Hello. So the idea is to move your eyes to this bit of text and start referencing the order and placement of the letters with your working model of the English language. Start from the top left and scan your eyes sideways until you reach the end of the line, before skipping back to the second line – but make sure you begin from the left side again.
Soon you’ll reach the bottom of the page, so in your ‘deck’ (see appendix) you’ll notice a ‘mouse’, which looks like a plastic circle you can hold in your hand. Advanced players can use the trackpad expansion. Either way, use this to ‘scroll’ further down the page and unlock the second part of the article.
That pained opening about how to read this post was an attempt to convey how annoying (and difficult) it can be to explain the rules of something.
As board game evangelists (vomit), at Best Play we’re well versed in sharing the rules of games with our friends and family. In all the excitement of wanting to try out a new game with people, it can be easy to fall into certain traps.
We think board games are wonderful things, and want to bring their joy to as many people as possible. It’s on us, and people like us, to do everything we can to inspire uptake in this shared passion we hold so dearly. So with that in mind, here are nine things you can try to remember next time you’re telling Dad what a VP is and why it matters for the thirteenth time.
Although some players will remain uninterested in the theme and focus much more on the mechanics, it’s much more important to at least give players the sense that the game is embedded in something more than just dice and cardboard.
Kick things off by grandly setting the scene, informing the newbies about who their characters are and what they’ll hope to achieve. If possible, keep returning to the theme throughout the game, helping cement what could otherwise be abstract concepts into parts of a memorable story.
“The world is infested with zombies, having suffered at the hands of some unexplained apocalypse. Huddled together in an ancient compound, we are all survivors of the wasteland and we’ll be forced to work together if we want to survive.”
As you’re explaining the broader theme of why you’re all there, interwoven into this should be a coherent idea of what you’re all trying to achieve.
If it’s Ticket To Ride, tell them that whoever accumulates the most points wins. Then go on to describe the ways in which they can get them. For Coup you should make it clear that the last player left will be the winner, making survival a critical part of the game. Once players get the central idea of what it is they’re supposed to be getting on with, the other rules will start making more sense and they will start preparing their own strategies for success.
“Anyone can win, but the zombies really don’t make it easy for us. First, we all have to achieve the shared objective, which is to kill fifteen zombies. Let’s work together on doing that. If we don’t, then no one wins. If we somehow manage it, then to win you’ll also have to complete the secret objective on your card, which might be something more sinister. The winners will be whoever manages to successfully do both”.
Even the most Ameri of Ameritrash games have a generous helping of abstraction, where players must use their imagination to bring the theme to life.
Holding all of the rules in your head before actually playing the game is extremely difficult, so playing through a few hands or visually walking through some examples can be helpful in giving the rules some practical meaning.
Iteration, iteration, iteration
This can be difficult, but sometimes games can be learnt in stages. Ask yourself either before you begin or as you go: “do players really need to know this?”. Board games suffer from being overwhelming to many, so do whatever you can to keep it simple.
This could be that you skip out the explanation for the robber in Catan, at least until someone actually rolls a seven. You might also choose to miss out the explanation for the development cards until your second playthrough. It’s up to you, but trying to stagger the pace at which player absorb new rules will definitely help them learn, and will give them a chance to enjoy the game without getting confused at all the different mechanics – some of which you can introduce as and when they unfold.
Shut your mouth
Probably the easiest one to accidentally fall prey to, it’s also one of the most important tips we have for explaining the game. When one of the more experienced players begins sharing the rules with newbies, they’ll have their own style and sequence in how they wish to explain them.
We know there can be a burning temptation to butt in when you realise they might have missed something, or if you think of a piece of information that might be helpful, but you really have to shut up.
Having more than one person explaining makes things far harder to follow for those listening, and learning the rules in a piecemeal style that jumps around is frustrating.
The other player will likely get back to those points you wanted to add, or is deliberately leaving them out for now. If you still feel like you have something helpful to say, wait until the end and get your point across then instead.
Feel it in your fingers
One of the nicest things about board game is the bits. The energy gems in Galaxy Trucker. The tokens in Splendor. The fish cubes in Archipelago. The bags in Sherriff of Nottingham. There really are some special items inside board game boxes and some can make all the difference.
Use this to your advantage as you try to engage your audience. Hold character pieces in your hand. Allow people to choose items rather than be assigned them, even if it’s a random allocation. Get your friends to feel and play with the bits and you’ll earn more of their attention.
Board games have an annoying habit of including rules that have major, or minor, exceptions. It’ll seem important to make your audience aware of these asterisks, but a lot of the time it can actually be easier to follow if you gloss over them, at least to begin with.
Once they’re up to speed with the bulk of the rules, you can start introducing the times when they might not apply – but remember it can be a lot to take in, and exceptions are usually the kind of thing that put people off, and you run the risk of hearing that frustrating phrase “this sounds too complicated”.
You’re not important
You love board gaming, of course. You play it because you enjoy it. Unfortunately, you’ll have to try and put that to one side if you’re introducing a new game to people. Focus on their happiness above all else, even if it means deliberately playing a move differently, looking over more nuanced elements of the game or allowing them to win – or at least come close.
You won’t get buy-in from the others unless they’re having fun, and nobody enjoys losing heavily or feeling confused.
Huge if true
This one is huge. Unless you’re playing with hardened board gaming veterans, do not attempt to learn the rules as you explain them. This is a sure-fire way to lose the interest of your friends, as the inconsistencies, lack of pace and general poor coherence of the explanations will mean all but your most patient acquaintances will soon get bored.
Spend some time familiarising yourself with the rules book, and perhaps even watch some videos (start with Best Play’s one-minute overviews). If you have the time, playing a couple of dummy hands with yourself might help. Only then should you start sharing the game with others.