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Subject: People who can't explain games rss

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Isley
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This is a pet peeve of mine that I just found out I had. It happened the other night when I was at a friend's house and he suggested we play some Settlers of Catan with his roommate (who had never played). I was down so we start setting up the game. I thought to myself, "it's his game and it's his buddy, I'll just let him explain the rules so we don't have two people each trying to explain the game in a different way". The following conversation ensued:

Him: OK, boy...let's see...where to start...
Me: thinking...come on, you can do it...
Him: Well I guess the first thing to talk about is to make sure that you balance your resources...Ore will be important later.
Me: first thing? whaa?
Buddy: Ok, so I need lots of Ore?
Him: Yeah, but you need the rest too, and of course you often need the longest road or largest army to win as well.
Me: but...
Buddy: Largest army? So we can attack? How do I get troops?
Me: no!
Him: Well sort of, the development cards can mimic attacking by stealing resources...oh, don't forget to position the robber so it hurts your opponent. And the ports are often very useful...having wood and a wood port can be great.
Buddy: So get ore unless I can get wood and a wood port?
Me: NO!
Buddy: And how do I "get" ore?
Me: yes!
Him: You get ore by building a network of settlments...though keep in mind that you will need to build cities eventually too.
Me: (finally can't keep quiet anymore) Here, we'll help you place you initial buildings. Each turn you roll the dice. Check the number with the numbers on the tiles. If you have a building on the corner of a tile with the number rolled on it, you get the corresponding resource. For instance, I roll the dice and get an 8. I have a building on this tile that has an 8. I get a brick. After you roll on your turn you can build things. You need all of the five different resources to build things according to this card here. We race to get the most buildings to win. The only other things to know are that you can trade your cards with other players on your turn after you roll the dice, buildings must be connected by your own roads and can't be next to eachother and if you roll a seven the robber moves which we'll explain when it happens. After a few turns you should have the hang of it.


Now I know my version wasn't all that simple either, and my friend just made the mistake of teaching strategy before teaching the rules, but boy is it hard to keep quiet when you think someone is needlessly complicating a game with their explanation! (maybe I'm just a control freak!)

And I'll admit that I am also more in the "here's the basics, lets just play a few rounds and we'll pick up the rest as we come to it" camp myself anyway.
 
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Dave Kudzma
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Easy Fireball..

I think you did the right thing jumping in to help explain. I also think you did the right thing by letting another person start explaining the game to their friend. So 2 things right...and you're not a control freak....

A friend in my regular gaming group has very few games, and I'm usually the 'splainer. So he buys Mare Nostrum, and is so excited to teach us. He glosses over the rules with us, and does a decent job. We still had to reference a few things, but all went well. But I also had the nagging thoughts in the back of my mind that some details he was pointing out were the cart before the horse.

It's like this friend of mine says "the first time is always a learning game". That's true for anyone the first time you play a game. No matter how well you think you know the rules, or how well the game was explained to you, you will inevitably forget a rule or 2...a probably pick up on your mistake along the way.

Teaching new players is much the same. You have to go into it as a learning game...even if all the other players are experienced. I often find that a combination of explanations, followed with follow-up during the first game teaches people a game best.

We have a husband and wife that we game with a few times a month. I explain the rules to them....fairly well I always think...but the husband inevitably gets another version of different rules in the game, as we play, from his wife. She gets me, he gets her, and we all get it.

It all works out in the end, and as long as everyone has a good time, then it's all good.
 
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Mark Reynolds
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A pet peeve of mine is when I am explaining a game and someone else jumps ahead of me, explaining a different part of the game. I will get to that part just give me time to explain the part I am at now.
 
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Chris Kice
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I'm a self-confessed bad game explainer. I started writing "teaching scripts" for myself (the first of which is posted here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/fileinfo.php?fileid=15292) so I can organize my thoughts in advance in writing (my more fluent medium) and can teach a game the same way every time.

I have a big game meet scheduled for early April and I'm going to try out my scripts on a group of gamers then. If they are well received, I'm going to kick my efforts into overdrive and eventually make them for all my games.

Thus far, my wife preferred my script teaching versus "winging it" from memory or reading the rules aloud.
 
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Jeff Wiles
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Be sure to read Kent Reuber's excellent geeklist:The Tao of Cheatsheets

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...

His outline of how to setup a cheatsheet/player aid is also an absolutely wonderful way to go about explaining a game.
 
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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I've had folks who know a game well just open the rulebook and start reading aloud as their way of "explaining" a game.
 
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Mark Blanco
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Yep, teaching scripts are an excellent idea. I have a bunch on my website that I've put together.

http://www.markblanco.com/pagesv2/gamesref.html

(the ones at the bottom are the "How to teach..." references. My personal favorite is my "How to teach Puerto Rico" aid.
 
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Matt
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Have your friend visit http://boardgameswithscott.com and watch the videos. Maybe he will be able to pick up some tips.
 
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Ed
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Yes! This is a growing pet peeve of mine. I can barely stand it when someone starts his explanation by going over strategy rather than mechanics and scoring. That's like teaching people how to run a basketball play before they even know how to dribble or shoot the ball.

Another pet peeve is when someone buys a new game but doesn't take the time to fully grasp the rules before teaching it to other people. If I get a new game, I read the rules several times before I even think of bringing it out and asking others to play. That just seems like common courtesey to me.

As the owner of the game and likely the only person who has had the benefit of reading the rules, you're the host and it's incumbent on you to make sure other people have a positive experience or at least don't have a negative experience because of lack of clarity about the rules.

Whew! Glad I got that out!
 
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Julien Van Reeth
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I like to explain rules. It is something that I think I'm good at. However, since I've moved to the US, I'm always afraid that someone will not understand me because of my accent, so I usually take the back seat when it's explanation time.
I vividly remember that particular Geschenkt game when I tried to explain the "milking" rule (when a card pops up that only you want, let it go round a few turns so that you get some coins on it), and failed miserably...

There are a couple of things that for me are a no-no during rules explanation :
- interrupt the speaker to talk about another rule, just because it crossed your mind. Only one person should explain the rules, it is less confusing that way. Wait until the very end if you think the speaker has missed something.
- do things other that listening to the rules, and then during the game ask what the rules are. C'mon, how old are you ?

Curiously rules explanation has nothing to do with how heavy a gamer you are. I've met some people who constantly play heavy games, and yet just plain suck at explaining them. I especially despise people who WANT to explain the game and forget rules and then screw you in the game because of it.
"No, that's an illegal move"
"But I've planned three turns for it !"
 
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Matt
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I'm more forgiving with how people explain rules. Some are good at it and some are not. But it is a skill that can be learned by watching others who are good at it, and then following their lead.

If someone explains rules and forgets a rule here or there and then says, "oh, it slipped my mind, you can also do this on you turn." Then in my opinion, that's ok once in awhile. Honestly, I have been guilty of that myself. If it happens to be my turn when I realize it, I'll explain the rule but I won't apply it right then on my turn. I let the other players apply it on their turn and wait for my next turn to apply the rule as a courtesy to the other players.

My pet peeve is the person who owns the game and doesn't explain strategies that are in the rules, or discovered because he has played the game a number of times. I think most people play board games because they have an equal chance to win or lose. If there isn't any uncertainty of that, the game is dull to play and not much fun. So, why hide the strategie(s) from new players?
 
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Scott Woodard
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Some harsh commentary from some here...

I admit that I'm not the greatest at explaining games either, but I LOVE games and that's just the way it is.

My advice to those who find themselves annoyed with people who don't possess their supernatural gift of total gamebook recall? For the love of Knizia, please restrain your frustration. I've had experiences with impatient and frustrated people in the past and all that has done has made me try to ramp up my explanation in order to get into the game and inevitably, I've wound up missing extremely important rules that I would have gotten to if the eye-rolling and finger-tapping had been curtailed.

It all comes down to this: Games, by their very name, are designed to be fun, amusing pastimes. Don't take them so seriously, people! Have fun, socialize, laugh and admire the pretty bits.

~Scott
 
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Leif Norcott
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Problem is games are competitive and people that play them for a hobby have the same competitive drive, the same goes for me. Thus the competition goes beyond playing the board game, such as we see here with explaining the board game. People feel the need to teach the board game if they know it and often sit there waiting to butt in when someone has made an error or has gone off track, I know I do it.

It is also important to realize that teaching a game requires the same politeness required when playing the game. You try not to insult someone for being incorrect, you correct politely, and so on. Think of it in the same light as poor sportsmanship before you even start playing. With this in mind you can avoid insulting people before the game night even begins, which I have done far to many times.
 
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Jason Woodburn
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I agree that choosing to not interrupt was the right thing to do. Several times, when I'm explaining games to new players, people will interrupt me to give the new player(s) strategic advice. This often sets the rules explanation off on a tangent that ultimately makes the understanding of the game take longer. If I really feel that the teacher has missed something big, I'll wait until she's all done, and then try to link my comments to something she said. I usually like to teach the rules, with the rulebook on hand to point things out, and then give some examples of play situations, with cards out or pieces on the board, that will give the other player(s) some ideas about basic good decisions in the game. Especially important are cautions against common early game blunders, and indications of important long term considerations. For some games, it's a really good idea to play through one round with new players, and then start over, as that can really clear things up.

Before breaking a new game out for a group, I always go through the rules, and then play a solo game, with me playing all the players, for the number I expect to play with. This lets me familiarize myself with the game rules and flow, and gives me a chance to look up anything that seems odd.

It's true that the first game can often be considered a "learning game." It's a good idea to point that out to people before they start, so they don't hav a massive NPE and refuse to play the game in the future. The comment related to being unselfish and giving people good advice at the beginning was a good one. On the other hand, I seldom like to correct people during the game, as they can easily get annoyed. Most people just want to make their own decisions.

GL
 
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Scott Woodard
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nibuen wrote:
Problem is games are competitive and people that play them for a hobby have the same competitive drive


Hmmm... I play games "for a hobby" and I don't have that "same competitive drive"... I guess I'm a pariah.

Seriously, playing games for me is a social activity. If I do well and even win, great, but if I lose, for the most part, the best part of the game was sitting at the table, fondling the bits and having a great time with my friends.

~Scott
 
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I personally am okay at explaining rules if I've already played a game, but if it is my first time playing too, then I'm really bad at it, because I just don't have a good enough grasp my self.
 
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Isley
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Good points.

A topic that seems to be getting touched on a lot is "just what the first game expectations should be". I know that personally I would not be able to grasp the strategy of Puerto Rico (for example) in my first game. I'm guessing it would take me a round or two before I was comfortable with role selection and their benefits. All the buildings and all the choices they offer probably wouldn't be super clear until mid game, and maybe by the end of the game I'd start to see strategic options (probably by learning from mistakes). So now that I've played PR for a while (still not a lot...just enough to know what I'm doing...sort of), I usually give a lot of advice to new players. I'll give a general rule overview and then explain strategy as the game goes on. For example first turn I might say something like "Early quarries and markets can net a lot of gold over the course of the game, more than they would seem. They are always good to take." I try not to give too much advice, but they way I see it, the first game is always a bit of a throwaway game and there is no point me playing cutthroat to win (especially if they ended up winning anyway...my ego couldn't take it!) Actually, I recently played a five person game with all new players except for myself. There I deliberately didn't take any quarries or markets and then just played to win (I didn't win). Some people might not like the idea of one player handicapping themselves on purpose, but I think it made a more enjoyable game than to have me shouting advice every turn. That was one game where people were able to figure out strategies by themselves without feeling like one player was guiding everyone's decisions.

As a final note I think it is kind of lame to accuse people of not giving out important rules so they can win. If you guys actually play with people who would do that, then sure, but it seems like this accusation gets thrown out a lot more than it happens. Give the rule explainer the benefit of the doubt, otherwise they'll probably not be too happy that you would think so poorly of their sportsmanship.
 
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Ron Pfeiffer
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I think that this has been a very good subject to talk about and a very good discussion by lots of smart people. I am envious of groups where there is more than one game explainer!

I am the game explainer for my group. I'm not sure if you guys experience the same things that I do but I ALWAYS do the explaining. I I try very hard to explain slowly and clearly but one does not succeed every time so people sometimes complain about my not being clear. I would say though that most times I succeed in explaining the game reasonably well. But that then becomes my issue.

The problem is of course that NO ONE ELSE wants to take the time to read the rules so that they can explain them to me. I read the rules, I open the game board, lay out the pieces and try to follow the rule book so that I at least have some sense of how the game is played, they just wait until I tell them about the game. Not one of them would ever take the bull by the horns and open up a new game and learn the rules or at least try and familiarize themselves with the rules before we start.

You can say to me "well dont do it, let someone else do the explaining" The problem with that is no new games would ever hit the table. Everyone else would simply say. "oh lets just play game X, we already know how to play it!"

I wish I had the problem of having to critique someone elses game explaining. It would be a welcome change from the way it always is.
 
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Ed
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Ogma wrote:
My advice to those who find themselves annoyed with people who don't possess their supernatural gift of total gamebook recall


No, I wouldn't expect anyone to recite the rules from memory. I usually need to look in the rules at least once when I explain the game, if for no other reason than to reassure myself that I'm not overlooking anything. Like I said, the most common error I see in game explanations is when a person talks about strategy rather than mechanics.

First you explain how a turn works. Then you explain how you score points. And then you start playing the game. Give some strategic pointers as the game unfolds, but let people discover a few things for themselves and enjoy that same light bulb moment you did when you first learned the game. That moment is one of the best parts of gaming. Don't rob people of it!

Let me give an example using a game that is near and dear to my heart, Torres. Below are four statements a person might make in explaining Torres to new players. Which one is the least helpful (and most likely to prompt Ed to shove a tower up your arse)?

(1) We are princes who are competing to see who can build the biggest and tallest castle.

(2) Each turn, you have five action points. It costs one point to put a tower on the board like this, two points to put a knight on the board like this, and one point to move your scoring marker to the next available space on the track like this.

(3) At the end of each round, we'll tally up everyone's score. Score is determined by multiplying the surface area of a castle by your knight's highest level.

(4) It's a good idea to have two knights in the same castle. They can work in tandem to prevent other players moving their knights to higher levels in the castle. Thus, you can maximize the points you score for the castle while minimizing the points scored by your opponents.

Answer to come...
 
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Ed
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burninator23 wrote:
On the other hand, I seldom like to correct people during the game, as they can easily get annoyed. Most people just want to make their own decisions.


Yes, I'm completely with you on this. I played Tikal over the weekend with two people who had played before and one new person. The new person was a serious gamer and picked up on the game quickly, but one of the players still felt the need to tell her exactly how he would play her turn. That's a very poor way to teach. She understood the game and was considering her options, so the best thing to do is to keep quiet and let her enjoy her turn.
 
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Great discussion. It's got me wondering.

Is there some basic order and a maybe a minimum "template" of items for explaining rules that could be used for most all board games? Maybe something in the form of answers to a list of questions like this perhaps:

• What is the theme of the game? (Should not be underestimated. The theme, if there is one, should act as the "glue" for understanding the connections between mechanics and give the game a more cohesive and wholistic feel. In many games the interaction between theme and mechanics generates a lot of energy and fun. This can go a long way in smoothing over hard feelings about first game gaffes.)
• What is the object of the game?
• How does a player win?
• When does the game end?
• What happens during a round of play?
• What can I do when its my turn? Are there things I must do? Do I have choices? What are they?
• What do I need to know in order to take a particular action?

Could I keep a list of questions like this in my wallet and then pull it out to guide a game explanation? What other questions would I want to answer?

Or is it too just too general to apply to a wide array of games?
 
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Gabe Alvaro
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Quote:
The problem is of course that NO ONE ELSE wants to take the time to read the rules so that they can explain them to me. I read the rules, I open the game board, lay out the pieces and try to follow the rule book so that I at least have some sense of how the game is played, they just wait until I tell them about the game. Not one of them would ever take the bull by the horns and open up a new game and learn the rules or at least try and familiarize themselves with the rules before we start.


Hmmm. I wonder if this is partially how the concept of a "Game Master" was born? What if, as ambassadors of good gamesmanship, we all formalized the concept that there must be a "game master" whenever at least one person at the table is in need of assistance? A good "game master" would 1) need to know the rules of the game, 2) have experienced playing the game before, and 3) be able to explain rules and concepts of the game. It's not always the case though that all of those qualities can be found in the same person.
 
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Matt
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Ogma wrote:
nibuen wrote:
Problem is games are competitive and people that play them for a hobby have the same competitive drive


Hmmm... I play games "for a hobby" and I don't have that "same competitive drive"... I guess I'm a pariah.

Seriously, playing games for me is a social activity. If I do well and even win, great, but if I lose, for the most part, the best part of the game was sitting at the table, fondling the bits and having a great time with my friends.

~Scott



I'm with ya on that one.
 
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Philip Thomas
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I'm guessing 4. Its not even true!

Explaining games is tough. Especially if its your first game and you haven't read the rules right through! I was reminded of this teaching War of the Ring to a buddy at the same time as reading the rules. Pretty confusing for him (also he was Fellowship, probably better the other way round).

On the other hand, next explanation of War of the Ring, my opponet was Sauron and started to muster troops in Mordor on round 1 (having got Sauron to war). I looked a bit puzzled and then he revealed I hadn't pointed out the troop replacement counters- so Mordor contained 5 regulars and an elite, from his perspective!

 
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