Here’s How To Ease Newbies Into Complex Tabletop Games

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It’s always fun to get your friends into tabletop gaming, but there is always one part of getting tabletop beginners into tabletop games–teaching new players the rules. Tabletop is great, but some of the most fun games have some confusing rules if you haven’t played through them before.

Who among us hasn’t had that minor twinge of panic while playing Betrayal at House on the Hill when the confused new player is chosen to be the betrayer? Have you ever tried to explain to someone who doesn’t normally play tabletop games that the rules of Fluxx will change as you play? And I think we’ve all had that moment of explaining the rules of Settlers of Catan while we watch our friend’s eyes slowly glaze over. How can you introduce your friends to games like these while not boring them, overwhelming them, or confusing them with the extensive rules? Well, I have a few ideas for you.

Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Ask anyone who’s played Betrayal, and they’ll all tell you how much they love this game. While it can be tough explaining to new players that you build the board as you go and that the object of the game changes once the haunt begins; the biggest snag in the game often comes from the moment you have to tell the new player that they are going to be the betrayer, send them off by themselves, and hope they understand the rules being read.

The first time I played this game, the people introducing me to the game made it very clear — when you’re the betrayer, you are on your own. Figure out your new role in the game by yourself, and don’t come to anyone for questions. Now, when you’re dealing with people who are vaguely familiar with Betrayal or are used to playing tabletop games with several rules, this isn’t a huge deal. But when you’re playing with new players, that can be a pretty overwhelming prospect. So instead of making the new player feel isolated should they become the betrayer, either appoint someone ahead of time to be the betrayer with them, or appoint someone ahead of time to be the go-to guy for questions.

Part of what makes this awesome is the fact that the game is different every time, but that can be overwhelming for a new player. Making sure new players have someone they can go to for questions, regardless of what transpires in-game can give them time to understand the rules and really enjoy the game.

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Settlers of Catan

I played this game with a friend who isn’t a huge tabletop player. My friends and I love playing this game together, so we were really excited to bring another friend into the world of Catan. As we explained the rules, he became more and more confused to the point where he just started laughing and told us to start playing, promising he’d “catch on as we went”. Spoiler alert: he did not. Instead, he got more and more frustrated and gave up mid-game.

Catan really is a tabletop classic, so it’s a bummer when you get a friend who can’t get into the game because the rules overwhelmed them. To help avoid this, explain the basic rules, and immediately jump into playing. Once the game begins, make sure the new player can ask gameplay questions and even a few strategy questions, and explain the rules in-game if the newbie is still a bit lost. Go ahead and partner your friend up with another player show them what they would do in their situation. This paired with offering a handful of no-consequence “practice” turns can help new players master the game and feel less intimidated by the rules.

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This is a fun game with tons of variations on traditional Fluxx, but it can be really tough to get new players to feel comfortable with the idea of a game with ever-changing rules. The game can be tough to introduce to new players who prefer a highly structured game. When I’ve introduced this game to others, I do my best to remind them that this game has a handful of basic rules of drawing and discarding at the start, and beyond that, the object of the game will evolve as we play and discard.

To avoid a litany of questions when that brief explanation ultimately doesn’t satisfy your structure-loving gamer pals, the best solution I’ve found is to jump into a practice game. Fluxx games don’t take terribly long to finish, so going through a game that is only meant to get new players the feel of the game won’t take up your whole night. Just make sure that you say ahead of time that it doesn’t matter who wins–I’ve definitely gotten in many an argument over whether or not a practice game “counted.”

What are some of your favorite tabletop games? What do you do to help new players get comfortable with the game? Let me know in the comments! 

Image credit: Thirteen of Clubs/

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