5 Key Tips for Teaching Board Games

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You’ve gotten that new game and brought it home. There it sits, in its pretty cellophane, just waiting to be played. When the time comes to put cardboard to table, though, you’ll need to teach your friends how. And that can sometimes be a challenge, especially with more complicated games. Here are the five tips you need to be an expert game explainer.

Know the Game

The absolute worst thing is when someone brings a new game to game night, opens it for the first time, and proceeds to try to read the rules aloud to everyone. That’s just awful. It can be confusing for those who have a hard time with aural learning. It is boring for players to sit there and be lectured. And it doesn’t give you any foundation on which to answer questions as they come up.

If you want to teach a new game, learn it in advance. Read the rules beforehand. If it’s a complicated game, maybe read them a few times. For particularly meaty games, I’ll sometimes set it up and play a mock round by myself in order to provide some context for the rules. When you have that foundation, you can teach the game in normal speech and put players at ease by readily answering their particular inquiries.

Start with the Goal

The goal of every game is to win. But how? If you start talking about what gold resources do, or about how combat works, the potential players lack the context to appreciate why any of that is important. But if you tell them that the goal is to get to a hundred points, then you discuss everything else in terms of how it gets you points. That way, when you discuss combat, you can talk about it in terms of why the players want to fight each other. When you get to converting resources into other, better resources, you can discuss how those better resources can be traded for greater points.

Use the Theme As Much as Possible

For some players, the theme is unimportant to enjoyment of the game, but a good theme can often give you the reason behind “why are we doing this again?” Not only does it help with players’ motivations within the game system, but also it can help you remember easily forgotten or situational rules.

In Dungeon Petz, if a pet in the petshop is unsold, you add extra food to the food offering the next turn. This one is easy to remember if you’ve embraced the setting of the game. In Alchemists, it costs you a coin to test a potion on a student if he’s already drunk something bad. Once he’s been poisoned or driven insane, he requires more than extra credit to volunteer.

Explain the Game in the Same Order as the Turn Structure

Often a game will have a lot of phases. Phase one, get workers. Phase two, place workers. Phase three, resolve workers, etc. Or maybe in something like Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, each turn involves an action and then a Crisis. Explain it that way to give players a sense of how each of the turns and actions flow from one to the next.

Don’t start with the Crises even though they are important. Instead, talk about what you do on a turn. Go over the various options and how they impact the game. And, once that is covered, only then go over how a Crisis is handled. That way, as they experience it in the game, it will refresh what you’ve told them.

Light Strategy Tips are Welcome

If you are also new to the game, maybe skip this one. But if you’ve got a lot of experience and are teaching something to new players, you might want to warn them about pitfalls or give light strategy advice.

In Dominion, maybe you tell them that that goal is to get an engine that can give you eight coins, and then use those coins to buy provinces. In Dead of Winter, you can explain that it isn’t really about fighting zombies so much as meeting the common goal and discovering the traitor. In King of Tokyo, you might discuss when to stay in and when to get out of the eponymous city. Think about mini-situations to use when teaching how each of the steps relates to the decisions you make during the game.


What strategies do you use when teaching? Give us your best suggestions to help out new players and we’ll put that into our next article.

Featured Image Credit: GeekInsight

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