Thursday, 13 September 2012

How to introduce a new game to someone

It has happened to every board gamer; you have bought a shiny new game, and now need to find yourself some opponents. If you are not lucky enough to have an open-minded group of gaming buddies, who have the patience and mental capacity to learn a new set of rules and strategies, then you have encountered this problem. Introducing people and games to each other, particularly involing people who may not be sold on board gaming.

Hopefully, you are smart enough to pick a simple enough game to break in newbies, a la Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Carcasonne, or something along those lines.

Your first job is to convey two critical pieces of information:
  • How to conduct a turn
  • The overall strategy
The order in which you present this information depends greatly on the game. Ultimately, whichever is easiest to explain should be explained first.

Using Ticket to Ride as an example, I made the mistake of trying to explain the overall strategy first to a group of novices - a few sentences in to explaining high-risk high reward routes and strategically picking routes, I could sense eyes glazing over. I immediately switched to what is easiest to explain and understand: how to conduct a given turn; in this case, either draw 2 regular cards or 1 face up wild card, place trains, or get new route cards.

That was simple enough, but raised the question of which would be best to do in a given turn. Next was to explain that you generally want your cards to be of the same colour, as they can be placed on longer routes, which are worth more points. You want to place trains on the shortest path between your destinations, so once you have the required cards, you would place your trains before someone else did. Once all of your routes are complete, get some more, unless you don't think that you will be able to finish them before the game ends.

This summarized stategy is a lot easier to explain once it has the concrete turn structure, and provides a useful rule of thumb for what to do. As player gain experience, they will be able to refine these rules as they improve at the game.

Players ultimately need to understand exactly WHAT they can do each turn (their options) and WHY they would want to do that. Without this information, one cannot hope to play any game. From there, just make sure they know WHEN the game ends, and HOW to win the game.

There is a phrase I have come to loathe when teaching a new game: "tell me what to do". Nothing frustrates me more when teaching a game to new players; I do not want to play against puppets, but motivated players who understand their options and who will make interesting decisions in a game. I utterly despise telling my opponent what to do, as it not only completely defeats the purpose of even having an opponent, it displays contempt of the game on their part. I love games, and you are insulting everything I stand for, and me by extension; there may be no malice in your heart, but fuck you nonetheless.

But I digress.

I have also found that people learn best by example. You should generally have the new players go last, and provide commentary for your turns so as to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. People learn orders of magnitude better by seeing rather than hearing.

For more complex games, teach the rules as you go. Start playing immediately as soon as players have a basic idea of the turn structure, and teach the ins and outs as they come up. There may be exceptional cases, but don't bother mentioning them until they are relevant to the game. Try and give a bit of advance notice, so as not to screw someone over, but do not go over every exceptional case before starting the game.

You may also want to write a cheat sheet. Or get one off the internet. The site has many great examples; but they are not a be-all end-all source. I have hand written cheat sheets for several games, and found that they can cut massive chunks out of play time, as new players do not have to fumble through the rules, instead knowing exactly what is relevant to them.

A good cheat sheet should include anything that players need to know, but would otherwise have to look up. Key words, turn structure, scoring, set up instructions; whatever. Unless it is easy to remember or self explanatory, write it down in an easy to understand format. Do not explain complicated concepts in detail, do not be afraid to cut the fat out of a rule's desctiption, and do not try and include everything. Also, possibly even note important exceptions (such as that you cannot have 2 buildings with the same name in 7 wonders), or things that are easy to forget (start the game with 3 gold).

If there is any heavy lifting you can spare your newbies in set up, feel free to, particularly if they are not sold on the game. Sort out the cards you are not playing with, deal starting hands, shuffle the decks, set up the starting tiles, count out the tokens; anything you do not need their input on.

Include them in any interesting parts, particularly if it invoves them, such as revealing the races to select from (Small World, Cosmic Encounter), randomizing the world (Settlers of Catan, Dominion [Kingdom Cards]), or revealing the enemies you have to face (Thunderstone, Castle Panic, Pandemic [Initial infected cities]).

If you are desperate, play a round open handed. Or play a round not knowing the consequences of your action (this is mainly if you don't know the game either and are learning it as a group). Just get them playing and making decisions for themselves as quickly as possible; even if you have to fudge the rules a bit; even if you might make mistakes; even if you have to ignore certain rules that complicate things; DO IT. GET TO PLAYING THE GAME AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.

The sooner you start, the sooner it will 'click' in everyone's minds, the more you will all enjoy it,  and the more likely you will be to get to play again against them. Which is what it's all about. If a game is never played, then it will only ever be slightly better than monopoly.

But more on that later.


No comments:

Post a Comment