How to Teach Board Games – the Pawn and Pint Way
Updated: Aug 7, 2018
“If you look at page 97 of the rule book, you will see that the demogorgon may become an issue, therefore, in order to best attack, you shall have to utilize one of 18 flanking strategies, which I shall carefully explain to you right now….”
We’ve all experienced it. We sit down to play a game with some friends, and a knowledgeable player begins “teaching” us the game – but, while this knowledgeable friend may know a lot about the game, all too frequently, they don’t know much about how to teach.
Therefore, I figured I would utilize my teaching background(I taught school for 2 years and have a masters of education), to develop and adapt a system for teaching board games which is simply to learn and will reduce the amount of time explaining a game a game and increase the time playing!
The basic concept is very simple : Simply explain what the player needs to know at first, and avoid complex explanations, tips, or analysis.
The first trick to teaching the game is having a concept easily accessible to explain to your players. This can be as simple as referencing it to a game they’ve already played: “It’s like Monopoly but…”, or reading or paraphrasing something off the back of the box.
This should always be kept to 2-4 sentences and not take more than 30 seconds to communicate.
Here are some example of good concept statements:
“Pathogenesis is a deck building game in which you play as the germs fighting against the body.”
“Red Dragon Inn is a card game where a bunch of adventurers try to get each other drunk with different abilities.”
The basic rule is this – KEEP IT SIMPLE. Avoid extraneous information, and communicate the basic concept.
Objective Of the Game
The objective of the game should be explained in similarly simple terms to the concept. It should be distinct from explaining the concept, but it should be simply stated.
The objective of Monopoly is to gather more money than the other players and cause them to go bankrupt.
The objective of Risk is to take over the world.
Again, you do not need to go into depth, you simply need to present the basic concept of the game, so as you continue to explain the game, the players will understand what information will help them win.
There are two schools of thought on set up – one is that you can teach them how to set up the first time they play, and that way they will never forget – the other is, set up for them, and after they play the game, they will understand the set up.
Personally, I prefer to set up the game and get the players rolling, but there is merit to both strategies. The benefit of explaining it as you go is that they can pick up some of the set up as you go, the downside is, the chances are they aren’t listening, and the information is extraneous unless they decide they love the game.
This is where you can start to get into the nitty gritty. Most modern games have cards that have the win conditions very clearly expanded, but it’s worth it typically to verbally go through the win conditions exactly, so all of the players understand how to do it. If they are not written down somewhere on the game box, I recommend writing them down on a piece of paper for the group.
Although you will want to explain things in a more technical sense here, I still reccomend doing it as simply as possible. For example:
Example of Clearly Explained Win Conditions:
In Red Dragon Inn, you win once all the other party members have “passed out” drunk because their fortitude has become lower than their alcohol content. They also lose if they ever run out of gold.
Example of Poorly Explained Win Conditions:
In Red Dragon Inn, you win once you have managed to get all of the other players counters to cross. The fortitude can either be reduced to zero, or the alcohol content can be increased, but if and when they ever match up with one another, or pass one another, that player is knocked out. By gambling you can get them to lose money, which can also help you win.
The difference between these two is how clear the first one is – it’s short, it doesn’t drag on, and doesn’t get to deep into the mechanics.
End conditions, like win conditions, need to be explained in exact turns. Simply state them as such:
The game ends when ______ occurs, or _____________.
Again, I highly reccomend writing this down for the players or directing them to a clear statement on the game which explains when the game ends.
Turn Walk Through
The next step is to take the players through a turn – it is typically worth it to do this with each player playing at least once, because they will frequently not be paying attention while it is there friends turn. This will differ depending on the game, but in games that have a hidden “hand” of cards, it is typically worth revealing them as you walk them through one turn, clearly delineating each “phase” of there turn.
If there is anything absolutely necessary to add, add it at this point, but otherwise, if the rules are – like with most games, written on the cards or only happen with certain conditions which will reveal and clearly state that the rule is now in effect – simply warn the players about it, without going in to too much detail.
Shut Up, Stand Back, Answer Questions
The most important thing to remember to do when teaching games is to stop talking and let the players play. If the players seem to be picking up a bit, as early as their first round of turns, stop talking and just watch and be willing to answer their questions. The longer you talk, the longer it will take for them to genuinely have fun – part of the joy of playing games is figuring them out to a certain degree.
That being said, being knowledgeable of the rules and be ready to answer questions. Knowing how to answer players questions concisely and helpfully, will help them get into the game and have a great time!
Here is a list of things we recommend you DO while teaching board games:
Understand the game inside and out.
Review it before teaching it.
Be prepared with concise statements about the game.
Be ready to answer questions.
Here are some things which we highly recommend you DO NOT do while teaching board games:
Talk about strategies, art designs, similar games or anything not relevant to how to play the game while you are teaching it.
Judge the players or look down at them for choosing a specific game.
Act irritated when players ask you the same question.
Narrate the game experience past the first turn.
If you follow these simple tips – we are confident that you shall be able to teach board games to all your friends and have a good time! If you think you are an expert board game teacher, send me an email at edward@PawnsAndPints.com, we are always looking for more game gurus!
And please – comment with your best strategies for teaching games – what works for you? What doesn’t?
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Originally published by Ed