Tips on Teaching Board Games
Dan
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I've taught a fair amount of board games, and I've had plenty of teaching fails, along with my successes.

I would just like to share some of the tips I've learned. I would invite all comments and suggestions, as there is no "right way" to teach a board game, all players learn differently. (Unless it's my way, and then it's always right. whistle )

I would not profess to have always followed these tips. My game groups have many stories of my failed teaching moments, and they are great memories. blush


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1. Board Game: So You Want to Teach? [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Dan
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1. Read the rule book.
2. Play the game.
3. Read the rule book again.

Knowing the rules from a book is great, but it can't beat seeing the rules in action during game play.

On top of that, after having played the game, go read the rulebook again. You'll be surprised how often you've missed something, or understand a rule differently now that you have played through.

Read that rulebook again after you've played the game.
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2. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:28]
Dan
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Clear away distracting clutter.

After you've unbagged everything, and set out all the pieces, put all that clutter away. It seems like a minor thing, but having a mess of bags and unorganized bits that you're not going to use, such as optional components or expansions that you are not using, can keep players from focusing on the game itself.

Clear away the clutter!
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3. Board Game: Taboo [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:1817]
Dan
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Politely ask others at the table to let you be the teacher.

It happens every time I teach a game with someone else present who has played before. They constantly want to interject a rule, or an exception in the middle of your explanation. They are only trying to be helpful, after all.

The problem is, that they are usually distracting the learning players from the rules you are currently trying to teach!

Better that they hold their comments until the end of your explanation, and then, if you haven't already covered the rules that they wanted to help you with, they can fill in the gaps.
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4. Board Game: Automobile [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:395]
Dan
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Evaluate the game you are planning to teach, and determine what the right order of teaching will be.

There are generally 3 parts to a game:

*What to do on your turn
*How to win or how to score points
*How the game mechanics work

Different games make more sense explaining these 3 things in different orders.

In the game Automobile, for example, I always start by explaining how the market works, or how cars will be sold, from high value factories down to low value factories. I feel like this understanding is a great foundation, and then I explain what actions you can take on your turn, and how the game phases progress, and last I explain the moguls and their special powers.

Different games benefit from a different order of explanations. Give it some thought before you jump right in.
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5. Board Game: Ameritrash [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked]
Dan
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Give the players some flavor!

I was teaching Brass the other day, and one of the players asked me where the name came from, and I couldn't remember. We looked it up in the rulebook, and found that the name refers to the old usage of the word Brass to mean Money or Riches.

Some games are practically dependent on theme. I taught The Resistance to a family at a convention once, and the father was a little worried that they wouldn't get into it. I started the explanation with dramatic and sometimes outrageous introductions, and the game was a rousing success.

No matter how dry the game, a little theme gives it some flavor.
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6. Board Game: But Wait, There's More! [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:3122] [Average Rating:6.78 Unranked]
Dan
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Should you withhold some rules until later in the game?

Sometimes you are teaching a game, and you can just see the players eyes glaze over, and their heads start to nod. (Always?)

You may wonder at this point if you should withhold some of the rules until later in the game so you can get started.

Sometimes this is a good idea, sometimes this is not. In games that take a while to get going, like when I taught Nations a few weeks ago, I withheld end game scoring from the initial explanation. I suggested we play at least a few turns in before we look at that, because it would be more meaningful to them after they had seen the flow of the game.

Don't wait too long, though! Players need time to plan ahead!
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7. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.86 Overall Rank:58]
 
Dan
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Make sure you tell them ALL the rules.

It has happened more than once. (Every time?) I teach a game, and halfway through I realize I left out a rule or two. What to do in this situation? Well, tell them the rule as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the reason I remembered the rule, is because I was about to use the rule to my advantage.

From a player's perspective, this is a dirty underhanded trick for a teacher to pull.

Better not to put yourself in this situation, and get all the rules explained up front. Nothing is more frustrating to a player, then for them to play the whole game around a strategy that is ultimately illegal because of a rule forgotten.

Make sure you teach ALL the rules.
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8. Board Game: Clash of Cultures [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:251]
Dan
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Give multiple examples from different angles.

Sometimes you think you've taught a rule, and the game is progressing fine, until someone tries a move that is illegal by the rules as written, but fine by the rules as you stated them.

Different people think differently, and it is inevitable that there will be different interpretations. Using multiple examples will help to mitigate this issue.
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9. Board Game: Steel Driver [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1189]
Dan
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Be flexible.

Different people see things from different perspectives. Rules that you understand one way, could be interpreted in very different ways, and still be correct.

Don't assume you know the right interpretation. If a player's reading of the rules makes sense, then decide together as a group.

A board game is a group activity, keep it that way!
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10. Board Game: Copycat [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:1442]
Dan
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Evaluate your audience.

If they have played a similar game, then explaining similar mechanics can be a great shortcut to explaining a new game.

Be careful not to diminish the value of the current game, though. Enjoy the game you are currently playing!

And remember, if they've never played the other game, telling them all the ways that they are similar won't help them learn this game.
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11. Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:36]
Dan
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Evaluate your audience again.

Think ahead in the game. Are there situations that might arise that could be frustrating or potentially crippling to players who don't prepare for them?

Military in a civilization game seems to always be a point of frustration, usually for the receiving end of military aggression. Rather than let someone build a beautiful, undefended creation and cry at it's downfall, at least prepare them for the possibility.

In Power Grid, the late game resource market and turn order can be very critical.

Explain how military or other factors in the late game might be pivotal to their success or enjoyment.

Sometimes it is better to let them discover things for themselves. As the teacher, you should at least consider whether a primer would be merited.
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12. Board Game: Dominant Species [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:52]
Dan
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Stay through the whole game.

Teaching a game, then walking away can cause confusion in later rounds, especially with rules that the players don't get to see in action until you are gone.

Stay and watch them play, to help them remember the rules as they go. At the very least, make yourself available for questions throughout.
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13. Board Game: Last Will [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:396] [Average Rating:7.20 Unranked]
Dan
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A tip for players: Be forgiving of your teachers.

Hey, there's a lot of rules to remember. We're doing our best!

Bad teaching moments do make for great stories later, though, so teachers be prepared for a little ribbing.
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14. Board Game: Lose It All [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Kai Bettzieche
Germany
Ladenburg
Baden Württemberg
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One experience I made (and I usually play with older people, who don't grasp the more difficult games that quick):

When I teach a game and win, others assume I did it because I used "some unfair advantage".

No, I don't. I just happen to play this game more often.
This, however, gives me options, others do not have: I can play to NOT win.
I can play to pose a fair challenge without leaving others far behind.
I'm teaching a game, not to show how cool I am, but to entertain others - and winning is entertainment. Watching the teacher win is not.
I know, when a decision is bad and I can make them deliberately. And I can give others hints on how to make an even better move, so they stay a challenge for me, too.
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15. Board Game: Star Wars: Yoda the Jedi Master [Average Rating:4.38 Unranked]
Andrew H
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With a group of new players, I like to not play the first game, and instead take the Yoda approach. I try to encourage players to ask questions, and respond with answers that don't make the choice obvious. Then the other players don't gain as much information about the person asking, and I feel like players learn faster, because they're making the decision instead of following instructions.
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16. Board Game: Advice [Average Rating:5.67 Unranked]
Paul Dodds
United Kingdom
Reading
Berkshire
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"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."
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Don't offer unsolicited advice to players new to a game.

It's certainly true in our group at any rate. I will only ever offer advice on game play if asked, and I try to make sure others do the same. We've had several occasions where a new player to a game hasn't enjoyed their experience because on their turns they've barraged with suggestions of what to do, or what not to do.

These days I make it clear before starting the game that a new player is welcome to ask for advice if they are unsure what to do on their turn, and it will happily be provided, but if won't be offered unless asked for. We haven't had any issues since then.
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17. Board Game: Dune [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:257]
Serious Gamer
United States
Apple Valley
California
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Print Player Aids!

I have played a couple games where players needed to be reminded of the rules constantly. When you want to play a game where that is likely to happen, look through the download-able files sections until you find the best one(s), and print them out for everyone. This especially helps when players want to formulate a strategy without giving away what they're doing.
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18. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:93] [Average Rating:7.59 Unranked]
Matt Kruczek
United Kingdom
Colchester
Essex
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DON'T USE A "KILLER" STRATEGY

If you know the game really well, use that knowledge to help the others understand the game and how it works. Don't gain a tactical advantage from your knowledge of information that they cannot quickly and easily check or infer. Don't employ a strategy that requires a deep knowledge of the game to understand, let alone counter.

In my second ever game of Stone Age, two of the other players were learning it for the first time. The teacher patiently explained the need to feed your tribe and the penalties for not doing so. And then, as the rest of us went about sorting out our food, he employed the starvation strategy. The other two players had no idea what he was doing, but as the game moved on and he started pulling ahead, their expressions changed from bewilderment to something akin to realising that they had been conned.
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19. Board Game: Show & Tell Game [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Chris in Kansai
Japan
Otsu
Shiga
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Don't leave the game in the box while you're explaining the rules!

A board game is a visual and tactile experience as well as a mental one, so let players see what they'll be doing and what the various components are.

With the game laid out there are usually many visual cues as to what things do and how they interact with other things. I need this to grok a game and my regular comment when listening to a rules explanation is "Show me!"
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20. Board Game: Show Me Yours, I'll Show You Mine [Average Rating:5.75 Unranked]
Brandon H
United States
Orion Township
Michigan
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Play a few rounds with open hands
This might be obvious, but it goes a long way to teaching not just rules but strategy.

When teaching my young kids Ticket to Ride, we played our first few games entirely open handed. I could see their hands and give advice, and I could explain why I did was I was doing.
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21. Board Game: Show & Tell Game [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Moray Grant
United Kingdom
Dyce
Aberdeen
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Don't just use your voice but also show example moves.

When running over rules I will grab pieces and show moves on the board or an example hand always. Adding visual aid helps cement rules in peoples heads and avoids confusion later.

You don't need to play out full turns but on a handful of key actions or areas where you feel there could be confusion.
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22. Board Game: Say What You Meme [Average Rating:4.16 Overall Rank:16880]
Toby
Belgium
Ixelles
Brussels
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On your turn, slow down a little and think out loud.

This isn't true for teaching all games, and it can get annoying after a while -- but for the first few turns, when all the other players are new, it can be invaluable. Few things are more annoying for novices than seeing an experienced player whizz through his turn at double speed, leaving everyone else to scratch their heads and ask for rules reminders.

This definitely applies to game mechanics. If your turn involves going through a number of steps specified by the game rules, quietly mention each step in turn. You don't have to do it in a teachy way; just make like you're verbally reminding yourself of the steps as you perform them. "OK, population phase... check whether the population is at a high enough level to bump up the political track... four, five, six... not quite. OK, action phase next... how many pieces can I move?".

Depending on the game, it can apply to strategy too. Open-ended games that present a wide range of non-obvious options each turn can be initially opaque for newcomers. Card games and wargame-style games are both vulnerable to this for different reasons. If you think aloud a little bit during your turns ("Let's see, I really want to try and protect my general, so maybe I should move those archers onto that hill, or else Bob's knights are a bit of a threat to my flank..."), other players can start to see the kinds of considerations that are worth taking into account, without having to ask directly.

(edit for typo)
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23. Board Game: Patience [Average Rating:4.79 Overall Rank:18027]
Mark C
United States
Ypsilanti
Michigan
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There is mostly one thing needed to teach rules (or anything)
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24. Board Game: Level X [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:4073]
Remus Rhymus
United States
Pennsylvania
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My advice to you...
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Explain the game in 3 different levels of detail, starting with a high level overview and zooming in to medium level details and then low level details

This one doesn't apply to every game and every audience, but I've found it to be a good guideline for games with at least a medium complexity level.

1. First explain a high level overview of the game. Make sure the game is set up first. Point to the pertinent areas of the board, cards and components as you explain.

"In this game we represent competing power companies trying to expand our network of cities we supply power to. We will be competing in auctions to obtain the most efficient power plants as well as competing to buy the cheapest resources to fuel those plants and of course, competing to claim ideal cities on the map to grow our power networks. At the end of every round we will supply cities with power to make money to reinvest in our power companies. I'll get into more details soon, but for now keep in mind that manipulating where you are in the turn order at different points during the game plays a big part of positioning yourself to do well. Once someone's network in the game has expanded to X cities, the round will finish, we will supply power to our cities one final time and whoever has supplied power to the most cities wins the game. Most money is the tie-breaker."

2. Next explain the game at a medium level of detail. This means explain an overview of the various rounds, turns, phases and/or stages of the game without getting into low-level details. If people ask questions during this part, tell them you are going to get to a more detailed explanation next and you will cover it then.

"Each round in the game has the following 5 phases:

1. Determine Player Order. I'll go over more details about this later.
2. Auction Power Plants. Several auctions will be held and each player will have the opportunity to purchase at most one power plant. In the first round of the game everybody must purchase one plant, after that it is an option.
3. Purchase Resources. The players will have the opportunity to purchase resources to use to run their power plants.
4. Building. The players expand their networks to supply power to more cities.
5. Bureaucracy. Supply power to your cities and earn cash.
"

3. Now explain the low-level details. How detailed you get and in what order varies from game to game and group to group. Some things to consider: Go back over the phases of a turn with details. Show symbols on cards, board, dice and other components and explain what they are. Explain other rules that are outside the phases of a turn (In the Power Grid example, the Three Steps of the game falls into this category). You might consider sharing some very basic strategy depending on the game and the group.
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25. Board Game: Learning Games short and long vowels [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Remus Rhymus
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The Learning Game (or couple of rounds).

Give a high level and medium level overview (as I described in the item above this one), but then for the low-level detailed explanation, explain while playing. If it's a 45 minute game or less, play a full game and explain the details of the game while playing. If it's a longer game play a few rounds while explaining. After explaining while playing, make sure you play again, "for real" this time.

This method isn't for all groups. I've found experienced gamers are typically fine with an explanation without needing to learn while playing (or play while learning). I have played with some people who have a real difficult time sitting through a rules explanation without zoning out or saying "ok, ok, let's just play already." This is a great way to teach people like this.

Again, start with the high level overview and medium level overview, they typically go very quickly. Then, tell them that we are going to learn the details while playing. Tell them that this game doesn't count. It's a learning game. Winner doesn't matter. Mistakes are expected. The only purpose of this first play (or few rounds) is to learn the rules of the game interactively. Tell them as soon as the game (or few rounds) are done they will know the game and then we will reset the board, shuffle the cards and play for real.

It might seem silly to emphasize that this is a "learning game" and "Winner doesn't matter" "We'll play for real after this", but I've found that the same people who don't want to sit through rules explanations are the people who complain "You didn't tell me that" when a missed rule comes up, and then blame their loss on missed rules and such.
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