How NOT to teach board games

teaching board games

Serving as an ambassador to board games is both a blessing and a curse. Friends and family will seek out your advice on games, and you’ll likely feel like a veritable Godfather of fun activities. But it’s also a lot of pressure: Your words will make-or-break people’s experience with a particular game, which indirectly affects how much fun you will have—hard to enjoy playing games if none of your peers want to play.

Here are some important points to avoid when teaching board games:

Don’t explain all the rules at once.

Instruction manuals take a long time to read and some games take even longer to play. It’s impossible to expect players to remember every single rule of a game upon first brush. So provide a general briefing, explain how to kick off a game and let things start rolling. Maybe oversee a turn or two, then walk away. Many of the later rules, such as how to score under odd circumstances, won’t make sense until players reach that part of the game, and the more you frontload the more likely players will be turned off and tune out, meaning you’ll have to explain the rules again anyway. Save time and get people playing ASAP!

Don’t forget to read the room.

Tension mounting between that one couple who’s always fighting? Probably not the best time to bust out a cooperative game or anything team-based. Room full of nuclear engineers complaining about their jobs? Put away Power Grid. The last thing you want is to force a group of friends to begrudgingly play a game out of obligation. Games offer the opportunity to escape into puzzles, deduction and world-building. If you kick off a game and everyone whips out their phones, stop playing. This rule also applies to the above recommendation: Only halfway through set-up and everyone is hovering in the kitchen eating the snacks? Stop talking.

Don’t try to win—at least not right away.

No, you’re not competing against your niece or nephew, but you’re still indoctrinating newbies into the world of a game you’re likely (and hopefully) familiar with. So what’s a few passive turns when it might make the difference between eager opponents or angry, frustrated enemies? Let others begin percolating on strategy while you passively lay the groundwork. We’re not saying you should throw the entire game, but if your veteran chops have placed you at the upper echelon of competitors, consider toning it down a bit up top. Once the game gets going, though, prepare to dominate.

Don’t include the expansion.

No matter how cool or essential it is, the board game expansion will throw a wrench into your teaching plan for a few reasons. First off, the game designers had not considered an expansion when they first released the game (for the most part), and jumping in to what is essentially two games at once is akin to watching Cheers and Frasier simultaneously—it takes time to become acclimated to a world and its characters. But more importantly your goal in teaching a game should be to not only get a friend to play, but to play again. And again! There’s no guarantee that their second time playing will be with you; perhaps their other friend doesn’t own the expansion and the game will seem boring and pale and, ultimately, quittable. One step at a time.

Don’t panic.

There exists a special place in heaven for people who exhibit the patience, kindness and understanding to effectively teach board games. Teaching games is an acquired skill, and the only way to improve is to continue teaching games, ideally the same game multiple times.

So go out there and grab one of your awesome games you got from UnboxBoardom and teach your friends how to play….the right way!

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