Teaching games – VP games (Topic Discussion)

Teaching someone the rules to a board game is never easy. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert when it comes to teaching, but over time I’ve learned a few things that have helped me to become a better teacher. I found that different types of games require different types of teaching. So I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned so far and maybe you pick up some ideas that help you with teaching new games to people.

I’m planning to make this a series of articles, but I currently don’t have a fixed schedule for these and I will add to the series as and when I can.

So in my first teaching article, I want to cover, what I call, VP games. These are games where there are specific actions that give you victory points or some equivalent measure that, at the end of the game, decides who wins. There are a variety of games that fit this criterion and I feel that teaching all of these games will be done in a very similar way.

After setting the scene and describing in one or two sentences what the game is about, I would start the teach from the end of the game. At least, sort of. Whether the game’s winner is decided by the most victory points, most gold or whatever else, explaining how you get VPs or gold or whatever it is that the game’s goal is, will allow the other players around the table to have an idea of what they should focus their actions on. Your teach will basically start with the end game scoring, listing everything that gives you points at the end of the game as well as during the game.

So next, you need to explain what people have to do to get those points. In many games, there will be certain points that players will be awarded immediately, as a direct result of their actions. It could be things like fulfilling a contract or completing an objective or it could be a matter of collecting certain cards or tokens that represent points. These sorts of points are usually recorded on a victory point track as soon as they are collected, rather than just at the end of the game, but it will depend on the game. Sometimes points from objectives are only added to your points when the game ends.

Next will be points that aren’t quite so direct. For example, players might get points at the end of the game for having the most of certain types of resources, but at the same time, using the resources to complete contracts could be more beneficial. Many games assign resources a certain value, even if that value isn’t listed anywhere. Usually, some resources will be more valuable than others, so it’s worth telling players about that and how these resources can further be converted into victory points.

Often it will take several turns before a resource will yield points, so this part of the teach will be a bit tougher. However, at the same time, this is usually a good opportunity to explain some of the actions players can take in the game or the different things that players will do on their turn, at least as it relates to getting points.

As you explain where the points in the game come from, you also need to point out if other players might benefit from you gaining points. For example, in a game, you might get a lot of points for building a certain building, but by doing so, the other players can now use your building that might give them points and maybe even allow them to win. New players won’t necessarily see that straight away, so it’s worth pointing out to them as you explain the points.

Finally, you need to point out the pitfalls of the game you’re teaching. Some games might give you a huge amount of points for certain actions, but if you do that too early in the game, you might put yourself in such a bad position, that the other players will find it easy to catch up with and overtake you, while you struggle to get back on track. It’s the dead ends and the offers that seem to be too good to be true that you need to talk about and make players aware of.

I think this style of teaching works really well for games where there are direct ways of getting points. It will often be clear from the rules if that’s the case and if it is, then you will probably be able to have a successful teach, even if you haven’t played the game yourself before.

Of course, and that is true for any game and any style of teaching, the more you have played a game yourself, the better you will be at teaching, because you will have worked out the interdependencies of gaining points for yourself while also giving other players opportunities to benefit. You will much better understand the intricacies and the points that you can get that aren’t immediately clear on a first play of a game.

I’d love to hear if you have ever taught a game this way and how it went. I’ve done this a couple of times now and I think it was pretty successful. It won’t work all the time, but I think you will get a feel for which games this method of teaching is a good fit. In any case, please share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Teaching games – learning together (Topic Discussion)

Continuing in my series of articles about how to teach games to others, I want to talk about maybe the best approach – and that is getting your games group to learn a game together. After all, for many of us, playing board games is a social activity and at the very least, it’s a hobby we share. So it makes sense to also share the burden of teaching, or rather learning, how to play a new game.

You can look at this approach from a number of different angles. The most obvious one is that everyone literally picks up a copy of the rules and reads them and you all do that independently in your own time with a view that you all know how to play the game when you next meet up. Of course, for some of you, it might not be a matter of just reading the rules, but depending on how your brain works, you might prefer to watch a rules video or set up the game and play a few dummy rounds to fully understand the rules or you have some other way of learning.

The expectation with this approach isn’t so much that everyone knows the rules off by heart when you get together again and play the game. It’s more about that you don’t need to spend much time going over everything. It will be fine if you refer to the rulebook from time to time, for example for more complicated things like the setup or edge cases. However, all of you should basically be able to start the game immediately and you deal with the odd question here and there as you play.

I don’t know how well this approach works, as I have never tried it myself. I can only imagine that there will be games where the rules can be interpreted slightly differently, so when you meet up and start playing, different people may have slightly different expectations and may want to play the game in a different way to others in the group. Of course, your first game should always be seen as a learning game, so if different players have different interpretations of the rules, you can discuss it and then decide how you, as a group, want to interpret them and maybe even decide house rules. So, when everyone learns the rules in advance, you just need to be aware that everyone has learned them in isolation and be prepared to deal with differing views as they come up.

Another way of learning a game together isn’t so much about rules, but more the actual game itself. By that, I mean things like edge cases, strategies and the meta of the game. With this approach, you will either have one person in the group who will learn the rules beforehand or you all literally read and learn the rules together when you next meet. Both work and both will take time, but the latter allows you to deal with rule interpretations as you come across them in the rulebook, while the former might be a little faster, because the person who has learned the rules will have looked at FAQs or otherwise already clarified questions that the rulebook may have left open.

Whichever option you choose though, the focus here is more on the actual play. As a group, you explore the game, rather than the rules as such. You learn the game in the sense that you learn from each other’s turns and everyone’s actions and maybe everyone’s strategies. It is important that you all talk about what you’re plan is, if you have formulated one and describe in detail the actions you’re taking and why you’re doing that. That way, everyone around the table will not only pick up the rules, but also understand what these rules mean, what their effects are, in the magic circle of the game.

If everyone quietly takes their turns, it’ll be hard to follow for others and it will be virtually impossible to tell if the other player is actually playing the game correctly. When people say out loud which action space they’ve selected, what happens there, how much money they paid to the bank and why they think that was the most sensible thing they could do on their turn, other players will learn from that. If people also say why they chose one action over another, maybe with respect to the strategy they have in mind, then everyone will benefit.

Of course, normally when we play games, at least competitive games, we don’t openly announce our plan and why we went somewhere instead of somewhere else, because that would give the other players valuable information and might allow them to foil our plans. However, when we’re still learning a game, it’s much more important to understand how the game works than win.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that some games need to be played openly a few times. If that’s the case, then it’s probably worth everyone playing the same faction every time, because they will have learned something about that faction in the first game and in subsequent games they can avoid making the same mistakes or they can really explore the faction’s pros and cons. If players keep switching factions, they will never get used to them. Of course, you all still need to be open about what you do and describe your turns to the group and maybe even point out where you think your faction’s strengths and weaknesses are, so everyone can learn from it.

You can even take it a step further and after a good few games under your belt, you may be able to work out which factions might suit a certain player better or you might want certain people to choose certain factions, because they will find them harder to play and suddenly, a faction that seemed overpowered looks only average, because it’s played by someone else. It allows you to really mix things up and allow everyone to explore a new faction in more detail and see if they can find more strengths than the other player had previously discovered.

It sounds like I’m talking about learning a game, rather than teaching it, but if you ensure that everyone around the table shares with the group what they have learned, as they have learned it, then they’re actually teaching the group – and it’s this important difference that I think is so often missed in games groups. We all like to win and we want to keep our tips and tricks to ourselves, so that we have an advantage over other players, but it’s actually much better to share these tips and tricks with the group, because it raises the level of difficulty for everyone.

I wonder if you have a games group that learns games by playing them together and sharing your learning and openly talking about your turns and your decisions in the game. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. It would be great to know how other groups teach games to each other.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Teaching games – light games (Topic Discussion)

In my third article about teaching games, I want to talk about light games. The advantage of these games is, that they are easy to teach and quick to learn – and often also quick to play. So, this article should be rather short, but as we know, the easier something is, the better you have to execute it and given that lighter games are usually the sort of games new people to the hobby will come in contact with first, we need to do a good job teaching these types of games or we may miss a chance to grow our hobby. So, no pressure.

As I said, light games are usually easy to teach. That’s because there are usually very few rules and very few mechanisms. There is very little people have to remember when they play these kinds of games. Most of the time, it’s literally just a matter of explaining the overall goal of the game and then going over the handful of rules or mechanisms. That’s it.

Take Karuba by Rüdiger Dorn from HABA for example. The goal is to get your four explorers to the temple of the same colour. To do that, you have to place tiles to make paths or you can discard a tile and move a single explorer a number of spaces, depending on the number of “exits” of the discarded tile. You can also pick up silver and gold coins along the way. The first to reach a temple of a certain colour gets more points than the second, third, etc. player to reach the temple of the same colour and whoever has the most overall points at the end of the game wins. That’s basically all there is to it.

Sure, there are a few more things to explain, like when the game ends for example or the fact that tiles are drawn at random, but everyone places the same tile at the same time. It’s probably also worth pointing out that it’s possible to cut off your explorers and make it impossible for them to reach their target, as well as how many tiles of each type are available, but really, none of that is very important at the beginning of your first game.

You don’t need to explain any of that until people have taken a handful of turns and got used to the order of play and how the tile placement and movement work. You can start the game really quickly and people shouldn’t feel too daunted to give it a go, especially if you’re the one drawing the tiles and helping people a little. Everyone should get into it quite quickly and then you can add the other bits, like end game conditions, probabilities of different tiles, etc.

People will then very quickly work out for themselves what the best way of placing the different tiles is or when to go for movement rather than tile placement. They will learn the game together and discover the different strategies for deciding how to lay out their paths. They will realise how the random setup of explorers and temples has an influence on which tiles you need for optimum efficiency. It’s this part that you will never have to explain, but it’s what players will work out for themselves, as they watch what others are doing or as they learn from their own mistakes.

It won’t take long either. Lighter games have the advantage that people will develop different approaches quite quickly, because there aren’t too many different mechanisms to worry about or rules to remember, so you can focus on the game. Light games also usually play very quickly, so you can iterate through different approaches really quickly.

Light games are also ideal to introduce one or two new mechanisms to people. Deciding between movement and laying paths in Karuba is an interesting choice to make, for example, and something that new people to the hobby won’t necessarily have to worry about in other games. If you want to introduce people to deck building, then a game like Fort could be a great start. It also teaches a bit of resource management at the same time. Colt Express teaches hand management, programming as well as bluffing.

So light games are an ideal step towards more complex games. Use games where certain mechanisms stand in the foreground to then lead onto slightly heavier games. However, be careful when you choose your game to do so. If you’ve been in the hobby quite a bit, what you think is light may feel more medium-weight to people who are just starting out in our hobby. Your perception will have changed over time and as I said in the introduction, we want to avoid scaring people away from our great hobby.

Speaking of being wary of scaring people away, light games, which have really distilled a single mechanism are great to try this mechanism out before committing to more complex games, whether this is to see if someone new to the hobby might like certain types of games or if it’s for yourself, the veteran in the hobby, who wants to see if these kinds of games are for you.

So, whatever light game you choose and for whatever reason, you should have no problem explaining them and chances are you will introduce new people to our wonderful hobby, while having a lot of fun at the same time. I bet you can think of at least one light game that you could play with people and the holidays might be the ideal time to introduce new people to board games.

If you do, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear what light game you taught and to whom and what they thought.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Teaching games – learn yourself (Topic Discussion)

I want to continue my series on how to teach board games to others by talking about how you can learn the game yourself or ask others to learn it for themselves. After all, you can’t teach others until you know how to play it yourself and you’re a better teacher if you’ve actually played the game yourself. Also, sometimes it’s actually fun to learn a game and not always a big onus to expect others to learn a new game for themselves before you all meet up to play it.

I do think, learning a game by playing it is the best. I’m usually keen to get into a game and only to be taught the most basic rules and then slowly learn more as I play. It can feel a bit odd, because you don’t really know what you’re doing and there is no way of formulating a strategy, but I prefer getting stuck in instead of sitting through a half-hour rules teach, after which I probably still won’t have remembered everything. You have to be brave and have a good rules teacher, who knows the game, but it works.

Start at the beginning

Someone will set up the game and then explain the rough outline of the game and what the aim is. However, this is very brief and very quickly it’s your turn and the rules teacher will explain the options you now have, maybe even omitting some things that the rules allow you to do, but that make no sense at this stage in the game. You then have to make a choice and then the teacher will explain what happens next. It won’t be clear what the different choices mean, but you just have to go for it, because as you play, you’ll learn how it all works. Sure, your choices will probably be poor ones and in hindsight, you would have done things differently, but then this is just a learning game.

If you’re on the other side of this and you’re the one teaching a game this way, you do have to know it quite well, having played it at least once, even if you played it by yourself, taking the role of multiple players. You need to be able to distil the rules into easy chunks and basically emulate a demo game. That’s not easy, but can be a great experience for new players if you do it well.

Demo game

Some games actually do have a demo game in the rulebook that is exactly this sort of approach of making players take specific actions that explain how the game works. You’re going through everything step by step and everyone takes a turn in a specific way. The demo rulebook will explain what happens and often give an idea of why you may have taken this action in a real game. A great demo will go through everything you need to know and at the same time, the actions you take in the demo actually would make sense in a real game, at least mostly. Of course, a demo that tries to cover all rules may have to sometimes make players do something they wouldn’t do in an actual game, but it should still make sense in the context of the game state.

Magnate by James Naylor from Naylor Games has a demo mode and the rulebook has a big, bold banner that tells everyone to follow the demo before reading the rulebook. It walks you through the game and teaches you all the possible actions and options and is a really good way of learning this relatively complex game.

Digital demos

With the advent of digital platforms, learning a game by playing it has gone a step further. Many digital conversions of board games have a demo mode, where you are guided through the rules step by step, making actual moves and taking actions within the game, as specified by the demo, as physical board game demo modes do, but the digital game often takes on the role of other players, so it feels like you’re actually playing against real opponents. Also, the digital game not only needs to teach you the rules, but how to use the digital user interface as well.

Digital AIs

Digital board game conversions usually offer the option to play against AIs, not quite artificial intelligences as such, but digital opponents with whom you can play the game and who often come in different levels of difficulty. Some games use these AIs during the demo game, guiding you through a few turns to teach you all the rules and the game’s digital user interfaces and then they let you finish the game on your own, playing against these digital opponents.

Root by Cole Wehrle from Leder Games on Steam does exactly that and is, in my view, the best way of learning all the different factions available in the game – at least the base game anyway. You’re basically learning each faction, one at a time, and the game takes you through the different actions you can do and then tells you to finish the game on your own, but with a slightly different winning condition than the full game. You’re then on your own, sort of. Actually, the game keeps an eye on what you’re doing and if you don’t seem to be able to finish the game, it gives you hints, which is just amazing.

Rules teach videos

When it comes to asking your friends to learn the game for themselves, then demo modes of games are a great option, of course. I would suggest that digital demo modes are probably the best, unless everyone has a physical copy of the game to use, but of course, there are also rules teach videos. There are many channels that offer these and of course, Watch It Played is probably the most popular one out of all of them. You can see how the game is set up, what the different actions are that you can take in the game and often there is additional information that explains those rules that may not be completely clear from the rulebook.

Playthrough videos

Playthrough videos are also a great way of learning the game. Again, there are many video channels that offer these types of videos and many of them start the playthrough with a rules teach. So not only do you learn how to play the game, but you then see it in action, giving you a better understanding of how the rules translate into a strategy within the game and how actions affect the game state.

Personally, I find rules teach and playthrough videos are a great source to better understand how a game works and see if it’s for me, but it rarely gives me enough to be able to play it. Mind you, I’ve never tried watching a rules teach video with the physical game in front of me, so maybe I’m just doing it wrong. However, both rules teach videos and playthroughs are invaluable to deepen your understanding of a game, so I do highly recommend them.

How about you?

I hope this has given you some options to learn games yourself and get your games group to learn them maybe before you play them next. However, what I’m really interested to know is how you go about learning a game yourself and if your games group has found a way to ensure everyone knows a new game before you all meet up to play it together. Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Teaching games – teach-as-you-go (Topic Discussion)

I have mentioned it on this blog before, but my favourite way of being taught a new game is by diving right in. Teach me only the absolute minimum, just so I roughly know what sort of game we’re playing and get an outline of what I’m trying to achieve and then let me start taking my turn. It’s the sort of style of teaching that Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules advocates and it’s probably the best option for demoing a game at a convention as well.

First of all, let me say that this style of learning a game isn’t for everyone, of course. At the end of the day, there is no single way of teaching a game that will appeal to everyone in the world. Some people need to know all the rules right from the start or at least know enough so they can formulate a strategy and have a decent chance of winning the game or they just want to feel they have some agency right from the get-go and that they make their own, intentional choices.

When you learn a game as you play it, you won’t know all the rules. You won’t even know enough of the rules to feel like you know what you’re doing, let alone get any sense of being able to formulate your winning strategy. It can feel quite scary for a player to learn a game this way. At the same time though, you’re delving right in and it won’t take long until you’re in the middle of the game and if you had a good teacher, you’re starting to get what you’re doing and soon you’ll take turns on your own.

Be brave

So, yes, you have to be brave to want to learn a game as you play it, but I reckon you have to be even braver if you want to teach a game that way. It’s not easy to introduce people to a new game and give them only a rough outline and maybe one or two basic rules, before delving right in. You have to know the game quite well to be able to teach it this way. If you’ve never played the game before, then you probably won’t be able to teach others to play it this way, unless, of course, someone else taught you the game by getting you to play it.

Anyway, if you want to teach a game to others by asking them to learn by playing, you need to be able to really distil what the game is about and know what sort of actions players are likely to want to take at the beginning of the game and what actions are really no use to start with, but become more important later in the game. Generally speaking, you want to pick out those rules that are vital at the beginning and leave other rules to later.

Can’t teach it all

The problem with this is, of course, that sometimes there are rules that you will teach players later in the game, but that will actually affect whether someone will win or not. For example, there may be certain types of actions players can take that will give them victory points, but if those actions are basically not an option at the beginning of the game, then you might as well talk about them closer to when they become a possibility.

That will lead to moments when players will tell you that they would have done things differently earlier in the game, if they had just known that these victory points were available to them, but players have to remember that the idea of this type of rules teach is about not overloading people with rules to start with, but slowly introduce them to things as they become relevant.

It’s a learning game

Also, we all know that the first time we play a game, it’s a learning game, but it’s easy to forget that. Yet, when you teach a game a bit at a time, then it’s especially important to remind everyone that this is their first game, that it is a learning a game and that it is highly likely that they would have done things differently, if they had known all the rules from the start. It’s almost inevitable with this style of teaching.

As players start to take their turns, you, as the teacher, need to tell them the different options they have, with a rough link to how the different actions will affect the game and may be useful to win the game. You may even suggest a certain option over another, just to guide a player a little, but you have to be careful, because you don’t want to take a person’s agency away from them. Yet, as it can already be quite scary to learn a game as you play, it might actually be quite helpful to players to get some tips as to what they should do, at least at the beginning of the game.

As the game progresses, you will be introducing new rules, types of cards, actions or terminology. You need to try and tie them back to rules players already know. For example, if players have already learned about the currency in the game and there is something happening soon that might force them to forfeit their money if they have too much, it might be worth pointing it out in time and explaining how players can effectively spend their money on something useful. You want to avoid players being completely surprised by a new rule or event, especially if the new rule or event has a negative effect on the outcome of a game for a player.

Explain just enough

The process of teaching a game by playing it is a really fine balance of explaining enough, but not too much – but also not too little. If you do it well, it can be a really good experience and be the best way for people to learn a new game. That’s especially true for people who are new to the hobby or for whom board games aren’t a major way of spending their free time. If people don’t want to sit through half an hour’s or hour’s rules teach, then teaching the game by getting people to play it is perfect.

Some games will lend themselves better to teaching this way, of course, while others are very difficult to learn by playing. Some games actually come with a sort of “learn-as-you-play” demo mode. I mentioned this in my last article, “Teaching games – learn yourself“. If you do have a game that has a sort of demo mode, then maybe use that to learn it yourself and then try and teach it to others that way. The problem with demo modes tends to be that players have to take specific actions, which isn’t really what you’re trying to do. Those sort of demo modes take the player’s agency away from them and you’re all just following a prescriptive script.

When I teach a game to my wider family, I tend to choose games that I can teach in this way of getting people to learn as they play. Games with very few rules are ideal, of course, but there are more complex games that you can teach this way. You just have to do your homework and know the game pretty well, so you can point out the important bits first and then explain things as you go along. It’s definitely worth trying.

How about you?

I wonder if you have ever taught a game this way. As I mentioned in the introduction, learn-as-you-play is quite common at conventions when someone demos a game to you. So maybe you’ve experienced it in that environment or maybe someone in your games group has taught you this way. I’d love to hear your experiences with “learn-as-you-play”, so please share them in the comments below.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Teaching games – responsibilities as a teacher (Topic Discussion)

Continuing my series of articles about teaching games, in this article I want to talk about what responsibilities the teacher has. It’s not always obvious, but when you teach a game, you’re not done after explaining the rules to the group. You have to continue to keep an eye on things, to make sure everyone plays correctly. You also have to be ready to answer questions during the game. That’s a lot of responsibility to shoulder.

So let’s start with the obvious. When you’re teaching games to others, you are the one who has to somehow convey the rules to the group of players in front of you. That’s no easy task in itself and how you approach the teach will depend on the game, your player group and probably other things. I have covered a few different ways of teaching games in my other articles. So check those out for some tips and advice.

Teaching Games Done – but It’s Not Over

Now, let’s assume you have gotten teaching the game out of the way and you have started to play. That doesn’t mean that your job as a teacher is over. In a way, what follows now is possibly even more work than teaching was.

Your job is to keep an eye on the other players to make sure they’re comfortable playing and that rules mistakes are avoided. It’s sometimes best to actually start the game yourself when the others around the table haven’t played it before. That way you provide an example of what you do on a turn and maybe highlight what the others can do in the game. It’s probably a good idea to talk out loud about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It’s another opportunity to re-iterate some rules and offer suggestions for a possible strategy.

When the other people around the table take their turn, you can offer help. However, never tell anyone what they should do or rush them. It’s so very important that players have agency. Some people just take longer to work things out, but chances are, they need to do it themselves to actually understand the game. It’s a fine line. You don’t want someone to not know what to do and feel embarrassed to ask, but you also don’t want to just tell people what to do.

Mistakes Happen

Your role as a teacher is also to ensure rules mistakes don’t happen. If you get to a point in the game where the rules have some sort of exception or there is an edge case, then it’s probably a good idea to point it out again then. It’s exceptions and edge cases that are usually the hardest to remember or understand.

If someone does make a mistake, politely point it out. Again, it’s a very difficult balancing act to ensure the game is played correctly, without embarrassing people. You want people to understand the rules, but everyone learns differently. Something you think was really clear, may still be confusing to others. Again, be ready to explain the relevant rules again, but only when someone asks for them. If you just go ahead and explain the rules when someone got them wrong, it will most likely come across as patronizing.

two people playing a board game together (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)

It’s also not uncommon for you, the teacher, to have gotten a rule wrong or forgotten to explain a rule. Be honest about that and as a group, you can decide if you want to apply the correct/missed rule from that point forward or if you all prefer to continue to play as you had done and apply the rule in the next game. I think both are valid options, depending on the situation and the people you play with.

Strategy Advice

Some players will want you to give some suggestions for the sort of strategy they should follow. I always say, your first game is a learning game. You won’t be able to formulate a strategy from the start. You’re just pressing buttons and pulling levers to see what happens. When you play a game for the first time, you’re really just exploring it and trying different things to get a better feeling for what’s possible and how things work.

So when someone asks for strategy advice, I either just explain where points come from in the game, if that’s useful, or politely suggest that they just try different things and aren’t too worried about winning in their first ever game. I might point out some common traps though. In some games, there are certain things that are really bad choices, and as the teacher, it’s your responsibility to point these out. At the same time, it’s sometimes better to let players work these traps out for themselves. Again, it’s a difficult balancing act to get right.

Of course, when teaching games, you may already have played them yourself and therefore have already formulated possible strategies. That usually gives you a certain advantage, but I would argue that this advantage is fair, because the teacher is already busy focussing on everything but their own game.


Speaking of which, when teaching games, be prepared to lose. You’re going to be so focused on what everyone else does that you won’t have time to make sure that you play to the best of your abilities. You will most definitely miss opportunities and make suboptimal decisions. Other players will interrupt your train of thought with questions. When you normally would have time to think about your next turn, you will be keeping an eye on everyone else to make sure they’re all comfortable and happy.

So don’t beat yourself up if you end up having your worst game ever. That’s quite normal. Even if you have played a game dozens of times and perfected your strategy, when you teach that game to others you will still probably lose. Feel proud when you receive the hashtag “good teacher”. It’s another way of saying you lost, but successfully introduced other people to the game.

four people playing a board game together, all look excited, while one looks aghast (Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)

What About You?

Now I want to know how you feel about being the teacher of a game. Are you nervous when you teach a game to people? Do you end up losing because you’re so busy making sure everyone is happy? Are there any tips you want to share that you think helped you become a good teacher? As always, I’d love to hear from you. So please leave your experiences and suggestions in the comments below. It would so great to share with others what it was like for you to teach games to others.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Silent Alpha by MusicParadise
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/5067-silent-alpha
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: http://www.music-paradise.de

Teaching games – responsibilities as a learner (Topic Discussion)

Here is another article in my series about teaching games. Last time I spoke about the responsibilities the person has who teaches the game. This time I want to cover what is expected of the people learning the game. After all, the teacher will not get anywhere if no one is willing to actually learn the game. So, as a learner there are certain things you have to try and do to make the rules teach easier for everyone.

As always, it’ll depend on how the teacher approaches the teach. As a group, you might all be happy to learn a new game yourself, maybe using rules or playthrough videos or reading the rulebook online. Then your responsibility as a learner is really all on you. You need to have learned the game before you all come together to play it. How you do that is all up to you.

It’s another thing if you have someone teaching a new game to you. It’s what we do in my games group and is the approach you’ll usually find in games cafes or at board game conventions. There will be one person, or maybe two, who explains the rules to everyone. How that is done will depend on the game and the teaching style, but if someone teaches the rules, your responsibilities as the person who is being taught are different to when you have to learn them yourself.


I think the most obvious thing that you, as the learner, need to do is to pay attention. It should be pretty clear that you need to listen to what the teacher has to say and try and absorb the information. Even though it’s probably something that everyone knows they should do, it’s also something that’s often forgotten.

I’ve seen it before, especially at board game conventions, that people don’t really pay attention. They’re on their phones taking pictures of the game and tweeting about it or they start reading their player aid or they play with the components. I know that some people can do both, but I think it’s only good etiquette to give the rules teacher your full attention. After all, they have worked hard to prepare for this moment and they’re possibly also quite nervous teaching a game to other people.

I appreciate that learning a new game can be quite overwhelming. There can be a lot of information to take in and it can just become a bit too much. That leads me nicely to the next thing that learners should do.

Communicate Your Learning

If you feel there is too much information coming your way, then say so. Sometimes it is possible to teach only some of the core rules and just start playing, explaining the rest as you go along. That’s not always the case, but when it is, it’s a great way to reduce information overload. As a learner, you could ask if the teacher is able to get to a point where everyone knows enough to start the game.

old style telephone receiver and cable (Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash)
(Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash)

Another thing you, as the learner, have to do is ask questions when something isn’t clear. Asking questions is a good way for the teacher to know what things need to be explained in more detail or that might have been explained previously but have since been forgotten. Asking questions also creates a bit of a break, allowing you to absorb the existing information while something is being clarified.

Also, everyone learns differently. So if the teach doesn’t work for you, then explain this and describe how you would prefer to learn the game. For example, I’ve noticed that some people like to have the rulebook in front of them as they learn the game, so that they can read relevant sections. Reading is their way of learning and not so much listening.

Generally, though, communication is important. Maybe nod your head to show the teacher that you understood something. If the teacher points at something on the game board or somewhere else, make sure you look at it. Maybe ask to take a closer look, if you can’t see it from where you’re sitting. When learning a game it’s so important to show the teacher that you’re following what they’re saying.

Push Buttons and Pull Levers

When the teach is over and you start playing, there are a few more things to bear in mind. The first time you play a game, you should explore it. Push buttons and pull levers, as they say. You won’t be able to formulate a strategy and there will most likely still be a lot of things that are unclear. So just try things and see what happens. If an action is unclear, for example, you could ask for more explanation or you could just do the action. Learning by doing is the way forward here.

Chances are you will make mistakes and depending on the game and the people you’re playing with, you might be able to have a takeback. However, even if you’re not allowed to undo what you just did, it’s still a good learning experience. After all, if you’re forced to correct your mistake, you will discover new things.

a mixing desk (Photo by Leo Wieling on Unsplash)
(Photo by Leo Wieling on Unsplash)

Of course, if things are still completely unclear and you still have no idea what to do, then ask. As I said above, communication is key – during the rules teach just as much as during the game. Provided you have a very vague idea of what’s going on and at least know the possible actions you can do on your turn, then you’re usually better off just trying them. Don’t expect the teacher to steer you in a certain way, let alone provide you with a fully-fledged strategy.

What is most important though, is that you share with everyone around the table what you’re doing and why. It goes back to communication. After all, everyone is playing this game for the first time, possibly even the teacher. So if you share with everyone around the table what you’re doing, then they can learn from that.

Be Prepared to Lose when Learning

As you will realize by now, when you have just learned a game, you’re probably not going to win. So don’t go into it with that mindset. In fact, you should expect to lose. In my games group, we have a rule that says that the first time someone plays a game doesn’t count. Sure, we will add up the points at the end, but winning or losing is irrelevant. The first game is a learning game. So when I add the game to my stats app, I’ll mark it as such and it won’t appear in the charts.

If you approach your first game this way, then you will happily take turns that lead to disaster. You will learn from those disasters and improve with every turn. You might even discover new ways of winning the game, just because you play in a very unorthodox way.

If you do end up winning, then even better.

a chess game with chess pieces and the white king on its side (Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash)
(Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash)

What About You?

So what about you? How do you feel about learning a new game? What do you do when you listen to the rules being taught? What do you do when you get to play it? Do you say out loud what you’re doing? Do you like learning from the actions others take? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear how you behave when someone teaches you a new game.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Tivinize by Sascha Ende
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/62-tivinize
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://www.sascha-ende.de