" like you said.


Agree with this. Many people who think the 'ill explain more as it comes' fail to explain things that ARE indeed important.

Let me give a semi juvenile example. Some people like to explain just the first half of For Sale then explain the second half when they reach it. But you need to understand how the blind bid works in the second half to know the valuations of houses in the first half. You can absolutely play it without the knowledge and probably do okay ish....but if you want the true strategic experience and to be able to fairly and accurately value buildings, you need to know what you'll be doing with those buildings.

Now this isn't the best example as it's a short filler but my point is good games actually require you to explain most of the rules usually so players can get a good grasp on piece importance and strategy.
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Jon Vallerand
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I'd say if your muggles of choice can't handle the whole rules of a game, you should choose another game.
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JVallerand wrote:
I'd say if your muggles of choice can't handle the whole rules of a game, you should choose another game.


I generally prefer to learn the rules as I go; a lot of people are poor teachers and waiting for them to try and explain things is tedious.

I'd rather just lose my first game while I learned how to play, who cares about that? Beats 20 minutes of a stumbling speech.
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Kevin Anderson
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Worse is being taught a game from someone who barely knows all the rules himself! This happened with "Pirate's Cove" (Days of Wonder). Looked interesting and I can't expect the present players to always play the games I bring. The red flag went up when the game owner was tearing the cellophane off his cards while telling us he knew how to play. Shortly I watched my ship get defeated three times and limp back to the island for repair while the others ships got stronger. Ears burning I sat there wondering aloud how the hell was I supposed to ever catch up and what a weak design it was. This game is popular?
Since I was doing so poorly I actually dropped out, that's how much I hated it. About an hour later another player (not the owner) who was poring over the rulebook himself with many questions informed me that there was a "catch-up" mechanic. Nice to have known that an hour ago I replied.

You have to allow for the occasional brush up on games since many of us have so many but if you don't know it well enough to miss crucial areas then don't offer it up. I never bring a game I barely know how to play.
As a result I now always ask how well the owner knows the rules before learning a new one. Just tried "Walnut Grove" recently.
I also don't want to play "Pirate's Cove" either just because of that experience.
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Jon Vallerand
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Terwox wrote:
JVallerand wrote:
I'd say if your muggles of choice can't handle the whole rules of a game, you should choose another game.


I generally prefer to learn the rules as I go; a lot of people are poor teachers and waiting for them to try and explain things is tedious.

I'd rather just lose my first game while I learned how to play, who cares about that? Beats 20 minutes of a stumbling speech.


There are three points in your post:

1- Poor teachers suck and are common. Yes, but that does not mean that teaching is a bad way to go.

2- Your score on your first play of a game should matter less than learning the game. Again, I definitely agree, but I don't see how that means a teaching period is unnecessary.

3- You don't want 20 minutes of explanation before playing. Then we'll play a game that requires 10. Or 5. Or 3.

Except for co-ops or the lightest of games, teaching it as you go robs players of the true experience of the game, of the depth of the early decisions, probably of the variety the game offers.

A3RKev wrote:
You have to allow for the occasional brush up on games since many of us have so many but if you don't know it well enough to miss crucial areas then don't offer it up. I never bring a game I barely know how to play.


Indeed. I personally make teaching aids for my games, to make sure I don't forget key points, and since I usually explain games even at my buddies' place, I force them to print them out and keep them in their games as well. But that being said, teaching a game you've never played, even with proper preparation, is still not a simple task.
 
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There's three things I feel a new player needs to "get started", without doing a full rules explanation.

1) Victory conditions - i.e., what am I trying to do, and how generally am I going to do it?

2) Game concepts - the things that make the game what it is. Sometimes this will be mechanic related.

I can't imagine teaching small world without talking about decline! It's one of the crucial elements of the game. You don't have to go into the intricate details, but players need to know it's what is going to happen. "If your race is starting to become ineffective, you can send it into decline; this will allow you to choose a new race, but at the cost of a turn." Done. Do you need to explain the points they'll receive? Or how only one token remains on the board? Or how some powers will circumvent this? No.. save those for when it comes up. But players need to know one of the main strategic choices of the game! For Thebes, I'd mention the exhibitions, without doubt. Would I explain how they slide down and get replaced? No... but it's one of (three? Four?) ways to get points, it's easily explained thematically... I don't know why that would be saved for later. Whereas something like the zeppelin, that's something that need only be explained when it comes up.

3) How to start. The things and choices you will immediately be confronted with.

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JVallerand wrote:
Terwox wrote:
JVallerand wrote:
I'd say if your muggles of choice can't handle the whole rules of a game, you should choose another game.


I generally prefer to learn the rules as I go; a lot of people are poor teachers and waiting for them to try and explain things is tedious.

I'd rather just lose my first game while I learned how to play, who cares about that? Beats 20 minutes of a stumbling speech.


There are three points in your post:

1- Poor teachers suck and are common. Yes, but that does not mean that teaching is a bad way to go.

2- Your score on your first play of a game should matter less than learning the game. Again, I definitely agree, but I don't see how that means a teaching period is unnecessary.

3- You don't want 20 minutes of explanation before playing. Then we'll play a game that requires 10. Or 5. Or 3.

Except for co-ops or the lightest of games, teaching it as you go robs players of the true experience of the game, of the depth of the early decisions, probably of the variety the game offers.


I taught Food Chain Magnate recently. Kind of a simple game once you learn it, but hard to describe without simply playing it. The group I was with preferred to just play and figure it out as we went. We got about 6 turns in and I was obviously going to win, so we stopped, reset the board, and played again. And I super lost. And it was fun.

For me, that's a lot more fun than waiting for someone else to explain all of the rules -- and more fun than doing said explaining in one shot to people who have trouble paying attention and would rather just learn as they go. It's completely ok if you'd prefer the other fashion! And sure, if we were playing together, we'd just play something quicker, no harm done.
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ace hawkster
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I go with the first game or two is just to learn the game, no pressure no winner just a learn as we go. Or if playing someone hyper competitive I will send them pdf of rules prior to playing , (say week or day before, obviously not five seconds before playing) so they can have as much as a clue as me.
Either way I know I'm gonna lose (as I always do ) but at least I get to play.
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I always, always, always give a 2 minute rundown. Object of the game, what is needed to win, and very brief explanation of how to get there. Any longer and people lose interest or think it's too daunting and difficult and are no longer willing to actually learn anything.

First playthrough is a tutorial. I narrate every move I make. I explain everything I could do, what I am doing, why I'm doing it, and what I'm hoping to accomplish by doing it. Their first move or two I'll explain what they can do and what they may like to do, but ultimately I make sure they know that they can do what they want.

After that, I'll still narrate my decisions, but I'll keep quiet during theirs unless they ask me a question.

Second playthrough (every time I've taught a game, everyone has played it at least twice in a row, so I like to think I'm doing something right) though, I'm not as vocal about what I'm doing. This time around I'm actually playing the game, but I will answer any question that is asked, even if it's been asked a hundred times before.

Lucky for everyone I game with, I'm not a competitive gamer and don't play to win. So it's not like I steamroll anyone and then say "well I taught you..."
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Greg
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I really enjoy the first play of a new game, it's one of the best experiences in gaming (though not the best). I relish the challenge at looking at a system and trying to work out a strategy that'll work for it, without the crutch of past experience or help from player's who've already worked this stuff out.

I detest any explanation that contains the following elements:
1) Missing out rules
2) Mixing strategy advice with rules teaching
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Greg Gresik
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IMHO, a great way to avoid the "if you had told me that before, I'd have done something different" issue that can occur in complex games with rules explained "as we get to them" is to start off the entire affair by stating something like:

"This is a complex game. Explaining all the rules at the outset would take a significant amount of time and likely bore you all half to death. As such, consider this a "LEARNING GAME"..."

A second approach which can help avoid lengthy rules explanations and also help avoid the "you didn't tell me!" (which we have used for very complex games) - is to simply send out an email with a pdf or link to the games rules a few days/weeks before gathering to play. At least that way everyone has had a chance to read the rules. If they haven't, they can't blame anyone but themselves.
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Jamie Specht
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Another technique I've found helpful for some games is to play a round where people play randomly and we just see in person what each thing means, even without strategy attached. Then we reset and start over for real (or continue on if people prefer.)
One game I often do that with is Nothing Personal, but there are others where that's worked too.
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