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Subject: Teaching games: keeping frustration at bay rss

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David C
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How do you keep people from being frustrated when teaching a game? What have you found causes frustration in introducing a game?


Here's my travails...
1.) You're in front of a smart, live audience that can and should ask questions. I tried to do my best video podcaster impersonation while teaching Thurn and Taxis. The problem is, I completely forgot that people weren't watching a podcast, and they had questions as I was teaching. They grasped it quickly, but, they needed me to SLOW DOWN and listen to them. So now I make sure I read the audience as I'm getting things like general mechanics, down.

2.) Knowing when/if the audience is open and receptive to learning a game. I was really trying hard to teach my wife Stone Age, knowing full-well that there wasn't any one mechanic that could explain all the huts, resources, civilization cards, harvesting, and points. Finally, she said, "you know, I'm just not in a mood to learn a game." ...and that's another point I need to recognize, is realize when people are just curious about a game, and when people really want to be open and receptive to learning a game. It's great at game nights, because most are open to learning a game. However, a Friday night at home after a long week is probably a good time to just have a friendly game of something you already know.

EDIT: I'm really glad she said that and she opted-out of learning it, because I knew I was in for a tough crowd when I heard, "SO...you want me to roll dice?"

3.) If this is their first time looking at this game and can't see all the available options...I print-out reference cards if there is ANY looking-up of stuff to do, in advance. THANKS BGG!!!

4.) If people are afraid of feeling like the only idiot who doesn't get this... Invite more idiots.

5.) You aren't going to get all the rules right the first game It's rough, because I think at times you have to get this right, or the game will suffer, but you can't possibly pick-up everything there is to learn on the first game. With Stone Age, we wondered why it took so long, when we realized that 4-players is not 2-players.
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Jason Gordon
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My wife and I taught my in-laws Thurn & Taxis last weekend. I think the number one thing for me to remember, is that the first game is going to go a lot slower while the new players figure out what they're supposed to do. It took us 2 hours to play that game (by far the longest Thurn & Taxis game I've ever played), but they were getting it pretty well by the end.
This was a success though, because they asked me to bring it back when we visit them again!
 
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David C
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6.) As much as you want to say it... I really try hard to keep the energy out of my system that would say, "what is there not to get?!" I had a linear algebra professor that assumed no one having any questions was a good thing, but we were so lost we couldn't get it.
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Roberta Taylor
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I have found that one thing which is helpful in teaching anything, but especially board games, is to try to identity the 'big picture' people and the 'fine detail' people. They will approach learning something new from opposite ends, and not knowing who is who leads to frustration.

As an example, my daughter was teaching Battleline to a friend, telling him how to win flags and how different card combinations worked, when he interuppted, asking "but what am I doing?" He wanted to know the overall goals first.

On the other hand, I usually learn a game by opening the box, getting out the rules, and following the directions step by step, confident that the overall goals and main strategies will reveal themselves as I go along. This is NOT how my husband prefers to learn- again, he is another big-picture person.
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Eric Jome
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bippi wrote:
How do you keep people from being frustrated when teaching a game? What have you found causes frustration in introducing a game?


Umm... a very noisy room?

I find teaching games fun and engaging. I like teaching games. I don't find it frustrating unless the environment or the people aren't conducive to teaching... so yeah, it needs to be quiet and people need to focus their attention on the game. Other than that, I can't think of much.

Quote:
1.) You're in front of a smart, live audience that can and should ask questions.


Ask people to hold questions until the explanation is over. Repeat that phrase every time they break the rule. When the explanation is over, call for questions and answer them then. By keeping it organized, you keep on track, get it done in order and on target... interruptions of any kind, even well meaning ones, aren't helpful. They are distracting.

Quote:
2.) Knowing when/if the audience is open and receptive to learning a game.


Before sitting down to learn a new game, ask the people who are about to do so if they'd like to learn it. If you don't get serious positive responses from every prospective student, then don't teach it or don't include that person. Learning something takes commitment from the student and the teacher. If one or the other can't commit to it, best not to do it.

Quote:
3.) If this is their first time looking at this game and can't see all the available options...I print-out reference cards if there is ANY looking-up of stuff to do, in advance. THANKS BGG!!!


Too true! BGG is a great source of playing aids that can be very helpful for playing games.

Quote:
4.) If people are afraid of feeling like the only idiot who doesn't get this...


Explain at the beginning that this is a learning game, not a competitive game. A learning game has people showing hidden information, asking for tips, asking for clarifications, talking about why people are doing certain things. It is about learning, not about doing your best. For some games, it is best to play a learning game, if only perhaps a few rounds, reset and continue.

We are not asked to do math on a description of the rules. We are shown the rules, allowed to ask questions, practice a bit, then asked to take a quiz. The same is true of games.

Quote:
5.) You aren't going to get all the rules right the first game


You really should make every effort to study the subject you will be teaching and really know the ins and outs. But hey, accidents happen. Shrug and move on with it. I've made major mistakes teaching games such that we played wrong for years afterward... all you can do is apologize and correct it the next time.
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David C
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RobertaTaylor wrote:

As an example, my daughter was teaching Battleline to a friend, telling him how to win flags and how different card combinations worked, when he interuppted, asking "but what am I doing?" He wanted to know the overall goals first.

On the other hand, I usually learn a game by opening the box, getting out the rules, and following the directions step by step, confident that the overall goals and main strategies will reveal themselves as I go along. This is NOT how my husband prefers to learn- again, he is another big-picture person.


This is huge, because I'm a "big picture" learner, and my wife is a rules learner. I'm told the big picture, and then I attach the conditions and exceptions onto it.

My wife, however, will front-to-back the manual. She abhors the "you can't triple stamp a double stamp" rules. She wants to know the ins and outs of everything before the game starts.

(this is for a different thread, but, It's really interesting, overall---the differences between people that you find out while playing boardgames. I think you can take different approaches to almost anything in life, but somehow boardgames will ferret-out what you can't take different approaches to, and what you can.)
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Jason Gordon
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Thumbs up for the "Dumb and Dumber" reference!
 
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Chris Ferejohn
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bippi wrote:

4.) If people are afraid of feeling like the only idiot who doesn't get this... Invite more idiots.


This is a big problem with my mother-in-law. She's a bright person, but she didn't go to college and she has an inferiority complex about it. I remember trying to teach her Ingenious and when she didn't instantly get it she just completely shut down. "I think maybe this isn't my kind of game. Let's just play Scrabble."

Have had luck with Blokus and I'm going to try with Coloretto sometime soon.
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David C
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The biggest problem with the people who are afraid of being construed as idiots, is that you don't know they're going to feel like idiots until it's too late.... and you're onto scrabble.

Likewise, the ones that don't feel like learning a game, but they're not ones to shut it down immediately... they're hard to find out. ESPECIALLY when they themselves do not know. If they think their choices are going to be limited and explained as the game is played (99% of the stuff in Wal-Mart), they think, "Hey, lets give this a shot." ...and then as soon as they realize that there's thinking and rules involved.
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Josh Aaron
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I've found one of the most useful things to me in learning a game is to be content in knowing I won't be trying to play optimally my first time through. Oftentimes it's easier just to make a decision and then observe what happens, and learn as the game goes along from my own actions and from those of the other players. Even many experienced gamers aren't able to play a "perfect game" right away, so convincing people learning a game that the first one is just to get a flavor for the game might be helpful.

cosine wrote:
Ask people to hold questions until the explanation is over. Repeat that phrase every time they break the rule. When the explanation is over, call for questions and answer them then. By keeping it organized, you keep on track, get it done in order and on target... interruptions of any kind, even well meaning ones, aren't helpful. They are distracting.


Personally I don't find that approach beneficial at all. If someone has an important query about a specific rule or mechanic, continuing on may leave them even more confused because they didn't even understand what you told them up to that point. If it's a question that you'll be addressing later on, you can tell them that you'll be getting to that part, but otherwise I think it's better to take a few seconds out of the explanation to make sure they're still on the same page as you. Also, if you force people to hold questions until the end you take a chance of them completely forgetting the question, or spending the rest of the explanation attempting to remember the question and not fully paying attention to the rest of the explanation. To me this doesn't diminish frustration, it increases it.
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Philip Migas
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7.) Keep it short. People want to play not learn rules.
8.) Don’t teach a game from the rule book. If you do not know the rules, how can you teach me?

Questions: I am ok with people asking questions during an explanation. It shows that people are listening and want to know the rules. I try to out think my audience and answer questions before they are asked. If I know I have a long explanation, I will give a brief overview of when items will be explained. This will alleviate or prevent some questions. As an example, when teaching Battlestar Galactica I always say “I want to pick characters, then I will explain the board, then turn sequence, then I will do an example turn, then I will pass out loyalty cards, then answer questions, and then we will start playing”.
 
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Rob D
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bippi wrote:
How do you keep people from being frustrated when teaching a game? What have you found causes frustration in introducing a game?


2.) Knowing when/if the audience is open and receptive to learning a game. I was really trying hard to teach my wife Stone Age, knowing full-well that there wasn't any one mechanic that could explain all the huts, resources, civilization cards, harvesting, and points. Finally, she said, "you know, I'm just not in a mood to learn a game." ...and that's another point I need to recognize, is realize when people are just curious about a game, and when people really want to be open and receptive to learning a game. It's great at game nights, because most are open to learning a game. However, a Friday night at home after a long week is probably a good time to just have a friendly game of something you already know.


This is a great point. I remember one time when I made a large game purchase. I, of course, was excited to try out all my new games. Because of this I'd be trying to teach my gf a new game every weekend. It got to a point where she just had to tell me she didn't want to spend the time to learn a new game. Looking back, I was definitely overzealous. We'd play a game once or twice and then I'd want to move on to try another game. It wasn't that I didn't like the other games we had just learned and played...it was just that I was a kid with new toys. I had to slow it down and just play a couple games regularly and then roll out the newer games slowly over time.
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bippi wrote:
2.) Knowing what game is suitable for your when/if the audience is open and receptive to learning a game.


Fixed.

The others are there to be entertained, not evangelized. Yes, we all know they're stuck in Plato's Cave, but "it's just a game". I have party games for the muggles and teenage girls, beer and pretzel "take that" games for the casual players and teenage boys, and so on. When it's the hardcore folks who *want* to learn the game, it's great. But when it's others, remember, they think they're doing *you* a favor by indulging you.
 
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David C
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Sam and Max wrote:
bippi wrote:
2.) Knowing what game is suitable for your when/if the audience is open and receptive to learning a game.


Fixed.

The others are there to be entertained, not evangelized. Yes, we all know they're stuck in Plato's Cave, but "it's just a game". I have party games for the muggles and teenage girls, beer and pretzel "take that" games for the casual players and teenage boys, and so on. When it's the hardcore folks who *want* to learn the game, it's great. But when it's others, remember, they think they're doing *you* a favor by indulging you.


The thing is, inevitably someone is going to ask, "hey, what's stone age? can we try it." ...because on my shelf, it's next to The Game of Life, so how hard could it be, right?

And they get it out, only to find they just got in for WAY more than they bargained for...and are too polite to say, "You know, could we just play quelf?"
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Christian Jorgensen
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bippi wrote:
2.) Knowing when/if the audience is open and receptive to learning a game.


This is a very true. Sometimes, when you go to the club, you can be a bit mentally worn out, or be in a'just want to play the game I played last time' sort of mood. If it is a night like this I tend to stay away from games I havn't played before, as I'm not really in the mood for a whole lot of new rules.

Don't get me wrong, I do love learning and playing new games. But sometimes 'same again' has its appeal.
 
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David C
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9.) Start with something slow and easy to learn and teach. I know we have some level of debate here on the 'geek about what counts for this, but if I had a beer for everyone in the recommendations section that wanted a call between Die Macher and Roads & Boats as a good introductory game for Mom and Dad or their friends... I kid, sort of. If this is the first game they've played with some element of skill and luck, start off with something without so many rules and will finish in a relatively small amount of time.
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Steve Duff
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cosine wrote:
Ask people to hold questions until the explanation is over.

By keeping it organized, you keep on track, get it done in order and on target... interruptions of any kind, even well meaning ones, aren't helpful. They are distracting.


Agreed. The question asking really bother me, because almost always it's something you just haven't got to yet, rather than something you missed. Result is rules out of best order or concepts brought up too early, or just plain interruption and wasted time.

Let a guy finish, then ask questions. If he didn't explain well, there'll be lots of questions, and he can figure out a better way of explaining next time.
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Dave Sinclair
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Each game is different and there are exceptions, but generally --

When I teach a game I start with the "big picture". How do you win? e.g. The player with the most victory points win. Then I give a general overview of how turns and rounds are conducted and how victory conditions are achieved.

After the big picture comes the details. Adhere to the order of play i.e. turns, rounds, actions while explaining how the game plays out. You have to include everything, but remember to be succinct and try to summarize when possible. Brevity is key.

Let others ask questions, but stick to the topic at hand. "We'll come to that in a minute" or "That's handled in a later step" are perfectly acceptable answers to questions. Don't get sidetracked.

CARDINAL SIN: Mixing questions/answers/discussions on STRATEGY with explaining the RULES of the game. Once everyone knows HOW to play, then all can discuss how to play well. Two separate conversations.

IDEAL SITUATION: Teach by playing. I can explain how to play Puerto Rico, but it is much easier set the game up and start playing for a few rounds. Focus on HOW the game is played and not WHY you take this action at this time. Once again, show how to play, not how to play well. After enough rounds where everyone understands how to play, start a real game with some thoughts on general strategy.

Of course, I could be wrong.
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I find it very helpful to transition people with gateway games and then lean on that experience to then teach them the new more complex games.

I recently taught my niece how to play Empire Builder because she had been begging to play for a long time. I had bought them Ticket to Ride for Christmas last year, and I talked to her about concurrent routes. It’s best to have routes that are going in the same direction. She understood that concept perfectly, and after that, the rest was easy.

I recently taught my wife how to play Caylus. She already knew how to play Agricola and Settlers, and so I talked about placing the workers as being the exact same as in Agricola. And just like every turn we flip over a new card in Agricola, each turn there will be more buildings to choose from. And you collect resources to build things just like you do in Settlers. Then all you have to do is explain the castle and royal favors and you are home free.

Because I do always try to teach Eurogames that have a ton of things going on and leave the player 20 options right away, they always say something like, “Okay, but I have no idea what I am doing.” I never try and diminish this confusion by saying things like, “Don’t worry, it’s easy,” or “You’ll get it eventually.” Don’t do that. Instead, agree with them. “I know you don’t, but I’ll help you at the start, and by the third or fourth turn, you’ll know what you want to do.” Usually that works.

My problem is that I am constantly trying to recruit new gamers and so almost every game I play now, I am teaching someone the rules. I look forward to Gen Con this week so someone can teach me. And that brings up another topic. How do deal with someone trying to teach you the rules and you can’t understand what they are talking about. As someone who normally teaches everything, I feel I am pretty sharp when it comes to picking up other game mechanics, so when I am lost during an explanation, I have no idea what to do
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Matt Lee
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Piqsid wrote:
I never try and diminish this confusion by saying things like, “Don’t worry, it’s easy,” or “You’ll get it eventually.” Don’t do that. Instead, agree with them. “I know you don’t, but I’ll help you at the start, and by the third or fourth turn, you’ll know what you want to do.” Usually that works.


I've found a slightly different tactic works. If a game has that many parts, and he game has breathing room for the slot (or there is no slot), I often tell people "We're going to play a couple of rounds and I'll explain some of what is happening, then when you are comfortable with the rules, we can start over and play a full game." It makes people more comfortable with making those dreaded first moves in an unfamiliar game, and despite the safety net I give, I can't think of many times when people chose to start over. They've been okay with continuing on, and I consider that a nice plus.
 
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