5 Things You Should Never Do When You Explain Rules

Posted by Martin Yong on

Everyone loves playing games, but people in general are afraid of taking up new games. Why is that? It's because we're all afraid of coming across as an idiot when we have no idea what to do when it's our turn to play. What most new players don't realize is that most of the time, when they screw up playing a new game; it's not their fault, it's because they were not briefed properly on the rules of the game. 

Explaining the rules of a game is as much an art as it is a science. You have to give people enough information so that the new guys know what they are playing for. But if you spend too much time in this phase of the game the veteran players will start to lose patience. So where do you draw the balance? 

This is why regular boardgames generally avoid being the person explaining the rules. Too much work for too little payoff. 

Here is a list of 5 things that you should never do when rules are being explained to the new player. 

Mistake one: Explain all ze Things!
D1: Almost everyone I talk to assume that in order to explain the rules you have to explain every aspect of the game down to the last detail. If you do that, people will not remember them all. Most people in general can only remember 5 to 7 things. Keep the briefing to as short as possible and confine to as little points as possible. 
Mistake Two: Demonstrating Meta is not Explaining Rules
Ever had a veteran player butt in the middle of rule explaining by telling you that you can combine the green card and the red card to get 13x more points? I find that kind of exposition the most annoying. It's like teaching me differentiation when I don't even know what a linear equation looks like. 
Mistake Three: What are playing for again? 
I think this is the biggest problem plaguing most new player experiences. This is also why I avoid using meta(tactics and builds) as an explanation device. The longer your explaination the higher the risk of your new player forgetting what are the winning conditions. A worst case scenario is that if they lose repeatedly due to forgetting what the victory conditions are - you may have potentially established a bias for the new player towards the genre or worse, the activity itself. 
Mistake Four: Veteran Players interrupting while the main guy is explaining the rules
An interesting observation I always make is that while most people are not excited about being the main guy explaining the rules, everyone will always have one thing to add or interject while the gamemaster is in the middle of his exposition. That's bad for 2 reasons. First, you risk interrupting the gamemaster's train of thought; and make the explanation stage longer than necessary while he/she is trying to recover. Second, it's kind of like backseat driving; and we all know how that's like... 
Mistake Five: "I know it's all confusing and all, but you'll get it once you start playing"
This is the worst in my opinion, I mean if I was going to get it once I start playing, then what is the point of having you explain the rules to me then? I cringe whenever the new players at the table have to go through several games before they "get it". Honestly though, this is an indication that maybe you should switch up to a simpler game like Love Letters. 
Well that about sums it up, I'm sure there are more but I won't go into them, because it would just turn into a rant that I would very much want to avoid. For a list of things that everyone should do during rules explanation stage, go ahead and check this post out. 

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