#TableTopTuesday: Tips for Teaching Games

Derek: Welcome to our third installment of #TableTopTuesday! We’ll each talk about what games we’ve been playing and answer our question of the week. But first, let’s introduce our newest contributor, Vince Chapman!
screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-1-02-22-amVince: Hey! I’ve been on staff with GUG for a couple of years now. I started out as a social media specialist; I managed the Instagram and Pinterest pages. I stepped down from that and stepped into an administrative assistant role on the marketing/business side of GUG. A lot of behind the scenes type stuff. Our marketing director, Shawn Bain, told me that GUG was looking for some writers and I was interested so I applied and was hired to write for the books and music sections and after I learned all I needed from this official statement I was ready .
Once I heard we were getting a tabletop section, I was excited, but my wife and I had just had a baby and my life was busy enough without me jumping into another section to write in for GUG. Life has sort of settled down and so I applied to join the section and, well, here I am.
Chris: And let me tell you, we are super stoked to have you writing with us. We’ve been drowning in reviews lately, and we love to see the section grow! How and when did you start playing board games?
Vince: I’ve been playing tabletop games for most of my life. My family had a family game night every week where we would all just sit around the table and play games until it was time for bed. We played mainly mass market games. Ones that can be found at Target, Barnes & Noble, or even Walmart.
I played a lot of Uno and Skip-Bo growing up. We’d also play Monopoly from time to time, but my dad is the most ruthless Monopoly player I know so we didn’t play it often and we still don’t. Recently, when we can all get together, we play a card game called Shanghai. If you don’t know what that is, think Phase 10, but with 3 decks of regular playing cards and the rules are just slightly different, but it’s the same basic concept.
Chris: There is nothing like gaming with the family. 

What have You been playing?

pic1900085_mdDerek: Soon, I’ll be reviewing a game called Dice Stars from WizKids. It is designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc. The duo has designed several larger games in the past, such as Cyclades, Dice Town, and the Mr. Jack series. Here, they’ve made a game in the same vein as Qwixx and Yahtzee, where players roll dice and cross things out on a piece of paper. In the meantime, I’d actually like to talk about Qwixx, which my wife and I have played regularly.
Chris: Is this a good two-player game? I’m always looking for quick ones to play with my wife.
Derek: Yes! It’s simple and quick, but it was the way my wife and I were able to keep gaming when our child was born and we were too tired for anything else. It has that addictive quality to it, where you can’t play just one game. It’s also a touch more interactive than Yahtzee is, because you care about what other people roll on their turns, and you can “lock” colors towards the end of the game and deny your opponent further points from dice of that color. With two players, you can pay more attention to the single other player.
Chris: It’s not hard to design a game with more interactivity than Yahtzee.
Derek: It mixes this with a great push-your-luck element where you have to skip numbers on your sheet as you cross things off from left to right, but you can’t go back. It takes a lot of the most fun elements from Yahtzee and Farkle, and puts them in a shorter, more compact game with very little downtime. I also love the small, magnetic box.
I heard about Qwixx after it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year) in 2013. Some hobbyists were shocked to see such a simple game nominated, and some reviewers even called it “not a game.” While it didn’t win, I am so glad it was nominated and put on my radar. This game is super cheap as well; it can usually be found for around $10, and it’s available at Target, Barnes & Noble, even Meijer and Walmart.
It’s a wonderful way to introduce people to the hobby, especially older family members who grew up playing Yahtzee. Since playing, I’ve become a huge fan of this genre, which includes similar games like Qwinto, Rolling America, and of course, Dice Stars. I’m not sure if Qwixx is the best one, but I would still consider it the banner-carrier for the genre. I’m eagerly looking forward to my next game of it.
vinhos-6025Chris: I’ve been playing a couple games, but mostly I’ve been reading and pouring over some recent Eagle Gryphon releases I have on my shelf, namely: The Daedalus Sentence, Empires: Galactic Rebellion, and of course Vinhos: Deluxe Edition.
Derek: Be careful, playing a game about wine is one step away from drinking it!
Chris: Woe to me. This is a reprint of the 2010 print run of Vinhos, and includes both the rules and components to the 2010 Reserve Edition, as well as a revised and streamlined 2016 Vintage Edition. Also, the box is enormous and ships with 4-5 expansions.
Derek: Does it fit on the shelf? I hate big boxes 🙁
Chris: Yes, but barely. Eagle Gryphon makes big games, and this is no exception. In Vinhos, players are in role of Portuguese wine business owners who are expanding their fine selections of wine, imported from different areas in Portugal, and selling them at establishments and presenting them at the international wine fair. Vinhos is designed by Vital Lacerda, so there is a high degree of complexity, and plenty of times you will need to revisit the rule book.
Katie and I played a two player game, and I was beaten by a mere ten point margin. Ultimately, her wine fair presentations were better than mine, and she was able to export more high value wines to other countries than I could.
My initial impression is: Vinhos is deceptively simple, but the iconography and many mechanisms churning together make it seem exceptionally complicated and difficult to grasp. Hint: It’s not. This game is complex, but once you get past the initial learning curve, I think it will level out, and become this beautiful amalgamation of mechanics and artwork and strategy, all smashed together. Then when you get tired of it, flip the board over and play different rules, or add one of the many expansions.
While I felt overwhelmed after the first game, I have high hopes for this one, and I’m looking forward to playing it more. In fact, we are publishing two reviews for this one because it’s so big. One for the new ruleset, and one to cover differences in the reserve rules, as well as the expansions.
vinhos-6024Derek: The real question here is whether it compares to the single other advanced strategy game about making wine, the fairly popular Viticulture. How do they compare in your mind?
Chris: To be honest, they don’t. Viticulture is worker placement with an emphasis on taking care of your one vineyard, producing specific kinds of grapes, and tending to visitors and your production. Vinhos is a massive scale game, covering all of Portugal, with you playing as the gigantic business owners of wineries and vineyards across the country. The focus is on maintenance of the business, expanding, hiring the right people to work the right places. It’s more like a business simulator.
Derek: Vince, what have you been playing?
Vince: I admittedly haven’t been playing a lot of games recently.
Chris: Those are the saddest times in life 🙁
Vince: However, I did play a good amount of Coup in preparation of the review I wrote. As I said in the review, that game was a lot of fun at first, but it sort of lost its luster as time has gone on and I’ve played a lot of games of it. I’d love to get my hands on the expansion for it, though. Coup: Rebellion G54 just looks awesome.
pic2464242_mdChris: Coup is one I’ve played once on a game day, and I really enjoyed it. I think I would love playing this one more often.
Derek: Let me just chime in that G54 is awesome, but its box is stupidly big. I would take it a lot more often to game night if its packaging was as small as for standard Coup. I should find something smaller to house it in.
Vince: Another game that I thoroughly enjoyed fairly recently was Monopoly Shuffle. It’s a Monopoly card game, but I’m sure you already knew that. Even though I didn’t win, and the winning move was played by the player sitting across from me stealing one of my complete sets, I had a lot of fun with it.
I also recently discovered that Wil Wheaton has a show called TableTop where he gets some celebrities together and they play a game. It’s a pretty fun show to watch if you don’t already. In the most recent episode, they played a game called Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.
Chris: Yes, I just watched this the other day! I’ll let you intro Lanterns, but one day we’ll talk about why I don’t like it.
Vince: Designed by Christopher Chung, and published by Renegade Game Studios. The game is set in China and the king wants to throw a festival and he’s hired the best artisans in all the land: the players. The simplified version is that you play tiles with lanterns on them, get the corresponding color card, and once you have what you need, you turn the cards in for points. Naturally, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins. I’m intrigued by it to say the least.
Chris: Okay, I’ll spill now. I don’t love it because it seems like a tight race to victory, but it’s really about who played a better turn once or twice in the game.
Derek: Chris and I have both played Lanterns a fair amount. We seem to differ a bit; I’m pretty sure I like it more than he does. It actually has an expansion hitting physical stores right now, and available online in 2017. It’s called The Emperor’s Gifts and it looks really good. More strategy and variability, but not a lot of new rules. At some point, I suspect we will review both the game and the expansion.

Question of the Week

Chris: I’ll go first, because I think this is a critical skill to learn (especially if you are hosting game night, or are the one buying games).
My unofficial rule #1 is never, ever, ever under any circumstances try to learn a game for the first time when you sit down to play.
This is a quick game! Right, Derek?

This is a quick game! Right, Derek?

Rules are meant to be broken, however. For example, if you have been dying to play this new two-player game with your wife that just came in the mail. Yeah, it’s probably simple, like Patchwork or Lost Cities or something. Also, if you are really familiar with Pandemic, it’s really easy to just jump into a game of Pandemic Legacy.
Derek: I disagree with your rule breaking, sir. Especially with the spouse! Come with the rules as memorized as you can have them.
Vince: Yeah, I’m going to have to disagree with the rule breaking as well. Rules are meant to be followed.
Chris: Oh, I agree, you should know the rules to a game 98% of the time you play, but there are the 2% of times you can try it out on your own. Truly though, in almost every single circumstance, know the game beforehand.
Derek: Now, this leads to another issue. My wife hates learning games one-on-one, because I already know the rules inside and out so I have an edge.
So my first rule is always teach in a large, diverse group if you can in order that someone may speak up about questions, or at least you can sense the mood of the crowd if no one is following you.
Vince: The first thing I do when teaching a game is appoint one person, whether it be me or somebody else that knows the game, to be the sole person explaining the game and who handles disputes over the rules. Typically, this person is the one who owns the game seeing as they’re most likely to be the most familiar with it.
I despise it when I have several different people teaching me a game. I need one voice to explain to me how to play so we can get the party started.
Chris: Preach.
Vince: My family is Irish/Italian so you can imagine the height in volume we can reach. If we are starting a game that a couple of us have played, but others haven’t, we end up trying to talk over each other and that’s just frustrating.
Derek: Oh, man, you are so on point! Someone interrupting me while trying to explain IS THE WORST. If someone else knows the game, I try to very clearly establish early on, “Am I explaining or are you explaining?” so it’s clear they should not interrupt, because we’ve already determined who should be speaking.
Chris: Oh, so you are that guy. Just kidding… kind of. I say it in a nicer way, but nothing grinds my gears more than when I try to teach people a game and get interrupted by someone who wanted to add an extra part of a rule, like: Boy, I’ma get to that, will you let me finish?
"No, you will not talk about the intricate rules of that card, let ME explain it."

No, you will not talk about the intricate rules of that card, let ME explain it.”

So, furthermore, not only should you know how to play a game, I also think it’s best to play a solo game (even if it means playing against yourself and your roommates think you are weird). Let’s be honest. Unless you have a dedicated game group, people are taking time out of their day to play a game. They don’t want to sit around and watch you fumble through a rulebook. Yeah, occasionally you are going to run into a weird game scenario and need to consult the Geek or the rules, but you gotta know the game to the very best of your ability.
Derek: I agree with this. I don’t necessarily play an entire solo game, but I’ll set it up and take some turns until I get confused by something to look up, and usually after a few fake turns I’ve gotten the sequence figured out.
Chris: Yeah, that works.
Derek: Also, though, this isn’t necessary if a game is simple. I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, but the older I get, the more I want to play clean, simple games that still have a lot of choices to make and fun to have. And ideally over in an hour. Get off my lawn!
Vince: Yes. I agree with all of this. I’m not a huge fan of not being able to explain a game due to not knowing the ins and outs. The way I see it, if you can’t explain a game so a child can understand it, you don’t know the game well enough.
Another thing that I like to do is to make the objective clear early on and I keep coming back to it.
Chris: Yes, absolutely. Rules teachers miss this all the time. It’s critical to explain the victory condition up front.
Vince: For instance, one of my favorite games is a wild west card game called Bang! There are different roles played by different players such as a sheriff and his deputies, outlaws, and a renegade. The win conditions are different for each role. If all of the bad guys die (outlaws and renegade) the sheriff and deputies win, if the sheriff dies, the outlaws win. There’s a bit more to it, but you get the idea. I’ll make this clear near the beginning of the explanation of the game and I’ll continue referring back to it as I explain the rules. I’ve found that people like to know what they have to accomplish in order to emerge victorious.
Chris: Overall, my typical outline is like this:
  • Tell everyone the theme of the game (get into it, act crazy, tell everyone they are dwarves) whatever.
  • Explain the goal of the game.
  • Briefly explain the steps necessary to achieve that goal.
  • Then go in depth on each step of the game.
  • FINALLY, take questions at the end, and not before.
Derek: Someone recently told me they explain the game backwards, and that makes sense.
  • The objective of the game is to get 5 foreign colonies.
  • You get foreign colonies by defeating other players in combat.
  • You defeat other players in combat by playing higher attack cards.
And so on…
This makes sense, but I prefer to explain the winning but then go straight to turn sequence and how the game “flows.” I’m not positive my version is better, but it’s the explanation style that I’m more comfortable with.
Attack on Titan tells stories! And now, it's a board game!

Attack on Titan tells stories! And now, it’s a board game!

Vince: I’ve done that before. It definitely makes sense.
I like to look at it sort of like a journey. I’ll explain the setting of the game, then I go over the win conditions. After that, I explain how they get there and I’ll dive into details once I’ve gone over the basic concepts of the game—sort of a map on how to get from point A to point B. I also like to let the game sort of teach itself since I’m very hands on so I explain as little of the game as I can get away with beforehand and then let the game sort of explain itself as we play. All the while explaining my every move on my turn, and then helping them through their first or second turns step by step. Once they have the hang of it, the game only gets better from there. The typical way I’ll end an explanation is by asking if anything I said makes sense and if they have any questions before we begin play.
Chris: I like that. People love stories. Games can tell stories. Why not make a gaming experience like a story?
Vince: Teaching a new game to a group of people can be frustrating at times. The key to having a good time with it is patience. This is very obvious, but I feel like it needs to be said. There may be a certain rule that makes perfect sense to you, but it’s complete gibberish to the new players around the table. At least until the game starts and they actually see the rule in action.
Chances are you’re going to have to repeat something you’ve said multiple times, but getting frustrated is a sure fire way to ensure that the players aren’t really going to enjoy the game very much, and game night itself is at risk of not being a successful night of fun like it should be. Like I said, this is all extremely obvious, but I feel that I would have been remiss not to at least mention it.
Chris: For sure. Some mechanisms feel intrinsically understood to one group of players, but a different group might not get it.
That’s all we have for today everyone. Have you had problems teaching rules to friends or family? Share your story!
Join us next week when Derek eats his very first pickle.

Chris Hecox

Chris enjoys the simple things in life, like teaching his wife the newest review game, looking up Ketogenic recipes, and playing 10 hour long indie games on Steam. If he's not thinking about the oil drum components from Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, playing Player Unknown: Battlegrounds with his college buddies, or dwelling on the release of Daredevil Season Three, he's probably shooting or editing video, because that's what he does for a living.

2 Comments

  1. Kevin on November 8, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    Love this article. I would add a couple of things NOT to do while explaining board games that I’ve seen happen (and have been guilty of myself):

    1) Resist the urge to give strategy as you explain the game. I think the heart here is to not hold back any information that gives you an edge, but it becomes information overload. Players can pick up on strategy much easier after a couple of rounds when the basic flow of the game becomes more natural.

    2) Don’t point out scenarios that break the rules as you explain those rules. I’ve seen this one lots, and is often by someone else jumping in on the rules to add extra explanation. A rule is given and then someone else jumps in to say something like: Unless you are [insert race], unless you draw [specific card], unless it is [special round] and then goes on to detail how that scenario bends the rules. It is much easier to deal with these situations as they come up and also refer back to them when using their advantages (lest new players feel like cheating is happening).

    • Chris Hecox on November 10, 2016 at 4:47 am

      Totally agree! To your first point, I avoid strategy (for the most part) but as I am playing the game with new players, I’ll make recommendations as we go.

      Let’s say we are halfway through and they are about to place a worker down or spend a resource. I interrupt and recommend them to block me instead or buy a different resource because it’s going to have a greater impact later in the game.

      I love giving people tips to beat me and play better on their first few games so they really enjoy it and get a feel for the game.

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