How I Prepare to Teach Games

Hey all, Andrew here: I figured I would write about something a little different this week.

I was preparing to teach my wife Fortress: America and so I started about my normal way of relearning games and preparing to teach.  For whatever reason, I tend to teach most of the games in our game group (I think it’s probably because I’m pushy and want them to play my stuff first, so I have to know the rules) but I realized that this process is the same for me, whether it’s playing something light like Kodama or the latest entry in the SCS catalog.  I figured I would give you all insight into how I do this in the hopes that it might help someone out there.

A word of note:  this may seem like I’m overprepared.  I am. I have pretty bad social anxiety and board games alleviate that.  However, if I feel like I’ve screwed up in front of people (especially friends and family) I start to feel super embarrassed and anxious, which tends to lead to me shutting down a bit.  By (over) preparing in this manner, I’m ready to teach the game in a way that’s comfortable to me, and hopefully more enjoyable to those I play with. This is also why I get frustrated if I get interrupted during a rules explanation; it takes me out of the zone so to speak.

First, I normally see if there is a rules teach video or playthrough on YouTube.  My two go to channels are HeavyCardboard and Watch it Played, and if they don’t have a video for the game I’m about to teach, I’ll usually check out the video section of BoardGameGeek for the game in question.

I watch videos for a few different reasons.  I don’t like to reinvent the wheel if I don’t have to, so seeing how masters of game teaching (IMO) structure their teach really helps me get a basic outline in my head and may bring up points that I want to be sure to highlight. Additionally, if I’ve never played the game watching people play it or at least an explanation gives me a better idea of what to expect.

Once the video has been watched and I can wrap my head around the gameplay and the mechanics, I read the rulebook.  Now, this isn’t a detailed readthrough of every single bullet point, parenthetical, and subcase. Instead I get the major ideas, how the rulebook is organized, and use that to further my mental outline.

This outline then gets put down to paper.  It is at this point that I comb through the rulebook, summarizing each major and minor point in an outline format that makes sense for the game and the way gameplay is structured.  This forms the core of my teaching notes and is what I refer to when I actually explain the game I will usually print them out, but sometimes I don’t. This is also my favorite part in the process.  Something about me internalizing then repeating (on paper) what I just read is really when the rules to the game ‘click’ for me.

From here, I will generally call my process complete.  I have a better idea of how I want to approach teaching.  I do try to anticipate questions that players will have, and I make sure that I take frequent breaks to allow players to ask questions, move pieces around to set up situations that might be better explained visually.  And then, we play!

That’s a look into how I find it helpful to learn games so that I can teach them.  Do you have any steps you take when you are planning on teaching a game? I’d love to hear them.  Leave a comment below!