How to Teach Games Part 2 – Guides

In the not too distant past I wrote a piece musing on the way I personally teach games. In that article I gave a breakdown of how I thought teaching a game should go from getting the players involved to breaking down the individual systems that make up a game. This sparked an idea in me that I’ve been tinkering with at the back of my mind ever since: Teaching Guides.

Rulebooks can be great at telling you, the person reading them, how to play that game. They can be a great reference for looking up rules during play. Sometimes they are both. What they rarely are is a guide on how to take the information within and explain it to other people. Some folk like to use How To Play videos to do this, and there are loads of great people doing that work. I personally don’t like sitting down with a bunch of people to play a game and then watching a 30 minute video. I want to be able to take them through it myself, it just feels more personable. 

There are some companies that do supply a tutorial of sorts with their game. Leder in particular come to mind with their How To Play guides in Root and Oath. I have it on good authority from Adam over at Punchboard that some of the COIN series also do an excellent job of providing this kind of information, but I can’t speak to that myself. Generally though tutorials in board games aren’t really a common feature and I really feel like the industry in general is missing a trick.

In the world of computer games, tutorials have been a common component for years. They aren’t all great of course, some are downright frustrating. Fundamentally though computer game designers and publishers understand that including some sort of guide can make it more approachable. Some computer games front load a lot of this taking you through a painstaking intro bit to get your head around the mechanics. Some want you to discover things as you go, see Tunic for a fantastic example of this sort of teaching. 

Despite the modern boardgame boom, or perhaps as a result of it, the industry as a whole has made very little progress in the design of rulebooks, the inclusion of teaching aids, and talking about how we explain games to new players. It still frustrates me when I realise the only player aid is on the back of the rulebook. I can provide criticism of bad rulebooks, and draw your attention to the great ones. What I can also do is providing teaching guides.

I want to help you teach games to others with nothing but a sheet of paper/pdf alongside you. I’ve done a lot of game teaching over the years and I think I’m reasonably good at it. It’s a really hard task to take the rules of a game and the teach them in a logical fashion to new players with as little confusion as possible. It requires patience, a clear grasp of the systems of the game, and understanding when different people struggle with different aspects of the game. 

I’m starting a project to write Teaching Guides. Initially this will be for the games I own and have played and what better place to start than a new purchase of mine, Libertalia. This is the latest Stonemaier Games project and I’ve been really enjoying it. It’s a pretty straightforward game to teach so I thought it would be a good place to start. Going straight in with something complex would seem like folly. 

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest in play.
Ain’t it pretty

That’s enough preamble I think. Here it is then. The first of these teaching guides in a PDF form. It’s basic in its layout but I wanted to get this out and start getting feedback.  

As you can see it starts with the minimum setup I think is required, a brief overview of the setting, and the objective of the game. I have picked apart the rulebook and put it back together in a way I hope makes sense. It’s intended to be used when people visit you so you can setup beforehand as well as when you are taking the game over to other folks.

When you need to do something it is indicated by an action symbol (!). When I think you should physically point out symbols, components, and areas on the board those names will be bold and underlined. I’m just at the start of thinking about these aspects of teaching games so all feedback is greatly appreciated. 

All credit to those who influenced the style of this guide. Paul Grogan, Gaming Rules, has been teaching games on his channel and at conventions for years. I love his philosophy on teaching as you go and if you ever get a chance to bend his ear about the subject then please do. Quinns from Shut Up and Sit Down put out a video about ‘How to Teach Boardgames like a Pro’ which I also took some cues from, though it was more focused on being able to setup the game beforehand. 

I’ll be working on more of these, and I am finding the exercise of putting them together fascinating. I would love to see other people’s take on these and I know there are some great rules summaries and the like out there already. I am trying something a little different here, and I hope you find them useful.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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