Many of us have probably experienced rough game introductions to our game group. This can happen for many reasons. Maybe you weren't good at explaining the rules, maybe the game was ill-suited to the group, or maybe they are just a bunch of jerks who don't want to listen.
This one was by far my worst experience introducing a new game. I even attempted to make it easy for the group I was going to be playing with by making a short how to play video with the basics of gameplay...none of them watched it. This is a fairly simple game to understand but you would think I was explaining Eclipse or something.
The game did not go well and soured me on playing it for quite awhile afterwards.
This wasn't quite as painful to get the game going but the group I was playing with wasn't at all experienced with this type of game and right up until near the end of the game questions on card function and tactics were still being asked.
Towards the end I started to just intentionally buy cards from stacks that were running low so I could force the game to end. This one was probably my fault as the game wasn't well suited to the group.
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.
This is not about explaining El Grande. And it's not really about my worst teaching experience either. But...
Years ago, I used to be terrible at explaining games. (I've since gotten much better, but that's not the point.) Anyway, one time I was explaining a game, and my friends who already knew how to play thought I was doing a poor job, so one of them joking exclaimed, "That's like starting El Grande with mobile scoreboards!" And thus an inside joke was born.
I had played a few games online, and felt I had a handle on the rules. I also really wanted my wife to love this one, because it's my favorite. I had a hard time deciding on whether or not to teach her the simple game first, because Ash loathes learning anything too complex. And it's in the indecision that I made my mistake of not properly preparing to teach it well.
I was only about 20 minutes into the rules breakdown when I noticed her eyes were glazed over. I could practically see the words I was saying exiting out of one ear. I paused and asked her if she wanted to continue, she coldly said, "No."
It was probably my one and only chance I will ever have with her in front of this game. Such a shame. I wish I could take it all back and do it now. I'd do things very differently.
I've thought a lot since then about how I would teach the game if I had the opportunity again. I've come up with what I think is a better approach than teaching the "learning" games. It would be a situation where we start part-way into the game. Perhaps starting with Age II, randomly selecting an Age I leader to already have in play, removing war cards, having a couple public Impact cards, and a couple other tweaks to make sure she learns all the mechanics, but still has a short enough experience to enjoy her first go.
It's not fully developed. But it would be in the moment I got a second chance.
This is a less horrible experience than many, but I was very embarrassed...
Towards the end of our first game, Bones and I were doing quite well, but poor Carl was taking a beating from the monster. Suddenly, Carl grinned and said, "Well this is pretty easy... you two should have a second character each out this turn, and I'll be right behind you..."
Sooo... I had neglected to mention that this game was NOT co-operative...
I'm an adult educator for a living, so I actually enjoy teaching people to play games. As much as it annoys me when people don't pay attention to a rules explanation, I understand and have come to terms with their passive listening. I usually highlight the key aspects to the game and coach players through the first turn if they don't pick up the rules right away. Yes, I like when pay attention and understand the game after the first time explaining it, but I'm ok with question here and there.
But...Space Dealer was a different story. As soon as I put the game on the table, I explained "This is a real time game. Once we start playing, we CANNOT stop for any reason, especially not to ask me a rules question. Again, the game is played in REAL TIME. So, please, pay attention to the rules explanation!"
And...you can imagine what happened next. It ended with me trading the game away shortly thereafter. I think Space Dealer has a very unique concept and I'd love to play it again. It's just...where am I going to find players who actually listen the first time?!
Worst experience explaining a new game? That's easy. When I tried to explain Race for the Galaxy to my wife.
If the symbology alone didn't make this a game with a high learning curve, it didn't help that I decided to "teach as we go". That's probably the best way to go with this particular game but it's not how my wife prefers to learn a new game. She likes a clear idea of the objectives, turn run-down, action options, etc. But with a variable action / turn sequence game like this with multiple paths to victory, that just wasn't really possible.
It didn't help that I was continually second-guessing myself on rules, either. I really wish I'd known about the downloadable tutorial or the fine implementation on boardgamearena.com first. This teaching experience would have been at least a little better served if I were more confidence of the rules and could explain the symbology better at the time. In any event, my wife hasn't cared to try this one since.
Fortunately, I have a couple other friends who I can play the game with, as well as the folks over at boardgamearena.com.
I had introduced a few friends to a few games already but I had been keeping them light. We had played Catan and Ticket to Ride and I think a few games of Power Grid. They had been playing games with me for a few months when one friend said he wanted to play Agricola. We had just got done playing two games of Catan and this friend in particular had a few to drink. I got the game set up completely and got done explaining the rules. Everyone understood the game but the friend who wanted to play in the first place. He said he was too drunk and didn't feel like playing. So we played something else, I can't remember what it was.
The boardgame world was in the grip of Eclipse-mania. The second edition had just been released and I was one of 'many' who preordered it and was waiting impatiently. Once it arrived at my OLGS, I had them express post it to me, so it would arrive by Friday afternoon, and I took the day off work so I could learn it before the evening. Everything was going so smoothly...
But two of my buddies showed up a couple hours early, and we started into the booze. And like drinking before a midterm, by the time the other player showed up, I had forgotten nearly everything I had crammed into my brain that afternoon. And my ability to explain the rules in an organized fashion was hindered tremendously. To add even further damage to a rough starting games night, the margarita machine came out shortly after the start of the game providing further inebriation.
6.5 hours of messed up rules and the game was never even finished. What an absolute disaster. I learned a few important lessons that night.
Look, I know this is a simple game. You know this is a simple. Obviously this is a great light filler.
For people that can grasp the iconography.
The mistake was trying to teach this to my parents, knowing that they have had issues with icons in the past. It doesn't help that the entire decision-making portion of the game is hidden information. "That's ok," I said, "we will play an open information teaching game first." My first game took 15 minutes, including being taught the game. We could knock out the teaching game in about as much time and then play one or two real sessions. Brilliant!
90 minutes. Ninety. Nine times ten. Minutes. Full minutes, with all sixty seconds. I think my mom even dropped out in the third age and my dad picked random cards for both him and her the last few hands. So really, an hour and a half for the first 5/6ths of a game of 7 Wonders, the 15 minute filler.
They just couldn't get it, no matter how I tried explaining things. They didn't know where the resources went. They kept asking what the red cards with swords all over them are used for. At some point it was understood that talking about blue or green cards was a sin. A gold card? Please explain what this one does five times in a row so that I can eventually give up and take another brown thing.
These are not stupid people. They are not incapable of understanding games. Agricola has hit that table with them more than almost anything else. I will never understand exactly what happened that night but I don't think I will ever attempt to repeat it.
Not as immediately painful as the 7 Wonders experience but this one is stretched out over several encounters so aches somewhat more in the stomach and keeps me up most nights.
I had the fantastic fortune to find this in shrink at a thrift store for something absurd like $2. Never heard of it but it's practically free and it's a new game. Sold. Opened it up later that night to find out that it was an awesome space conquest game, an itch we couldn't scratch with any other game at the time.
I knew it would be tough to get this one played so I wasn't hurt when it gathered dust for a year or two. At the time I was living alone and my main gaming partner was four hours away so it was unreasonable to expect that something like this would take priority. Once I moved back home the dynamic changed, suddenly there was time to give this beauty the attention it deserved. Right?
Well, no. For some reason it kept gathering dust. Eventually even one of my friends got tired of it not being played and decided that we should get it to the table one Christmas while people were in town. The night is at hand with four of us there, we played some Monopoly Deal to warm up but then it was time to dive in.
And they caved. Just totally caved.
I couldn't even get the lid off of the box. The friend that had suggested it was somewhat hesitant, the other friend had been hesitant from the beginning and my fiancée, the main gaming partner from before, waffled at the last minute. When she sounded hesitant as well suddenly of the hesitation exploded into a chorus of "let's play something else."
It was a good night of Dominion, but c'mon guys.
A year or so later I actually did get it to the table for a two-player game. Taught half of the game, caught on that she had stopped listening at some point, retaught the entire game, played two or three turns and then put it back in the box.
I think it's the component quality. People see the bland hex map with the black and white tracks and the pile of old-looking tokens cluttered with little icons and then their eye drifts to the latest FFG art exhibit. I don't know how else to explain this one. These same people will willingly dive into games of equal complexity and theme without batting an eye. Years later my fiancée tried Eclipse and had to play another game the next day. If Throneworld had those cool plastic ships it would be set up and waiting for me tomorrow afternoon.
One day you will get your chance to shine. I don't mind your exterior, I know you're a beautiful game on the inside. One day.
This was my most notable failure. I bought this one christmas as light six player game to play with my mostly non gaming family. Half the player understood it with a few questions, the other half didnt and so the half that did tried to help with the explaining to the half that didnt, which obviously confused things further.
Needless to say there ended up being raised voices and a certain non game related tension and the longest game of Jamaica ever. I think the problem was partly the fact that I had been explaining games for my regular gaming folks for years and I had forgotton that there is a vocabulary to gaming and understood systems within games that gamers understand. Non gamers just dont have it because they have not had the experience and so you have to cover a game at a much more fundamental level than with gamers.