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Subject: The science of game explanation.. rss

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Toasted Jones
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Are you the person who teaches games to your group or family?

Are you the person who sits patiently through a number of sessions waiting for the penny to drop?

Are you the person that purchases a new game and knows it will take several weeks before the first true session can be played?

If so, how good is it when you sit down to a table with a group of people who all know the game? It's like a breath of fresh air isn't it?

As someone who's recently re-kindled the spark for board gaming, I'm introducing this great hobby to family and friends. It's been going well, but I do find myself the game narrator and have found there is a learning curve to this as much as learning the game rules.

Does anyone have any tips, techniques or experiences they would like to share that could improve my game explaining skills and help turn fresh faced newbies into eager, capable opponents?




Edit:


The response to this thread is providing great tips and links. I'll collate the links here:

Game Teaching article

http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/TeachingRules.shtml

Thread

http://boardgamegeek.com/article/1293953#1293953

Geek List 1

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/13502

Geek List 2

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/19198

Thanks to all!
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Mike Lee
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Good post - I agree that there is definitely a skill in teaching people how to play a game.

As with all teaching, it is important to understand your audience and put yourself in their shoes.

Generally, I use the following steps:

1. Broad overview of the game, the theme, the objective, and what the basic strategy is
2. Explain the game board and the components
3. Explain each step of the game but use examples of game play
4. Play a sample game
5. As you play the first game, it is important NOT to be trying to win... Instead, you make it your focus to explain to the others what you are thinking behind every move. On their turn make lots of constructive suggestions for good moves. This way, they will "get" the game a bit sooner and we all know that a game is only truly enjoyable after you "get" it.
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Steve K
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Mario Lanza wrote a great article about this a few years back:

http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/TeachingRules.shtml
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Joe Grundy
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MikeyMike79 wrote:
On their turn make lots of constructive suggestions for good moves. This way, they will "get" the game a bit sooner and we all know that a game is only truly enjoyable after you "get" it.
But don't forget to stop once they "get" it!
blush
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Michelle Zentis
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Game 'splanation takes a lot of hard work. I'm working on improving, partly because I'm often the one to explain new games to our group and partly because it drives me crazy to do something incompetently. My main suggestion is to read the rules carefully and then pull out the game and do a trial run of your explanation. This can point out gaps in your understanding of the rules and help you spot a game that's particularly tricky to teach.

Some games are best taught in the order laid out in the rulebook, but some games benefit from a more creative sequence. Sometimes it's best to start with scoring and work backwards from there. It all depends on the game and your audience.

You can also check out videos like Boardgames with Scott. He's taken a lot of complex games and given clear and relatively concise explanations of them. Good luck!
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Mark Casiglio
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As simple or obvious as it sounds, start with the objective to the game.

Puerto Rico is a Victory Point based game. You win by earning the most victory points.

Then with a very broad brush explain how you achieve that objective.

There are two ways to earn victory points; by shipping goods and by placing buildings.

Then expand from that point onward in a logical method. I'll never forget the time I had to watch in horror as a game explainer started teaching Settlers of Catan by picking up the development cards and explaining them. No mention of resources or cities or towns or even victory points ...
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Jim Paprocki
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I always start with the objective or how to win. Then I explain how to achieve the objective within the rules. If I have played the game before I make sure to comment on how each possible action can help achieve the victory condition; it seems to help the players understand the "why" of the choices.

For instance...

1. You win by getting the most points
2. You can get ponts in 3 ways - A, B and C
3. Doing A gets you x points
4. Doing B gets you y points
5. Doing C gets you z points
6. Game Flow
7. Rules and player actions - with frequent references to how each action ties back to A, B or C.

Start at a high level and gradually move into the details. Do not jump right into the details without setting up the more general context. This is my biggest pet peeve when people explain rules to me.

Also, read your audience (or just ask!) -
1. Can the theme help with the rules or do the players not care about theme?
2. Are you playing a competitive first game (more details) or a friendly learning first game.
3. Do the players prefer long detailed explanations, or do they prefer to "jump right in" and pick it up on the fly.
(In my experience, 2 & 3 are not the same thing.)

That's my style; I hope it helps! meeplemeeplemeeplemeeple
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jbrier
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wow Jim Paprocki that is the coolest avatar I have ever seen.
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Kent Reuber
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I write summary sheets for most new games that I'm introducing to a game group. By getting the game summary down on paper, I've found I'm much more likely to run the game correctly the first time and not forget some of the little rules that some games have. To date, I've done about 40 of them and uploaded them to BGG:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/13502
 
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The Ten Essential Characteristics of a Quality Game Instruct
Don't forget to read this excellent geeklist: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/19198 .
 
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Eric Jome
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Csigs wrote:
There are two ways to earn victory points; by shipping goods and by placing buildings.

Well, technically there are three. Shipping, points for building buildings, and bonus points for the large buildings.

1) Tell people what the object of the game is. If the game is about scoring points, explain what earns points.

2) Explain when the game will end. If there are scoring rounds or major phases, it's good to mention them.

3) Give a general explanation of what a player does on their turn. "First you draw a card, then you play a card" "Take a role, everyone does the action, then the next player goes".

4) Begin playing. After a few rounds, ask if everyone would like to keep going or start over.

That's it. I've taught thousands of people every kind of game you can think of, demoing at major conventions, workin' it at the FLGS, and just sitting around the dining room table. You have to focus on keeping it very short and very direct. Each step above should probably be shorter than this paragraph.

Don't bother talking about special cases or exceptions or intricate phases. This is a game. Play it for fun, right from the start. No one needs to be an expert the first time they play. Get them into the action, help them through, and when they feel like they've got it play away.

This "learn as you play" method is the most fun for the most people in my experience. Non-gamers like to get to the action. Gamers like to grow their understanding of the game on their own.
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A Derk appears from the mists...
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One of the most common mistakes I see is people explaining the 'cool' part of the game first, which is usually the most complex part. For instance, when explaining Tichu, I will tend to skip bombs and wishing (the most compex rules) until after I play a hand or two.

Also, it's very important to NOT give strategy tips during the rules explanation (unless they're advanced rules listeners). Generally speaking, people can't differentiate 'tween rules and tips...
 
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Chris Tannhauser
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1. What it is we're up to (theme/experience).
In this game we're all ninjas with frickin' lasers for eyes trying to burn the panties off of nubile sorority girls.

2. Game end & victory conditions.
The game ends when the last sorority girl expends her groin-kick token; the ninja with the most panties and least groin-kick tokens wins.

3. Game flow.
The player with the comliest t-back starts. Turn order is clockwise in the first round; later rounds go in groin-kick token order from least to most.

4. Choices on your turn.
Choose two:
1) Move one space horizontally or vertically.
2) Look at a sorority girl (and opt for panty-burn).
3) Cover your groin.


5. Any special conditions/exceptions.
a) At the end of your turn, all sorority girls in your space will attempt to give you one groin-kick token. You deny one token for each time you covered your groin.
b) You may skip your turn and go fetal to discard one groin-kick token.
c) At the end of each round we check for most groin-kick tokens. Whoever has the most goes to the hospital for a chi transplant.


6. Game on!

And most importantly: If you are ever caught between playing the game correctly or having fun, go for the fun. Nothing's worse than constant 'rules heckling' all game long. If everyone has a good time, they'll want to play it again; you can fix the mistakes later. If no fun is had, it may never hit the table again...
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Mark Casiglio
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cosine wrote:
Csigs wrote:
There are two ways to earn victory points; by shipping goods and by placing buildings.

Well, technically there are three. Shipping, points for building buildings, and bonus points for the large buildings.

LOL ... true. Bad example on my part then because I didn't provide the whole sample ... when I teach Puerto Rico I usually save that for the overview of the buildings (In addition to victory points, buildings also provide you with one of three things; more victory points, money or opportunities ...) etc.
 
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R.T. Sloan
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I prefer the Al Capone "Untouchables" approach to teaching rules.

When ever I need to teach I make sure that I have my baseball bat with me.

I myself prefer aluminum, but you might be a fan of wood. Either is fine. I hear that a cricket bat will also do in a pinch.

While going through the rules I make a point to walk around the outside of the table, gently swinging my bat whilst teaching.

Don't swing your bat too much, it's more of a subtle nuance kind of thing.

If at any point during the rules explanation process anyone either starts talking about something else, interrupts to say anything other than "yes I get it.", or just seems like they are not quite paying the proper amount of attention proceed to beat them to with in an inch of their life with the bat.

I guarantee that the next time you teach the rules to a game, your audience will be most receptive.
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Mark Casiglio
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HiveGod wrote:
1. What it is we're up to (theme/experience).
In this game we're all ninjas with frickin' lasers for eyes trying to burn the panties off of nubile sorority girls.
I'd buy this game ...lol.
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David Whitcher
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This is a good outline for a medium difficulty game. In more complex games that might otherwise take 30 or more minutes to explain it is often better to just cover what is needed to get started explaining the other rules as play progresses.


1. Cover the theme of the game if any. “You are all master architects trying to please the king by adding a wing to his summer castle.” If the rules are well tuned to the theme it actually will help players remember them.

2. The games goal. “You win by collecting the 5 ‘Happy’ tokens from the king”, other players may sabotage you with “frown tokens” that count against your score.

3. Explain key bits upfront if the game is complex otherwise get to them as they come up in step 4 or 5. “This is the Hackengraker it keeps track of how many workers each player has and how much they cost every turn to use them, You mark you workers with a…..”

4. Give a quick summary of the game progression. This is often can be skipped in simple games.

“ 1. Roll weather check.
2. Players take turns.
3. King doles out happy tokens.
4. Check to see if any player has won.
4. First player token advances.

5. Explain the players turn in the order it happens.

“ 1.) Recruit workers (Optional)
a.) Placing them on the Hackengracker
b.) Set wages.
2.) Play building cards (Optional)
3.) Attempt to sabotage other players (Optional)
4.) Draw building cards.”

6. Cover any special situations or strategies that are crucial to the game. Don’t try to make masters out of them. Learning and exploring the game is one of the reasons people play. Giving too many strategy tips is like telling how the movie ends; they want to see it for themselves.

7. Be available to answer question during the game.
 
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Carl Parsons
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Game explaining is a communication which requires two people to work properly. The game explainer can be the best in the world at explaining games but if the people he is explaining the rules to do not listen well then the communication fails.

I strive to be the best rules explainer I can be. It's difficult and the results are varied. But when I'm trying to teach to someone who is more interested in socializing, working out their strategy before the even know the rules or showing everyone how smart/funny they are then the result is almost always a disaster. It's ironic too how often that person will point the finger at me, as the rules explainer, as the source of why the game didn't go so well.

Luckily this is the exception rather than the rule because most gamers eagerly anticipate learning a new game and will give you their undivided attention.

Bottom line is that the listeners are just as important to a rules explanation as the explainer. They should listen politely and help make the rules explanation be as effective as possible.
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Dennis Ku
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I am infamously known as The Worst Game Explainer In the History of Board Gaming. I am capable of screwing up rules in complicated games, as well as the simplest. Unfortunately, I am one of only 2 people amongst my friends who has many games, so it falls on me to explain half the games.

It doesn't make it any easier when my friends, whom I've grown up with and known for nearly 20 years, like to crack jokes about my bad explanation skills DURING my teaching of the rules. Drives me nuts, but I know I deserve it!

However, I think it's great that I mess up the rules constantly. Why? Well...

(1) We get to play a variant right out of the gate. And usually, that means a variant never played before.

(2) It encourages my friends to ask questions after the game, like "Wait a minute - what the hell happened? This game is broken. Can I see the rules please?"

(3) The next time we play, it's often an entirely new game.

So there you go - I give more life to each game.
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Neil Carr
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jpact wrote:
1. You win by getting the most points
2. You can get ponts in 3 ways - A, B and C
3. Doing A gets you x points
4. Doing B gets you y points
5. Doing C gets you z points
6. Game Flow
7. Rules and player actions - with frequent references to how each action ties back to A, B or C.

I agree, that is exactly what I do and the players thank me for it.

Every once in awhile we get a new player in the group who brings in one of their games and begins to explain it, and to our horror either just fires off random game rules, or even worse, picks up the book and just starts to read it to us.

Normally I politely zone out and wait to see if I can intuit the game later, but I had to step in one time when it was Twilight Imperium that was getting explained. That would have been the 9th circle of rules explaining hell.
 
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Walt
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I'm often the teacher of new games for my group, especially since I usually take the new players in hand. While it's nice to be the person taught or to sit down with experienced players, I like teaching, too.

I find the best way to introduce new gamers is to start with simple, single-concept games. For examples, Diamant is just about pressing your luck; For Sale is just about auctions; Trans Europa is just about connecting cities. After playing a few different gateway games like these, new gamers have the confidence and the knowledge of gaming conventions to move to medium weight games which usually mix concepts (Ra is about press your luck, auctions, and set collection), and if they like, eventually they move to heavyweights. Don't expect everyone to do so.

When explaining games, the old rule from English composition is good: tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them. Introduction, explanation, summary.

One person should explain the rules. An occasionally interjection is ok, but if someone else starts explaining the game, ask if they want to teach the game--if they say yes, then be quiet and let them do it. If you don't think they can explain the game, then just shush them (politely, of course).

Another good rule is not to read the rule book. Everyone tends to drone while reading, which will lose your audience's attention. But, if it's a good rule book, you may want to use it as a guide for your talk to make sure you don't miss anything. (Like all the card types in Blue Moon City.)

Explaining a simple game like For Sale is far different than a complex game like Puerto Rico. For Sale you can pretty much explain in one shot.

For complex games like Puerto Rico, a good technique is "successive refinement"--each pass through the game explains more and refines the players' understanding of the game. First, explain the roles in very basic terms that show the economic flow of the game: settle plantations, build processing plants, get colonists to man your plantations and buildings, craft goods, trade for money, ship for VPs. Next, run through each role explaining the options and privileges: the person picking the Settler can take a quarry, then everyone else gets a plantation if they want one; the builder gets a discount etc. Next, run through all the special buildings, which modify the roles. Some things you can hold until they've played a round or two: the game end conditions and 10 doubloon buildings don't matter at the beginning of the game, and they'll see the doubloons going on the unused roles in the first round: more important is a little strategy and tactics so they don't make unrecoverable mistakes early in the game.

Even though Caylus is a complex game strategically, the basic mechanics are very simple: place workers, then sequence down the board. This is a game where, after a short overview of the game notations and special spaces, the fastest teaching technique may be to just play a couple rounds. If a game is highly sequenced, like Caylus or The Pillars of the Earth, follow the sequence unless it's very confusing.

Someone suggested not playing to win. I disagree. Gateway games are for building confidence. No one should expect to win their first play of a new game. While you don't want to hammer newbie mistakes or engage in heavy screwage, you do want to show them good strategy and tactics. They will be looking to the teacher for an example of how to play: if you play badly, they'll learn to play badly.
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james napoli
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Thread i created many moons ago with a listing of game explanation do's/don'ts

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1293953#1293953


I think a few keys are to get the components into players hands, dont worry about strategy at first and most importantly start with what the GOAL of the game is. All too often i hear a long long explanation and i have no idea what the goal is or how to achieve it. It's also key to explain how a turn works. That's the other big flaw, the game starts and people are like, OK now what do i do?

Lastly, be prepared, be very prepared. Nothing can spoil an explanation or a game than playing it wrong or long consultations with the rules.

GoodLuck!

Going to BGG.con last year, and only explaining like 2-3 games out of 30 was one the best 'vacations' i've had in a long time, what a luxury to be just sitting back and listening =D

-
James
 
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Randy Cox
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derk wrote:
Also, it's very important to NOT give strategy tips during the rules explanation (unless they're advanced rules listeners). Generally speaking, people can't differentiate 'tween rules and tips...
Personally, I don't like to give strategy tips EVER. Who am I to think I understand the subtlties and strategic impact of the game better than these newbies. I've seen far, far, far too many examples where I show the 'standard strategy' only to have someone wax me with their new and, to them, very obvious strategy they developed just after hearing the rules.

Unless you're playing with children, I say let the adults figure out their own methods. That's the fun of playing games. I'd hate to be told that the first five turns of Puerto Rico are scripted. I want to try my strategies myself to see what happens.
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David
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I think that a huge issue in the explanation of a game's rules is the audience's level of 'gaming' knowledge. I would definitely go over the rules to a game differently for my gaming group than I would if I was trying to get a group of non/new gamers involved.

I am in the middle of a situation such as this as my gaming group has moved on due to a career change I have gone through. I am hoping that I can get my wife involved somewhat in this great hobby and I have found that the insight of this thread to be a great help.

 
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Toasted Jones
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Thanks for some great advice and links. I've collated the links in the original post for easy access.
 
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