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Subject: Explaining Games to New Players rss

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Double Plus Undead
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What methods do you use to explain games to new players? Personally, I'm more of a visual learner (at least when it comes to games), so if you play out the parts of the game as you explain them to me, or run through a practice round, I'm more likely to understand it.

I have friends who explain games by reading the rules out loud, and that just makes me zone out immediately. Especially if the reader tends to drone...which most readers do. That's not a knock on anybody. Having a good reading voice, with variations in tone, is definitely a learned skill.

One friend of mine loves to explain games so much, he'll actually grab the rulebook out of your hand and do it for you! In his case, I really don't mind, because he's so good. He has the uncanny ability to absorb a rulebook in minutes, and simultaneously explain and act out the game! On top of that, he's very sharp and animated, so he makes it really interesting.

Here is the method I've been using lately. I start my explanation by going from the general to the specific. (Note this really only works for games that you already know how to play.)

Theme - What is the game about? (Pirates escaping an island? Investigators must stop an ancient horror before it awakens? Have the best farm after 3 years?)

Goal - How do you win? (Most Victory Points? First to accomplish a secret goal?)

Mechanics - How does the game work?

Anatomy - What do the symbols on the cards mean, etc.?

This method makes sense to me, but I think I need a lot of practice with it before it really "flows". Any ideas for improvements? Or alternate methods?

(Two BIG pet peeves:

1. Players who don't want an explanation, and just want to "dive right in". Unless you're playing something like Fluxx or Munchkin, that's not going to work.

2. People who already know how to play, and just jump right in and finish your explanation for you!)
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GeekInsight
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I think you've got the basics down. Utilizing the theme is usually pretty helpful. I typically like to state the goal (get the most points, capture the king, whatever), and then go through a round or a turn and talk about any options one by one. That way, my explanation has an internal organization that more or less matches the game's.

However, as long as we're pointing out pet peeves, I share both of yours and would like to include one more: People who read out of the rulebook. A game explainer should be able to tailor the explanation to his audience. Reading the rulebook just wastes everyone's time. I could have done that on my own.
 
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Victor van Santen
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If there is a "Quick Overview" on the back of the Rulebook:
Hand it to them and point to the corresponding line while you explain. It will help them with the rules (where are we? which phase is he explaining again? etc.) and will make them familiar with the design/layout of the Quick Overview Page.

If there isn't a "Quick Overview"-Page I always print some kind of player aid. It helps explaining the game without forgetting something, if you haven't played the game for while.

At the End of your explantion, repeat "often overlooked rules" twice. Helps a lot, even experienced players will often forget minor details.
 
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George Falconer
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Teaching games is an art form. People resist learning games, and people are uncomfortable playing games that they feel they don't understand.

Brevity is essential, you cannot let them loose interest. The phrase "OK, almost done, ..." will come in handy since you must be thorough, so that they do not feel cheated if they 'find out' they missed something. Make sure that they know how to win, so that they don't feel lost. And make sure they know what types of choices they are going make and when, and that they understand the turn order, or they will feel like they are stumbling through.

And try to understand what the group you are teaching is looking for. The right game with the wrong group, or at the wrong time, is not the right game at all.

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Dan Cristelli
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pirate_chef wrote:


2. People who already know how to play, and just jump right in and finish your explanation for you!)


Yeah, this one irritates me too. I have been doing this a while now and I have a certain path I take to explaining everything.

I think what causes this is that while I may see it making sense to be explained as A-B-C, someone else sees it more in the C-B-A way. Not that it's wrong as long as the concepts are there, but it is different.
 
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Brian Homan
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I think you have a good grasp on how to teach a rules set to a crowd of newcomers. I have always found that showing someone how a game is played, while explaining it, works much better than explaining alone. Having a simple player aid to refer back to is also very helpful. Newbies can refer to this while others are taking their turns and better formulate their path forward.
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Mike Geller
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You have a similar approach to Ryan Sturm's of the How to Play podcast. He calls the stages the Hook, the Meat, the Hamster (strategy tips) and Footnotes, Musings and Vegetables. He has a guild here on the geek and resources (including a podcast and an article setting forth his technique) at his website, www.howtoplaypodcast.com.
 
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Jean Gagnier
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I teach board games part-time for a living, and there is nothing more annoying than being interrupted. It's easy to defuse when it's the players asking things I haven't yet covered, and I can gently tell them "Well, I'm glad you're excited! I'll get to it, it'll make more sense later on".

What is harder to defuse, however, is people jumping in to explain how things work. And it's annoying. What's even more annoying is that it's a really hard habit to kick - even if I can't stand it, I still catch myself doing it to others. Argh!
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D S
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Often I find it best to just teach the basics and then mainly teach through play. Obviously doesn't work as well where lots of the game is private: but in simple or transparent games, you can point out relevant things in the first turn or two. I sometimes explain why I'm doing things (in the case of Discworld: Ankh-Morpork I play with my hand open).

In terms of a single game with random people at a group, this may not work: the first game will be imperfect, and gamer types might get frustrated by not knowing relevant things that they might use to plot to win. But with general not very gamey people, I find they'd rather play quickly, not do that brilliantly and then play a second game having ironed things out.
 
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