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Subject: How to teach Power Grid rss

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Brian B.
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What this post is about:

People in my gaming groups generally tell me I'm very good at explaining games, so this post about teaching Power Grid is the third in my "how to teach series". (See the end of the post for a link to the previous installments.) It is not about how to play Power Grid; I assume you know how to play and want to teach other people how to play.

General keys to teaching ANY game:

1. Typically, I start by explaining the high-level objective, and then show people how a turn works; if they have any strategy experience, they start to connect the dots and see how to make strategies to win the game. I call this an "inside-out" approach, as you're starting with the "inside" of the game (the turn) and connecting the dots to get to the "outside" (the objectives.) I've tried the "outside-in" approach, which is to start with the objective, i.e. score as many victory points as possible, then list all the ways to get victory points, then how a turn works. This just does not work in my experience. (Note I reworded this paragraph based on great feedback I got in my past posts!)

2. Don't overload new players with all the rules before they start playing. Adults learn much more by doing than by listening, so your goal is to give the smallest core set of rules possible for people to get playing. Of course, at some point, you need to explain the extra rules, but it doesn't have to be all at the beginning.

3. Have patience! People will forget some of the things you say and you will have to repeat yourself multiple times. Think back to when you were learning the game--did you remember everything the person told the first time through? Probably not.

So how do I teach Power Grid? One key to teaching this game is to explain the things that are necessary when they are necessary, so I've broken this down based on when I explain everything. I start by setting up the board, including randomizing the turn order (except making sure an experienced player goes first), and explaining the objective of the game. In terms of which sections of the board to block, if there are first timers, I usually block off the expensive sections (e.g. the northwest & southwest on the U.S. map) to keep the game a reasonable length. I then point them to the reference card and find that explaining things in turn order works well.

What to explain before round 1 begins

1. Start with auctioning. Explain how the auctioning process works and explain briefly how to read the icons on the plants. Since we don't have them yet, I make sure show them examples of ecological & nuclear plants in addition to what's in the market already. Explain we'll buy the resources and the cities in the next steps. I don't yet talk about the reordering turn order in the middle of round 1 nor do I talk about the limit on power plants yet.

2. Then talk about buying resources. Show the resource market and talk about going in reverse turn order to buy them. Tell them how many resources they can buy. I briefly mention that the resources will be replenished between turns.

3. Then comes cities. I'll typically put two cities on the board and explain the total cost of those two cities, and in the process explain connecting costs. I typically don't explain the "jumping a city" or the "remove a plant if its number of cities has been built by a player" concepts yet. I do explain that as of now, you can only have one city in a space and explain that will change later in the game. I don't explain how yet.

4. Then talk about powering cities. Emphasize the fact that they need the cities on the board and the plants powered by resources to get the money. Have them flip over the reference card so they can see the cities powered -> money ratio. I then tell them there are other things during this phase that I'll explain when we get there for the first time.

At this point, I actually start round 1.

During Round 1

1. Just before we put the first plant up to auction, I explain that in round 1 only, the turn order will be reordered after they buy plants, with the person who bought the lowest plant having the advantage. (I find it helps to explain it like that...if you just say they'll go last in turn order, they may not remember that that's a good thing.) We then start the game.

2a. Before the city buying phase of round 1, I explain the "remove a plant if its number of cities has been built by a player" concept, especially if plant 3 wasn't taken. I do hint they should build their first cities in an area with reasonable connection costs to other cities.

2b. Also before the city buying phase, I explain how the turn order will be decided for future rounds, again saying "the person who has the most cities will have the disadvantage next round, with ties broken by the person having the highest power plant having the disadvantage."

3. During the bureaucracy phase, I first make sure everyone understands exactly why they get the money they get; I find new players often don't understand the "cities need to be powered" concept. I then replenish the resource market, get rid of the highest power plant and explain how those concepts work.

4. I then offer to replay the first round from scratch, especially if someone didn't understand something critical and made a bad decision.

Round 2
Before the auction phase, I explain that it is now optional to buy a power plant and that it will be optional the rest of the game. I then explain the max of 3 power plants. I also explain that if no one buys a plant in a round, the lowest one is removed from the game.

Once someone has built 3 or 4 cities
At this point, I explain how step 2 is triggered. I also explain that when step 2 is triggered, the resource market will replenish at different rates and people will be able to build in the second spot in each location on the board, but that no person can build twice in the same location.

When step 2 is triggered
I start by doing the one-time things--get rid of the lowest power plant and reset the resource market at the new rate. I then reiterate that people can now build in the second location at a higher rate. I then explain how step 3 is triggered and remind them of the end condition and tell them that money is the tiebreaker. Then I explain that it is possible for the game to end in step 2.

When step 3 is triggered
If the game gets there, I explain exactly what happens in step 3--the new replenish rates, the new way the plant market works, and the ability to build in the third spot in each location. I reiterate the end condition and explain that money is the tiebreaker, and emphasize that powered cities determine who wins the game, not built cities.

And that's it! If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate. As promised, here's the link other entries:

Index of the "How to Teach" series
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Mike Mitrovich
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This seems like a great method! Thanks for sharing this.

I think I intend to present too much of this game at once with new players. They typically "get it", but I think they lack confidence in the first few rounds that they are making reasonable choices.

I think my Power Grid quickstart video sent to players beforehand, followed by your teaching style when it comes down to play time would be a nice pairing.

I'm going to try that next time I play with new players!

(Would love your opinion on my video if you find yourself with some spare time: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/846849/power-grid-quick-star...)

-Mike
 
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Justin Schroeder
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Thanks for taking the time to write this up! I just got Power Grid and should get my first chance to play it in the next couple of weeks. I'll use your method to teach it and see how it goes.
 
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Mario Lanza
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LiteBulb88 wrote:

1. I've tried the "outside-in" approach, which is to start with the objective, i.e. score as many victory points as possible, then list all the ways to get victory points, then how a turn works. This just does not work in my experience. (Note I reworded this paragraph based on great feedback I got in my past posts!)


Funny. I've had immense success with the outside-in approach. (You mention this approach would have you list all the ways to get victory points. I would generalize and give the primary means by which victory points are earned, covering the specifics later.) Similarly, my group has lauded me for having a gift for teaching. I originally wrote about my method here:

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

I've since refined it and made a few changes.

My main objective at all times is to have my listeners feeling the least amount of confusion. That is, I want him dealing with the least number of open loops.

As such I am repetitious as I peel back each layer of the onion. Maybe my brain works differently, but for me an explanation which does not frame the big picture first, is more mentally demanding to follow. If I put a framework/objective in place first, the mechanics and such that make up a turn will connect to that.

I don't want to have my listeners wondering what's the point of some action. I don't want them thinking: I see you can do X but why would I want to? To what end/purpose? All actions should in some way lead us to our objectives and if we don't know those objectives up front, it won't be clear why we're doing something in the first place. This creates open loops (whys) for the listener. And again my whole purpose is to keep the listener from having to try to figure things out.

I feel if I explain the objective last, that at that moment the listener will experience an a-ha moment where he is able to connect everything. I don't want the important connections to be made in a rush moment at the end, I want them to be made along the way. That's why I feel the overview/objective need to come first.

LiteBulb88 wrote:

2. Don't overload new players with all the rules before they start playing. Adults learn much more by doing than by listening, so your goal is to give the smallest core set of rules possible for people to get playing. Of course, at some point, you need to explain the extra rules, but it doesn't have to be all at the beginning.


Not meaning to be outright contradictory, but I prefer to teach all the rules before starting. That's because my secondary objective when teaching rules is to equip the listener to win. (To that end, I may mention a few tips/hazards they should be considering.) In some cases, certain rules can be omitted and introduced at a right time without having interfered with that second objective.

Why is equipping my listeners for victory so important? Let me put it this way: how many times have you started off a new game dizzy from the explanation? As such you failed to make some of the right connections until after you had already headed off in a wrong direction. Where did this leave you? Sometimes it leaves you in such bad shape that you know you have to endure the next two or so hours without much (if any) chance of winning. I just think that sucks.

Sure, I know that in a first game, it can be a lot to digest and you should probably not expect much of yourself; however, that said, I want my listeners to at least have some hope of winning. If I were to rate how well I taught a game, the main metric I would use is: did I give my listeners a solid chance of winning? That largely means the rules, per my explanation, were so easy to digest, that the user had little difficulty grasping them.

The only point of confusion that I'm comfortable leaving in the mind of my listeners, is what makes up a winning strategy/tactics? That a listener's job to work out. I just don't want him feeling dizzy from a haphazard explanation that failed to flesh out the rules in an easy-to-digest format. That's my bad.

I do solidly agree with your foundation, that you are trying to not overwhelm your listeners. That is my primary objective. It's just, as already mentioned, that I primarily do that by trying to minimize how many open loops I dangle before my listeners, by doing my best to conserve their mental energy.

LiteBulb88 wrote:

3. Have patience! People will forget some of the things you say and you will have to repeat yourself multiple times. Think back to when you were learning the game--did you remember everything the person told the first time through? Probably not.


Amen. Amen. No tool in teaching is as important as repetition.

Again, repetition supports my entire philosophy of trying to have the listeners feeling the lightest burden at all times. A listeners can't help but sometimes veer off course as he gives some consideration to what he's just been told. This means, he will miss things. That's why repetition is vital. You're goal is to minimize what might be missed -- especially if it is important.

I appreciate and respect that you've really thought out your approach. I am sure you are in the upper echelon of rules teachers. I think how rules are taught to a new game is one of the most influential factors in how much fun everyone has.

Again, I didn't mean to be deliberately contradictory only to offer a differing perspective.
 
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Mario Lanza
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LiteBulb88 wrote:

4. I then offer to replay the first round from scratch, especially if someone didn't understand something critical and made a bad decision.


Huge kudos to that! It shows you value how much fun everyone is having. This is the kind of put-others-first attitude we should see more of in the hobby.
 
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