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Subject: How to teach noobs painlessly, step by step. rss

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Ashley Riddell
Norway
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Teaching Stone Age to new players can be a tricky affair. When the noobs in question are kids or adults who arent into boardgames or Hasbro-impaired, it gets downright ugly. Too much explanation and detail, and they just glaze over and switch off, too little and the game will descend into chaos rivaling a pack of baboons at an all you can eat buffet.


So here is my tried and tested recipe for happiness when teaching people the joys of neolithic capitalism.


First, the tl;dr version

1. First full round is played with NO CIVILISATION CARDS and no Field, Toolmaker or Love shack!!

2. First round of turns will teach meeple placement, rolling for resources and feeding your grunts.

3. All "?" value huts are shuffled to the bottom of their decks. Your noobs need a few rounds to find their feet before encountering weird symbols. Also makes the end phase of the game spicier.laugh

4. Second full round will add in Field, Toolmaker and Love shack. They will understand by this time why they are good things to have.

5. Third rull round (if they are having no problems) add in the Civ cards at the Trading post.



A fuller script for how to present all this follows for those intrepid enough to read on...


1. Layout the board and player mats as normal with ONE exception. NO civilization cards. Have them split into green and sand coloured piles and put them off to the side for later.


Go through the stacks of hut cards and pull out ALL huts that can be purchased for "4 of the same" "1-7 of any combo" "5 with 3 different types" etc. Shuffle them into the bottom of their piles. Trust me on this. They raise way too many questions if they turn up in the first couple of rounds. By the time they turn up if you follow this recipe, they will be experts in resources and have the right context to understand how they work. Also, it will make the closing stages of the game a lot more fun and frantic.

Get those suckers down to the bottom of the pile


2. Let your players know that you are teaching the game in layered stages. After each full round, when the Chieftain token has returned to the first player, you will be introducing a new game element. This will give time for each set of routines to sink in and still allow for "fair play" at the intro of something new.


Give out 12 food for each player.


3. The teacher is the first player and gets the Cheiftain.


So, we are ready to start. Anxious, yet eager faces eye the board waiting on your wisdom. The first thing out of the gate will be this little speech;


"Winning the game is about scoring the most points. To score points, you buy huts and get the value on its card, recorded on the scoring track. You pay the "price" at the bottom of the card.


Questions so far?"



Pro tip. Make sure you pause to ask them if it was clear. Yes, I know, it feels insulting, but it is crucial that this simple point is crystal clear and that they have a second to chew on the basic facts; score points. Buy huts. Record on scoring track.


It is also good to ask just for the sake of open dialogue. They might feel stupid asking questions and you need to be as encouraging as possible. The only one who should ever look comical is you. We're here to have fun, dammit!


4. Now that they understand how to get points and win, the next chunk is how to get the wood, stone, brick and gold I need to buy these huts. Point out the piles of resources attractively piled up on their respective spaces on the board.


"We each have a tribe of five people. We take turns sending them out to one or more of the available circles at the resource spots and then roll dice to see how much you get. "


Do a couple of example rolls. Put out 3 on wood, explain that you get 3 dice and roll for it. Do it again with just 1 meeple on wood. Now they will get why a single meeple on a spot is risky. Point out the values of the resources on their player mats.


"The game ends when one of those piles of huts is empty"


Let's start the game!


Round 1:


Now the tricky part. You take turns sending them out to spots. This has caused more grief for new players than you could ever imagine. You go first.


Place at least 2 meeples on stone or gold. Say that you are feeling lucky. (Your likely failure will be a source for mockery, but it will teach an important lesson by cruel, cruel example. Otherwise, score! Got some stone!) Get your clockwise neighbour to place some meeples, recommend wood, because it's easy to get and we all need wood (heh.heh.)

This always ends well

What often happens here is someone is going to want to place out all of their meeples at different points all at once. You will need to gently explain again, that you all take turns because there are only 7 available spots on each resource.


(2 and 3 player games, remember to also explain the limits of meeple placements on a resource.)


5. Time to resolve! As the Big Cheese, you go first and mention that you have to say what you are rolling for, BEFORE you do it. Also repeat, "One meeple. One die. Two meeples, two dice" Mention that you resolve all your dice throws before passing on to the next player.


Collect your winnings (if you were lucky) and go to the next player. Help them with the dice if needed.


Resources obtained, dice resolved and everyone should be feeling pretty good. Time to deal with food.


"After a hard day cutting down trees, digging clay, etc. we take our tribe home and enjoy a good meal, ready to sleep and face the next day. Food costs 1 per meeple, otherwise there is a 10 point penalty. That's 5 food each, thanks!"

...you want WHAT?!


As your noobs reluctantly hand over their food, someone is almost bound to say, "How the f$%k do I get more food?"



"You can send meeples out to the hunting grounds, no restrictions on using them. Same rules as resources, roll the dice, collect your food."


This always works well. It fits with the theme of the game (surviving and thriving in the stone age) and is a smooth, logical progression. Even better, they have already learned the mechanic, send out meeples, roll dice,(hopefully) collect.


Pass the Cheiftain to the next player. Rinse and repeat


But I don't have enough food!


Yeah, this is going to happen. Now that they understand that they need food at the end of each round, they will be out hunting, but there will likely be some shortfalls. Now you can be kind and wise source of knowledge and let them know that they can dodge the -10 penalty if they cough up the shortfall in an equivalent number of resources. Any will do, but it is in their own interest to pay with wood rather than gold.


Buy that pimpin' hut


Now we have some resources, time to show them how to reserve a hut. Try and time this so that it coincides with some players having obtained the resources to pay (or are close to having enough). Point out there is no penalty for reserving if they can't pay for it, aside from a wasted meeple.


"Yes, you can pay with resources you obtain in the same turn!"



That little nugget is usually greeted with murmurs of pleasure, because who doesn't like gambling?


If you can manage it, try and grab a hut first yourself and show off by paying with resources gathered on the same turn. Why shouldn't you try and get some win from this process too! Make a point of showing that you reserved the hut, didn't have the readies to pay for it, but gathered them during your turn and then paid for it. Minds quietly blown for first timers of the casual variety. Monopoly, this aint.


Round 2: Farms, tools and getting jiggy


By the time the Cheiftan token returns to you after a full lap of the table, most of your group will now be clued into the basic rhythm. If not, maybe one more lap is in order, especially with young kids or slow adults (Who am I kidding, its ALWAYS the adults). Otherwise, time to introduce the Tool hut, the Farm and the Love shack.


"Rolling the dice is annoying when you are one short of what you need. You can use a meeple to build a tool that will give you a +1 on a dice roll."

Sometimes being a tool is not all bad

Put out your meeple on the Tool hut. This concept needs to be shown, so it should be you first.


"Instead of hunting for food, you can build up your farming skills to pay less, or nothing at all! Every time you place a meeple on the farm, you get an increase of +1 in your farming score (show farming score track). Instead of paying 5 for your tribe, you now only need to pay 4. And it goes up EVERY time you put a meeple on the farm."


This will trigger the next player to jumping on that spot like a seagull diving onto a hot chip.


Stairway to heaven

"Having 5 meeples often doesn't feel like enough. When you want more, send two of them to the Love shack and you will get three back at the end of the turn. Yes, you have to feed the new tribe members too."



(2 and 3 player games, explain the restriction of only using TWO of the available Village area spots)


Put out all the meeples and then time to resolve!


Seeing as you are first, grab that tool token and lay it out on your mat. Point out that you can use it's effect immediately, which is why you take it first.


Resolve your throws and be sure to show how the tool works in practice. Point out that you collect 3 x 1tools before flipping one to +2. You should make a point of helping out with tools every chance you get.


Round 3: The Trading post and civilisation cards


After another lap of the table, the Cheif is in your sweaty hands once again. Make sure everyone is emotionally ready for the next step, otherwise, another lap is in order first.


Time to bust out the civilisation cards.


"There is more to life than just slaving away cutting down trees and making bricks. Our tribes can trade for goods and knowledge at the trading post by the river. And they are worth a wicked large amount of points, so you have another way to score and win the game."


This needs to sink in. You are introducing what is in essence, another game, within the game and some of your players will look like an iPhone 4 trying work with the latest iOS when they hear this. Be patient.


People have been buying huts, so show off some of the sand coloured multiplier cards for hut building and how they work in giving bonus points at the end of the game. This will work as they already have huts and they love the idea of free points for things they have already done.


Now show some other sand coloured ones for tool multipliers, farming multipliers and meeple multipliers. Target players who have invested in farming, tools, etc. already and explain how this card benefits them if they collect them.


Show the top of the cards and the immediate benefits they can get, rolling for free stuff, free gold, stone, dealers choice, etc. Now show the pricing system and why its good to have some wood on hand.shake


"In addition to these trading cards, we have these green "Gifts of Civilisation" cards. There are two identical sets of 8 cards and they score massive bonus points if you manage to collect a lot of them. One card is only worth 1 point. But 2 cards is worth 4. 3 is worth 9. And so it goes. Look at your mat, you can get up to 64 points per set, 128 if you collected both sets!! Yes the cards have to be different to get the multiplier effect."


Sweet, sweet points


"Oh, and its ALWAYS worth grabbing the card that only costs 1 resource."



Shuffle the civ cards thoroughly and lay them out into the 4 trading post spaces.


"When a round is over and cards have been bought, remaining cards are moved to the right to fill the empty spots, so they get cheaper to buy the next round. All other empty spots on the left side are filled from the deck. When we don't have enough cards left to fill all four spaces, the game ends. Yes, if a pile of huts is empty OR there are not enough Civilisation cards, the game ends that round."


As an experienced player, you KNOW that civ cards are the key to winning, so bite your lip and encourage them to buy cards, even if they don't fully understand why they don't get to score immediately.


And that's it! Let me know if this guide helps you in introducing players to this great game!meeple

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Kristo Vaher
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I applaud you for the effort and it was a nice read (though I skipped over some parts), but you're overly complicating the game. You're making a tutorial of it, which it doesn't need to be since your players are not stupid

It also does not sound like you have used this script for yourself, as I've never had a situation where players don't realise that food is gotten just the same way as other resources. It is also a little silly to keep explanation of food separate, as it's a core resource needed for workers.

I've been able to explain the game in less than 10 minutes to complete beginners and the only thing that is a few degrees of separation too many away for players is the civilization cards and you are correct in keeping them apart for explanations at first.
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Ashley Riddell
Norway
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Slashdoctor wrote:
I applaud you for the effort and it was a nice read (though I skipped over some parts), but you're overly complicating the game. You're making a tutorial of it, which it doesn't need to be since your players are not stupid


You are adorable!

I congratulate you on your the quick explain time. I only speak from bitter experience that many new players capacity for stupid is as infinite as the stars. laugh

The players I introduce to the game don't know a meeple from a moose, so these chunks get them playing within 5 minutes and the concepts then progressively build on each other. I've tested this out on more than 12 different groups with great success.

Thnaks for you comments, always great with some feedback!
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Maarten D. de Jong
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ranash1995 wrote:
I congratulate you on your the quick explain time. I only speak from bitter experience that many new players capacity for stupid is as infinite as the stars. laugh

Which begs the question: are you sizing up your audience correctly? Do they want to learn and play this game, or is it you who thinks it would be a fun experience to play it with them?
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Garbage Person
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...and this concludes the lesson on "How to teach Stone Age to Neanderthals".

Good write up, but I've never found it necessary to subdivide the explanation into such tiny increments. If my players can't tell a meeple from a moose, I hold up a meeple and say "This is a meeple and not a moose." Most people understand this with only the occasional reminder.
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Just Another User
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Thumbs-up for the "Hasbro-impaired" description!
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Ashley Riddell
Norway
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cymric wrote:
ranash1995 wrote:
I congratulate you on your the quick explain time. I only speak from bitter experience that many new players capacity for stupid is as infinite as the stars. laugh

Which begs the question: are you sizing up your audience correctly? Do they want to learn and play this game, or is it you who thinks it would be a fun experience to play it with them?


The groups I teach are most often part of work conferences and retreats. We use Stone Age as a fun way to play around with real world concepts of resource management, project management and parallel decision making. It can be a dry topic, so the game brings it all to life whilst being entertaining at the same time.

Most of these folks have never seen anything more complex than Monopoly and have no idea what a modern boardgame can be like. Yes, there are reluctant players, but I am proud to say that this recipe has worked every time and I always get asked where they can buy it. ZMAN and Rio Grande owe me some serious gold.

The whole bite sized chunk training principle is a staple of work based education. It just happened to translate well for teaching Stone Age. Again, I am just offering this as a guaranteed recipe for success, no matter what your audience. Of course there are lots of other ways to teach it, so I would be interested in hearing from everyone who has trained new players who have not come across modern games and their experiences.
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Dave Rathbun
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Well I like it, thanks. cool We have the game sitting on our shelf at home and haven't broken it out yet. Some of our recent attempts have gone well, some we get a bit overwhelmed (I'm looking at you, Dead of Winter) and realize later how many rules we messed up! I suspect your tips will come in handy.
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Gilbert Quinonez
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Love this.

It's very similar to how I teach Stone Age to non-gamers (people who haven't played anything more complex than Monopoly/Yahtzee, etc.)

I hadn't thought of not teaching the civ cards right away, may have to try that.

Intentionally putting the special huts near the bottom is a great idea, I agree those always confuse non-gamers (they never see the power of the 1-7 hut if they're sitting on a lot of stone or gold).

I've found that new players (the non-gamer variety) always either over- or under-emphasize food, and never see the value of civ cards right away.

And do agree that when non-gamers are taught this game, they love it and also ask me where to buy it.

Thanks for sharing.
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Ashley Riddell
Norway
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drathbun wrote:
Well I like it, thanks. cool We have the game sitting on our shelf at home and haven't broken it out yet. Some of our recent attempts have gone well, some we get a bit overwhelmed (I'm looking at you, Dead of Winter) and realize later how many rules we messed up! I suspect your tips will come in handy.


Very kind of you to say so!
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Ashley Riddell
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ligtreb wrote:
Love this.

It's very similar to how I teach Stone Age to non-gamers (people who haven't played anything more complex than Monopoly/Yahtzee, etc.)

I hadn't thought of not teaching the civ cards right away, may have to try that.

Intentionally putting the special huts near the bottom is a great idea, I agree those always confuse non-gamers (they never see the power of the 1-7 hut if they're sitting on a lot of stone or gold).

I've found that new players (the non-gamer variety) always either over- or under-emphasize food, and never see the value of civ cards right away.

And do agree that when non-gamers are taught this game, they love it and also ask me where to buy it.

Thanks for sharing.


Many thanks for your comment! We in the adult-learning biz know that it's all about how you present something complex in a digestable way that determines success or failure. Gamers are generally smarter than the average bear, so pitching at a pretty low level in small increments is never a bad idea for a non gamer crowd.

I have been sneaking the "?" huts to the bottom in my own games recently just to give the last few rounds a more cutthroat edge. whistle Lots of fun and grief!

Keep spreading the word about this underappreciated game!
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Richard Gough
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ligtreb wrote:
people who haven't played anything more complex than Monopoly


Monopoly is actually a really complex game with lots of fiddly rules (buy my mortgaged property anyone?). People just think it is simple because most people don't play all the rules correctly and add in rules they have made up themselves but mainly because everyone knows the rules from birth.

Anyway, stone age is way simpler than Monopoly. If an adult cannot concentrate for a 10 minute rule explanation then I don't think they are ever going to enjoy Eurogames. (Start them on something very, very simple and build up.) With a young child I would probably dumb down the entire game and add bits in later when they are ready (like playing Carcassonne with no farmers). For a really simple game food, civ cards, room at the resource spaces, family growth, farming and tools could all be removed and steadily added back in.
 
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Liallan G
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Han Shot First wrote:
ligtreb wrote:
people who haven't played anything more complex than Monopoly


Monopoly is actually a really complex game with lots of fiddly rules (buy my mortgaged property anyone?). People just think it is simple because most people don't play all the rules correctly and add in rules they have made up themselves but mainly because everyone knows the rules from birth.

Yes, but if people aren't playing all the rules correctly and therefore think it's over-simple, then they still think it's over-simple all the same. It doesn't matter why they think that.

However, I've never had any trouble getting people to understand Stone Age and haven't had to rip it apart like this, even to people fairly new to games. Questions get asked during game play because people don't remember everything, but that's a good opportunity to reiterate rules along the way.
 
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