How to Teach Board Games

 In General Geekiness

Teaching a new board game isn’t always easy or glamorous, but there are ways to improve your teaching to make it better for all gamers involved. In fact, teaching a new game well (or not) can make or break your game night. It has a high probability of affecting people’s enjoyment of the play session and the game itself.

In most of my game groups, I’ve been nominated as the dedicated board game teacher. In fact, I’m the only only allowed to teach new games in one of my gaming groups. Today I’d like to pass on the simple  steps I use to teach others a new game.

1. Learn The Game Yourself

I think this goes without saying, but let’s be crystal clear just in case…learn how to play the board game yourself first. This step is critical. You don’t need to play the game with others first (this can be helpful), but you do need a good grasp of the rules and game play. No one wants to watch you flip through the rule book looking for answers to questions.

When I first learn how to play a game I will read the entire rule book, cover to cover, then let it sit and soak in for a day or two. If possible, I like to do this a couple days before I plan to play/teach. As I read the rule book, I’ll often have the game components within view so I can match pieces, processes, and game play up.

On the day I plan to play I will read the rule book for a second time. This helps solidify retention and helps me to pick up the smaller details I may have forgotten from my first read through. Finally, if the game is particularly complex, or has a lot of components, I will pay YouTube a visit and watch a walk-through video. This method is a great substitution if you have not yet played the game yourself yet.

Rule books for Stone Age, Machi Koro, and Settlers of Catan

2. Pre-Instruction Set-up

Before I dive into explaining a game I prefer to set up the board and its components. I like to have everything visible to the players for reference as I conduct my walk-through. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a mock situation set up to discuss certain rules (e.g. where to build roads in Settlers of Catan and where you can and cannot build settlements (aka: the 2 sides of a hex rule) –hey, love or hate the game, just about everyone I know, knows the game as a reference 🙂 )

This will be different for every group, but I also prefer that cell phones be put down during the teaching of a new board game. It’s happened more than once where a player will later go, “But you didn’t say….” Oh, yes I did. But you weren’t paying attention 😉

Jaipur game

3. The Overview & How to Win

Whenever I teach a game, the very first thing I do is to give an overview of the game. This helps provide context and gives the players a frame of reference. Keep this quick and simple though; no more than a couple sentences (unless you’re group is heavily into background stories and lore and/or the game setting is crucial to game play).

“Welcome to the island of Catan. We’ll be using dice rolls to gather resources, and our collected resources to build up our cities.”

Next, start with the ending first! Tell your players how they can win the game. This, after all, seems to be what everyone always wants to know. Satisfy this need so they’ll have more focus as you explain everything else. Then, in a broad nutshell, explain how they reach/gather/achieve said win goal.

“The goal is to collect the most victory points. You gain victory points by building x, completing y, or by defeating z.”

Takenoko, Shadows Over Camelot, Seasons, and Ticket to Ride board games

4. Game Play Structure & End Condition(s)

Players now know how to win, so next they want to know how long they have to achieve that goal. Step 4 is when I like to layout the games structure to give my players a feel for how the game will progress. It’s at this point where I explain how long the game will last. E.g. How many phases, rounds, and/or turns are played or if the game is time based. Sometimes certain events will trigger a game’s end (whether that results in a win or a loss). That explanation occurs during this stage.

“The game consists of 5 phases. Each phase has 3 rounds. Every player will have 1 turn during each round.” or “The first player to achieve X will trigger a final turn for all players before the final Y is tallied.”

Ascension, Lords of Waterdeep, and Castles of Burgundy rule books

5. How to Play

It’s not until now that you get into the nitty gritty of actual game play. At this point you’ll walk players through how to play. I normally start at the turn level and explain what happens on a turn.

“Roll the dice, then do X based on the roll. Next you complete Y actions from this list of Z options…”

Introduce any game components and/or cards as you explain the relevant rule or play options. If the game is more complex, it may help to physically walk through a mock-turn. Often though, once I’m completely done explaining how to play, I’ll have everyone participate in a mock round where everything is played visible to all players so they can get a first-hand feel for things.

Lords of Waterdeep

6. Play

Now that everyone knows how to win, the game’s structure and when it’ll end, as well as how to actually play, it’s finally time to jump in and play. Be prepared to help people through the first couple turns with reminder cues and to answer questions throughout. You’ll likely need to remind people of smaller rules or game play nuances as they arise again. Be sure to let them play for themselves though, to allow them to grasp what’s going on -turn order, that X happens afters after Y, etc.

Assorted board games

7. Post-Game Reflection

Once the game is finished, don’t pack it up right away. Now is a time to let is sit a moment. Let the players reflect on the game. What they liked, what they didn’t like, what they could have done differently with their strategy. This is also a good chance for you to learn from then and discover areas of game play you could have explained better or differently.

Remember, the goal is to have fun! Some games will take a couple play-throughs before players will have a chance to get a good gasp on actual strategy. Don’t be discouraged.

After your first play, I always recommend going back and reading the rules again. I’ve discovered more than once that we had forgotten or misinterpreted a small rule or change of phase item.

What’s your favorite board game to play? Do you typically teach or let others teach? What are your tips and tricks for teaching a new board game? Share in the comments below!

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment