Friday, 3 October 2014

SU&SD, Tom Vasel & How to teach a game

Both Shut Up & Sit Down (SU&SD) and Tom Vasel (of The Dice Tower) are the major highlights of game reviews on the web - with two very different perspectives on how best to deliver the basics of board game.

But what's the best way to teach a game to your friends?

Since we first started playing Dungeons and Dragons back in school, I have been one of those people who enjoys learning rules and using them to 'support the fun'. I think every group needs at least one of these people - ours had more than a few! - to help digest the rules into an enjoyable game.

However, I think everyone can find their best way of teaching a game. I think these simple ideas will make your explaining experience a lot easier.

1) Rules are boring (no matter what you think)

Simply by looking at the way you speak can help keep someone interested when your talking about rules. Scary rules.

Tom Vasel brings a very real approach on how to understand a game. The simple step-by-step nature of his videos and blog borrow kindly from his relaxed demeanour - it's not good to overload a player; they've a game to win!

SU&SD utilise humour and silly antics that, all-in-all, highlight the theme and complexities of the game. Emphisising the cool elements of a game whilst explaining it's mechanics establish it's place (and relevance) in structured gameplay.

2) Set the scene (i.e. Summarise)

Summarising the game sets the scene for everyone. It levels the playing field and puts beginners into a position to fight for victory.

Whilst your opening the box and getting everything out, try explaining these four points:

What are we doing? (e.g. We're flying a ship that's connected by sewage pipes, through space.)

How do I win? (e.g. By being the one who makes it to the end of 3 races with the most points.)

What is most important? (e.g. You'll need to use these pieces and construct a well-built ship that can out-perform other peoples efforts.)

When do I make my decisions? (e.g. This deck of cards tells us what we'll be flying through - but it could be anything so, prepare for the worst...)

3) Get them involved (the devil makes work for idle thumbs)

Then handing over all of a player's stuff should be the next priority.

Give everyone something to pick-up and look at! It's a great way to take the eyes of you and onto the game.

Players can listen whilst you explain rules and give examples - they don't have to be sitting up straight at locking with your feverish gaze

4) Run through examples (they've never seen it before!)

Make sure you are clear on the parts that matter and skip the parts that don't.

If something will happen very often, make sure it is highlighted. Otherwise, offer a brief description and refer them to the rulebook.

When you emphasise certain elements of a game - as long as they're the right ones, the player will already have a sense of whats important and what  is not.

This helps them feel more at home, and home is a nice place to be.

5) Start playing (are we nearly there yet?)

Then start playing. The sooner you get down to brass tax the more the players will remember of what you just spent precious minutes explaining.

A few things to keep in mind when playing a game with new players:

Expect questions. Expect experienced gamers to ask as many questions as beginners.

Don't throw away the rulebook! It might answer a question better than you ever could!

Be willing to break rules of secrecy to answer difficult questions (e.g. when looking at a hand of cards) but otherwise try to offer the rulebook to confused player.

Let beginners try things and let them go wrong. If you play the game for them they won't enjoy the experience.

At the start of the game it's not about winning - it's about making sure things are working properly so as not to illegitimate the win. If that sounds deep - then it is.

It's good to practice! Make the effort to describe the game on multiple occasions if needs be - you'll probably do it better than you did last time. Everybody benefits from that.

And finally;

Don't ever feel like YOU have to answer every question - you've got a bloody game to win!