Everyone loves a good board game, but how many people love teaching board games? Sometimes it can seem like learning a new game is the biggest barrier to entry. At Mox, we pride ourselves on our staff’s ability to help our customers learn and enjoy games by teaching in a way that is accessible for gamers at all levels of experience. Whether you’re at the table with a regular Twilight Imperium group or have finally convinced that stubborn friend to join you for their first game of Carcassonne, these tried and true steps are sure to help you get started smoothly!
Before you start
Know your audience. As exciting as it is to show off your upgraded pieces for Scythe or fully painted Rising Sun miniatures (I’m not obsessed, you’re obsessed), your family game group with grandma isn’t always the best time to introduce a 3+ hour territory control game. Ask your friends what they like! Is theme important to them, or is there a mechanic that really enjoy? Always make sure you know how much time they want to spend and more importantly, how much thinking they want to do.
Know the game. If you don’t know how to play the game, you can’t teach people how to play it. Period. Spend time before your group gets together reading the rules and/or watching tutorials, even if you’ve played the game before. And if a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to, refer to the rule book! There is no shame in saying “I don’t know”. A lot of games offer “beginner rules”, use them if you’re able.
Practice teaching the game. It may sound silly to teach a board game to an empty chair, but like any other skill, teaching takes practice. You may notice that after explaining the same rule a few times your description will change, and a flow will develop that can be much better understood by players.
Ask how they want to be taught. There are multiple types of learning styles. One friend may benefit from reading the rules themselves and another may need a detailed explanation while a third prefers to learn as they play. These are all great ways to learn, and the only way you’ll know how to best teach the game is if you ask.
Let set up be an active part of learning the game. This is the time to encourage your friends to fiddle with the bits and ask questions. The more welcoming an environment is, the easier it is for a novice to engage in the process. Don’t be afraid to answer a question with a non-answer to prevent confusion. A simple, “that’s a great question, we’ll get to that later in the rules” can be a good way to keep players on track without muddling the learning process while still emboldening players to continue asking questions.
Teaching the Game
Explain the theme. This is the who, what, when, where, and why of a board game. For example, Ticket to Ride could be described as a game where “players collect cards of corresponding colors to claim railroad routes for victory points”. This is a broad explanation of the game that incorporates the mechanics of the game into the subject of the game.
Explain the objective. This is the how of a board game. How do I win? Always make sure your players fully understand the winning conditions of a game. Continuing with Ticket to Ride as an example, the objective is to “earn the most victory points by claiming longer routes than your opponents and successfully connecting specific cities”.
Explain how to play in order of turn structure. Always follow the flow of the game. This is a slightly narrower, but still board explanation of a turn. If your players are going to begin by collecting resources, explain the resources and how to collect them before explaining how to spend them. For Ticket to Ride, this could be as simple as saying “there are two ways to take a turn. You may collect two train cards from the marketplace, either face up or face down, or you may spend your train cards of corresponding colors to claim a route on the map”.
Explain additional rules as they become relevant. After players have a general understanding of how the game will play, expand on what they already know. This is where your explanations will be the most detailed. It is also a great time to give strategy tips so players can have a better understanding of why these additional rules matter. For example, in Ticket to Ride “there is a wild colored train card. This can be used in place of any color train card on the map. However, it must be the first card you draw from the marketplace if you choose it, and your turn immediately ends when you do, so make sure there aren’t two other cards you might need out on the board”.
Play a dummy round. Play as many dummy rounds as you need for your group to feel like the are fully prepared to go into a real game. This should hammer out any missed details or questions that may have been skipped during the initial explanation. Referring to Ticket to Ride, this might be when it is explained that “when there are 5 basic train cards of the same color or 3 wild cards in the marketplace, they are all discarded, and the cards replaced”.
You should now be ready to play the game!
Things to remember
Make the information accessible. Use layman’s terms. Using high-level terminology can scare away new players and make them afraid to ask questions.
Remember the Golden Rule. Games are meant to be fun. If you are playing to win, you have already lost. Make sure your strategy isn’t causing other people to lose enthusiasm for the game.
Ask if they liked it. Following up after the game to find out what your game group did/ did not like will reassure your players that this is for their enjoyment as much as yours. Furthermore, it can also help you pinpoint what other games they may enjoy in the future.
See you at Mox
There you have it! If you follow these quick and simple guidelines, you’ll find yourself quickly mastering the role of Rules Teacher. Do you have any tips and tricks we didn’t cover here? Let us know on social media!
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- The talented managers and staff at Mox Boarding House Seattle and Bellevue, WA
- Shut Up and Sit Down “How to Teach Board Games Like A Pro”
- Watch It Played “Table Talk 39 – Tips for Teaching”
- Pawn and Pint “How to Teach Games: The Pawn and Pint Way”
- Geek and Sundry “5 Tips for Teaching Board Games”
- Board Game Geek “How to Teach Games: A General Primer” by Ryan Sturm
- Mox Boarding House “5 Game Teaching Tips“