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Game Teaching Tips for International Tabletop Day

Game Teaching Tips for International Tabletop Day

Celebrants of International Tabletop Day will get the opportunity to introduce tons of new gamers to their favorite titles. Bring out that gem that only works with five players. ITTD will accommodate. Find that one other person interested in a complex abstract title. But new gamers means taching. And teaching can bring some serious perils. So before you begin instruction, make sure you know it through and through. And if you do, here are some tips to make it go smoothly.

Just Start Playing

lanternsOrdinarily, this is not a good way to teach a game. Especially those long-term strategy games where decisions you make at the beginning can critically impact your late-game prospects. People can get very soured on the experience if they feel bamboozled into making early game mistakes before they understand the consequences.

But that doesn’t mean it’s never a good idea. You just have to pick the right title. But if you do find one that works, it can mean you get it to the table faster and people start having fun sooner. A great example is Lanterns: the Harvest Festival. In this title, you place tiles to the table in order to collect cards which you then turn in for points.

The reason the “just start” method works so well here is that Lanterns plays pretty much the same from beginning to end. The things you try to do late game are remarkably similar to your early game strategies. So there is no bait and switch. No one feels like, “Well, if you’d explained that to me in the beginning, my whole turn would have been different!” With the right title, the downsides are reduced or eliminated.

Plus, “just play” has undeniable advantages. Some of the people that partake in ITTD are not heavy gamers. In fact, they may be uninitiated in the ways of boardgaming and are just coming to get their first taste. A “just play” mentality can be more reassuring to someone who doesn’t want to sit through a lengthy rules explanation.

Include Strategy Tips

colorettoIn some games, you can teach the rules and everyone immediately understands what’s going on. You build things to get victory points, or conquer land to kill your enemy. Players grasp that easily and then move about pointing or conquering. But some games are a little more opaque. And it’s important to share at least a few strategy tips at the outset so new players don’t feel outsmarted by the game.

A great example of this is Coloretto. The rules are quite simple. Each turn you either add a card to a truck or take a truck of cards. That’s it. Then at the end of the game, you get points for your best three colors of cards and lose points for every other color. The more you have of a color, the more points it is worth – either positive or negative.

Coloretto can be explained in under two minutes and everyone will understand how to play. But perhaps not how to play well. So when you explain it to new players, it might be important to discuss how best to play your cards. That if you load up a good truck, it might get snaked by someone else. And if you have a good card, maybe you place it with a color someone else doesn’t want so they won’t take that truck.

It’s important not to play someone’s game for them. But a few strategy tips at the outset can really help them to feel ownership of their play. And that feeling will only encourage them to stick around and play more.

Explain the Whole Thing

little princeSome games, though, need to be explained up front. Without the full explanation, players won’t know what to do and the experience will be chaotic and confusing. For those titles, you’ll have to explain the whole shebang. One thing cannot be emphasized enough. Do not just sit there and try to read the rules at people. That’s incredibly boring and will make everyone wish they decided to do something else with their day.

Little Prince falls firmly into this category. Because of the way scoring works, you can’t just start playing or people will too easily fall into traps. And the game might take more than a minute or two to explain fully. Because of how mean it is, you’ll also want to pepper a few strategy tips as well.

But it isn’t an insurmountable challenge.  With Little Prince, you might first explain the theme: you are building a planet. Then maybe you talk about how tiles are distributed. It’s like “popcorn reading” in grade school. From there, you can talk about trees and volcanoes – which are the only features that are consistently bad. Finally, you talk about scoring tiles and how they will be worth different things to different people. After that, you give a few tips about choosing tiles to ensure that someone gets stuck with a tree or volcano they don’t want.

To be frank, Little Prince still doesn’t take long to explain. But you need to be able to teach the whole thing up front in a way that is inviting. And you certainly should know it well enough to field questions during the game without bogging down in rulebook review.

Do you have games you plan to teach on ITTD?  Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credits: Renegade Game Studios, Rio Grande Games, and Asmodee Games

Featured Image Credit: Ludonaute

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