Board Games Week: How To Teach Games


Whether you’re at a gaming group or at home with friends and family, teaching new board games is an important part of both having fun on the night and introducing people to the hobby. Here are a few ways to make the process as painless and effective as possible.

Learn the game first. If at all possible, make sure you’ve played the game before you teach it. If not, read the rules first. If you try to teach and learn the game at the same time, you’ll be much more likely to get things wrong, confuse people, and put them off both the game itself and the hobby in general. Knowing the game can also help you figure out exactly how to teach it.

In most cases, don’t teach by going through the rulebook cover to cover. Many designers either organize the rules in what they feel is the most logical order for somebody who is going to read it all before playing, or follow a particular convention that hardcore players will be used to when trying to find a specific point. Neither of these order will necessarily be the best for teaching. Instead, try this method:

  • First explain the theme if there is one. This is partly to make the experience as immersive as possible, and partly because in a well-designed game, understanding the theme and “who you are” in the game can make it easier to grasp the rules and deal with any ambiguities.
  • Next explain how you win. You don’t have to go into intricate detail, but give people an overview of what they are trying to do. If it’s a victory points game, run through the different ways of earning points.
  • Then explain the components. Telling people what purpose each piece or type of card serves is a great way to get a lot of information to stick because players can visually associate it with the component rather than try to remember a long list of details.
  • Finally explain how a turn works. If at all possible (and it won’t take up too much time or require a complete new set-up) either simulate a turn, or have the players play a dummy round. Seeing components move, or actually moving them yourself, helps the information stick, while playing the turn will give players a chance to think and pose any questions.

Don’t worry about explaining every single rule unless it’s a simple game. The key is that players have a reasonable idea of what they have to do, what they can do, and what they are working towards. Beyond that, you can usually leave it to players to ask about anything else they need as they go along.

Watch the jargon. If you’re with a group of hardcore hobbyists who understand the industry’s terminology, it’s a great shortcut. If not, phrases like “it’s a worker placement Euro with a secondary bidding mechanism” can be offputting: not only do they fail to communicate information, but they can leave players feeling excluded and out of their depth. Remember that people who regularly attend a board game group aren’t necessarily reading reviews or online discussions about gaming.

If you’re not the one teaching, try to resist the temptation to chime in (and yes, it is a great temptation!) Doing so not only irritates the person teaching, who may be taking a specific approach to covering the rules, but can also distract the focus of the other players. Only interrupt when the teacher is about to change subject and has not only very clearly either misread/misremembered a rule or missed something out, but where this mistake would have a significant effect on playing.

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