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Professor and I have taught people to play a lot of games, which means most of the time we learn to play on our own and then teach others. There have been a few times others have taught us how to play, and having been both a teacher and a student, I had some thoughts on how to approach teaching/learning a game.

For the person teaching the game:

Of course the first thing you need to do is explain the rules, but try to condense them and save lengthy explanations for when certain events happen in the game. People can only retain so much information, and if something isn’t going to happen until later in the game, there’s no reason to go in-depth about it until later. If someone wants you to explain more, that’s different, but often it’s best to take an “explain as you play” approach. If someone wants to see the rule book, let them.

One really important thing to remember: don’t talk down to the person you’re teaching. This shuts people down fast. I actually walked away from a game once because the person teaching it came off as incredibly condescending. While you can’t assume people you don’t know have played similar games, you can at least try to assume that they are reasonably intelligent.

When someone is about to make a costly mistake, let them know and let them fix it. I can’t stand it when someone teaching a game let’s the new player make a mistake that costs him the game two turns later and then lords it over him. If I’m making a mistake, I need to know it at the time because that will help me better understand the game.

There’s a delicate balance between being helpful and being too helpful. For the first few turns, give suggestions on a player’s options, but know when to back off. If you help them make every decision in the game, they’ll have trouble making their own decisions in a subsequent play. At the same time don’t assume only the new players need help. If it’s been a while since people played or they’ve only played once before, give everyone the same amount of advice until they indicate they’ve got it.

For the person learning the game:

Unfortunately it needs to be said: Pay attention when the rules are being explained. Don’t play on your phone or do other distracting things. Really try to focus. Also, ask clarifying questions, but try not to turn the explanation of the rules into a Q&A session.

Because we’re so often the teachers of games, Professor and I run into this a lot. People assume we’re experts on whatever game we’re teaching. For some games, yes, I can explain how to play without looking at the rules, but there are a lot of games I’ve only played once or twice. That doesn’t make me an expert. With games like Tokaido, we haven’t played as every character, so it’s hard to offer advice on the best way to play that character. Some games can be won using a variety of strategies. 7 Wonders is a great example of that. People in our group have won that game because of military cards, scientific symbols, civilian structures, or a combination of cards. So I can’t tell you what the best strategy is because there are so many factors that can affect game play.

It’s okay to ask for help, but at some point during the game, take a risk and make a move based on your understanding of the game. Or ask to see the rules to figure out if that move is allowed or not. It’s what Professor and I have to do when we’re learning a new game and sometimes when we’re teaching a game.

Finally, play lots of games! A lot of games have similarities that can help in teaching/learning.

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