UNPRECEDENTED TIMES! Great, now that’s out of the way. My love of in-person games has been put on hold for the aforementioned reason. Not to fear though, because many people have been turning to digital games as a way to connect with each other, myself included. This means teaching people how to use online chat services, online game clients, and, of course, teaching people the game itself. Therefore, I wanted to share my quick guide on how to best introduce a new game to someone in a quick and effective manner so you can get right to playing.
Always explain how to win first. Many people get caught up in explaining interesting game mechanics or game themes and forget they are teaching a game. That means there are conditions that trigger the end of play resulting in a winner (or winners). For example: in chess you capture the opponent’s king; in checkers you clear off all the opposing pieces, in Agricola you want the most points after X rounds. All games have an end goal. Explain this part first so new learners have a context for everything that follows. New players won’t understand why collecting resources is good unless they know that resources get you points, and points help you win. Goals come first, strategy comes later.
Walk through the anatomy of a turn. Every game has a time when a player gets to do something. When it is a player’s turn to act, describe all of the actions available to them. And I mean ALL. It doesn’t matter if there is an action that is considered sub-optimal, let them know what is possible first. I have been blown away by new player strategies when they end up playing a way I had not thought of previously because I had my own thoughts about what works best in the game. To avoid bringing your bias into the game, describe all possible actions. This is a good time to bust out the rule book to make sure you don’t miss anything and accidentally end up playing “house-rules” Monopoly for 15 years.
Describe common strategies or meta plays. Now that the player knows what is possible, describe (or better yet, demonstrate) a typical turn or two of game play. Describe what veteran players usually do. Take a moment to explain why this is what happens in the game or what it sets up for future plays. How does a good player typically win? For example: In chess, controlling the center four squares is important as “control of the center allows more mobility for the pieces, as well as easy access to all parts of the board,” (Scimia, 2020). In Power Grid, starting in an inexpensive area means your early game expansion is easier. In Seven Wonders, collecting resources in early rounds allows for larger purchases later in the game. Explain common winning practices early so that new players don’t feel cheated later.
Support take-backsies. It’s a game. Games are supposed fun and wonderful! Let EVERYONE playing with the new player (including the new player, of course) be allowed to undo a move or turn. Playing a new game takes a lot of weird mental processes we might aren’t used to accessing. Mistakes will happen. Everyone will have a much more enjoyable time if they have the opportunity to try their best as opposed to thinking “If only I hadn’t messed up turn two, THEN I would have won!” My exception to this rule is if the rewind was several turns back. If the undo would cause a significant slow down in play, acknowledge the mistake, try to reach a compromise, and move on. Better to keep moving than to stop for 20 minutes figuring out “wait, I thought I had four sheep tokens.”
These four steps clarify the important aspects of any game to new players. Explain to them:
- This is how you win
- This is how you play
- This is how you play WELL
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
So next time you need to teach a little cousin how checkers works or explain to a co-worker how to best play Smallworld, you will be prepared! But don’t be mad when they beat you. That just means you’re a good teacher.
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