Tips for teaching games

19 Mar

Here’s something I have thrown together for my game group at school later today. They are aged 10-12, if that is relevant.

Any comments? What have I missed?

The constraint was that I tried to fit it all onto 1 sheet of paper.

Teaching a Game

It’s not easy to teach a game, even one you know well. Here are a few tips:

  • Start with the story. What is the theme of the game?
    • “In The Settlers of Catan, you are colonists settling an island.”
    • “In Cluedo, you are guests in a house where a murder has been committed.”
    • “In Piece o’ Cake, you are sharing out a pie.”
    • “In Pandemic”, we all work together to save the world from diseases.

Sometimes, a game doesn’t really have a theme. Just give the players a very general idea of what happens during the game.

  • Next, tell players how they can win. What is the goal of the game? What is the victory condition?
    • “The first person to set up their colony wins – you need to get to 10 Victory Points.”
    • “You’re trying to solve the murder – the first person to do that correctly is the winner.”
    • “At the end of the game, you add up the number of dollops of whipped cream that you ate. And if you have pie saved, the person with the most of each kind of pie gets points for that too. The winner is the person with the most points.”
    • “Either we cure all 4 diseases, and all win, or we all lose together.”
  • Now tell them when the game ends. Some games may have more than one end game condition.
    • “The game ends as soon as one player reaches 10 VP.”
    • “The game ends as soon as a player has correctly guessed the murderer, the weapon and the location.”
    • “The game ends after we have shared out five pies.”
    • “The game is over when all four of the diseases in the game have cures – that’s if we win. Otherwise, it ends after the 8th disease outbreak or when we run out of disease cubes or cards (in the player deck). It’s OK to get to 0 but once you need more than that it’s all over.”
  • Now you can get into the rules. Try to explain what a player does on their turn – but also make it clear if they can do things on someone else’s turn. Start with the most general rules: What do I need to do on my turn? Don’t re-state a reference card, but do point it out.
    • “Each turn, you roll the dice. Players who have built on a tile with that number all get that resource. You get 1 resource for each settlement and 2 for each city. After that, on your turn, you can trade with other players and/or build roads, settlements and cities, and buy development cards (we’ll look at those in a minute). The costs for all of these are on your player card.”
  • Lastly, you can go into detail about any special rules – or wait until they are needed.
    • “If you roll a 7, something special happens. What you need to know now is: If you have more than 7 cards in your hand, you have to discard half of them. And you round up, so if you have 9 cards you must discard 5.”
      (Later, after a 7 is rolled) “OK, so anyone with more than 7 cards has to discard half.” (To the active player) “Now you get to move this special piece, which is called the Robber. You need to put it on a space, which won’t produce any more resources until the Robber moves again. And then you get to steal a random resource card from someone who has already built on that space!”
  • Try not to give too many strategy hints. Let people work those out for themselves!

Posted by on March 19, 2010 in games, school


7 responses to “Tips for teaching games

  1. Jeff Coon

    March 19, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Great job. You mentioned the ways to win early (a pet peeve, we’re 15 minutes into the rules explanation, and I don’t know the victory conditions). And you also mentioned “special rules” last. There’s nothing worse than being hit with a laundry list of rules exceptions and special cases before I know the basic mechanics.

    Nicely done!
    – Jeff

  2. Jeff Myers

    March 19, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Very nice. I always forget to explain when and how a game ends. Also, it’s a good idea to set up examples using the bits, rather than just talking about it.

    Excellent job!

  3. Mark

    March 19, 2010 at 9:01 am

    It was recently pointed out that I rarely mention the win conditions early enough. I guess I enjoy playing the game more than reaching the end ;o)

  4. Steve

    March 19, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Pretty much nailed it!

    I agree that you don’t want to give too many strategic hints but with a non-gaming crowd I would always offer up at least one strategic hint just to seed them with the kind of thing they should be thinking about.

  5. Gerald

    March 19, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Excellent! I like knowing the victory conditions early, then learning how to work toward them. I also agree with Steve — one strategy hint is good. As a first-time player, I like to have a tiny guide toward the right direction, without having to learn the hard way via failure to grasp a concept early. It gives me a feeling of at least having some idea of something to do or to avoid; the rest I’ll figure out myself with experience or analysis.

  6. Werbaer

    March 19, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I usually add another point between ‘goals’ and ‘rules’: ‘components’. Epsecially important with game with lots of different components, like PuertoRico or ScepterOfZavandor. Not that importatnt with your examples.
    – ‘This are resource cards. You use them to buy or build things’
    – ‘This are cities and towns. They produce resources’

  7. Jens Hoppe

    March 22, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    It’s quite similar to how I explain rules – and I am almost always the explainer for the games I participate in.

    As a general principle, I always start with the big picture – try to build up a general “skeleton” of the game, so to speak, upon which to hang all the details I am going to introduce later on. For that reason, a phrase that can always be heard when I explain rules (often several times during an explanation!) is “I’ll get back to that later on in more detail!”

    Like Werbaer I usually describe the components early on, eg. “so, the board consists of a number of regions, you can see Europe here in the middle, and the various other regions – Africa, India, and so on placed around it”. I find that if players have an idea what they are looking at, the rules are often easier to digest. For that reason, I always unpack a game so all the components are visible before I begin my explanation.

    While I might mention in general terms how one wins a game (and how it ends), I usually wait with the specifics until later on in the explanation. Going into details early on is detrimental, since a new player doesn’t know any other rules and terms that provide the context for those details.

    As for strategy hints, it depends: If the rulebook lists some, I might go through those briefly. “Hey, the rulebook has a few hints, d’you wanna hear them?” Also, if I am familiar with gameplay and the other players aren’t, I don’t mind describing in general terms what the game *is about*. For instance, I’ve explained Homesteaders a couple of times now, and the second time I ended my explanation telling the players that “yes, this is very much an ‘economic development’ game, and it’s going to escalate a lot: It’ll be slow going for a couple of turns, and then things will start to take off. Also note that the buildings that become available for the last two turns score BIG points compared with the ones that come before, so be ready for them”.

    So, for me it’s more or less

    1. Story/theme
    2. General overview / big picture / goals described in general terms
    3. Components
    4. Rules details. Going by the sequence of play if possible.
    5. Possibly a couple of sentences giving a general overview of strategy.


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