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Jeff's Short Course on Gaming

Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
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"You Said This Would Be Fun", a book about game design, available at Amazon and DriveThruRPG
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We've been talking about learning how to play games, but another related conversation going on in parallel, including here at the blog, is how to teach people about games. How do we attract people who are not gamers to take a chance on playing some games, and how do publishers recruit people who might like games, but may not know it?

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I don't think there's a single answer to this, and I suspect the comprehensive answer has multiple facets. But a partial answer I thought of is to work in tandem with a local game cafe or library to develop a short introductory course on tabletop games. This post is a compilation of some of my preliminary thoughts on how to do it. I'm hoping to find a way to give it a try and see how it goes.

The course would consist of four sessions, one per week, 2 hours per session, 10-15 attendees. I think it's equally suitable for a classroom unit on board games, an adult ed course, a "what's all this then?" teen night at the library, a "what am I to make of this wall of 100 games?" intro to a game cafe, or a number of other settings.

bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj: The format

One of the key outcomes of our look at the science of learning was that experts vastly underestimate the difficulty for novices to progress from "unconscious incompetence" (I don't know what I don't know) even to "conscious incompetence" (I know what I don't know). So a program where we just start teaching a curated selection of games or where we play our way through a historical tour through gaming are not necessarily good approaches.

We need to provide some scaffolding to help the learners learn how to think about games. And one way we can do that is to use prior knowledge to our advantage: games the learners already know, and real-world concepts they already know about. In doing so, we provide motivation by increasing expectancies ("I can learn this") and perceived value (attainment or intrinsic, ideally).

Thus we need a format that is built around this approach to learning.
My idea is that each night would focus on a particular type of game, and specifically, a particular gaming concept.

The evening would start with a very short conversation; no powerpoint slides! The discussion would let participants share what they already know about real-world associations with that concept. And then we talk about how a particular well-known game incorporates and exhibits that concept. Then we talk briefly about a couple of "modern" games that use that concept, then break up into a couple of tables to play those games. Switch tables one or two times, and then done for the night!

bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj: One possible four-week version of this

indigo Week 1: Luck

Intro and discussion: What is luck? What do you think about luck in games? What games do you know that involve luck? What makes them fun?

Familiar game: Yahtzee

New gaming concept: Press-your-luck

Games to play: Can't Stop, Diamant


sugar Week 2: Bidding

Intro and discussion: What are some examples of auctions you're familiar with? (e.g. eBay, art auctions, livestock auctions) What are the characteristics of an auction, what happens? Why do people use auctions rather than a fixed price?

Familiar game: Monopoly

New gaming concept: Bidding and budgeting

Games to play: No Thanks!, High Society, For Sale


tobacco Week 3: Building

Intro and discussion: Why do humans build things? Can you tell by looking at a building what its intended purpose is? How?

Familiar game: Dominoes

New gaming concept: Pattern-matching

Games to play: Kingdomino, Carcassonne


coffee Week 4: Trading

Intro and discussion: What are some trades that you've taken part in? What is the purpose of trading? Why do we use money?

Familiar game: Go Fish

New gaming concept: Set collection

Games to play: Bohnanza, Catan, Pit


bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj: "Bonus" lessons/follow-on course

corn Drafting

Intro and discussion: What are some examples of a "draft"? (sports, picking teams in school) What purpose does using a draft serve?

Familiar game: ???

New gaming concept: Tableau-building

Games to play: Sushi Go!, 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride, Azul


corn Area Control

Intro and discussion: What is it about humans and "turf"? Why do we always want to expand? How is that reflected in games we play?

Familiar game: Risk

New gaming concept: Majorities

Games to play: Web of Power, Kingdom Builder


corn Deduction

Intro and discussion: What are some familiar mystery stories? Why are we drawn to these stories? What is it about the iconic "great detective" figure that interests us?

Familiar game: Clue

New gaming concept: Social deduction

Games to play: BANG!, Werewolf, Scotland Yard


corn The Journey

Intro and discussion: "The journey" is a familiar literary archetype. What are some great "journey" stories? What is it that appeals to us about this kind of story? Is it a yearning for a permanent change or for a transitory experience?

Familiar game: Candy Land

New gaming concept: Race games

Games to play: Hare & Tortoise, Elfenland, Parks


corn Cooperation

Intro and discussion: What are some experiences you've had where you had to work together with others? What about those experiences was pleasant/unpleasant? What makes team-work difficult?

Familiar game: Pictionary

New gaming concept: Cooperative games

Games to play: Forbidden Island, Spirit Island, Hanabi


bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj: Concluding thoughts

The intent of this project isn't to give participants a comprehensive "education" in modern board games, and so, yes, of course, there are all sorts of gaps; all sorts of good games not covered, all sorts of game mechanics like worker placement and deck-building that aren't included. The point is really just to give you some entry points to discovering some games that you might like.

There would be additional recommendations for each of these styles of game beyond the ones played, including an "easier" game suitable for family play, and a more "advanced" game suitable for more challenging play.

But we'd also deliver a recommendation/admonition to not necessarily seek to play every game under the sun of each style, but rather to pick one of the games presented that you liked, and play it a few times, get the feel for its rhythms and its depth.

If I can run a few sessions of this and it goes well enough, I could easily see spinning this up into a book, which could be used as a teaching guide for someone who wanted to run this short course, or for game cafes or libraries to stock for patrons who want to know where to get started, or for people to give to prospective gamers as a gift, or maybe all sorts of other use cases. It would be much, much shorter than You Said, probably 100 pages max. Illustrations are hard, though, might be copyright issues and you have to pay a photographer blah blah blah. Oh well, we'll see.


I have no doubt the audience here will offer constructive criticism as to the advisability of such a project, and how it might be refined or improved, and I'm happy to hear any and all suggestions. But I do like the idea of this format. So, saying "omitting worker placement is a travesty, you must work it in there" is fine, but to be an actionable suggestion we have to be able to reach back to some familiar game AND some familiar life experience. Of course, if you disagree with the format entirely that's perfectly valid too! I say this not to tamp down on opinions, but rather to prevent repeating myself -- "sure, deck building is great, but what's the familiar reach-back game we're using as scaffolding?". Anyway, have at it!


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