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Subject: Teaching complex games - up front or while playing? rss

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Ron
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This question is triggered by teaching Eclipse a couple of times, but applies to any game that has more than a couple of rules.
When teaching a game, do you teach everything up front, or do you gradually introduce rules while playing?
When I teach every rule of Eclipse up front, teaching takes me 45 minutes to an hour. Shorter if the group is focused, longer if they're not. That's quite an investment for many people, and makes me want to reconsider. Should I just explain the general flow of the game and go into details when people want to do certain things? When I teach, I tend to teach up-front because I don't want to get too much 'If I had known that I would've yadayada' during the game. But even when I teach every detail, I still get 'you didn't tell me that' (yes I did, but you were too busy texting) or 'why can't I do that? You just did it yourself!' (no I didn't, but you were too busy texting). So should I just tell people that this is a learning game and I'll explain as we go? But that means the game won't be as much fun as it can be for people who might not play it again after this first play.
Maybe play a turn while explaining, reset the game and get going? I tend to do that when teaching Small World, since the powers don't make sense without a feel for the general flow of the game. So I explain the generic rules, play a round or two with ten tokens and no powers and then explain the powers, reset the game and get going. But SW obviously doesn't have the complexity of Eclipse or Runewars.
In my group, I'm usually the teacher. And I even get 'Oh my you're so good at teaching rules!' a lot. But I still try to become better at it. I like gaming, I like sharing it, and I'd like to do that as well as I can
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I think it depends on the game? Frex, For a well-known game like Race for the Galaxy, players are just happy to have a grip on the icons. With Eldritch Horror, I did a top-down explanation of the game, starting with the mystery to solve, adding a little strategy, and breaking down the rules to solve the mystery. With Cosmic Encounter, I did some practice rounds, not even introducing the player powers until later.
 
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1. If you are going to play the game again (with the same players), then
- game objective
- turn structure
- available actions and how they get you closer to the objective
- any special rules that are immediately required
- the first game is always a learning game, emphasis not on winning but learning, and start playing
- if rules questions appear during the game, spend 20-40 seconds at most to find the answer, then make a temporary ruling and continue. Check the correct rule after the game.
- if you're also learning, read through the rulebook after the first game to catch rules mistakes. Repeat after the next game.

2. If you are not expecting to play the game again (due to not having the same players), then
- get them to watch rules or playthrough videos and skim through the rulebook
- goto 1 but with more detail, and like you mentioned: with quick example rounds when required.
 
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I teach as much as I can up front, and very little during the game (but leave exceptions for when they occur). Then I answer any questions at the time, or during play and off we go.

45 Minutes to teach is pretty excessive for any game though (eclipse is pretty simple, just broad). You might want to evaluate what you are communicating and streamline it. Be prepared, be concise, and communicate clearly. Are you perchance trying to teach strategy?
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Daniel B-G
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My advice with longer and more complex games is always print player aids, laminate them and put them in the box.

When it comes to the explanation you can afford to be brief and just walk players through where all the rules are explained on the player aid. I never walk people through all the powers that are available, that is something people will read much faster.

I only tend to explain

Who are you, what's the story?
Goal
Game Structure (End conditions/Number of Rounds -> Turn Structure)
What individual actions are available and how they connect to the goals of the game.
Then come back and talk about a couple of possible strategies (if I know them).

It's all a matter of learning styles though. I have a reasonably seasoned group of gamers who have learnt to understand my explanations. My explanations work well for verbal and written learners. Some people just learn better by pulling the levers and seeing what happens. I think this kind of person though will find board gaming frustrating as that is a slow way of learning (not wrong, and it yields positive results in other fields, but it makes boardgaming more difficult for them).
 
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Ron
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darthain wrote:
I teach as much as I can up front, and very little during the game (but leave exceptions for when they occur). Then I answer any questions at the time, or during play and off we go.

45 Minutes to teach is pretty excessive for any game though (eclipse is pretty simple, just broad). You might want to evaluate what you are communicating and streamline it. Be prepared, be concise, and communicate clearly. Are you perchance trying to teach strategy?

Definitely not trying to teach strategy, apart from a 10-second tidbit here and there. As you mentioned, Eclipse is more broad than complex, and that's perhaps the main issue. I can usually teach complex stuff pretty easily and make sure everyone understands it. But Eclipse (or Runewars, or Arkham Horror or...) simply have a big load of easy rules that I don't seem to be able to distill much more. Mind you, I'm not reading a rulebook to people! I'm prepared, I know the rules by heart, I have a general overview of how I want to teach. But still, if I want to teach every rule that Eclipse has to offer, I'll be busy for a while. Maybe I'm just bad at teaching more Ameri'ish games

For the rest: keep'em coming, people! I'm reading all of it and will respond once I've had some time to reflect on what's written
 
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Simon Maynard
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It probably depends on who you're playing with, how experienced they are with learning new/complex games but generally I try to keep the up front explanation to a minimum and then explain as we go through the first game, introducing some concepts on a need to know basis.

Otherwise, if you try to front load too much information, you just see people's eyes glaze over and the information just doesn't go in. Also, with quite a few games I find that the rules usually sound more complicated than they actually are when described.
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Greg
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I like to get all of the information up front when I'm learning a game, I don't want to be undermined by something I didn't know about two turns in.

When teaching I ask what the people learning like and do that.
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Wormaap wrote:
When teaching a game, do you teach everything up front, or do you gradually introduce rules while playing?

Depends on the game. Some games lend themselves very well for an up front approach; others are more easily handled using examples illustrating principles which are then slowly made more involved. I will however always structure matters so that the newcomers have points to anchor what I've told to. That means briefly outlining what the game is about, what is expected of us, how the goal is met. If later on in the explanation I mention a crucial point, I will point out how that fits in the general flow of it all. This is very important!

On no account will I teach by 'Here's the board, here's the material. Start playing, and if you want to know something, ask'. If someone pulls that off on me I will bow out of the game immediately. I hate being sent rules in advance unless it is known we are dealing with rulebooks of 20 or more pages. Player aids are usually extremely good at capturing the wrong information although there are, fortunately, exceptions which really aid the player instead of regurgitating unimportant stuff.

If there is too much to absorb on a first game, I will explicitly tell the players that this first game is a teaching game, and that they can expect more details to follow as we go. To compensate I would ease them into relatively solid strategic paths so that they don't get stuck in unplayable positions (= an excellent mood killer). Cards and resources which are held in one's hand would be out in the open for all to see for a while. Players would also have to accept that this first game might not meet their exacting expectations; and thus, implicitly, that a second or third game are needed before their first impression is formed. People who insist that the first game be perfectly taught, with a good grasp on strategies too, and that the result should be fun and addictive and what-not... are not the ones you should be teaching more involved titles to in the first place.

I do practice explanations when noone is around to listen in, to see how it all fits together, and whether or not I'm woolgathering on specific details which are, ultimately, not that important. I use a timer to see where and how I could improve. More than 15 minutes of explaining without showing moving bits and parts is not a good idea; and for some audiences and games 15 minutes is already an eternity.

Texting or fiddling around with stuff while I'm explaining will cause me to ask whether someone would rather play or go do something else. You, as teacher, make an effort so as to avoid the others having to actually read the rulebook; the least the others can do is pay attention.

There is a small number of games you can teach while you are already playing for real. Those are teacher's dreams. Players are occupied with hands and minds nearly straight away; concepts are added one at a time and so have time to sink in; and so everyone is happy.

People defer to me for rules explanations even if I'm not the owner of the game; most people also like that they immediately win from me, too, which gets spirits up like nothing else.
 
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LudoH LudoH
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Hello ... as I teach the rules most of the time I thought I should contribute

I agree that very often, a turn while explaining works fine; in general, I explain the general idea and structure, and the I do a fake turn, simulating plenty of situations. I think, teaching by example is the best way, but you should not always start from the initial situation, or even a realistic one ... at least this is what I do and apparently people understand well.

For example at Caylus, I would set up a fake game that could be the state after 3 or 4 turns, artificially give plenty of resources to everybody, and explain from that point, I then only have to add the few things that only happen at the end of the game. When we are a lot of players, I only explain with three players as an example.

I try to explain everything, except the corner-cases (tie-breakers, what do you do if this happens at the same time as that ...)

Sometimes, I also explain part of the rules at the middle of the game, eg in a lot of games, end game scoring can be explained after several turns. But I would not do this for the core mechanic of the game.

 
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Bryan Thunkd
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Up Front. I really hate being taught complex games as you go along, because there are so many moving parts and you often need to focus on goals from the outset.

I remember being taught a prototype game by the designer, and in an effort to not overwhelm players he doled out rules as we went along. Like the alternate win condition, which he mentioned after 2/3rds of the game. There was a huge WTF moment... and the game was quickly won after that by triggering the alternate win condition. At several points in the game there were moments of "Wait... So I wanted to be collecting those after all? Well thanks for telling me way too late!"
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David Gibbs
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I HATE learning as we go along. I will, as politely as I'm allowed, bow out of any game presented in such a manner. It may be arrogance, but I've been playing games for a long time, and I learn, internalize, digest, and can strategize from the rules of many to most games at a level that is reasonably competitive even from the first game. If I don't have the full rule-set, I can't do that. Especially if it is a longer game, I play enough different games that to waste one as just a "learning" game, when I may not play it again for a year is too much. Just no.

Consequently, when I teach, I try to teach the full rule-set from the outset as well.
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Austin Andersen
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From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.

First thing I try to do when teaching a new game is to look for existing aids and videos that do exactly that. I find that it is easier to use existing material rather than recreating the wheel on my own.

Another thing I like to do is to play a round or two before starting over. I inform everyone that we are going to play one or two rounds, just to get our feet wet prior to investing the time into a real game. This gives everyone a chance to play a bit and to get a feel for the game.

I like having rules, FAQs, and player aids readily available for people to look up anything that is on their mind regarding should they want to see for themselves.

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A mix. If I can explain it in 10–15 minutes, then we'll go over the rules prior to play. Any more complex than that, and you'll get the high level stuff and the main mechanics and critical points of the game, and the detailed points during play at the appropriate time (i.e., at the start of a phase, etc). But I seem to be able to summarize most game rules in my collection well in under 15 minutes usually, even some of the more complex ones.
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I started a thread -- with a poll -- on this subject a while back: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1429160/poll-preferred-metho...

There was an interesting mix of responses.
 
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Bryan Thunkd
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bbblasterfire wrote:
From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.
I would.

bbblasterfire wrote:
Another thing I like to do is to play a round or two before starting over. I inform everyone that we are going to play one or two rounds
Ugh. I'd bow out and go play something else instead.
 
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LudoH LudoH
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I do not know many people that like to listen to rules without example. For that, in my experience, for all the "complex" games I know (MIL, Caylus, terra mystica for example) I take a fake turn saying: suppose you want to do that ... then you would do this way, etc. This is clearly teaching upfront, but gets inspiration from "let's play a couple of turns and start again" except that I trigger most of the actions, which goes much faster.

On the contrary if I am teaching a simple game, I would just state the rule rapidly, with only brief examples. Same thing if I refresh the memory of somebody that already played the game a while ago.

Also, quite often my explanation is VERY different from the rule book. Not that the rule book is not good in general but I think that for teaching in live before playing, it is not the most efficient.
 
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Wormaap wrote:
When teaching a game, do you teach everything up front, or do you gradually introduce rules while playing?
If I'm with gamers, I try to teach more upfront than not. However, some games like Ra, it's the same difference. In scenario 1, you explain what all the tiles are about, the auction mechanism, etc. In scenario #2, you start the game, but then newbies ask "OK, what do I do now?", and you're back to square one anyways.




Wormaap wrote:
When I teach every rule of Eclipse up front, teaching takes me 45 minutes to an hour. Shorter if the group is focused, longer if they're not. That's quite an investment for many people, and makes me want to reconsider. Should I just explain the general flow of the game and go into details when people want to do certain things? When I teach, I tend to teach up-front because I don't want to get too much 'If I had known that I would've yadayada' during the game. But even when I teach every detail, I still get 'you didn't tell me that' (yes I did, but you were too busy texting) or 'why can't I do that? You just did it yourself!' (no I didn't, but you were too busy texting). So should I just tell people that this is a learning game and I'll explain as we go? But that means the game won't be as much fun as it can be for people who might not play it again after this first play.

It's a tradeoff. In the end, you can only try to go one way or another given the group you're with, but if nothing stands out, make a judgment call and just go with it.

Unfortunately, games like Eclipse are sufficiently complex that even gamers who are focused (and not texting) will miss things. First games will always yield errors and mess ups. I'd say do your due diligence, but get over it and move on.


Wormaap wrote:
Maybe play a turn while explaining, reset the game and get going? I tend to do that when teaching Small World, since the powers don't make sense without a feel for the general flow of the game. So I explain the generic rules, play a round or two with ten tokens and no powers and then explain the powers, reset the game and get going. But SW obviously doesn't have the complexity of Eclipse or Runewars.
In my group, I'm usually the teacher. And I even get 'Oh my you're so good at teaching rules!' a lot. But I still try to become better at it. I like gaming, I like sharing it, and I'd like to do that as well as I can
I can see some folks preferring to start over... they get to play on a more even playing field.

However, to me, we've already invested in the first 5 to 30 minutes to get started. I'd rather finish up the game from there. Honestly, I can see myself making other mistakes anyways, especially if it was a type of game I'm not that good at anyways, so no point in starting over only for a minisculely more favorable outcome.
 
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David Gibbs
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bbblasterfire wrote:
From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.



I do.
 
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Austin Andersen
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dagibbs wrote:
bbblasterfire wrote:
From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.



I do.


I feel the need to clarify. Listening to rules is one thing. Listening to a ton, a lot, an over abundance, more rules than you can remember amount of rules is something most people do not care for. Most people will listen to a point and then just decide let's do something else or play something else.
 
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adam wilson

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I think it depends on the players. Most of the players in my group won't learn complex games period. It doesn't matter how I try to explain the rules, they just find complex games boring. The players who will digest heavy game rules learn at their own pace over a couple games. I have gotten to the point where I give a 1-2 minute explanation and start the game. If someone has a question I try to get them to look it up in the rules themselves. They retain the information better and don't argue with me as much if they look it up themselves.
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Austin Andersen
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Thunkd wrote:
bbblasterfire wrote:
From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.
I would.

bbblasterfire wrote:
Another thing I like to do is to play a round or two before starting over. I inform everyone that we are going to play one or two rounds
Ugh. I'd bow out and go play something else instead.


If you are going to play something that lasts 2 hours or more, starting over after a round or two is not that much of an investment in time, especially if it leads to a more competitive game.
 
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Bryan Thunkd
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bbblasterfire wrote:
Thunkd wrote:
bbblasterfire wrote:
From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.
I would.

bbblasterfire wrote:
Another thing I like to do is to play a round or two before starting over. I inform everyone that we are going to play one or two rounds
Ugh. I'd bow out and go play something else instead.


If you are going to play something that lasts 2 hours or more, starting over after a round or two is not that much of an investment in time, especially if it leads to a more competitive game.
I play with people who don't mind listening to rules and who can pick up how to play without having their hand held through the process. If your group can't sit still through a rules explanation or has to have everything spelled out to them by doing a demo of the first round, then I'd rather not play with them.
 
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Paul F
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Depends on the players first and foremost, and then the game to a lesser extent.

If players don't want to listen to the rules up-front, then there's little point in trying and boring them to death. I prefer to at least give an overview of the turn structure, just to get them started. Then we play and at the end of the first round I usually give them the option to restart if they want to, now they've got the hang of it. In my experience we've never actually re-started like that - just seems polite to offer the opportunity in case anyone didn't feel confident in what they were doing.
 
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David Gibbs
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bbblasterfire wrote:
dagibbs wrote:
bbblasterfire wrote:
From my experience, no one wants to listen to a bunch of rules prior to playing.



I do.


I feel the need to clarify. Listening to rules is one thing. Listening to a ton, a lot, an over abundance, more rules than you can remember amount of rules is something most people do not care for. Most people will listen to a point and then just decide let's do something else or play something else.


What do you consider "a ton, a lot, an over abundance"? Ok, I would probably have problems listing to the rules of World in Flames all in one go. But, I don't think we're talking about that. But, I've had no problems listening through the full rules of, say, Madeira, 1856: Railroading in Upper Canada from 1856, Ora et Labora, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, Terra Mystica, etc. Though, I will say that grasping how the time-cascade effects worked in Khronos did require some extra work. Hm... and we didn't do quite all the rules for High Frontier, since we were only playing with two of the nations, so we didn't get into the details of all of the national powers.

 
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