Friday, September 17, 2010

2.24: Teaching Games - The Technical Side

Quite a lot of gaming recently--I managed to get out to game with Brian and Joseph, where we played Isis & Osiris, Tomb, and Circus Flohcati.  I also attended Strategicon in Los Angeles for the first time, and for a local convention, I have to say I was impressed.  I went with Brian and Robert, and though I can't share many of the comments made during that weekend, it was an excellent time.  We expanded Robert's horizons, met some cool people (that's "normal cool", not just "gamer cool"), and even got to play with play-doh. 

This is a post I've been meaning to do for some time, but the week I planned on writing it up, several of the boardgaming podcasts I listen to covered the same topic.  I figure the statute of limitations has passed, and I've got a two-parter in mind, so let's get this thing on the road.

I was going to start this with, "First..." but we should start with some important pre-teaching concerns, so...

Zero-th:  know your audience, and be prepared to teach the game.  If you want to play with a specific person, don't pick a game you believe a person is going to hate.  If a person hates direct conflict, or Eurogames, or games with dice, don't pick those types of games.  As far as being prepared, read the rules ahead of time, a couple times if possible; maybe even set up the game and play a few mock-turns.  Some people complain about a teacher reading the rules to a group--I personally believe this is a bad idea and somewhat boring, plus most of the ruleset can be condensed.  I'd imagine it would take 30-60 minutes to read the Agricola rules out loud, but these can be explained verbally in 10-15 minutes. 

(Finally) First, I cover the theme of the game--we're bank robbers, space ship captains, ninja toilet paper rolls--something that gives the players an initial reference and hopefully draws their interest.  I'll also throw in some particulars on the type of game and interactions between the players, again to create interest, but at this point a player can also decide they don't want to play this type of game, and saving us both a lot of effort.  If we're playing a game about throwing frogs in blenders, and someone has a problem with that, I'd rather they leave at the beginning than suffer through a rules explanation and leave when I'm done.  (Note:  I don't actually have a game about...oh, nevermind.)  If the players are more experienced, I'll also throw in the type of mechanics in the game--set collection, area control, roll and move--or name another game that has some similarities. 

From here, I jump all the way to the end, explaining the goal of the game. "You win by collecting the most points.  You get points for each full jar of pickled pigs feet you have in your fridge at the end of the game."  From this the player knows what their ultimate goal is, and get a sense of the road they take to get there; in the example above, they know the rest of the rules will cover where they get the pigs feet from, and the steps needed to pickle these feet and put them in your fridge.

Next, back to the beginning.  It helps to have the board set up or mostly set up, and the pieces out on the board.  I explain the basics of the game while pointing out the associated pieces.  If there are cards in the game, I try to remove a few of each type of card to explain their affects in the game before I shuffle the deck.  It's a good idea to incorporate visual and verbal information (ever hear of "The five ways of learning"?  It's the idea that people learn information differently, and often retain information better in one of these five ways:  verbal, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and aural), though depending on your group, you may want to wait on "tactile, handing pieces to players--I've seen more than one "Meeple Tower" or "Happy Meeple Circle" created while I'm trying to explain Carcassonne.

I usually go through a game turn, state any special rules, and end with "how the game ends."  This is particularly important in Eurogames, where the end could be more obtuse:  collecting X points, after a number of turns, or when there aren't enough animals to fill the pens.  Really, that's is an endgame situation. 

If there are more complex rules or special situations, I'll explain these at this point.  Ideally these naturally grow out of the rules, or are what happens at points of potential conflict within the rules--if you're lucky your players will pick up on these and point them out, and you can address them naturally.

Finally, in many Eurogames there is some special way scoring is handled--if you've ever played a Knizia game, you'll understand.  Scoring may be for resources you've been collecting the whole game and scored one way, but score differently at the end of the game.  You may have been collecting a number of different colored cubes or points, but your final score is the one you collected the least of.  You may have to collect a number of X equal to the number of Y for the points to count.  Whatever it is, I try to explain how scoring works in general, then do a visual example of final scoring, placing and moving pieces around, and tallying score.  After a discussion with Danny, he pointed out that it might be best to start with a "final board layout," to allow a better visual example of how scoring works (in Agricola you score for a dozen different things, and can gain or lose points depending on how well you managed your farm).

This is a general outline for teaching a game, but I will change this around depending on the game.  For instance, when teaching Fluxx, I usually just deal out the cards, inform the new player that there are only four types of cards, and show them the starting rule, "Draw one, Play one."  This works because the game is simple, basically teaches itself, and the learning and playing are part of the whole experience.  On the other hand, when teaching Agricola, I tend to backtrack several times, and expect to reexplain during the game, as there are so many moving parts to the game.


That's it, a little late in the week, but it's here!  Since I covered the technical side of teaching games this week, you can expect something similar but different in the coming weeks.

Take care, all.

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