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Subject: Why is this game such a bear to teach? rss

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Drew Hicks
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Raleigh
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It's not such a complex game but there are a lot of moving parts and special cases... once it gets rolling everyone has a great time, but wow, that startup is... an ordeal.

Any advice for teaching this game more smoothly?
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Ori Avtalion
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I think the trick is explaining the cards first, and leaving the planning and errand phases to the end, after players understand what they mean.

Here's my rule explanation for the goal of the game and all of the cards. Make sure to give examples with real cards all the way through.

1) Explain the premise and goal: Similar to Brewster's Millions (explain that). We each start out with an amount of money. The winner is whoever gets rid of all their money first, so it's a race. The game is played over 7 rounds until someone gets to 0, which triggers the end of the game, or the 7 rounds over, and whoever has the least wins.

2) How do we spend money? By playing using action points to play cards. Each round has 3 phases. In the first two phases, we'll get cards and action points into our hand. In the third phase, we actually play those cards. This phase has no interaction between players, so it can be done simultaneously, but for the first few times, we can do it one by one, so you'll get more familiar with the rules. I'll explain the third phase - the action phase - where you actually play cards, since it's the most important.

3) The are four types of cards in the game. Event cards, Helpers & Expenses, Properties, and Companions.

4) The simplest cards are Events. At the front, they have a white border, which means you play them and then discard them. Most cards has a coin symbol, which means how much money it spends/costs. The more you spend, the better. You'll notice that the coins have some icons around them. The red "A" is the number of action points you have to give up to spend the money. Action points are tracked on your board. If you don't have enough you can't spend them. You'll also notice another icon. These refer to the helper cards.

Helper cards are from the blue deck. They are used to boost or upgrade the abilities of cards, and cannot be played on their own. They come in 4 varieties: Chef, Lady, Dog and Horse. The Helper deck only has these 4 cards, and they are all the same.

So, when I play this event card, I can spend this amount of actions, and add this helper card, to spend X money. There may be several spending options (coins) on the card, and you can only pick pick one.

Some events give you other benefits other than spending. They should be self-explanatory once you know the rules, and you can consult the chart at the back of the rulebook to see what the symbols mean.

There's also a wild-card helper card, that can substitute for any one type of helper. There's a special way of getting it, described later.

5) The next type of cards is the Helpers & Expenses. At the front, they have a black border, which means they go on your player board. In order to play a card, you have to spend an action, as hinted by the red "A" on each spot on the board. A few of the cards will have another red "A" on them, on the top left. This is an additional action point cost you have to pay. After you play the card, you immediately get the opportunity to activate it. The cards usually have the regular coin icon that you're used to, which denotes spending money. They will also have an effect at the bottom of the card. Once per round, you can spend once, and use the effect once. To note that you've used a card, you tilt it down so the check-mark on the player board is showing. Again, you'll want to consult the rulebook for explanations on the symbols. When you run out of room on your board, there's a way to extend it, which we'll touch later. Whenever you want, you can remove a Helpers & Expenses card from your board for free. This is not true for the last type of cards, the Properties.

6) Properties are various houses that you can buy to put on your board. The trick is, you have to sell them back before you go bankrupt and win the game. Specifically, you cannot go into debt (spend more money than you have) before your board is clear of buildings.
Instead of a coin cost, buildings have a changing value. When you pay for a house, you pay the price at the top, plus the market value that will be explained in a bit, and put a little house marker on it. Then, you have the choice of spending the icon value of the house (by tilting it down on your board), or doing nothing. If you do nothing, the house is "unmaintained", and at the end of the action phase it will depreciate in value. When you sell it later, it's better if it's value is lower than when you bought it. That means you lose money, and losing money is the goal of the game.

The are four types of houses, as noted by the four colors of house icons. They usually mean different value ranges. However, the green house type, the farm, is a bit special. It only has one value, and can never depreciate.

When you buy or sell a house, you have to add the value of the house on the market (give examples). During one of the previous phases, you'll have a change to change the position of the markers on the market however you wish. Remember, you want to buy houses HIGH and sell LOW - you want to LOSE money.

Selling a house (removing it from your board), costs an action. This is unlike the Helpers & Expenses cards, which you can remove from your board for free whenever you wish.

Houses can also be upgraded with companions. You discard a companion card and mark it on the player board. This lets you "spend" money on the house. You have to upgrade in order. When spending money you can only choose one of the options. This may be relevant in the rare case when you can't go below 0 yet (due to having houses on the board), and you can only spend an exact amount.

Some Helper cards will allow you to upgrade houses for free, or manipulate the market, etc.

Note that you are allowed to buy a house, spend it for money, and sell it all on the same turn, if you have enough action points.

That's it about the cards! (Unless I missed something important )

Remains to explain:
*) Discard down to two cards at the end of a round. Can't keep the companion wild card.
*) Planning phase.
*) Worker placement/errand phase
*) The special card deck, that seeds the main board. Note the white/black border of those card to know if you play and discard them, or they go on your board.
*) Don't forget to mark your action points on your board as soon as you pick a spot in the planning phase.
*) Don't forget to tilt cards on your board, to remember when you've used them.
*) Don't forget: When drawing cards, you declare how many of each type you want BEFORE drawing them.
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Vincent Lalyman
France
Strasbourg
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Good job, SaltyHorse

To summarize, as with many eurogames, it is best to :
- first explain the goal (here : lose your money)
- how to reach the goal (here : by using cards)
- how the tools you use to reach the goal work (the way the differents types of cards work)
- how to gain the tools (the board and placement)

By doing it in "reverse order", every step becomes meaningful, and the players stay focused. They will learn faster, and may already think about a strategy.

Sometimes I think that many rulebooks should be written this way, with the order of play phases being the last thing you learn - but tradition is hard to break.
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Nick Imholte
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Great summary, very similar to how I go about it. My only difference is I do properties before helpers, since their are helpers that impact houses, but not vice-versa. It prevents the whole "I'll come back to these cards later" routine.
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Kim Fjeld
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SaltyHorse wrote:
I think the trick is explaining the cards first, and leaving the planning and errand phases to the end, after players understand what they mean.


I pretty much do the same and it works! I even managed to pass the rules on to a complete boardgame newbie. meeple

However, in my experience even the best of rule explanations some players just don't get it. It has nothing to do with you (the explainer) or the rules, it's just that their head got clotted by the wrong concepts in the first place. It has even happened to me in some games, and it can be really hard to 'fix'. So I would add that it's important to encourage whomever to ask again whenever about anything related to the game. In that way you can find and unplug these clots. It could otherwise ruin the experience of a game and may upset the evening as a whole for that person.
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