Thursday, 6 September 2007

how to teach games

In 2004 I wrote an article in Chinese about teaching games. It was a consolidation and a summary of a number of boardgame articles I have read on the internet, plus a little bit of my own thoughts. I posted that article to a new website set up by my Taiwanese boardgame group (Boardgang). I think it has been obsolete for very long. I don't even remember the URL. Later another Taiwanese boardgamer posted this article on his website, and that's how I found it. Actually, my sister found it when searching my name on Google, and told me about it.

Here's a summarised (a slightly updated) version of the article.

  1. Know the rules well beforehand.
  2. Teach using a top-down approach:
    • Set up the game
    • Introduction & overall objective (< 15 seconds)
    • Overall structure (< 2 mins)
    • Detailed rules explanation
    • Special cases explanation
    • Basic strategies
  3. When teaching:
    • Don't let questions interrupt your flow, postpone answering questions if appropriate.
    • Stress / repeat important rules.
    • Use a logical order.
    • Don't be too long-winded. Some rules can be taught after the game has started.
  4. When playing:
    • Watch the new players and give hints if they seem to be doing something wrong.
    • Consider making hidden information (e.g. cards in hand) public in the first game.
    • Let new players take back moves if they have made a mistake, even undoing other players' previous turns, if everyone agrees.
    • If a rule mistake is discovered during the game, it is not always necessary to correct it immediately. If everyone agrees, play with the wrong rule for this game. Make the correction when you play next time.
  5. Read the rules again after the game.
  6. Other tips:
    • If introducing new players to the hobby, choosing a suitable game is important. If the new players do not seem to be enjoying, you might as well stop the game and try another one.
    • Don't miss crucial rules. It can be frustrating for a new player to discover that he/she has not been made aware of an important rule halfway through the game.
    • Don't rush into the game. Some new players can be impatient. At least cover the basics before you start playing.
    • Don't tell the new players what to do. Give hints if they make obvious mistakes, but do let them think, strategise and explore the game.

Me teaching a game at the Little Wooden House in Taiwan. Snacks can be a hindrance to teaching games, if your audience is more interested in the snacks than your rule explanation. Snacks can be a hazard to boardgames too, e.g. oily snacks may damage your games. I remember once (or more than once) in Taiwan when we wanted to eat Doritos corn chips while playing, we put the chips into a big bowl, and then we eat it using chopsticks. Fantastic solution.


Anonymous said...

Great summary of good gaming teaching technique. I'm frequently teaching new games to my wife and this is a great reminder of how to do it correctly.

I'm with you 100% on snacks being hazardous to a game's health! Some are much more dangerous than others though. If you try bringing cheese puffs to my game table, you'll be sorry!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I used to play many games with my wife, but now that we have two young children, she doesn't have much time for boardgames. Hopefully when the kids get older. Then I'll have 3 more players.

Another tool that I use when teaching games is my own concise reference sheets. I submitted them to, and you can find the full list in the Hollywood Blockbuster page, here .