How to teach games
1) Prepping the game
2) Teaching the game
3) Running the game
a) Selecting the right game
Before you start teaching make sure you are playing the correct game. If you don’t know your audience, double check they are down for the length, complexity, aggressiveness (attacking- ‘dudes on a map’ style vs co-op / euro) and theme. Often you won’t need to do this but just bear in it in mind. Also consider themes and accessibility (amount of reading, color blindness, required movement in dexterity games.
I am not saying teach all beginners really basic games. I often go with a more complex game where the theme is more compelling or interesting to that person.
b) Know the rules
Ideally try and know the game well . If you don’t know it make it clear up front to set expectations.
Make your self a check list, for example after turn two introduce comment rules.
C) Be ready
If possible have the game set up. If not do delegate shuffling and handing out tokens. You can explain what the tokens are as you hand them out, but it is probably best to get the game mostly set up and perhaps explain the key elements, i.e. as you hand out coins or starting cards to each person. The risk with doing two things at once is that people might miss things.
D) Assess the existing knowledge of players,
Don’t reference another game unless you are sure the majority of the group know it.It can appear condescending and more confusing. If in doubt, don’t reference other games. If a player asks then explain briefly.
Teaching the game
A. Explain the overall concept,
What kind of game is it? What is the theme?
“This is ‘Viticulture’. You own and run a vineyard. Starting with nothing you have to plant vines, harvest grapes and make wine to score victory points. The game is broken down into seasons which we work through together. You’ll need to use visitors carefully as well as upgrade your farm with new structures.
B. Explain any theme content, aggressiveness or trigger warnings.
The most common issue for games is how take that / aggressive / screw your oponents over they are. Some players don’t like being attacked or attacking others either due to the meanness or due to the lack of control you have when you are attacked. Provide a quick warning “this is a non confrontational game you will compete for action spaces and resources but you won’t be attacking each other” or this is a battle game where your troops and cities will be attacked it’s quite chaotic but really good fun.
Then consider other theme or trigger warnings. There are many brilliant emotional / story telling games which theme death, suicide and murder Games like This war of Mine, Chronicles of Crime. Story telling games have become very popular with the rise of applications to drive the narrative.
C. Optional: Explain what games this is similar to.
For more experienced players and some neurodiverse players having a frame of reference in another game can be very valuable. King of tokyo is yahtzee, King Dominio is dominos. Tyrants of the underdark is dominion with a battle map.
D. Explain how you win / score
(do reference back to how actions affect your ability to win), maximum score, scoring at the end (don’t worry about minute details like tie breakers)
Your aim is to gather victory points by performing actions, selling wine, or playing visitor cards. There is a small amount of end game scoring in the form of ?
E. -Explain how the game ends.
Mention if there is an additional turn after the end game trigger.
The game ends when one player hits 25, however the round is completed.
F. -Explain the basic flow (demonstration of a turn is fine)
You have a farm and fields where you can plant vines and storage below for grapes and wine and you will need to upgrade these. The heart of the game is placing your workers on action spaces. You can buy more workers here. Each space can only take one worker, however your big worker can share a space with anyone. Some spaces have an associated benefit. The board is split into seasons. We all must leave a season before we move onto the next season. The first seasons (spring and summer) are more likely to be used in the start of the game, as they are related to planting your vines and harvesting the grapes (autumn). The second half of the board is making and selling wine (winter).
Running the game
Start the game with basic turn narration and strategy notes as needed
• Don’t feel you have to explain all the rules, but if you leave rules out let people know you will introduce them later, “that is the basics. I’ll do a recap and introduce the last few rules after turn 3” or “I’ll introduce combat rules in a few turns as we get to it as we are too early to reach each other yet, however when attacking you want twice as many men as the defenders”.
• When in the flow of teaching do say to people “I’ll come back to that question later when it makes more sense”.
• Do ask questions to verify your players comprehension, I personally tend not to do this but it can help with some games / gamers.
• The hardest games to teach can be traitor games where you are a player. You might have to ‘step out of the game’ “As a games teacher here are some strategy and tips for both teams should you be a traitor”.
• Avoid teaching strategy at this point. Keep the focus on how the game works.
IF YOU ARE A PLAYER being taught, let the person teaching take the lead. They may have missed something out on purpose. Only jump in if it is clear something has been overlooked. One voice is much better than two of three.
Even if you know the rules be attentive. It sets a good standard for the other players.
Don’t be frightened to ask questions. Just be patient as the answers are probably coming!
Do talk through your options. Narrate your turns by all means and if players want to narrate their turns so you can check they are doing it correctly that is fine too.
As a games teacher you can explain why as well, ditto for asking other experienced players to explain why they are doing their moves. Feel free to dial this back once the game is flowing.
Do offer some tactical advice for newbies if they want it (this is contentious). I tend to point out the stronger, initial options, including pointing out non-valid moves (e.g. you can’t make wine as you don’t have grapes). As I judge the room I lessen my support as the game progresses, but do ask if they want advice if they look stuck. Try not to be condescending as lots of players want to work things out for themselves. Again dial this back as the flow of game is going well.
Do be ‘bad cop’ and bring people’s attention back to the game if necessary and cut out side chatter where it is causing obvious distraction and reducing the fun of the game for others. You will need to judge this as some side chatter is ok as this is a social experience after all.
Do remind people it’s their turn or that their turn is next to keep the game flowing.
Do let players ‘do a Griff’. This means letting them re-do their go, unless lots of new information was revealed. We normally let players do once each per game.
Don’t expect to win when you are teaching. You will be distracted by teaching and the natural target for all attacks. Your aim as a teacher is to not win the game is to make sure everyone else learns the game and has fun. If they do that then you have won. Teaching the rules, supporting the other players and being the target of most of the attacks (because you are teaching / own the game/ know the game the best) means you are unlikely to win.
Don’t be frightened to delegate. Ask other players to keep score, shuffle or move the turn marker. As teacher you don’t have to do all of the work.