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Subject: To teach or not teach strategy... rss

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David Buckley
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This thread is inspired by the recent thread entitles "to read or not read strategy forums..." which I am apparently too stupid/lazy to work out how to link. Edit: Worked out how to do it Anyhow I thought it might be interesting to get some thoughts about how much if at all one should talk about strategy when teaching a game to new players. Anyone care to profer an opinion?
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Andrew
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In some games there are little things that can decide the outcome but aren't a big deal if everyone knows about them (eg calling Craftsman in Puerto Rico, bidding up Jesters in Princes of Florence, getting a third action in Hansa Teutonica); I'll tell new players about these.

Other than that I let them figure the rest out themselves unless they ask for more. Personally I prefer the experience of figuring out how a game works over being told how to win, and it's possible they'll come up with a novel perspective on the game.

In my experience, when advice is doled out it slows the game down and can confuse new players.
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Beeny
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At the very least, I try to teach the basic strategy necessary to survive and enjoy a game, especially if the rule book recommends something.

For example, in Nations the rule book tells beginners to aim for 2 food, 3 stone, and 3 gold production at the end of the first round. I tell this to new players. Russian Railroads and Le Havre have similar hints in their rule books that I wish had been taught to me before my first plays through.

Another example is in 7 Wonders. I would tell new players to try to either have himself or his neighbors produce a balanced variety of resources, especially the resources necessary to build his wonder, because it sucks getting to Age 2 and Age 3 without being able to do much.

In Agricola/Caverna I'll tell people to focus on getting a food engine working before working on expanding the family.

Not knowing some basic strategy, especially when playing among experienced players, can be far too punishing in these 1-2+ hour games that we play.
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monchi
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I find it really depends on a couple of things. Firstly how much influence does strategy have in the game? There are some games where you need to understand certain strategies or you just can't compete let alone win. The other thing that makes a big difference for me is who I am playing with. If I am playing with my hardcore gaming friends that have played lots of different games and are familiar with the types of mechanics the game in question uses then I will be more inclined to touch on strategies. If I am playing with casual gamers I don't like to overload their brains so I will only bring up different strategies when it might make sense during game play. I have a couple of friends that will ask about different strategies and others that could care less.

More often than not I will explain different strategies to people after the first game is over. Sometimes it is just better to get a game in the books sorta speak. Take the ignorance is bliss approach as people will tend to try different things in the game which allow you to talk about them after.

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marc lecours
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I am against teaching strategy.

1. It takes long enough to explain the basic rules. Get the game started as soon as possible. Make sure that all players play quickly in the first game. If you give strategy tips you are adding importance to playing well and winning. This will kill the fun of a new game. The first game should be played with an understanding that it is for learning and getting a feel for what happens in the game. The reverse side of the coin is that you should play well (and fast) but not your hardest with a player new to the game.

2. It is fun to figure out strategies on your own. It is no fun to hear them from a more experienced player. The exception is when two newbies discuss the strategies and tactics that they have just learned from a game they just played together. After a game of Puerto Rico one player says to the other: "I noticed that whenever I took the craftsman and you followed with a trader, you seemed to profit from it more than me." and the other player answers: "yeah, there must be a way to time the playing of the "craftsman" role so that it is more profitable, like waiting until there are two coins on it or something".

3. Another good time to teach strategy is when a player stops progressing on their own (and bad strategies become a habit). Then it is time for the stronger player to offer to discuss strategy tips with the less strong player. I come from a background in the game of go, where it is common for a stronger player to give tips to another player whose progress in the game is getting stagnant. But if a player is still progressing fast, leave them the chance to learn strategy on their own and explore new ways to try to win. Its fun.

4.I've seen games where there was a big disparity between one strong player and the newbies. The strong player continually gave advice. One or the newbies became afraid of making moves that were inferior. He became paralyzed. The fun was sucked out of the game. The newbies lost interest in that game after playing 2 or 3 times. The strong player was disappointed. All he wanted was to improve the play of the newbies enough so that the game would be more interesting. In the meantime the fun of thinking up strategies on your own was removed from the game.

5. On the other hand giving a warning about avoiding a disaster in the game is acceptable. Like: "just make sure you have enough food by the end of the second round or really bad things happen." To me this is not really giving strategy tips but rather warning which rules are critical and can lead to disaster.
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Josh Chen
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As a recipient of strategy I appreciate it quite a lot when playing with veterans of the game and I am a newbie. For example 2 weeks ago I played London at my local meetup. 2 of the players are board game vets who have a lot of experience with the game. The other guy next to me played it once. I am a total newbie playing a game that is out of my mental comfort zone. After listening to all the rules, I do appreciate the teacher gave us general pointers of "what we are trying to do in this game".

I've learned:

a) Respect poverty, it can break you if ignored.
b) Buying boroughs in the city is usually a good thing to do
c) When running your city, the sequence is very important
d) Don't be afraid to take out a loan, it's going to happen in this game

So in the end of the game, I think I enjoyed the game a lot more than just going in blind.
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Mark Jackson
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It depends largely on the game, but I think a general sense of what you're trying to do and how to do it is necessary at least. And hopefully some nudges in the right direction, or at least away from making terrible mistakes along the way in the first learning game.
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Jerry Wilkinson
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Beeny wrote:
At the very least, I try to teach the basic strategy necessary to survive and enjoy a game, especially if the rule book recommends something.


This.
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Ray
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I think if you have those you are trying to get into gaming...it helps to offer them a few rounds of advice that are choices. Or if they are taking actions...put yourself on the chopping block if there is a strategy that they could be doing. I love helping new players destroy me while they learn it.

I like to learn with very little strategy discussed and learning on my own. With the group I've been playing with, I get creamed every game, but I love this learning stage. But I'm a gamer that is already interested. I don't think there is one approach to fit all.
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Cyrus the Great
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When teaching The Resistance, I always explain that players should always put themselves on a mission when the number of players on the mission is equal to the number of resistance members. Perhaps this isn't strategy per se, but it does make the game more fun if the players realize this.
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Christian Gienger
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What Andrew and Beeny said. Some things help enormously to give a better experience than not knowing. Some of those hints are only needed if the game isn't new to all players, others are helpful even then.
For example:

The hint at Nations to look for a production of X at the end of turn 1 is helpful either way. The thing about jesters in Princes of Florence usually doesn't matter in the first games. (We didn't know back then and still liked the game). Resources in 7 Wonders are something to tell new players but also to take more than resource cards in Age I.
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Rob P
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A major part of the fun of a game is learning strategy on your own.
When playing a game with new players, I wouldn't necessarily take a lot of time explaining strategies you have already figured out.

But, that being said, I'm not against telling them "Hey, you don't want to do that" if they are making a particularly bad move. The move may be bad because they don't quite understand the rules yet, and are thus unaware of its implications. And if the move is going to simply destroy them for the rest of the game, it won't be any fun for anyone.

In other words, let them figure out a strategy of their own, but a little help during the first play isn't so bad. We're all friends, and no matter how competitive I am, making sure my friends have fun when playing with me takes priority over winning.
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ICONOCLAST

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Jrtolf wrote:
Beeny wrote:
At the very least, I try to teach the basic strategy necessary to survive and enjoy a game, especially if the rule book recommends something.


This.


Agreed - Being dead in the water or eliminated from play is not fun. If a person's first game is not an enjoyable experience, they're probably not going to be so eager to play it again.
 
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Shawn
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i only teach basic survival strategy, then let the player make their own mistakes and have their "aha" moment of discovery when they start to understand the game

-edit fixed sentence
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Tony Go
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I have a small [geeklist=164370]geeklist[/geeklist] about this.

Its semi-advice you should let players know about. They aren't exactly rules and I don't consider them huge strategy points.

For example, Battle Line's most important flags are 3 and 7 because they potentially inhibit a the most breakthrough possibilities.
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Christian Kalk
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As others have said, it depends on the game. Generally speaking, the more transparent the cause/effect dynamic, the less strategu that should be taught.

My examples: Power Grid. My first game I finished in a tight race for dead last, but I emerged from the game with several ideas on how I could have done better (some of the were even right!) I would recommend very little strategy instruction, at least until a player has a solid handle on the game, and is looking to fine-tune their play.

Puerto Rico: I placed a close second out of 4 players on my first play, abdwas immediately bombarded with details of how I was only so close because 1) the player to my right kept feeding me, and 2) the player to my left had to keep sacrificing to keep the player to his left from winning. I left the game with no clue what was wrong with my play, and to this day it's not a game that excites me, although I will play it if that's what hits the table. Some amount of instruction (IMHO) on how early choices affect the late game, and how your plays affect the other players, can have a huge effect on a player's reaction to the game.
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Garcian Smith
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Quote:
So in the end of the game, I think I enjoyed the game a lot more than just going in blind.


This.

I will help a new player to the best of my ability so that he does just as well or even better than me. Then slowly, I will let go of the help and have him play for himself. I do this for many reasons. First of all, it helps new players deal with anxiety. If you have no idea what to do, you will be freaking out and most importantly, taking a long time! Nobody likes it when a player takes a very long time to play, even if it's really not their fault.

Next, it doesn't throw the game if a newbie knows what traps to avoid. This makes the current game I'm playing more competitive and even, which is the best environment for EVERYBODY playing. For instance, if I am leading in Settlers and a new player is trying to trade with me and giving me a better deal, I will stop them because it just doesn't make sense to do that. If I'm further ahead, then doing this makes me pretty much the guaranteed winner. And if that is determined, like chess I feel that playing the game is no longer necessary and that players can and should drop.

Finally, I want the player to be good because I feel that the more comfortable and knowledgeable he is at the game, the more likely he will then play it again and pick it up. A lot of my favorite games cannot be played because I do not have opponents that stick with the same games. If I train someone to be better at it, he will get a positive vibe about the game and then is more likely to play it again rather than losing horribly because of some strategy he was not even aware of. And for me, this allows the games I own to be played repeatedly. Win, win.
 
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