Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The right way to introduce a game

The Hand of God

I love games. All sorts of games: Board games, collectible cards games (CCGs), and more recently tabletop miniature games, i play them all! But the only problem is you need someone to play with!

So the question is how do i teach a game to someone so that they'll want to play again later?

Rule 1. Simplify the game
What you want to do for the first game is to just focus on the mechanics of the game. You want the newbie to get familiarized with the basics of how the game works. Although alot of the strategy is in the special rules and details, it's hard for a newbie to grasp those strategies even if you straight up tell him because he's trying to learn the basics of the system at the same time. Here are some specific suggestions for different game types:
  • CCGs (Magic, Star Wars CCG, World of Warcraft TCG) - Ignore all the game text and just focus on the common card attributes like cost, attack, defense required for basic play. There is a reason why starter decks for Magic mostly include basic creatures with no game text. In a well-developed CCGs there are a ton of bold keywords/special rules and for a first game they should be ignored.
  • Tabletop miniature games (Mechwarrior Clix, Star Wars Minis, Warhammer) - A lot of the tactical depth are in special rules for attacking and model/character specific rules. Again, i'd say leave most of those out and just focus on the core aspects of unit movement and attack mechanics. Warhammer is probably the worst game in terms of number of special rules; you have entire books dedicated to faction-specific traits, tons of special characters, and even the rule book says it's easier to ask someone how to play than read the rules.
  • Boxed games/board games (Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Carcassone) - generally these are designed to be more accessible for the lay person, and you usually don't need to simplify the game for a new player.

Rule 2: Let them win
This is something more psychological. If you completely blow a newbie away with your outstanding knowledge of tactic and rules in the first game, they'll feel that they never had a chance and they'll not want to play again. FAIL. You can't rub a win in a person's face when they're just learning how to play. Save the victory dance for a worthy opponent! Take the first game casually, keep the mood light, talk about your tactics and plan, and use encouraging suggestions. In fact, let them win the first game! It makes them feel better and they'll want to play again!

Better yet, if you can have two newbies play against each other and you act as the GM (Game Master/moderator) that's probably the best situation. It keeps the skill level fair AND you get one more player for future games!

After the first game
Depending on the complexity of the game, you may still wish to play a few "tutorial" like games before going serious. You can slowly introduce a couple new rules in each game, and if you can mix it into the scenario even better! For example, i made a sequence of 3 Mechwarrior Clix games where I introduced artillery strikes the 2nd game and flying units in the 3rd game. Video game makers do a good job doing this, just think of how the early Starcraft levels were designed.

Conclusion: Maybe you thinking that this is all quite obvious and I would say that you're right! But the take away message from this article is to consider the first game in terms of maximizing fun for your friend, not for you. If he/she has a good time, he will more likely play the game again and hence the game you love gets played more often, which means more fun for everyone in the long run. And remember, it's just a game! Have fun!

1 comment:

Linda said...

I'd agree! hahaha yea... I only play board games... and out of the board games, I only play Scrabble. Although I did enjoy playing that Land game (with wheat, stone, wood...) and Killer Bunnies....

ooh... since I'm a newbie at "games," make sure to make the titles of games "memorable." So they can talk about it and increase popularity :)

I remember now... Settlers of Catan!