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T. Rosen
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Teaching a board game is partly an art and partly a science. It cannot be precisely explained or routinized, but it can be analyzed and discussed to some extent. While your method of teaching always needs to remain adaptable to the circumstances, the game, and the pupils, there is a basic framework that can be (and should be, in my humble opinion) applied across the board. I don't consider myself good at very many things, but teaching board games is something I seem to have a knack for. It comes with a lot of practice and even more patience. What follows is a list of ten steps that I recommend trying next time you set out to teach a board game. These may not work for every teacher or every game group, but I've tried them out with all sorts of games and all sorts of people, and they work for me. In developing this skill, you should keep in mind that it's one of those things that will go unnoticed if done well, but will quickly call attention to itself if done poorly. A well taught game is a smooth experience that integrates the new players into the game as seamlessly and painlessly as possible without them giving a second thought to the fact that they're having to learn and memorize a plethora of new rules. Here are the steps that I consider essential to teaching board games well, and some words of warning about potential pitfalls that I've seen others fall into on occasion.

Step One: Read the rules. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people try to teach a game without having previously read the rules, instead just reading them for the first time as they go. So I'll say it again, read the rules slowly and carefully. Better yet, read the rules with all of the components on the table in front of you. Set out the board, set out all of the pieces, and get familiar with everything that comes in that box. When you get to a section in the rules that is in bold, underlined, or italics, re-read that section a few times and try to internalize it. Do the same thing for exceptions from the rules. You should also do this for both setup instructions and ending conditions to make sure you fully understand the endpoints of the game. Having a good grasp for the beginning and end of the game and its scope will be important later in the process, so it's good to get a handle on it early on.

Step Two: Play a practice game by yourself (or at the very least a few turns). While most people do at least bother to read the rules before trying to teach a game, very few actually take the time to see how those rules work together in practice. Simulating at least a few turns, if not an entire game, will go a long way towards helping you internalize the rules and more importantly understand the flow of the game. It will also help you understand exactly what all of the components are used for. Most eurogames are broken up into a number of turns or rounds, which are further subdivided into a number of phases, and it is very difficult to grasp how all of those layers fit together without going through the motions. So do yourself and your game group a favor and set out the board, set out the pieces of a few imaginary players, and play through at least the first few turns. Have each of the imaginary players try out different approaches in order to test your understanding of the game, the rules, and the options available. This step obviously works much better with some games than with others. It's not as useful with auction or blind bidding games, but you'd be surprised how many games it actually does work for. It's an exceedingly useful and frequently overlooked step in the process.

Step Three: Skim back over the rules. The first reading is a close and slow reading to gain all of the necessary information, whereas this second reading is a quick skim to make sure you didn't play anything incorrectly in your practice game. You should focus on the setup, the breakdown of the rounds/phases, the actions available on a turn, and the ending conditions to make sure that you didn't miss anything important. You'll frequently find at least one or two things that you had slightly off or had forgotten altogether. A great game can easily be ruined by getting a single rule wrong, which often makes the game end far too quickly or drag on for far too long or make one strategy overpowered, so this step plays an important role in preventing that from happening. You may still miss a thing or two, but you'll greatly reduce your error rate by giving the rules one more quick skim.

Step Four: Know your audience (and try to continuously gauge their reactions and understanding over the course of teaching the game). Don't teach the rules with your eyes and ears closed, but rather make sure to pay attention to the clues that your pupils give you as to their understanding or confusion while you are teaching, whether those clues be facial expressions or verbal remarks. You should know whether your pupils are nodding their heads in agreement as you wind your way through the rules or giving you confused and perplexed stares. You need to tailor your approach to your audience, which is why this cannot be entirely boiled down to a science, but rather requires an artistic touch here and there to adapt to the circumstances at hand.

Step Five: Use the Funnel Approach. Start with the general and gradually move to the specific. Don't dive right in to the nitty-gritty. I've seen far too many eager people begin their explanations by diving right in to the actions that the players will be performing on their turn and the exceptions to the rules if particular circumstances arise during the game. These explainers need to take a step back and see for the forest for the trees. Don't get lost in the details before providing an overview. I try to begin my explanations with a brief sentence or two about the theme, no matter how pasted on the theme might be. You should then move to explaining the role that the players will be taking on during the game so that they have at least some understanding of their supposed motivation for why they're collecting tiles, playing cards, or whatever abstracted actions they might be doing. After you've briefly explained the theme and the role or motivation of the players, then you should explain the scope and structure of the game. Explaining the scope and structure is something that many people skip, but is particularly important before getting into the specifics. This varies from game to game, but generally means that you should explain the ark of the game, the timeline, and definitely the ending condition. Tell the players how many turns the game will last if it is a set number of turns (like 7 turns in Princes of Florence or 3 rounds in Ra), or tell them that you will keep playing until the bag of tiles is empty (like in Carcassonne, Tigris & Euphrates, New England, or Qwirkle), or whatever it is that will trigger the end of the game. This may seem slightly counterintuitive since they don't know how to play yet, but I guarantee that people sitting down to a new game will appreciate knowing the general timeline of the experience from the get-go. This will also help to put the turns and actions into context. Helping your pupils understand the context of the turns/rounds and their actions/decisions will go a long way towards making the rules easier to understand. People learning a new game need to be clearly told how the discrete pieces of the game fit together to make up the whole. Only after beginning with the theme, roles, scope, and overall structure, can you then move into the breakdown of the specific rounds, phases, and actions of the game.

Step Six: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Say important rules multiple times. Don't go through your entire explanation with a monotone voice. Emphasize the key portions of your explanation. You can use your voice to provide emphasis, but in addition, the easiest and most effective way to emphasize something is simply to repeat it. In particular, I have found that it is very worthwhile to repeat the key points of a particular phase before moving on to explaining the next phase of the game. You want to get through your explanation relatively quickly, but you still need to take enough time to make sure the rules sink in and your pupils understand the fundamental building blocks that make up the structure of the game.

Step Seven: Don't answer their questions. Your pupils will likely have a tendency to interrupt your explanation with questions along the way. You should not feel compelled to answer their questions at the time that they are asked. I've seen too many explainers fall into the trap of allowing themselves to be sidetracked by a seemingly harmless question that is asked at an inopportune time. Usually the answer actually just leads to more questions because you haven't reached the appropriate point in the explanation to discuss that particular issue yet. You need to learn to politely tell the person asking the question that you will get to that point in a moment. You should listen to the questions that arise and make sure to answer them in your explanation, but you should definitely not let the questions disrupt your flow. If the question happens to ask about something that you realize you should have already covered or if it is simply looking for clarification then you may want to answer it when it is asked, but you should decide that for yourself and you should dictate the order in which the rules are explained. More often than not, the question is simply jumping the gun on a point that you were planning to get to at the appropriate time, and while it may seem tempting to answer it right away, it is frequently counter-productive.

Step Eight: Recap. Don't finish by slogging through all six phases and ending your explanation with a detailed discussion of the actions performed in phase six. Go back over the overall ark of the game. Remind the players what their role and motivation is, what the scope or timeline of the game is, and give them a quick rundown of how many rounds or phases there are and the name of each round/phase. You should start general with Step Five, then move to the specifics, but then move back to the general. You want your pupils to understand the context for their actions and not just the minutia of the actions themselves. If they understand why they're doing something and how their actions and decisions fit into the greater scheme of the game then it will be easier for them to remember the rules. You should also make sure to recap the various ways that the players score points or how the results will be calculated at the end of the game. There are usually a few different ways to gain victory points, or prestige, or fame, or money, or whatever it is you're competing for, and it is very helpful to end your recap by giving the players an oral bullet point list of the different ways to increase their score.

Step Nine: Finally time for the player aids. Contrary to many people's preferences, this is actually the point in the explanation where I like to hand out any player aids that may have come with the game. I know that most players want to get their paws on that player aid first thing, but I've found that they'll then be distracted from listening to the beginning of your explanation because they'll be reading the player aid. While people can read and listen at the same time, doing both simultaneously will make the words they’re reading and the words they’re hearing sink in less, so by the end, they’ll be getting less out of both your explanation and the player aid. I think it works much better to go through the oral explanation first and then distribute the player aids (such as the placards in Imperial or Tikal), pointing out how the player aid nicely summarizes everything you’ve just told them. For this to work, it's generally best to keep the player aids in the box (and not on the table) until you're ready to hand them out.

Step Ten: Your job doesn't end when the game begins. You don't have the luxury of playing the game just like everyone else. You need to remain watchful and attentive to what the other players are doing in order to make sure that they fully understand the rules. This doesn't necessarily entail giving strategy advice since the group you're playing with may not want that (or you may not have enough experience with the game to actually give substantive strategy advice), but rather this means reminding players what their options are on their turn. If an action that another player takes doesn't make sense to you, then you should ask them why they chose to do that in order to make sure that they're not doing something that seems strange to you because they are misunderstanding the rules. You should also make sure to remind your pupils when the end of the game is approaching because they don't want to be surprised. If you've just finished round 5 out of 7 or if the tile bag is approximately two-thirds empty, then point this out to your fellow players. Remind them at various points throughout the game how much of the game is left.

These ten simple steps will go a long way towards making the process of teaching a board game go much more smoothly. I've managed to teach such behemoths as Die Macher and Antiquity using this method, and it works across from the spectrum from the simplest to the most complex board games. There are many pitfalls to avoid and a few somewhat counterintuitive steps to try, but with a lot of practice and even more patience, you are sure to make significant strides toward becoming a better board game teacher.
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Dave Eisen
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I agree and strong advice. Only one I don't adhere to is the "Don't answer their questions" rule. I don't think it helps the teaching process if someone is frustrated because they have unanswered questions that they think are important that might or might not be.

Naturally, sometimes you cannot answer because they are getting well ahead of themselves in a way that will confuse, but generally I do answer questions.
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Kent Reuber
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Thommy8 wrote:
Step Six: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Say important rules multiple times. Don't go through your entire explanation with a monotone voice. Emphasize the key portions of your explanation. You can use your voice to provide emphasis, but in addition, the easiest and most effective way to emphasize something is simply to repeat it. In particular, I have found that it is very worthwhile to repeat the key points of a particular phase before moving on to explaining the next phase of the game. You want to get through your explanation relatively quickly, but you still need to take enough time to make sure the rules sink in and your pupils understand the fundamental building blocks that make up the structure of the game.


Rather than repeating, I think it's much better to make cheat sheets with all the important decisions in the game, for example, what you can do during a turn. In the middle of the game people are likely to forget and it's helpful to have a written reminder. It's a game, so people may not want to ask a question in the middle of the game, as it might reveal a strategy.

My views on cheat sheets: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/13502
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Alan Pengelly
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Good advice, though I also have to agree with the other responders, in that deciding to answer a question or tell the questioner to wait depends on the appropriateness/timing of the question.

I also try and make very simplified player aids describing the game flow/stages, which I expect to be discarded as new players pick up the game, though on occasion they have been retained as memory aids.
 
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Choubi Gogs
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Thommy8 wrote:
Step Five: Use the Funnel Approach.


I always do as you say, except for questions, I answer them sometimes, some other times I just tell them that I'll cover this later on.

But the funnel approach is very important to me. The problem is when I explain a game to newbies and that there are also several who already know the game.
I had a friend who kept going to the little intricacies while I was talking general.

For example in Puerto Rico:
Me:"So when you pick mayor, every one can move their colons around, but NEVER in other phases"
Friend: "except when you have the (i dont remember the building's name) when you can do it anytime or with the university that can bring you colons too..."

Every time I try to explain how a role works basically, he starts telling the exceptions due to buildings...
It just messes them up.
I find that I would like them to know that the rules are ow the roles go and each building brings an exception which I certainly do NOT point out during that first explaining of roles...
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Dave Eisen
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Many games have special power cards or the equivalent. I always:

(1) indicate early on that there are special power cards that might break various rules.
(2) teach the game as though no cards are involved.
(3) give details of the few special power cards a beginner needs to know about to play moderately effectively
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Bryan Maxwell
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I've taught a fair amount of games and I've played at quite a few demo tables, so I've seen the things you list in action. I generally try to run things in the way you have written up here.

One roadblock I often have is an experienced player the table piping up with extra details/exceptions to the rules. This only serves to confuse new players more often than not.

We played in a demo at Gen Con last year, it was for Leonardo DiVinci. The person running the table went through a laundry list of rules and options, and we were kind of confused to start with. When he left us to play on our own, we looked at each other and said "Ok.....does anyone know how to win this game?"
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Dave Eisen
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I have no problem sending away experienced players during the teaching phase if need be. One must be tough.
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Linda Baldwin
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Very, very excellent summary. I try to do most of those, although I admit I hadn't thought of the player aids as a distraction. I have to admit you're right; I get distracted myself. ("Oh look, it says I can trade this thing for that doodad ... what did he say?") I sent this post straight to the printer as a "teacher aid"; sometimes I forget stuff in the heat of the moment.

I tend to agree more often than not about the questions. Sometimes, as the OP mentioned, you forgot something, or it's the right time to bring it up anyway. The other times, I either say "I'll get to that", or (and this seems to be better received) give a one word answer -- "yes", "no", or "sometimes" -- and then keep going.

Anybody got a solution for the "helpful experienced player" problem? (Gosh, I'm sure I'VE been that player on occasion.)

(Edited for clarity)
 
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Jeff Binning
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Quote:
Anybody got a solution for the "helpful experienced player" problem? (Gosh, I'm sure I'VE been that player on occasion.)


I'm the game teacher for our group, and I have a couple friends who try to "help" explain the game. Usually it's some kind of description of their pet strategy, and I gently guide them to the kitchen to take a snack break until I'm finished getting the new people up to speed.

Because it's usually my closest friend who does this, I can joke with him, and tell him to go pour himself a cup of "shut the f*** up." He laughs, and gets the message.

Great points listed here. I use them all. Make sure all players understand the goal of the game, the victory conditions, but also emphasize that they shouldn't worry about winning or losing that first game. Just focus on learning the basics.
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Oliver Macdonald
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Excellent post but one very important thing to explain early on is how you win. To often this is left to the end but is necessary to put everything else in perspective.
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Linda Baldwin
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Absolutely. I can remember many times being taught a game where I was concentrating on the first couple of turns to remember the mechanics, and suddenly realizing I had no idea what the point of anything was, as I had no idea how to win. (Or perhaps just had no idea what anything was "worth" in scoring.)

It's something a lot of people forget, or leave til the end, but it's vital to mention it from the beginning, as it puts everything else in context. The game mechanics stick much, much better if they're learned as ways to get what you need to win, rather than a collection of random instructions for "how to play".

Also, kudos to the OP for emphasizing another oft-neglected bit, WHEN the game ends, including warning the players when it's approaching. There's nothing more depressing than the feeling that you're finally "getting" the game, and setting yourself up for the next turn, only to find there isn't one.
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T. Rosen
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Thanks for the feedback everyone!

dkeisen wrote:
I agree and strong advice. Only one I don't adhere to is the "Don't answer their questions" rule. I don't think it helps the teaching process if someone is frustrated because they have unanswered questions that they think are important that might or might not be.
Naturally, sometimes you cannot answer because they are getting well ahead of themselves in a way that will confuse, but generally I do answer questions.


Dave, I agree that sometimes it's best to answer the question. The bold text for Step 7 isn't meant to be a hard-and-fast rule because you should answer the question if you realize it's something you missed or if it's just a minor clarification point. My real point there is just that as the game explainer you should dictate the order in which information is given, and not let the questions dictate that flow. You make a good point though, which is that you don't want to sound dismissive when declining to answer a question. If someone wants to try this approach of politely saying you'll get to that point later, then you want to make sure that your audience isn't frustrated, but rather that they understand that you'll get to their question at the appropriate time. It's a bit tricky, but if you're teaching the same group over and over again then they should get comfortable with trusting that you'll get to things in due course generally, with the occasionaly slip-up or oversight of course. It's actually gotten to the point where I've had people cut themselves off mid-question now when they realize that it's definitely something that I'll get to later.

kentreuber wrote:
Rather than repeating, I think it's much better to make cheat sheets with all the important decisions in the game, for example, what you can do during a turn. In the middle of the game people are likely to forget and it's helpful to have a written reminder. It's a game, so people may not want to ask a question in the middle of the game, as it might reveal a strategy.
My views on cheat sheets: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/13502


That's an interesting idea Kent. I hadn't thought of making cheat sheets. If only every game had a good player aid then I wouldn't even have to, but you're right that many games are lacking that and a little written summary of the rules and options would be nice. I still think though that it's worth repeating the key rules. For instance, after I get through explaining 4 out of 7 phases in a game, I'll quickly run back through those 4 phases, just saying something like, "so first we'll do a, then we'll do b, then we'll move to c, and followed by d, and after all that, we'll get to this next phase 5." It's usually a lot of information to process, and at least my brain gets things better through a bit of repetition. Then again, it's a tricky balancing act since too much repetition will just bore them.

Planar wrote:
Good advice, though I also have to agree with the other responders, in that deciding to answer a question or tell the questioner to wait depends on the appropriateness/timing of the question.


Definitely, I completely agree that you have to make a quick evaluation of the appropriateness/timing of the question before deciding whether to answer it right then or ask them to wait.
 
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T. Rosen
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Choubi wrote:

I always do as you say, except for questions, I answer them sometimes, some other times I just tell them that I'll cover this later on.
But the funnel approach is very important to me. The problem is when I explain a game to newbies and that there are also several who already know the game.
I had a friend who kept going to the little intricacies while I was talking general.
For example in Puerto Rico:
Me:"So when you pick mayor, every one can move their colons around, but NEVER in other phases"
Friend: "except when you have the (i dont remember the building's name) when you can do it anytime or with the university that can bring you colons too..."
Every time I try to explain how a role works basically, he starts telling the exceptions due to buildings...
It just messes them up.
I find that I would like them to know that the rules are ow the roles go and each building brings an exception which I certainly do NOT point out during that first explaining of roles...


Yup, I also answer the questions sometimes and other times just tell that I'll cover it later. There's definitely no clearcut rule that you can use since it should just be decided on a case-by-case basis.

That sounds like a very frustrating problem with Puerto Rico. I definitely agree with your approach of covering the basic of the roles first before describing any of the buildings. It would be an exceedingly difficult game to learn if you interspersed all the numerous exceptions into the explanation. I haven't had much of a problem with an experienced player causing those sorts of problems, although I can see where problems would arise from multiple teachers trying to teach simultaneously. Too many cooks and all that.

dkeisen wrote:
Many games have special power cards or the equivalent. I always:
(1) indicate early on that there are special power cards that might break various rules.
(2) teach the game as though no cards are involved.
(3) give details of the few special power cards a beginner needs to know about to play moderately effectively


That makes perfect sense. Indicating that there are special cards/tiles that break various rules, but teaching the game as if those cards didn't exist, may seem counterintuitive to some, but seems from my experience to make for the smoothest and easiest learning experience.

Mr_Nuts wrote:
I've taught a fair amount of games and I've played at quite a few demo tables, so I've seen the things you list in action. I generally try to run things in the way you have written up here.
One roadblock I often have is an experienced player the table piping up with extra details/exceptions to the rules. This only serves to confuse new players more often than not.
We played in a demo at Gen Con last year, it was for Leonardo DiVinci. The person running the table went through a laundry list of rules and options, and we were kind of confused to start with. When he left us to play on our own, we looked at each other and said "Ok.....does anyone know how to win this game?"


Hmm, I haven't been to a convention yet, so I haven't had the pleasure or pain of teaching strangers and having an experienced one interfere. That would be frustrating I imagine, but if that were to happen, I guess I'd probably just let him or her become the explainer, and fade out of the teaching role for that game if it's clear that they know what they're doing and would rather be explaining the game.

dkeisen wrote:
I have no problem sending away experienced players during the teaching phase if need be. One must be tough.


That's another possibile approach
 
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Eric Brosius
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Carmilla wrote:
Absolutely. I can remember many times being taught a game where I was concentrating on the first couple of turns to remember the mechanics, and suddenly realizing I had no idea what the point of anything was, as I had no idea how to win. (Or perhaps just had no idea what anything was "worth" in scoring.)

It's something a lot of people forget, or leave til the end, but it's vital to mention it from the beginning, as it puts everything else in context. The game mechanics stick much, much better if they're learned as ways to get what you need to win, rather than a collection of random instructions for "how to play".


This is good advice. Sometimes your description of how to win will be extremely vague. For example, I've found that trying to teach the details of the victory conditions in Agricola distracts people, so I start by saying "In this game you're trying to build up the best farm. I'll explain later exactly how we'll determine which farm is best, but first I'll explain you you build your farm up." This seems to be enough to get people started. If it's their first game, I'll wait until the second or third turn to go through the victory conditions, since by then all the other rules are feeling a bit more familiar.
 
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dkeisen wrote:
I agree and strong advice. Only one I don't adhere to is the "Don't answer their questions" rule. I don't think it helps the teaching process if someone is frustrated because they have unanswered questions that they think are important that might or might not be.


My all-purpose answer is "I'll get to that." Then, when I get to that part of the explanation, I'll say something like "now, here's the answer to Larry's question earlier." This closes the loop. Of course, I may forget to answer one of those questions, so at the end I ask "did anyone have a question that I forgot to answer?"
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T. Rosen
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Carmilla wrote:
Very, very excellent summary. I try to do most of those, although I admit I hadn't thought of the player aids as a distraction. I have to admit you're right; I get distracted myself. ("Oh look, it says I can trade this thing for that doodad ... what did he say?") I sent this post straight to the printer as a "teacher aid"; sometimes I forget stuff in the heat of the moment.
I tend to agree more often than not about the questions. Sometimes, as the OP mentioned, you forgot something, or it's the right time to bring it up anyway. The other times, I either say "I'll get to that", or (and this seems to be better received) give a one word answer -- "yes", "no", or "sometimes" -- and then keep going.
Anybody got a solution for the "helpful experienced player" problem? (Gosh, I'm sure I'VE been that player on occasion.)
(Edited for clarity)


Thank you Linda! The player aids idea (#9) is much easier said than done. In theory it sounds all well and good, but in practice there are definitely times when people are very eager to see the player aid and not much can be done to prevent that. I do think that it's probably worth pursuing though if you can get away with it since digesting information by both reading it and hearing it simultaneously is very tough, and resisting reading the player aid sitting in front of you is nigh on impossible. I suppose the best solution if they demand the player aids is to wait a few minutes to begin your explanation, letting them have a little time to read the player aids to their heart's content. Then they'll eventually get tired of that and be ready for you to explain the game. Only problem is this might increase the frequency of questions that get ahead of themselves perhaps. And yeah, I've probably also been that annoyingly "helpful experienced player" as well, guess we all have something to work on.

ideogram wrote:
I recently had the experience where a new player was asking a lot of distracting questions. It was clear she hadn't really grasped the basic concepts and was just asking whatever came into her head. I didn't really know how to deal with this; I probably should have tried to rein her in with the "let me get to that later" approach.

I also had this problem, another experienced player was derailing my intended line of explanation. At the time I was reluctant to assert control so we just kind of thrashed around. Next time I get into this situation I will try to establish at the outset that I am doing the explaining.

I agree that your job is not done once the game begins. You need to think of yourself as the Game Master and keep track of things like whose turn it is and what options they have. I find that I often slip into this role even with experienced players who may not be paying attention. It helps keep the game moving; you are like a computer program taking care of all the details in the background so that the players can concentrate on playing.


a) That's tough when a pupil doesn't grasp the basics but is asking lots of advanced questions. At that point, it might be best to start over, slow down the explanation, and make clear that you'll cover everything so there's no need for questions. But I've certainly had people just not "get" a game no matter how hard I tried, so it's never foolproof.

b) Either that you're doing the explaining or that they're doing the explaining would seem to work fine to me, but importantly only one of you is doing the explaining. Two teachers is definitely one too many in my book.

c) Yeah, thinking of yourself as a Game Master definitely works. You've got to facilitate the game, making it tick, just like you said. I've seen otherwise great teachers fall flat when it comes to this final Step 10 because they begin to just play the game for themselves and think that they're job as teacher is over.
 
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Eric Brosius
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Carmilla wrote:
Also, kudos to the OP for emphasizing another oft-neglected bit, WHEN the game ends, including warning the players when it's approaching.


In a few cases the ending conditions are extremely hard for brand-new players to understand. The example that stands out for me is Power Grid, one of my favorite games. I do explain how it ends (quickly) while I'm teaching the game, but I stop as soon as we hit Phase 2 and explain it again in a more detailed way, with examples. The first few times I taught Power Grid I found that people hadn't really understood the game ending condition. I tried to be clearer, and it failed. Finally I moved to this alternate approach.

I was not too surprised when I played in a heat of Power Grid at WBC this year and one player was surprised about how the game ended. Of course, no one had taught the game before the heat began, as we assumed everyone knew the rules. It's just that this person's home group had been getting the rule wrong.
 
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T. Rosen
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Colorado_Jeff wrote:
Great points listed here. I use them all. Make sure all players understand the goal of the game, the victory conditions, but also emphasize that they shouldn't worry about winning or losing that first game. Just focus on learning the basics.


Maccheek wrote:
Excellent post but one very important thing to explain early on is how you win. To often this is left to the end but is necessary to put everything else in perspective.


Carmilla wrote:
Absolutely. I can remember many times being taught a game where I was concentrating on the first couple of turns to remember the mechanics, and suddenly realizing I had no idea what the point of anything was, as I had no idea how to win. (Or perhaps just had no idea what anything was "worth" in scoring.)

It's something a lot of people forget, or leave til the end, but it's vital to mention it from the beginning, as it puts everything else in context. The game mechanics stick much, much better if they're learned as ways to get what you need to win, rather than a collection of random instructions for "how to play".

Also, kudos to the OP for emphasizing another oft-neglected bit, WHEN the game ends, including warning the players when it's approaching. There's nothing more depressing than the feeling that you're finally "getting" the game, and setting yourself up for the next turn, only to find there isn't one.


Eric Brosius wrote:
This is good advice. Sometimes your description of how to win will be extremely vague. For example, I've found that trying to teach the details of the victory conditions in Agricola distracts people, so I start by saying "In this game you're trying to build up the best farm. I'll explain later exactly how we'll determine which farm is best, but first I'll explain you you build your farm up." This seems to be enough to get people started. If it's their first game, I'll wait until the second or third turn to go through the victory conditions, since by then all the other rules are feeling a bit more familiar.


These are excellent points made by Jeff, Oliver, Linda, and Eric. I'm actually thinking about going back and editing my article to emphasize this idea more. It's definitely a concept that I take to heart when teaching a game, but seems to have been glossed over in my write-up. I agree that you want to make the goal of the game very clear early on. For example, if there are 3 different ways to score victory points then tick them off, 1-2-3, and if one of those is the main way to score points then say that too. Of course the explanation of the "way to win" is tricky when it's preceding the rules explanation since you have to explain in more layman's terms than the actual game's terminology, which is why Eric's idea for Agricola is perfect. Telling people that they want to build up the best farm makes sense to me, although I go slightly further by saying that generally speaking the farm can grow in three ways: (1) expand house/family, (2) build pasture/raise animals, and (3) plow fields/plant crops. The detailed scoring for Agricola is definitely too convoluted to bombard them with early on, so this is certainly a case where I try to follow Step 9 and keep those player aid cards hidden until after the explanation is over. One game where I've taken to especially following your guys' advice is Reef Encounter where I think it might actually be best to work backwards in a way, by saying that you'll be trying to get tiles into your parrotfish, and then dumping some random tiles in there, and showing them how that would score, via the multiplying scoring mechanic. Then work backwards to explain how the tiles got in there and how the multipliers were determined. So yeah, my ideas above are definitely not set in stone and need to be adapted for every game. But explaining how the winner is determined at the outset is pretty much always crucial as you all noted.
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Wim Leenaerts
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Being a teacher and all I think I can safely say that explaining things is one of my 'knacks' too. And I totally recognise my own approach in your 10 steps! Especially the funnel approach and repeating the basic structure is very important, these are also two of the basic teaching methods when teaching a class of 12-year olds how the human body works for example.

And indeed: it's very important to mention the winning conditions. I remember that when I visited the local gaming club most of the times I would listen to the rules explanation and at the end (also during) wondering why the hell I would want to ship those little cubes in Puerto Rico or why I would want to build cities in Catan. When I explain a game the goal of the game (winning conditions) comes right after Step 1 (explaining the theme).

Good job!
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