I love playing games, I love game night, I love the associations that I form at game night, I love the people I met in the hobby at conventions and gaming events. All of these factors are what make gaming amazing and keep me coming back each game night. Two things I do not like about the gaming hobby is reading rules and teaching new games. There comes a level of stress that I am not teaching the rules correctly and worry that I am not providing those who are new to the game enough information to get them into the game.
Recently I taught a game of Bunny Kingdom at SaltCon, I thought I knew the game and did not refresh myself on the rules. I was very incorrect. When a person plays so many games each year it is very easy to forget, blend, and misteach games. Hopefully the folks I played with at SaltCon know me well enough to forgive my poor teaching and would be willing to let me teach them another game at a later SaltCon.
Some games have rules that are amazing and some games are less effective in the rules they provide. Earlier this year Meeple Nation revisited La Citta, a game that was released in the year 2000. Comparing the rule book for La Citta, and the rule book for Bunny Kingdom there are some vast differences. Bunny Kingdom has simpler rules, but it also uses several images and provides many examples to help the reader understand and clarify the rules they are reading. La Citta, on the other hand, has lots of words and few pictures and even fewer examples, leaving a lot of the rule interpretation up to the reader, which is something that should never be left up to me. I suffer from a level of dyslexia, so reading rules is a challenge for me personally. For me I really like to watch a video of the game before I go through the rules because I am very much a visual learner. It takes more time I know but that is my lot in life, time to move on.
I am looking back at several great games that I own and trying to bring them back to the table via my “10 older games played once this year” gaming goal. I have had the chance to review some of these older rule books, and I can say without a doubt, rule writing has gotten tons better. Two games on my list still for this year are Carlos Magnus and Web of Power. Both are fairly simple to learn games, and they both have a high level of strategy that goes with them. However, going back to these rules is not as easy as it was to refer back to rules clarifications in Bunny Kingdom. We are so spoiled today with better rule books and resources like BoardGameGeek. Although that does not mean that all rule books are created equal.
As mentioned before, I am a big fan of the Firefly TV series. Firefly: The Game is still in my top five games of all time. So I was excited for and quickly purchased Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browcoats. This game looked like it was going to be amazing. However, these rules were a bear to get through and left me with more questions than clarifications. Fantasy Flight, I believe, was the first group to start using the two rule book method. One”learn to play” book, and one “rules reference” book. At first I found this ridiculous, why not just put them all in one place and in one read though you have all the information that you need? Well, I have had a change of heart and I love this means of teaching the game.
Gloomhaven is a beefy game with loads of rules, many conditions, and a ton of instances for confusion. The rules do a very good job of clarifying these issues, but these rules are by no means perfect. Gloomhaven was very overwhelming for many people, so much so that Isaac Childres designed Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, as a lighter version of this amazing game. My wife is willing to play several games with me, but I know that I would never bring home Gloomhaven and suggest to her that we try this amazing game. I know my wife of 26 years very well. Well enough that this game would never see our table. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion on the other hand, was a game she would play. Why would she play the light version and not the big beefy version? The rules are not all that much different. The reason that Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a valid option is simply based on the first five scenarios of the game and the slow immersion into an amazing game.
The first five games of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, begin with just the basic rules. Identifying the goal, move, interaction with elements and combat. The second play introduces, interacting with tokens, basic actions, looting, area effects, and ability decks. The third play introduces difficult terrain, section breaks, bonuses, shields, the long rest, perks, and city events. The fourth round brings in Spawning monsters, the element board, battle goals, and rewards, the final training scenario brings in a boss fight, and explains leveling up.
This slow flow of rules for my wife to take in was perfect. She was able to experience one of the best games out there at a slow pace and gradual rule increase that did not overwhelm her and got her to enjoy a game that she would not otherwise experience. At this point we have played through 9 of the 25 possible adventures, and she is still fully involved in the game. I would also highly recommend the Forteller app to go with this Gloomhaven, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, and several other games. The app reads all of the dialogue players interact with and voice acting is great and helps build the atmosphere of the game.
Learning a new game is much easier these days than it was 20 years ago. There are videos, better rule books and better resources. Not all rule books are created equal, and not every example is perfect, but we are more prepared now to learn new games.
What tools help you the most when trying to learn and teach new games?