How to Teach People Games Like a Boss

If you like to play boardgames, you are almost always going to run into situations where you need to explain the rules of a game to a bunch of people who have never played the game before. This can easily turn into a sitution where you not only confuse your friends and family, but you also turn them off to even playing the game.  I found through trial – and much error – some tips that work to explain game rules quickly and get people playing and having fun.

Start with the game setting and the goal. The first thing you should say to new players should follow this format, “we are all [what the players represent in the game setting] and we are trying to [goal that lets us win the game], this is determined by [how the winner is determined, usually points] when [end condition].” So if I were to explain how to play a game like Carcassonne I would say, “We are all noble lords who are trying to control the most land of Carcassonne, this is determined by who has the most points when all the tiles have been played.

Making a statement like this helps players get a concrete understanding what they are about to do and why.  Yes we all know that they are all actually going to try and win the game but what you need to do is put that in the context of the game itself.

Show how a typical turn will go.  Now that you laid out the setting and the goals, you should play through a demo turn to show them how the game is played and what choices they are going to make each turn. If you are dealing with a deep strategy game like Lords Of Waterdeep, you might want to stack any decks so that you are presented with the most options because you really only want to run through one demo turn.  Of course, when you are done, you should reshuffle any decks and reset all of the markers to zero. 

This is where you should spend the most of your time explaining things because is actually how to play the game, and you should show them every action they need to know in order to do so. 

Don’t talk strategy. This tip might seem counterintuitive because your initial instinct will be to teach people how to win.  That’s not what you are supposed to be doing.  You should just focus on teaching them how to play, not what to do while they are playing.  Talking about strategy can be very confusing to people who are just learning the rules because they might mistake strategy for the rules. Also, a good game will have many different ways to win so there will be multiple different strategies a player can use.  Let the players determine how they want to play for themselves. 

You can, and should, teach them strategy while you are actually playing.   

Only one person should explain the rules.  This will be the hardest tip to pull off.  Most of the time you won’t be the only player in the group who has played the game and this can lead to people jumping in during your explanation.  This can split the new players’ focus on who they should be getting information from and could confuse them because other players could be yelling out rules at random.

When this starts to happen, it’s best to chime in with a “I got this,” or, if the other person does really know the game well, just yield to them.  You could grab pieces as the other person talks about how to play the game.  It’s totally okay to assist someone else if they really want to take over and they know their stuff.  It’s not about you, it’s about the game.

Set up the game ahead of time.  A mistake I make all the time is explaining rules while I’m also setting up the game.  This cause two problems: one, it can split your focus between two things causing you to do neither really well.  And two, if the game has a lot of different kinds of pieces, it can be really intimidating to some players to see you pull piece after piece out of the box.  

It’s best if you can get all of the players to separate themselves from the play area while you set everything up.  For a game like Elder Sign, it can be a lot less intimidating for people see it all set up as apposed to watching you pull yet another deck of cards out of the box and do something different with it.

Keep the explanation as short as you can.  This should go without saying, but you’re not giving a Paton-like speech.  You are just giving players a run down on the game.  Stick to the basics. You can show more complex moves and mechanics as you are playing, which is where people are really going to start to understand the game anyway.

Don’t just read the rule book out loud.  If you do this I will find you and punch you in the face.  There is nothing more boring than listening to someone drone on while reading a rule book.  If your players are board, they not having fun.  So please, make sure you actually know the rules beforehand and can talk about them off the top of your head.  It’s okay to reference back and read a passage or two, but don’t read the entire book verbatim. 

Resign yourself to losing the first game.  Games really are about having fun and not winning.  You should understand that as the person who is helping show everyone how to play, you are painting a huge target on your back because you are in a position of power because you know all the rules and have played the game before. The other players are going to team up to take you out.  This is fine and you should let them.  Also, you should be giving them tips to help them win even if it means that you will lose.  Your job in that first game is to make sure everyone understands the rules and is having fun.  You’re not trying to win the game, you’re trying to host the game.

You should also let people know that you are there to help everyone.  This means looking at a player’s hand and helping play the best cards.  Don’t use that knowledge to beat everyone.  That’s still cheating.  Plus, after you totally lose, you can always play again now that everyone has the hang of it.

And most importantly: you, and all the other experienced players, are going to go first.  This helps solidify the rules you just explained and everyone should explain why they are doing what they are doing so the new people can get a hang of things.

These are just a few things that I’ve found that work for me. You can tell I used to be a GM, huh?  Just remember that you were once new to whatever game you are playing, so be patient and have fun.

Lords of Waterdeep Mini Review

I’ve mentioned this before, but I got a copy of Lords of Waterdeep, which is an RPG based in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  I was going to do a full review on here but I’ve only played it twice so I’m just going to give my first impressions.

The game is a “working placement” game where each player fights over resources.  In this game, the resources are adventures that are used to complete quests and score points.  Each round, players take turns pacing there pieces – called agents – in different locations on the board to collect money or adventurers in order to complete quests and score points.  After eight rounds, the player with the most points wins.

It sounds like a simple premise, but it has a lot of deep strategy.  The quests you are tying to complete for points are played face up so every player can see what every other player is working towards.  However, at the start of the game each player is dealt a lord of Waterdeep that has a strategy on it for getting extra points.  This is dealt facedown so nobody knows what you’re working towards, which means that you will have to pay attention to what each person is trying to do during the game in order to ruin their plans.

Normally, I’m not a very agro player, but I do like the ways you can mess up another player in this game.  You can do so by either taking a spot that develops a resource they were trying to get, or by playing Intrigue cards that have special effects to change gameplay for a turn.  It’s not super aggressive, and it always helps you while still messing up someone else, which I find the best strategy games do.  

The game itself is very well made.  It has a nice big board that will take up a good size kitchen table.  The pieces are either made out of wood or thick cardboard, both of which would probably survive a spill if you are like me and enjoy playing games while having an adult beverage.  There are about 200 hundred cards used in this game, which are made out of a really robust card stock that deals really fast and just feels good in your hands.  Its the same stuff that really good poker cards are made out of.

None of that matters if the game play isn’t good, and let me tell you, it is. The thing I like best about the game is that there are many ways to win.  You could build buildings to help you collect resources, you could fuck over other players with Intrigue cards, or you could just focus on completing quests.  And that’s just to name the few that I’ve found.  That problem with a lot of games like this is that there winds up being a “Master Strategy” that if you don’t use you are going to lose to players who do.  Lords of Waterdeep doesn’t seem to have this problem, which means each player gets to play their own game their own way while still interacting with the other players.

If you are into strategy games that give you a lot of elements to manipulate, I would totally suggest picking the game up.  The rules are simple enough to quickly explain to your friends who may never have heard of the game.  That said, if your group of friends aren’t experienced gamers, this isn’t the one to start with.  I’d suggest Cardcassonne for that.  But if you have people you game with all the time and are looking for something new, I’d suggest giving Lords of Waterdeep a look.

I’ve Played More RPGs Than You, But Never D&D

I just got done playing my first game of Lords of Waterdeep which a board game based in the Dungeons and Dragons Universe.  The game was a lot of fun.  It’s a “worker placement” style game where you are collecting resources and screwing over your friends, which is always a good time.  If you are looking for a game with a lot of strategy, I highly recommend it.

There are a lot of broad games in the D&D world, and almost all of them look pretty damn cool.  This got me thinking that I’ve never actually played D&D.  I’ve talked about this before, but when I was in high school, I played pen and paper role playing games almost every day.  I would say that I’ve probably logged thousands of hours being a super powered character of some description.

But those were always in either sci-fi games or modern fantasy.  Not only did I never play D&D, but I never played a sword and sorcery style game.  This was primarily due to my tastes and the tastes of my gaming group.  We just didn’t get down to the high fantasy.  Dragons are fine as long as they also have guns and pyramid scheme.  However, we were in highschool so we would never express this in so mild of terms.  “D&D is lame and stupid.  It’s rules are dumb.  They are not balanced like Rifts.”  Rifts, let me remind you, is a game where you can create a character who moves so fast only gods can hope to touch him, but I digress.

We spent a lot of time hating on D&D because it simply wasn’t the game we had invested so much time and money in.  If one game is just as good as the next then how do you assign status – a attribute so important in high school.  (And since most people don’t really evolve much past high school, status is something still kind of important in the “real” world.)

D&D has been around for at least 30 years and was the game the created the RPG genera as we know it.  In fact, video game RPGs took almost all of their cues in the beginning from their pen and paper big brothers that you could argue that even if you only placed video game RPGs that you have still been influenced by D&D.

So even though I’ve never played it, D&D is 100% a part of my DNA, and I think I would like to explore my roots more so look for some reviews of the D&D board games as I work my way through them.

How I got into RPGs

There’s a pretty cool Kickstarter out right now called Playsets.  Basically, its digital game pieces on the web or your tablet that you can use as visual aids for pen and paper RPGs.  The best part is that multiple people can sign into the same Playset and control things from anywhere, so friends can play together from all around the world.

This got me thinking to my own history with pen and paper RPGs.  I started towards the end of seventh grade.  I was hanging out with Blaze – yes, that was his real name – and Bryan – yes, that’s really how he spelled it.  Blaze was that cool kid you meet in middle school who transfers in from a distant land, in this case it was Arizona. You know the type, the guy who some how got just a one year head start on getting into the interesting music and movies.  And one of the things Blaze was into was RPGs.

More specifically an RPG called Rifts.  If your understanding of the pen and paper genera doesn’t extend past Dudgeons and Dragons, I’m going to expand on what Rifts is.  D&D is set in a generic fantasy setting.  There are swords.  There is sorcery.  And yeah, there are dragons.

Rifts is a little different.  It’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi game about, among other things, a militaristic human-supremacist society fighting demons, wizards, and aliens from other dimensions.  Anything was fair ball in Rifts.  If you wanted to pay a half-rat cybernetic robot pilot with a drug problem you could.  Arms dealing dragon? sure.  Magic using gunslinger on a robot horse?  That shit was on one of the book covers.  If you could think it up Rifts had 80 pages of rules to help you make it.

Okay, maybe it was very different from D&D, but for an awkward kid who grew up on Science Fiction, video games, and was about to become a teenager, this was mana from heaven.

The first time we played Rifts, it took us about three hours just to make characters.  That wasn’t because it’s hard to roll characters in Rifts, it was because Blaze’s passion for the game was greatly overshadowed by Bryan’s love for Toejam and Earl 2.

“Are you ready to make a character,” Blaze yelled at Bryan over his pile of open source books.

“Yeah.  Um… Sure.  I just… I got this level, okay?  This level is my bitch,”  Bryan answered back.

After too much back and forth, Blaze got him come over and start rolling stats dice.

“Okay, Josh,” Blaze said to me.  “It’s your turn.”

“Wait up.  This level is my bitch.”

Sometime character creation can take a long time.  We didn’t get started playing until just after midnight.  But when we did get started, we didn’t stop until almost dawn.  That first game was powerful.  We got in bar fights.  I got shot through a house by a robot suit with a railgun.  We laughed.  We argued about rules.

We were hooked.

Friends would come and got from our player’s circle, but I kept up the RPG habit until well into college.  My tastes changed.  I got really into Mage: the Ascension back when that was still in print.  It was a much more complex game world.  There was a lot of gray areas and the magic system was open for interpretation.  To this day, I still think it’s the greatest RPG ever made.

But I haven’t thrown dice in a really long time, but I still have all my books.  My friends now are into board games more than anything else.  I hold on the hope that I might start up again.  And hey, they make apps now for play with anyone all over the world.