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Subject: Chris' Race for the Galaxy Teaching Tips rss

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Chris Farrell
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Race for the Galaxy is my favorite game of 2007, probably the only 10 I'll give out for a game published this year – although since I find I can't give out a 10 until the game has been in play for several month, I probably won't kick it up to a 10 until 2008.

But, as anyone who has played the game knows, Race for the Galaxy can be a tough game to teach, and it has a learning curve. In these days of disposable games it's important for a game to make a good first impression, and that can be slightly difficult for Galaxy, especially if you have a hard time teaching it and especially if nobody's played San Juan or Puerto Rico (two years ago I would have said what are the odds, but those games are actually a little old now). The learning curve is really only a game or two, but you need to help people get over it.

So, what follows are my tips on how to effectively teach people to play the game.

1) The best possible situation is to get people to sign up for two back-to-back games right away. Explain that the first game is a learning game, that this is a game that's impossible to really get a handle on until you've been through the deck once, and if you can play a first game where everyone is playing fast and just getting a feel for the system, and then a second game "for real", it'll help. It's not a long game, only 30-45 minutes if you move along, so this shouldn't be too onerous. There is a certain type of gamer who doesn't like the "learning" phase of a game, and wants to play the best game they can even the first time out. This works for a lot of games, but is tough for Galaxy. It's best if you can convince people that their first game is about exploring the system.

I should say this won't always work. That's OK, don't harp on it or push it too hard. Just mention it. Hopefully the following tips will get you through either way

2) Give out the random starting worlds and the fixed starting hands. Have everyone place their entire starting hands into their tableau, as if they were in mid-game, with no cards in hand and no goods on the worlds. This then is the important bit: DO NOT GIVE OUT THE REFERENCE SHEETS. LEAVE THEM IN THE BOX UNTIL YOU'VE FINISHED THE EXPLANATION. If I could put that in annoying blinking text I would, that's how strongly I feel about this. The reference sheets are great once you have a basic understanding of the game, but are totally overwhelming at start. If you take away only one thing from this, that should be it.

3) OK, so everyone has 5 cards in front of them. Explain the difference between worlds, which produce goods, and development cards, which have powers. Explain the hexagonal VP symbol. Show them the action cards and explain how they are used (everyone selecting one each turn, doing them in order, only getting the bonus if you played the card). Explain how the game ends. Do not attempt to explain any specific special powers yet.

4) I think then the logical order in which to explain the cards is reverse order: V, IV ($), III, II, I. Have everyone do the action with their tableau (as if they had chosen it) as you go through. So do Production first: have everyone look at all their cards and find the ones with something in the V row and do it. Show how the Produce action card has an icon and text which explains what it does. Explain any icons that come up in the tableaus; there is likely at least one world with a "produce and draw a card" icon at the very least, so do it. Everyone then should produce on a windfall world, so explain that icon.

Then have everyone put the "Consume: Trade" card in front of them and sell something for cash. Again, look for the entries in the $ row, and explain anything that comes up. Then consume stuff, same thing. Explain everyone is forced to consume regardless of whether they played the role or not.

5) Now everyone should have at least a few cards in their hand (although you could consider dealing out an extra three to everyone at this point, so they can most likely personally do each action). So you can move on to Settle, explaining how cards are used as both currency and for their improvements. Explain military vs. non-military, windfall vs. regular. Again, show how the icons help you out: the windfall worlds have no "V" row (generally), so they don't produce, but do come with a good. Military for settling is in the III row. Mention that all planets are unique. Then do develop; explain the "no duplicates" rule. As always, do all the icons as they come up, whether or not the player can specifically take advantage of them at this point (skip the Contact Specialist for a moment).

6) Do explore last. There is some argument for doing it first, since it's simple, but on the other hand you don't have any context on it and can't really use it intelligently until you understand how the cards work, so you might as well do everything else first. Again, the initial pre-programmed hands have a little bit of everything, so there is likely an explore power in there. At this point, there is no longer a need to actually do the phases, just explain them.

7) Explain "Consume x2". This should be pretty trivial at this point. Point out that it can be quite powerful.

8) Explain the Contact Specialist. This is possibly the most confusing card in the game, but show how the icons work, and then point out that the ability is explained clearly in the text. It turns out the most confusing card actually isn't that bad.

9) Mention the 6-cost development cards. If people have played San Juan, just mention that there are 12 unique ones instead of two copies of 4, and that they tend to have strong powers themselves. If people haven't, just pick out a couple, show how the bonuses work, show how the powers feed the bonuses, and leave it at that; don't try to go over them all.

10) Re-clarify how the role selection works, and how you do the phase but don't get the bonus when someone else picks the action, since to this point you've been doing everything for everyone as if they had played it.

11) Now you can give out the reference cards.

12) Pick up the starting hands and start playing (don't forget to give Alpha Centauri their windfall good). Try to keep people moving by occasionally reminding them that the first time through is a learning game if they're having trouble. You need to lead the way on this by playing quickly yourself. If you are routinely the last one in on role selection, you are doing a lousy job. Again, do not hassle people, be subtle about it, but if people are locking up, gently prod them from time to time. If you've signed people up in principle for two games, you still need to use your judgement if your first game takes too long or if one player is obviously not suited for or not going to like the game.

13) If you do play another game, use the pre-set hands again. In general, don't be afraid to continue using the pre-built hands for a few games. They're good hands that help things get off to a good start.

That's my take. Race for the Galaxy is definitely a slightly tricky game to teach, but I think they've done a great job with all the icons, and they help a lot.
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A L D A R O N
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You must teach to a very different audience. I've found this to be a very easy game to teach very quickly: after

(1) a few minutes of going over what the semantics of the symbols on the cards mean (no need to go over each one, just explaining the grammar and basic vocabulary is enough), and

(2) stating the core rule that (a) highlighted stages on chosen action cards are the only one executed, and (b) only the choosing players get the powers on action cards,

we're off and running!

(But then I thought Caylus was easy to explain.)
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Marshall Miller
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Awsome. This is exactly what I needed!
 
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Justin Beatty
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I'm going to use this method in a few hours to teach some friends, I will let you know how it goes!

Thanks for sharing this .
 
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yegods
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well, i was the recipient of this teaching style from Chris, and it worked pretty well. i wish we'd been able to do the two-game thing, since the first one really is (for me) getting used to the mechanisms and symbols. i didn't end up having a very favorable view of the game, since i didn't feel i had enough control over the outcome. this is probably due to my unfamiliarity with the cards and actions.

i'd play the game again.
 
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Wade Broadhead
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Man one day too late for me

I thought I had it having played a lot of games lately, but without knowledge of San Juan it was a little rough. Plus one person got New Sparta and some bad draws and was really frustrated they couldn't partake in some of the other roles (consume etc). Good article.
 
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oystein eker
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Have done it in opposite way. But my gamers are all familiar with P.R. an S.J. Maybe it makes the difference?.

I hand out the action cards and tell them they are similar to roles in P.R. Let them study them for a minute or two.

Next I hand out the Round Summary - and ask them not to flip it over the other side.

Now we start at top of Player Aid. Reading each step loud.

During expaination I pick both avail action card(s) and at least a card from the deck for icon match. Explaining standard action and its bonus.

In Develop I pick a Military card (for later use) - and 6 cost card to mention it is the same as 10 building in P.R.

In Settle I pick at least two Production World - grey world - one of them military. Two Windfall Worlds - one of them military.

Now we just read the Player Aid, and point each icon signature match. With a military develop card already face up it is easy. But I do it twice with a quick summary.

Explaining trade is quick. Swap a card from the windfall world with a number of cards from deck.

Consume is mandatory - just like P.R Captain. Following same philosophy as P.R. You pick any ship first. In Race you can pick any consume power first, but all must continue to consume as long as possible - just as ship in P.R.

Produce is a no brainer. And now the newbies finally get their answer on how to produce on a windfall.

Finally I ask them to flip Player Aid over, and find the standard power icons explained. If it is highlighted you dont find it here, but on the card.

-- And it is my favorite game of the year to!
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Chris Farrell
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eker wrote:
Have done it in opposite way. But my gamers are all familiar with P.R. an S.J. Maybe it makes the difference?.


Obviously, familiarity with San Juan particularly makes a huge difference. But every game I've taught has had at least one player who has never played San Juan or Puerto Rico (or has not played frequently or recently enough to be helpful).

The problem with going I-V in teaching order is that you have no context. So you explore and draw 3, keep 2 ... why would I want to keep any particular card? I have no idea at that point. Likewise I have no idea what most of the developments do or why I would want to build one.

But if you go V-I, in reverse, you get to do the roles which don't have a lot of decision making first, explaining the core engine of the game, and then get to the roles where you have difficult choices last, when you have enough context to understand what the factors are in making those choices.

I do the same thing in San Juan: Producer first, then Trader, then Builder, then tack on the Prospector and Councillor. That gives you a natural progression. Race for the Galaxy has made things a little tricky by making the order of the actions opposite to the natural order of explanation, but I think it still pays to go against the grain at start.
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Chris Farrell
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Sorry, one last tip: take your time. Don't dawdle, obviously, that's no good either. But for me I know there can be a temptation when teaching to race through some stuff, because for me it's all familiar and natural from playing San Juan and Puerto Rico. But if the people who you are teaching don't have that background, you don't want to gloss over things that are obvious if you've played San Juan, but not so much without that context.
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James Ludlow
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I've taught 7 people so far. My last teaching of 3 new players took 9 minutes, so I think I'm getting the process down.

1. Lay out the start worlds and preset hands.

2. Explain phase I. This phase has very simple, and rarely varying icons, so I use this an introduction to the existance of the icons. "Explore +1/+1, you have a +1 eyeball so you look at one more card, and a +1 on a card being held so you get to keep one extra."

3. Phase II. Explain the cost and VP icons and how to pay for developments with cards from your hand.

4. Phase III. Focus mainly on military versus non-military. I mention what Windfall is, but it makes a lot more sense once the game starts.

5. Phase V. Dead simple, and I don't even begin to discuss the icons of this phase until the game is underway.

6. Phase IV - First 2x and then Trade.

7. Explain the two game-ending conditions.


And then we start, playing face-up hands and secret role selection. If someone has a question about what a card does, I stop the game and explain it. The first game really solidifies the rules and the mechanisms. There's also usually an "aha" moment when the icons click for someone.

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Dave Eisen
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I like the approach, Chris. Never taught RftG (my copy hasn't arrived yet), but will incorporate some of your ideas, especially working the actions from bottom to top.
 
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Roland Wood
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surprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprise
Leave the reference cards in the box
during the initial practice game!!!!

surprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprisesurprise



I discovered this as well and must second it. It hinders more than helps new players at first.
(Chris, this is the best I could come up with for blinking text.)
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Wei-Hwa Huang
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My experience is that there are two types of game-learners: "readers" (people who absorb by seeing things and looking things up repeatedly) and "listeners" (people who absorb by listening to a narrative and having names and text as reinforcement). The reference cards are great for readers, but tend to overwhelm listeners.
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Brian Bankler
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I think the reference card tip (leaving it in the box) is good, because some people will study it and pay half attention to the rules, so that in 10 minutes they'll have a good idea of what all those cards mean, but not what they are doing. Not everyone is like that (maybe 1/4 to 1/2, but that includes me).

If you could show them a one-sided reference card (with the Sequence of play side) then that would be useful. But they always flip it over.
 
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Marshall Miller
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My copy just came in today. I haven't even broken the shrink, but I did pick up some light blue glass stones for vp counters (don't like the chits). I'm gonna use this method this weekend on my roommates as practice for teaching my girlfriend.
 
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Tom Lehmann
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I've found that the teacher using one Reference card, round side up, as an aid to show the flow of phases is useful. I hand out the reference cards near the end of my teaching explanation.

My own teaching flow is quite different from Chris's suggestion.

I don't start by passing out the starting hands; just the HWs. I then hand out the action cards and tell everyone to just grab one at random and place it face down on the table. I put down one myself, an Explore+1+1. Then I have the players flip them over and show them that these are the phases that will occur this round, and explain the overall pick-reveal-resolve flow of the game.

I then walk through the phases, starting with explore. I have each player grab two cards and toss one into the discard pile (not worrying about which one they keep) and show them how my explore bonus allows me to draw 3, keep 2. I then walk through the cases of two players playing explore actions and the different bonuses.

I then move on to Develop and again have some players put down developments, flip them over, and pay for them, just grabbing cards from the draw pile to form hands. I use different players for different examples, and try to involve all the players, always relating each item I explain to the action card selections (switching face up action cards as needed).

Then I talk about powers a bit, and so on, in the normal round order. I keep the preset hands off to the side for convenient examples (since many of them illustrate various points). I find that if players are actually manipulating components and not thinking about specific cards in their hands or a position, the concepts seem to stick a lot better.

At the end (after describing the hand limit and the two different ways to end the game), I shuffle up the HWs, deal them out and then hand out the preset hands (noting how this is different from the normal 6 choose 4 start), plus a reference sheet to each player (showing them the second side), and tell them to select an action card, and when they are all ready, to start the first round of play. Since I've used various examples from the preset cards during my explanation and they've seen everything in order, most players can usually pick an action and slowly step through the first turn without a lot of trouble.

For this reason, I generally don't have new players play the first few rounds (or game) open, but -- if the group seems extremely tentative -- I will sometimes suggest that.

This approach seems to work pretty well, and it doesn't seem to matter whether I join the game or am a bystander answering questions (if there are fewer than four, I'll give the players the choice).

The first few rounds play slowly as players absorb the new cards they receive, but usually about half-way through the game, you can see players start getting comfortable with the flow of it. Near the end of the first game, often several players will go "aha" as they start to see how the 6s and the produce/consume stuff fits in.

Of course, your mileage will vary and the most important thing is to adapt your style to your group's needs and find something that works for you.
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Marshall Miller
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I tried the reverse rules splaination last night. Seemed to work pretty well. Of course, I got lots of rules wrong, but the order seemed to work well. Thanks for the tip.
 
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Alan
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I've tried explaining RftG once and am looking forward to at least 1 more explanation with someone else.

I tried the following which seemed to work:

1) Difference between settlements and developments. Identify victory points on cards. Note wincons. Different kinds of settlements - introduction to production, windfall & military. Cost for playing them and your hand as currency.

2) Explain phases, action cards and selection process. Be sure to note the separation of the action cards from your hand.

3) Go through phases in reverse order. Explain each phase/action card as having a normal effect for those that did not play it ("If I played this, you would...") and a bonus effect for the person who played it ("If you played this, you would...").

4) Eat cake.

I found explaining the phases in reverse order was particularly helpful. It seems easier to understand consuming a good if you've seen how they are produced. Plus, the settlement and development phases are pretty easy since the players have already been introduced to these two cards.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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I was a target of the Chris Farrell technique last night. I am a very experienced PR and SJ player. Overall, I think things went fine, but I'd offer the following suggestions:

1) Don't lavish any extra attention on the cost-6s. I don't understand why they're considered different from other cards. In San Juan (SJ), the cost-6s only provide victory points and no additional move options. As big slugs of victory points, they are special. In Race, they're mainly about additional move options - just like the cost-1s through the cost-5s (and did I spy a cost-7 in there?). So don't single them out at all. There's nothing special 'bout them at all!

2) After the explanation, I had a hard time mentally separating the "privelege" from the "action". This was an artifact of all roles being explained from the perspective of the person who selected that role. I like better the idea of having only one chicken miming getting the privelege, while everyone else mimes just getting the action.

3) Consume Confusion. If I'd heard the sentence "Consume is like the captain phase, but as a privilege you can either visit the trading house first, or double your captainy victory points", it would have helped a lot. I know Chris isn't out to write a guide to explaining one game using analogies to another, but I intend to use that analogy in our group, which plays Puerto Rico more than all other games combined. It's apt. APT! I say!

4) The card graphic design for the "$ phase" makes you think that something funny is up, but doesn't give much clue as to what, and I don't think our explainer explained the reason for the odd presentation. It was 80% through the game before I realized that there was no "$ phase", it was just a graphical hook to hang special powers associated with the consume(trade) privilege.

I know I'm using San Juan terminology here, I'm hoping you can translate to the proper Race terminology, because I'm so newb.

For the first half, I was completely overwhelmed, which is usually a sign that I'll fall in love with a game. Indeed, the game seems arguably even better to a newb, since there are so many cards and the chances of seeing the same one twice are small. In fact, the only card I saw twice were the self replicating robots. I wanted to develop them twice, too. I whined that that was the entire POINT of the robots, but alas, the table did not bow to my impeccable logic. :\

I'm tempted to go ahead and rate the game a '9' after one play, but that does seem rather hasty.
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James Ludlow
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MrWeasely wrote:
I'm tempted to go ahead and rate the game a '9' after one play, but that does seem rather hasty.


I would agree on the "hasty" part. For good or bad, this game really does not gel in one play. Knock out another half dozen and you'll have a pretty decent sense of whether you like it or not.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Oh, its gelled fine in 1 game. I wasn't analyzing my fellow player's phase selection at all, but that didn't matter because they started doing exactly what I wanted anyway. The deck did seem to deal me a tight weave of mutually-reinforcing cards. I'm not sure how common that is, but I ran with it.
 
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Warren Cheung
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MrWeasely wrote:
:
1) Don't lavish any extra attention on the cost-6s. I don't understand why they're considered different from other cards. In San Juan (SJ), the cost-6s only provide victory points and no additional move options. As big slugs of victory points, they are special. In Race, they're mainly about additional move options - just like the cost-1s through the cost-5s (and did I spy a cost-7 in there?). So don't single them out at all. There's nothing special 'bout them at all!


I'd be careful in categorizing 6 developments as mainly "move options" - if you just need the power, there are usually cheaper options in the deck - the extra cost you pay is for the points generation. Putting out a random one may be worth little, but putting out something that works with your tableau can score lots of points - and computing their score is tricky (and I always forget to to explain before the end of the game...oops. I should keep one aside as an example).

The "move option" does make it possible to put out a 6 development earlier in the game than San Juan, where doing so is pointless. There is a 7 military planet in the deck

I hope you enjoy it even more with more plays
 
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MrWeasely wrote:
The card graphic design for the "$ phase" makes you think that something funny is up...it was just a graphical hook to hang special powers associated with the consume(trade) privilege.

And to show that the Trade stuff happens before the rest of Consume. It's quite clear and clever really, once you get what it represents.
 
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Joe Catudal
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You are the man, Chris. This is brilliant!
 
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Orange Sopwith
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Couple of years on, but this has been an immensely useful post! Great work.
 
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