Teaching games ‘aint easy

Teaching games ‘aint easy. It doesn’t take some sort of mystical skill, but being successful in teaching a game does take a little practice. One of our main hiring criteria at tabletop is; will this person be able to stand in front of a group of people and hold their attention while teaching a game? Not everyone can do that.

At the moment a lot of us are stuck in houses with people we may not regularly play games with. Maybe you’ve a game group that you like to meet with weekly, maybe you meet at tabletop, but there is no guarantee that the people you’re currently living with know their deck building games from their worker placements… Perhaps you don’t actually play games much with anyone, but you’ve got a whole lot of extra time and want to try something new. Either way, someone has to teach the game. If that someone is you, here are a few tips to make it easier.  

  • Set it up

It is nice to have the table set when your players gather. This also gives you a little opportunity to refresh in your memory (see points 2 & 3) the core aspects of the game. When you call everyone to play, have the game at least partially set up and ready to go. Sometimes, you don’t want to get everything ready. If I am teaching Hey! That’s My Fish, I like to have the ice flow (7,8,7,8,7,8,7,8) set up for the first game. Conversely, setting up a game of LLAMA involves shuffling a deck of cards, and dealing 6 to each player, which I will do while teaching the game. These days you may need to think about camera placement. If you are playing a game of Codenames or 30 Seconds viz Zoom (other apps are available), you’ll definitely want to have that set up in advance.

  • Who – What – Why

You need to draw your players into the game. Sometimes a game is super thematic, making this an easy task. Sometimes you will be sitting around a fairly blank board and a whole lot of wooden cubes. In both cases you need to be able to say to your players; Who they are (context), what they are doing (goal), why they are doing it (how do they win). With a strong sense of these three basic ideas, players will be engaged from the outset and actively paying attention to whatever comes next.  

  • Know the game

This may sound obvious, but sometimes you’ll be in a position where you are teaching a game that you are also playing for the first time. This is fine, it is how we play most of our games for the first time, but it really is a good idea to try and have a decent knowledge before you sit down with other players. Read the rule book, watch a rules explanation video or even skip through a full play-through, set the game up and get a feel for the components and flow; find whatever works for you! In the café we try very hard not to teach games we do not know. Sometimes however, I will find myself mid-teaching and realise I’ve forgotten something vital. Again, this is fine, I generally know how to find what I need in the rule book. Rule books are your friend when teaching a game, consult them liberally.

  • Busy work

Give fidgety players something to do. If you’ve a player at the table that is moving around and distracting you while you teach, or asking questions JUST before you get to that point, distract them. Get them to shuffle some cards, or check everyone has the right number of heart tokens. You’ve already done all that in the set up, but it might help them relax, and it will definitely help you relax.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start.

The most important thing to remember when teaching a game, especially now; Games are Fun. It should be fun for your fellow players, BUT IT SHOULD ALSO BE FUN FOR YOU.

I hope this helps.

Enjoy Games Night


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