5 Hot Tips For Teaching A Game

It’s games night! The best night of all. But, what’s this? You’re getting a new game to the table, it’s a big one, and you’re in charge of teaching the rules. Ruh roh. A lot rests on your shoulders! What if you let these people down? Look at their expectant faces. There’s a lot of rules to get through! Well, fear not. With these expert tips from Tom Bell, you’ll be teaching games like a pro in no time!

BUILD THE HYPE.

Before a single rule is explained, I always tell everyone why this game is gonna be so darn great! Start by selling the story of who you will be in the game… Maybe you’re a famous racecar driver in the 60s fighting for the title! Perhaps you’re all grizzled crew members on a spaceship, woken from hypersleep by the terrifying sound of aliens on board…! What if you are some merchants in 13th century Germany hoping to build efficient trade routes? Okay sure, some of these themes will be easier to sell than others. But still, I always start by getting people excited so they’re keen to learn more.

Another easy way to do this is: “Okay everyone, pick a colour!” Letting people pick a team colour or character at the start of a teach is a great way to give players some immediate agency. They’ve already made a decision and immediately feel more engaged, thinking about how they can bring glory to the Yellow Team. They’ll be crying out for rules by this point!

I sometimes hand out playing pieces/cards etc as well, but not always. It can be good to have something tangible for players to hold but use your judgement here; for some people the temptation of a lovely pile of cubes can be too much and everyone will start competing to build the tallest towers when they should be learning the thrillingly different ways to complete efficient trade routes in the Middle Ages.

BE PREPARED.

As Scar loved singing about in “The Lion King”, being prepared is key to a good teach. Some obvious ones coming up here but, firstly, have the board set up beforehand. I know, surely no one would start a rules teach without all the lovely objects laid out before people? Well, it happens and oh boy does it make things harder for people. Sure, you know what you mean by the discard pile to the left of the main castle, but new players won’t and, seeing as how you’ve got to set the board up at some point so why not before?

Also, and yes, fine. It’s another obvious one but, make sure you know how to play the game you are teaching. Even if it’s just a quick read of the rulebook or watching a “how to play…” video, the better you know a game, the easier it will be to teach. If I’m going to teach a game none of us have played before, I always try and find time to set it up and run a few turns on my own beforehand. Doing that gives me a feel for what it is that’s exciting or different about a game, what to highlight and what to skip over rules-wise at the start. This is more important for bigger, more complicated games rather than, say, a quick card game of course, and more and more games now have good tutorial levels now but my gaming group has definitely pulled games off a shelf a bit drunk at 10pm and a tedious hour of reading the rules later we realise, “Ah, the board needs to be the other way around, darnnit, the advanced traders don’t have hats until round 4, and, okay guys, looks like the crabs are only for the expansion…” back on the shelf it goes and we are put off trying it ever again.

A VOICE FROM THE CROWD: “WHAT DOES THIS GUY DO? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO

COLLECT TRADE GOODS? CAN I PUT THIS PIECE HERE? WHEN DO I USE THIS CARD?”

THANKS BUT, LET’S SAVE QUESTIONS UNTIL THE END.

Players will love to ask questions about all the cool things in front of them but it can really derail you and if you start answering obscure rules questions before you’ve gone over the basics, it can end up confusing players. Just say “I’ll explain that when we get to it, all questions at the end please.” And if people keep asking questions, just tell them again, but use the serious voice. You know the one. A little exasperated breath, brow furrowed, take off glasses if wearing them, that one. Never fails.

YOU DON’T NEED TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING UP FRONT.

The temptation to explain every rule before a dice is rolled is understandable, but I find it much better to keep things short and let people start playing as soon as possible. Imagine bringing rules out like a tasting menu, one small plate at a time, rather than a mad free for all buffet. Oooh, they will think, what’s on this next plate? (If it helps to wear a chef’s hat go for it, life is short.) Obviously, players will need to know all the rules at some point, but there are going to be lots of things that aren’t relevant for a first turn and things will make much more sense to players once everyone has played a turn. To me, the sooner I can get people playing and say “There are a few more rules but we’ll come to those when we need them,” the better time everyone will have. You’ll need to have a sense of what rules to add when, but you didn’t get that chef’s hat for nothing, you can do it!

SO, WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING?

Explaining the rules is one thing, but people love to have an idea of strategies, especially good opening turns. Players want to know what sort of thing they should be doing, and what the win conditions are. I like to give people a clear, simple goal for the first few rounds, ie, earn another dice, hire some pig soldiers, order a hat for your traders, etc.

Be generous and try and play your first few turns open-handed. I always like to take the first turn when teaching so I can loudly talk through what I’m doing “Okay, I’m going to place one cube here because that will be helpful for X, and another trader here, that will help me for Y.” Everyone will nod sagely and say, wow, that was a cool first turn, which will give you a little dopamine hit that signals, here we go! Game time!

Oh, and if you can bear it, never try and win the teaching game. Come on… (activates serious voice, furrows brow) Come oooon…We’re not here to bash new players, we’re here to win over new fans to this game so they’ll want to play it again and again. The best way to do that… leave room for someone else to win. Look at it this way, if someone else wins, that means you taught it well! But if you win, well… (Distant sound of booing. Everyone furrows their brows. Distant booing intensifies.)

Hope these tips help! A word of warning, you may find you now so good at teaching games that people refuse to play the actual game and demand you teach them another game, over and over. If this happens, may I recommend trying to learn “The Taverns of Tieffenfel” drunk at 10pm, everyone will lose faith in you instantly and you can start over from scratch again.