It seems there are endless games being launched on crowd funding sites and being released by too many game publishers to try to count. Those of us in this hobby may find ourselves with stacks of new and old games that have yet to be played. Maybe you have decided to reduce your “shelf of shame” or you have just picked-up a new game that you are excited to play. Lucky for us, there are plenty of how-to-play videos on the “interwebs” to help, so learning rules has most definitely gotten easier than it once was. Even though I am writing about this topic, I don’t consider myself a great teacher when it comes to teaching games. I have, however, discussed teaching methods inside and outside of the world of tabletop gaming and have discovered that one of the aspects most applicable in all forms of teaching, is understanding how your audience best learns. If you have watched many how-to-play videos, you may have noticed that not all are created equal. When I am teaching new players how to play a game, I have caught myself either explaining things too quickly, or simply reading the rules. This is a very quick way to get eyes to gloss over and have everyone to zone out. At that point you are just wasting everyone’s time. It would be nice if you could explain the rules flawlessly, have everyone understand everything perfectly and get to the game. Unfortunately, this perfect world scenario is very much the exception, and not the rule.
I think rule number one is to be familiar with the game you are teaching. This isn’t always possible. In cases where you are teaching something you haven’t played yet, then it may be best to play this with the right people (not everyone is going to be willing to grind through rules). It may be beneficial to do a playthrough (even a solo playthrough) prior to teaching a game to new players, especially if you haven’t played it in a while, have never played it or are teaching anyone that you’d consider a “non-gamer”. Not being prepared to teach can turn people away from what could be an enjoyable game into an experience that will make them never want to play it again.
Rule number two is to use a teaching method that will make sense to most people. From what I have seen, there are three types of learners: audio learners, visual learners, and hands-on learners. Audio learners seem to be the easiest people to teach when it comes to games. You simply explain the rules and you’re good to go. Reading directly from the rulebook can even be acceptable with audio learners. They tend to have good reading comprehension skills and have the ability to stay focused easily. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people fall into this category. Most people (myself included) tend to be visual learners or may even be hands-on learners.
Visual learners need to be shown the board, the components, and physical references. When explaining different actions, don’t just verbally explain, but show the actions being performed as if it were your turn. If this is done with all the rules during the explanation of the game, it will take a bit longer, but will save frustrations throughout the game. Players will have a better grasp on what is going on and what they need to do, and you’ll notice that spending this small amount of time will cause the overall experience to be more positive and enjoyable for everyone. I find that when I am using online videos to help me learn a game, the individuals that teach visually help me understand a game better than those that read the rules and throw-in a few visual aids.
What about hands-on learners? My wife opened my eyes to people that learn this way, she being one of them. Hands-on learners may need a few practice rounds of a game to fully understand how the game works. Once again, it is a little bit of a time commitment but playing one or two practice rounds first, and then starting over may be essential for someone who is a hands-on learner. It may also be a good idea to play with all secret information, such as each player’s hand of cards, resources etc., as public information during the practice rounds. This will help everyone understand and reduce the risk that new players will make simple mistakes early in the game and be unable to catch-up. No one likes to play through a long game that they have no chance of winning, especially due to not understanding the rules completely.
Teaching games can be time consuming and many times can be a thankless job. It can also be incredibly rewarding. If we choose to teach a game, prepare and teach in a way that will allow everyone to have an enjoyable experience, then we will have truly succeeded and maybe even helped introduce someone into a hobby that all of us love.