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Subject: Solving the newbie beatdown issue? rss

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Mario Lanza
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I'm always teaching games to new players. The new players include seasoned gamers and people trying our games for the first time.

Because of my greater experience, I beat newbies more than not. I am not a win-at-all-costs sort of person, but I can't feel right about throwing a game just so a newbie might enjoy the experience more.

I've toyed with the idea of devising circumstances that permit a greater chance that a newbie will win. Here are my thoughts:

THROW THE GAME
This is never an option. Even when playing with kids I don't like to deliberately lose. It just seems wrong and the victory hollow. Is there any merit in winning this way!?

MORE LUCK, LESS STRATEGY
Simply choose a game that isn't so weighty and so deep that outcome is entirely dependent on experience and ability. This means choose a game that's a bit more luck driven so that fortune -- both good and bad -- works to the newbie's advantage. Of course, this can cut both ways (working to the veteran's advantage). One game that comes to mind is PIRATE'S COVE.

LOWER THE INTENSITY
This is my most typical response to the situation. It simply means I won't spend as much time analyzing and that I won't demand of myself full concentration. I simply choose a lighthearted approach to the game and do my best to win with it. Trouble is, I sometimes find myself slipping back into my normal gung-ho mode. It's hard to regulate intensity.

HANDICAPS
I've done this before. This is where the starting or ending conditions or the rules themselves are modified for one side in attempt to even the odds. For example, I played JAMBO with my girlfriend giving her 25 coins to start (5 more than my 20), that is until she beat me three times in a row. In Pente one side starts with extra beads on the board. The problem with this is the opposing player is aware of their extra benefit, thus it cheats them the full sense of victory.

SELF-IMPOSED CONSTRAINTS
This is a new one I've been pondering. Most handicaps outwardly reveal the disparity between players (e.g. extra beads on the Pente board). The idea of self-imposed constraints is to choose a few extra rules or constraints for yourself to make playing the game more difficult for only you. This is done without revealing the self-imposition so as to allow you to honestly say you didn't let the newbie win and for the newbie to feel fully victorious.

Self-imposed constraints could be anything, they're purely a judgment call. For example, in Princes of Florence I might pose the constraint that I won't keep matching buildings when choosing from the first set of profession cards I'm dealt. In Settlers I might opt to never put the robber on a newbie unless he is 3 or more VPs ahead. These off the cuff examples are meant only clarify the idea itself.

TRY SOMETHING NEW
This is another one I adopt quite a bit. It's not the same as a self-imposed constraint because I'll allow myself to play as I see fit. I simply choose to start looking at new strategic and tactical possiblities and to experiment with them. This will mean I sometimes play against what my gut tells me is best, but this is part of the trial-and-error learning process. Sometimes this approach can teach you something entirely different (and very interesting!) about the game.


Added by user suggestion:

PLAY A PARTIAL GAME - Opie and nexttothemoon
Play just enough to give the inexperienced a feel for then the game and then start over.

JUST MODERATE - caesarmom
If it's a bunch of newbies, teach and then observe. Join them in the next game (or a future one).

OFFER STRATEGY TIPS / ADVICE - SkipM624, HappyProle, and dkearns
I tend to point out only glaringly weak plays, ones that will greatly minimize their chances of doing well. Others may offer strategic/tactical hints more liberarlly. Definetly bear in mind (and perhaps ask them) how much the player actually wants your help. Some prefer to do this just before play and others may actually offer guidance during the game. This may perhaps be the most controversial suggestion.

CUT THEM A BREAK - snicholson and Denise
A common thing I will do when teaching people a game that I know is respond to their mistakes with a little punishment without taking full advantage of the situation. Doing this allows you to show them their error while not destroying their game.

Denise described an experienced player having the opportunity to put the robber on a newbie, but offering this dialog: "I'm gonna put the robber on Tammy because Christy, you're new. But if you WEREN'T new I'd put it on you because we keep rolling your darned 8s." That both gives the newbie a break and gives them fair warning that it will be different next time.

BARELY WIN - taraba
Staying just out of reach. Don't do everything in your power to win, but make sure it looks like they can win if they played a little better. So the goal would be to have the new player lose by [a narrow margin.] Then the next game you can start off not so easy on them.

These additions (not to my credit) were quoted, paraphrased or entirely reworded.

--

I play games with my girlfriend who is a mere casual gamer, certainly nowhere near the game-obsessed geek I am. Some of these approaches are equally valid with casual gamers (e.g. significant others) as they are with newbies.

My goal in this is to allow newbies (esp. first time gamers) to truly enjoy the hobby and have positive first experiences. At same time, as I mentioned above, I cannot feel good about not trying to win. This lead me to the compromise approaches I listed above.

Here's how I rank these approaches:

1. LOWER THE INTENSITY
2. MORE LUCK, LESS STRATEGY
3. TRY SOMETHING NEW
4. SELF-IMPOSED CONSTRAINTS
5. HANDICAPS
.
.
.
999999. THROW THE GAME

I won't necessarily play with a modified approach if the table is surrounded by good gamers (even if they're playing the game for the first time).

What approaches do you use? What are your experiences with them?
 
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Scott Nicholson
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mlanza wrote:
I am not a win-at-all-costs sort of person, but I can't feel right about throwing a game just so a newbie might enjoy the experience more.


Your "lower the intensity" idea is the best one for still providing a game experience while not destroying the person; I think it would benefit you to realize at the beginning if you are playing a serious game or a light game.

I recall someone here in talking about playing with kids would allow the kids to set the "difficulty level" of dad, just like in a video game. This can be something you ask the new player to explicitly do - some people would want you to play as hard as you can, while others would want to experience the game without getting crushed.


A common thing I will do when teaching people a game that I know is respond to their mistakes with a little punishment without taking full advantage of the situation. Doing this allows you to show them their error while not destroying their game.

Some people will jump in after a turn and tell the person what they did wrong. More people hate this than appreciate it, especially when they are just learning the rules and how the game works. Too much strategy early on is just frustrating.

Here's something to consider...

Think about how other games are taught. If a champion basketball player wanted to teach someone about basketball, would they just destroy them? No. Instead, they would lower the intesity, as you suggest, but more importantly, they would attempt to set up teaching moments.

If you know a game well, you also know common newbie mistakes. Instead of focusing on winning, focusing on setting up these traps during the game, and then punishing them just enough to let them know it was a mistake and showing them how to counter them. That gives you something to focus on, so you still can be intense, without the result of taking the candy from the baby's hand. The new player is more likely to turn into serious competition.

The feeling of "the win" lasts about 10 seconds. Hard feelings created because you took advantage of inexperience can last much longer.



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T. Rosen
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Wow, Mario, that's a really interesting and accurate exposition of the different methods I've been implicitly trying over the years. I never really thought about it, but I guess I do use the "lower the intensity" strategy, as well as the "try something new" method. I certainly don't throw the game, and haven't ever used explicit handicaps, but have toyed with trying the latter idea. The "lower the intensity" approach is the easiest to use, and relatively effective, and comes naturally when I'm hosting a games night and need to keep helping others in other games with rules questions or greeting people as they arrive or depart, which helpfully prevents me from focusing too much. I also have definitely used the "try something new" approach without really thinking about it consciously. For example, in Tigris & Euphrates, one of my favorites, I'll not with go with my standard opening, but rather introduce different leaders, at different spots, and with different followers, than I normally would. Thanks again, maybe now that I'll consciously think about doing this, it'll make me better at accomodating newbies at my games club.
 
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Skip Maloney
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The 'newbie' thing is why I always try to toss in a few helpful hints if the game has got any sort of deep-level strategy stuff to it. Like suggesting that a first-time player at Puerto Rico get the Small Market if the opportunity arises, explaining in the same breath that money is important in the beginning. Often times, in this game especially, a newbie will come right out and ask. . "What should I buy?" In a game that Mario and I have in commom (Mexica), I might show somebody how to do that 'founding a territory' thing on your first move. I think sometimes that catering to a newbie's . . well, newbieness, gives a false impression of the game. For the most part, newbies expect to lose. If it's a person to whom losing badly will be something of a 'devastating' experience, I might adjust. . .I taught Cartagena to a 12-year-old niece and as I executed an 'experienced' option, I explained it to her - "Now watch this. . .I'm moving this forward, to set myself up to gain two cards and then moving this piece backwards to get them." I still won, but she's not one to get disappointed in a game because she lost. She strives instead to be better. Explaining why you do some things that will generally only come with experience is one way of adjusting to a newcomer. That said, I tried something like this in a game of St. Petersburg against my 'significant other,' explaining that the purchase of a very expensive building in the game's opening round was generally considered a bad idea. She went into 'let me play my own game' mode and got crushed, as a result. Thus, the success of one's chosen 'method' of adjustment to a 'newbie,' will tend to depend more on the 'newbie' than the method itself.
 
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Paul Imboden
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How about FIRST GAME IS A HALF GAME?

Play through to the point where the obvious newbie mistakes happen, point them out after some time and explain why they usually happen. Then restart the game, with everyone a little wiser and understanding of what the game requires... then go into TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT mode while you play.

Quint Game for this is Puerto Rico. Understanding the value of timing roles becomes more apparent when you've burned yourself on the choice.
 
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Mario Lanza
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Opie wrote:
How about FIRST GAME IS A HALF GAME?


Certainly worthy of adding to the list. Thanks!

snicholson wrote:
A common thing I will do when teaching people a game that I know is respond to their mistakes with a little punishment without taking full advantage of the situation. Doing this allows you to show them their error while not destroying their game.


SkipM624 wrote:
...the success of one's chosen 'method' of adjustment to a 'newbie,' will tend to depend more on the 'newbie' than the method itself.


All excellent points!
 
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Mark Taraba
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Quote:
I've toyed with the idea of devising circumstances that permit a greater chance that a newbie will win.


Interesting. I've always felt that staying just out of reach is the best approach. Don't do everything in your power to win, but make sure it looks like they can win if they played a little better. So the goal would be to have the new player lose by 5 points in a game where scores are in the 50 range. Now if they pick up on the game in the middle and you don't have time to react, then the next game you can start off not so easy on them.
 
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Darren M
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I tend to just try and be a thorough rule explainer and then before the game begins give a general strategic hint or two about what to look out for.

Example: In Power Grid it's fairly tough to decide how much to bid on the Power plants when you first play and what cities to go for at the outset so I often suggest not overpaying for the plants and to calculate the cost of the plants + future cost of resources needed to fire them / the # of cities they actually will power.

Also I try to show them the areas on the board that are cheaper/more expensive to start in as well as areas that they will need to expand into half way through the game. This gets players thinking ahead about ways to optimize their spending and not wasting valuable dollars as they get used to the mechanisms and the flow of the various stages in the game.

Another good way is to sometimes play a practice round or two...maybe even a quarter or third of the way through the game where they can see the flow and get a feel for the game and then we wipe the board and start fresh and at least they have a feel for the mechanisms and how the gameplay progresses.

I agree that some people hate being given hints of any kind as they think you are just viewing them as dumb and insulting their intelligence...fair enough as I like discovering things on my own as well without being told optimal approaches. The only downside of course is that some games have decisions where if you go down the wrong path at an important stage of the game...you will wind up sitting there for the next hour and a half with no chance at winning. There is just no way around that with some players though...especially the type who hate listening to rules and want to "just play" and learn as they go. This is fine if they treat the game as a learning experience but unfortunately these are the types that are often the most turned off the game when they are blown out by big mistakes they made by "not knowing all the rules" because no one made them aware the game went like that in stage 2 .

I don't think there is one best way as you have to adapt to the attention span of those involved...some will play so that there is no way they will win no matter what you do unless you do throw the game which is something I don't do either. It takes all the fun out of the game and makes it pointless. I suppose I'd do the "something different" angle...maybe pursue a strategy that I haven't really done before...it may be better or it may be worse that I usually play so in a sense I am exploring a new part of the game as the new player is playing the game for the first time as well.

Another approach would be to not play in the 1st game at all and just be a rules teacher with several newbies playing...then they are all on even ground for their first game until they get up to speed so you can join in.
 
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Dane Peacock
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Like Ted, I almost always go for the try something new approach. It's actually quite fun, and fair, considering the way I teach games: Quick explanation of the rules, encouragement that we are just learning the game and having fun, then we dive right in.

 
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Michelle Zentis
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I don't know if this is an acceptable alternative, but if you have several newbies, you could always opt out of playing the game yourself and just moderate. If you act as advisor to all (upon request), you would become involved in the game yourself.

D'oh! Sorry, Darren, I totally missed that you suggested the same thing!
 
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Myke Madsen
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What I usually try to do is offer good advice (often to my own detriment) throughout the first half of the teaching game, while using in-game scenarios to further explain the rules and strategy. Don't talk the game to death, but look for opportunities to explain some of the nuances of the game. If they're interested, odds are they'll start asking follow-up questions.

This involves roughly the same thought process a lot of us do anyway: we put ourselves in the shoes of the other players to try to anticipate their best moves. The only difference is you're using that knowledge to offer them advice.

This works to the benefit of the newbies for two reaons:

1) (obvious) They get instant, topical, objective advice from someone who knows the game -- and who also knows the strategy of one of the other players (me).

2) I'm often too caught up in teaching and explaining that I don't focus entirely on my game. I'm certainly not trying to lose, and I'm not imposing any made-up constraints on myself, but I think it often shows in my final score that I wasn't completely focused on winning.

In the end, they have a good shot at winning, the have a better understanding of the game and typically... they want to play again!



 
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Denise Lavely
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I often play with several newbies at a time, and in that case, I strongly suggest the don't play, be the moderator approach. That way people feel a lot more at ease about asking you for help and letting you see their cards, etc.

Whenever we play Settlers with a new person, we play with the self-imposed constraint of not putting the robber on them, BUT we always tell them that, too. 'I'm gonna put the robber on Tammy because Christy, you're new. But if you WEREN'T new I'd put it on you because we keep rolling your darned 8 there' or whatever. That both gives the newbie a break and gives them fair warning that it will be different next time Plus I think for us experienced people to honestly explain WHY we are making the moves we are making can help the new people figure out strategies of their own, without actually being told 'Do this or do that' which frankly takes away a lot of the enjoyment of the game to me.
 
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Daniel Kearns
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One trick of mine, when offering advice always use yourself as the victim in the example.

Mid-game, you may want to give a new player a strategic option that they may not have thought of. Explain the rule/tactic and show them how they could use it to damage your position while improving their own. Sometimes they will take you up on it, too bad for you but they learned a new trick. This way, you're not affecting anyone else's game nor are you using your position of power to manipulate new players. Sometimes, they figure out how to bend your rule and attack another player. You gave them the rule, offered your neck, they learned the rule, but applied the same situation on another player. Either way, the person you wish to help improves and sometimes they feel smarter for applying your suggestion in a way "you hadn't thought of" (wink, nod).

 
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Paul Kidd
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There's another approach if you are playing with newbies to gaming in general. That is, to play a game with built in handicapping mechanisms.

The much maligned Mammoth Hunters, for example, requires you to give actions to other players. This is criticized as making most of the game chaotic as there is a constant bash the leader occurring as nobody gives a benefit to the leader. But this also enables players to go easy on the newbie and hit the experienced players completely within the letter and spirit of the rules.
 
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John McGeehan
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I like going through a first round or two of the game. Explaining rules is one thing, but it really isn't enough - it's much easier, once that framework is set, to play a few rounds. During those rounds, comments and such are allowed ("You see, if you take the Captain, then he can't trade his tobacco, but he gains a VP...but you could also take the Prospector, since it has a doubloon on it..."). However, after those first few rounds, then we stop, reset, and play for real (although sometimes with "less intensity"). Of course, you can't do much about midgame strategy and such, but you usually get enough to see things. And once the real game starts, advice only when asked, as some players take offense.

In fact, I believe Power Grid even recommends that with new players, you play to the end of Phase 1, and then start over, so they can see the mechanics of the game. It points out that small mistakes early can cripple a player later, so let players make those mistakes, then after Phase 1 ends, show players some of what might have gone wrong or how the game would have developed, then stop.

When teaching Caylus, we threw a few random buildings on the board (as if it was midway through a game), then went through one round of placing workers, making sure a worker was on the Castle, the Guild, etc. so people could see how they worked, and actually evaluated each space as if it was a real turn. Then we cleared the board, reset the pink buildings, and started the game.

T.
 
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David Matchen
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I do basic strategy and comment during each turn on a teaching session. Certain people I know always ask questions on these points anyway, and I don't mind giving up a few secrets.

This works surprisingly well with my usual "Napalm Ted" strategy.

Okay, I don't really have a "Napalm Ted" strategy. I think I've only ever beaten him in two games, but they weren't games I was teaching. I don't count "Shadows".
 
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mlanza wrote:
I am not a win-at-all-costs sort of person...

LOWER THE INTENSITY
...I won't spend as much time analyzing...Trouble is, I sometimes find myself slipping back into my normal gung-ho mode.

Seems that if not win-at-all-costs, at least you're a bit unrestrained with gung-ho-edness.

My preference is to never raise the intensity. For any game--newbies or veterans. If the game is always low-key and fun, and people don't put an emphasis on being "gung-ho," it always seems to make for a better experience.
 
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Skip Maloney
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Happy Prole's nailed it, I think. Couldn't get my own version in ahead of him.

"Don't do everything in your power to win, but make sure it looks like they can win if they played a little better."
Now see, right there I have a problem. It's like apologizing for bringing experience to the table. Nothing wrong with having
more experience than someone else. Nothing wrong in admitting it. One should, by all means, avoid using experience as a weapon, of course. Think of it as a useful tool, like a rigid metal rake, turning over the 'topsoil' of a game like Puerto Rico and letting the newbie get a look at some of the roots and the funny ways they have of growing in a lot of different directions. To be perfectly honest, I think I lose more newbie games than I win. I'm so engrossed in coaxing a newbie (who can, and we all know this is true, be a bit crabby at times,
learning this new game)that I don't concentrate enough on what I'm doing. A very natural constraint on a very natural human desire to win. . at anything. In a somewhat related, though similar, vein, I was once asked whether I preferred performing on stage or directing others. Directing (or teaching boardgames, I think) is like having a child. Acting (actually playing the game) is like being one. Different roles,
engaged in the same drama.
 
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Myke Madsen
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SkipM624 wrote:
Directing (or teaching boardgames, I think) is like having a child. Acting (actually playing the game) is like being one. Different roles, engaged in the same drama.


Nice analogy.
 
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Enon Sci
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mlanza wrote:
I'm always teaching games to new players. The new players include seasoned gamers and people trying our games for the first time.

Because of my greater experience, I beat newbies more than not. I am not a win-at-all-costs sort of person, but I can't feel right about throwing a game just so a newbie might enjoy the experience more.

THROW THE GAME
This is never an option. Even when playing with kids I don't like to deliberately lose. It just seems wrong and the victory hollow. Is there any merit in winning this way!?


We're polar opposites in view, but I'm happy to see anybody attempting a logical deconstruction of this phenomenon. I'd happily join any discussion on theory of design, whether it be gaming or otherwise.

With that said, their is always merit to accepting defeat on a small scale to ultimately win the more meaningful war. You need to ask yourself what is more important - winning or continued interest in a particular title by your newbie? To me the latter is the far more meaningful, for without their interest your prodigious winning ability is meaningless.

So I guess one needs to decipher not whether to win or loose but where the game and reality actually begin. Is the game merely the chess pieces in front of you or is the chess match merely a subset of a far larger game being played between two social beings ? If your goal is to win the match, then it’s the former. If it’s to invest your love of the game to your partner, then you’re ultimately attempting to influence their position on a subject and that’s most definitely of the latter. If loosing a match intentionally can realistically benefit that goal, then is it really loosing? Only in a very limited sense.

Now, there are lots of variables that can come into play. If you’re playing with somebody who recognizes you as an authority on the subject then the loss may be more readily identified with a throw. In these cases I’d play at my best as they’ve probably already resigned themselves to a loss by accepting a game with me. Personally, however, I keep my ego under wraps when it comes to introducing people to new games – rarely do I even reference how many plays I may have had. This is all done in a calculated attempt to put them at ease, paint a picture of equality and give them continued interest in playing with me. Nobody really plays a game to loose, and there aren't enough games out there that make the "ride" experience equitable to winning (perhaps Arkham Horror fits this bill, and maybe other adventure board titles).

Of course, in my situation it’s very hard to find potential gamers so I must resort to such techniques. If you have a bountiful stock of potential players then perhaps these techniques would serve less value.



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I want to second everything that enon sci wrote.

You can't think about the game as just the pieces in front of you - think of it as interaction with the person you're playing with (notice I didn't say "against).

This is especially true when playing with children. I recently bought Settlers of Catan for my nephews. If I just won every game they would have yawned and lost interest. Instead I made it a game between the two of them with me just playing along with the focus of not winning the game but of teaching it and garnering interest in it.

This is just simple social diplomacy. Your girlfriend will probably put up with you winning every game just because she's your girlfriend. Others will simply not wish to play with you anymore. Worse they may choose not to play the particular game. If you are lucky and have a lot of seasoned players around then thats fine but otherwise you'll eventually run out of people to play with.
 
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John W
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I agree with the last 2 posts.

I have NEVER understood the inability of some BGG's, reiterated thru many years on here, of not being able to lose when teaching a game to 1st time players.

The object of the game is to teach a game to someone and have them enjoy it - your strategic benefit from the game is a non-factor. You know going in that this game is not going to be a strategic exercise for you, so stop bringing "competetition" aspects, or "hollow victories" into the equation.

How do you "lose" a game when teaching new players, anyway?
(Answer : when the new players don't like the game.
Follow-up observation : the majority of people enjoy a game better when they win, or when they are in the running to win, and enjoy a game less when they are crushed by an experienced player)
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Alexander B.
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This has been a big issue for me for a long time.

It comes-up a lot playing computer games also where one player is better than the other.

For cases where I'm not a lot better, the "lower the intensity" option works very well for me.

If I'm a lot better at the game, then I usually opt for the "self-imposted limitations" one in most cases.

A few examples:

-I recently played a game of Antiquity where I was the only experienced player and the other 3 were playing it for the first time. I picked the hardest patron saint to win with and suggested a saint and approach that is a lot more simple and easy to play to the other players. It was a close game, but I did end up losing it even though I tried my best!

-In a recent real time strategy game that I was much better at than a friend of mine, I decided that I would never build any armor on a map that really needed armor. Again, the game was very close: I won this one, but the self-imposed limitation once again proved a great way to get enough balance to stop the game from being a crush while allowing both of us to try our best.

Cool thread

As for "throwing the game", nope, never, ever, in a million years, never, ever! That is just insulting, and I'd never want someone to do that to me. (note that I informed the players in both of the above games that I was handicapping myself for balance purposes).
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True Blue Jon
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When I teach a game, I focus on teaching them the game the entire game and don't focus at all on my strategy, pretty much just playing on "autopilot". I rarely win this way.
 
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David Thompson
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I've been dealing with a variation on this lately, as my 8-and-a-half-year-old daughter has been expressing more interest in playing games that my game group has had on the table.

I recently employed the Self-Imposed Constraints technique when teaching her Attika. I didn't teach her the rule about having to pay an additional card to start a new settlement. It initially came up because I didn't want to burn her out explaining all the rules, and then as we started playing I realized she would be able to compete much better if I played by the rule and she didn't have to. In the end (about 24 tiles each), she won by connection because she had the exact four cards needed to place two buildings she drew and to connect her path. She was excited about winning, and more importantly for me, she played the full game to its end, and enjoyed the whole game.

The other element I have been using in trying to nurture a budding gamer is not demanding that we finish a game. In our first "game" of Attika, she learned the rules (well, most of them ), and we built a few buildings, but I didn't make her finish the game after she lost her initial interest. Two days later, she suggested the game and we played it to its end. Some might say that I'm pandering to her short attention span, but I feel like I'm just working not to beat the fun out of the game. This happened again today with her first game of Through the Desert - we may pick up the end of the game tomorrow, or it may get scrapped never to be seen again - but I know that we had fun playing!

Thanks to everyone for the great thread!
 
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