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Learning/Teaching New Games

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What are some common ways people mess up when teaching a game? Do people purposely leave out the important parts to cause an unaware newbie to lose the game? Does the person who teaches the game always have the advantage, or are there some games that do a great job of avoiding this problem? Do you learn games only if they are taught by a certain person, or do you just read the rules yourself so that any misunderstanding is your own problem?

-kind of a bland topic, but its my 2 cents

ADMIN: moved to "Game Design" forum, as it doesn't really fit the scope of the "Topics in Game Design" forum.

Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: I got an idea for a topic

snipy3 wrote:
Do people purposely leave out the important parts to cause an unaware newbie to lose the game?

What kind of lower lifeform would do this? Newbies are invariably at a disadvantage, but I can't imagine the kind of scum who would do this. (I hope I'm not sticking my foot in my mouth when I find out most of you would do this!) In the games we play, if the newbie is about to make a ridiculously stupid move (simply because he doesn't yet fully understand the rules), we usually advise against making the move and show him what he ought to do. The purpose is not to thrash him but to turn him into a worthy opponent or play partner. Then you can thrash him.

If I know a game well enough, I try to teach it by providing what they need to get the game started. I try not to overwhelm with details that will never be remembered. I think most people learn more from doing than from listening.

A player needs to know what the object of the game is; how one wins. He needs to know what procedures constitute a turn. Generally a first game with someone is a feeling out process. It's kind of like a first date, something I haven't had in about 23 years. A newbie wants to know enough to know if he wants to try it again or if it doesn't hold his interest.

That's my take.


Learning/Teaching New Games

This past weekend we taught Catan to 2 new people, neither of which are regular gamers. We also typically play with Cities and Knights (and Seafarers if we have 4 or less), so it can be a little daunting for new players. I do my best to cover everything, which usually ends up overwhelming them. They typically look lost until the 3rd or 4th round, asking about 5 questions per turn, then they start to understand; by the 2nd or 3rd game the questions have almost stopped.

That said, I think I tend to overdo it. In addition to the rules, I usually throw in basic strategy, which gives them even more to process. I would be better, I think to play a shortened sample game, and then discuss strategy afterwords, or discuss it as the game is played.

As for advantage, one of the two new people won the game.

For myself, I prefer to have the rules briefly explained, and then to pick up the rest while playing... maybe I should do the same when teaching.

Regardless of who taught me, I read the instructions as soon as possible (I guess I'm the rules "lawyer" of the group).

Learning/Teaching New Games

I sometimes forget rules when explaining a new game to people. My wife hates it when we get halfway through the game and I remember a rule I forgot. She hates it so much that I usually just let it slide and then explain the rule I forgot later on (sometimes after the game is over).

I never cheat. If you cheat, you cannot win.

Learning/Teaching New Games

I also go above and beyond what is needed to teach people the game. They sit and stare at me like I'm nuts, I'm just trying to do as best a job I can. I was taught Axis and Allies by a former friend (he isn't my friend anymore ever since he assaulted me and never got arrested for it, and that previous statement was 100% true) and he did such a bad job teaching it I about fell asleep. His opening statement was:

"Okay so like if you roll a one you kill an infantry."

Whoa, whoa, whoa...I don't even know what the game is about yet and you're trying to teach me how to kill an infantry? For all I know infantry don't exist in the game!

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
Learning/Teaching New Games

I taught San Juan to my parents this last weekend, and I feel much more confident that they might be able to handle Puerto Rico now, as several of the important concepts of PR are nicely introduced in SJ. This is a somewhat exceptional case, of course...

Now if only there was a way to teach "Euphrates and Tigris" in less than a whole afternoon ;-)) (And I know it took me a embarrasingly large number of games before that one finally "clicked".)

Zzzzz's picture
Joined: 06/20/2008
Learning/Teaching New Games

I think teaching rules depends on the audience. You have people that absorb information differently. Some people need visual input to understand/learn things, while others might be better at understanding someone verbally explaining the rules.

I tend to understand rules from a visual standpoint, give me a quick overview and dive into a game. I can usually pick up the needed extras as I go.

As for teaching, I think many people that teach rules, assume to much of those they are teaching.

I recently ran into an issue with the game AIF that I co-developed with some friends. One of the guys is very "smart" when it comes to GM'ing role playing games. We attempted to create our GM book as a "How-To" style book, but proofing was very hard. You have to be so careful not to assume that people will "just understand something". You really have to approach the rules from a "newbie" standpoint. Which is hard to do when you already know the rules. Not to mention you dont want to SLAP anyone that is experienced in the face.

Its all about the audience.....

Johan's picture
Joined: 10/05/2008
Learning/Teaching New Games


It is possible to learn a game by just playing without any rules described before the game, just play the game.
You must however always tell the goal of the game.

This weekend I was instructing the Avalon Hill game Republic of Rome. We decided that this was a learning game, we should play 3 turns. I did not tell the player about any rules, we just started to play. After an hour they had the overview concept of the game, and a lot of details. Next time we meet will include a real RoR game where we go start the session by describing the rules.

I have learned Britannica, Advanced Civ, Settlers of Catan, DBM and a lot of other games the same way. I have also played some games on tournaments without knowing the rules when the game started (the other players know about it and accepted it).

The first time I played Diplomacy, it was an in a tournament and I got a one-minute walk threw (basically it was described as: You should control as many control centres you can every second turn. You have army's and fleets. Army's can go on land, fleets on water and costs. You can support a unit into an area, one attacking and the other supporting. You have to have more units then the other army's to get into an area, you can support other army's then yours. All orders are written and reviled at the same time. Lets play.
I got to the final where I came on third place.

It is not possible to do this with all players or all games, but it is a possibility.

// Johan

play it through

I found that games should simply be played through as an example. Play with hands open, and try to choose actions that can cover most if not all the odd situations. I find (at least in the groups i hang around) that showing the player something is much better than describing it.

However, I find that the rules that are least likely to get said are house rules. Typically where the rules for the game are not crystal clear. This came up in a game of Domain recently:

  • 2 players had established a treaty on one of their borders.
  • a third player pushed his boarder into the area that the treaty was established.
  • The rules had nothing to say about this scenario. And a house rule had been previously established, but the new player didn't like the outcome.
Conclusion; the new player didn't want to play the game again. Ever.

IngredientX's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
Learning/Teaching New Games

The Games Journal has an outstanding article about teaching games here...

I've been up to the challenge of teaching games online, through BSW. It's much more difficult, as I have nothing tactile that I can physically point at and say, "This is a Quarry/Worker/Jester." I've also found out that even after the first game, it's important to keep newbies nurtured. I just taught someone PR, and she really enjoyed it. Her second game was a 5-player game with seasoned vets. Even though we slowed down many times to discuss strategy, it wound up making her head spin. It was too much.

Personally, I try to keep it to the rules, and let the learning players discover most of the strategy themselves. If they have a question about what they need to do at that point, I'll answer it; and if they are about to make a silly move (difficult to prevent on BSW, where you can't take back moves), I'll gently point them to a better move.

Good luck!

Learning/Teaching New Games

Hi all, my first post on this forum. I wish I had discovered it earlier!

Anyway, I've been teaching games for roughly 18 years. Starting with my younger brother, than sister.

Three years ago my wife and I bought Settlers of Catan. Since then we've taught it to...*counts in his head*...lots of people, over 20 at least. The majority of the people I've taught it to had little gaming experience, Monopoly was the closest thing for them.

Here's the things that help me teach games:

*Knowing the game well.

The first thing I do is get the board setup. Than I get everyone's attention and explain that I'm going to run through the rules with them...and they're not going to understand most of it, but that’s ok.

Once they've accepted that statement I begin explaining, stressing the most important and fundamental actions/rules but explaining everything in a logical order.

Inevitably one or more people will get flustered and ask to start the game. I patiently explain again that I'm going to finish going through the rules, than we'll start and as we play I'll go over each thing as it comes up.

This method has worked well for me and on several occasions people have won their first game. (Partly a testament to Catan I think)

People quickly get overwhelmed if you go through everything before they play but, I find it pays off when it comes to re-explaining during that first game. Also, this avoids people getting upset when they mess up because they hadn't had a rule explained to them, instead even if they don't remember what I explained before the game they know that they are forgetting something and are much more likely to request a refresher at an appropriate point.

I always start people off with the basic Settlers and wait to add either expansion until they are comfortable.

The first few games I always go real easy on 'em and teach them strategy as we go, if I happen to win I'll try to explain to them how I did it.

Other than the initial explanation of the rules I keep all of my clarifications and strategy tips as casual as possible, this keeps them much more comfortable than a lecturing or teaching tone.

I thoroughly enjoy getting a new game, reading the rules and teaching it...and playing it too. Keep the environment relaxed, don't let them feel pressured and reassure them that the point is to have fun!

Learning/Teaching New Games

IngredientX wrote:
The Games Journal has an outstanding article about teaching games here...

Wow, great article. Thats more or less how I teach. Great read for anyone though.

One thing I thought of while reading it...never let more than 1 person explain the rules. The occasional chiming in if something foundational is missed might be ok, but trying to understand two or more people explain something together is extremely confusing. This is how my friends tried to teach me Axis & Allies, I quickly grabbed the rulebook and eventually overcame their disjounted explanation.

Learning/Teaching New Games

I agree that strategy is something best left to people to either figure out for themselves or ask about once they understand the basics of the game.

My mother has a disability that renders her easily confused, though she still has quite a passion for playing games with me. I have to go very slowly and be sure to give enough detail but not too much detail. It's a fine line, but it has helped me learn how to teach game rules (though more than once I have glossed over complex rules and explained it later when the situation came up in the game).

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