How to Teach Games Goodly

@yashima reminded me that there used to be a games teaching thread on the SU&SD forums and we don’t seem to have one here yet.

I suspect that by being boardgamers who participate in a forum about games we are probably more involved than most; certainly I find myself teaching games quite a lot (and sometimes I do it professionally).

So: how do you teach games? What works well for you when other people teach? Do you have a technique that works well for a particular game? Or have you have problems teaching that you’d like help with?


I have a basic lead-in that tends to work well for games I like:

“In this game, we are (x), and we’re trying to (y) by means of (a, b and c).”

This establishes a reference framework which gives people a way to start fitting the other things in.

“We’re firefighters trying to get victims out of the burning building before it collapses.”
“We’re rebels and police spies in a dystopian future, but the rebels don’t know who’s on which side. The rebels want to conduct sabotage missions; the spies want to make them fail, without being found out.”

Then I’ll go into what you can do, calling back to how it helps you achieve that initial goal.

“We’re trying to be the last player still in the game, which means at the end of each of your turns you have to have the winning palette on the table. You can do that by playing a card to your palette, or putting one in the middle to change the rules of what counts as ‘winning’ – or both.”


I always teach games backwards.

"The goal of the game is to win. You win by having the most space points. You will get points for throwing space parties and completing objectives. You can also lose points if you fail to complete an objective. Space Bucks are not worth points at the end, but are used as a tiebreaker.

Now, let’s talk about how to throw space parties… […]…

Additionally, at any time on your turn that you meet the requirements for one of your secret objectives, you may flip it over to mark it complete."

I really only ever use theme/setting to reinforce what would otherwise be a confusing or counter-intuitive rule. In strongly-thematic games where none of the rules make sense on their own, I would likely not teach backwards… but I don’t play a lot of strong-theme-weak-mechanisms games.


I think Quins’ video on game teaching was really good, I’d certainly never thought about preparing a teach in advance before. I’ve been guilty of teaching games badly in the past as well.

This weekend I taught The Resistance to 2 families over Zoom (having never played it myself). Note, teaching over zoom is not easy. However, I had prepared it and I think it went pretty well.

I also taught Brass Birmingham to my 11 year old without any prior preparation. I think BB is a very hard game to parse, with a lot of fiddly rules and exceptions. I think the fact he’s clever with a lot of game experience made him pick it up quicker than my explanation deserved!!

I’ve started going with the Quins method of

  1. Who are we?
  2. What are we doing?
  3. How do we win?

As a basic framework and then working outwards from there.


Quins video was really helpful for me to realize that “The Teach” as a concept was an important part of gaming. It almost always falls to me to learn and teach games…

I try to start kind of like this. “We are some Industrial bosses trying to have more VP than everyone else and so we’re building up the industry around Birmingham.” or “In this game we’re running vineyards in Tuscany and we’re trying to fulfill wine orders to gaine the most VP. To fulfill wine orders we need wine in our cellar, which we produce from grapes which we harvest from vines which we plant in our fields. Let me show you the three fields you start with…”

However, players tend to interrupt a lot and then I forget where I was…

And the trickiest of all: how do you deal with the details you forget to explain? How do you make sure that you do not forget to mention at least three times that level 1 buildings are removed after the canal phase? How do you even figure out that that is the thing that people will miss or how do you notice during the teach that that one rule just went over their heads?


I found that playing a new game multihanded by myself helped me see how the game works in a controlled way. I found rules questions you wont thought of while reading the rulebook, especially if the game isnt well designed or the rulebook isnt written well.

It’s a practice that I neglected nowadays. I often go by the rulebook.


Hmm. I think I don’t prepare in advance exactly. When I demo at Essen I generally have only a rough idea what I’ll be doing - maybe on the Wednesday afternoon at the end of setup there’ll be “OK, tomorrow we’re doing games A and B” and I can say “game A please”, but if it’s a new release I may never have played it before or even seen the bits. So I’ll soak up the rules, play with the components a bit before the hall opens, and have a basic skeleton laid out… but it’ll evolve during the show and usually gets to its best around day two.

By day three I have been known to wake up in mid-teach. (In my hotel room, I should say, not at the table.) At that point I write it down because it might be useful later.

As far as forgotten details go, I think people at a demo table generally aren’t expecting to play their best game. The thing I hate when I do it is failing to apprehend something, such that my big multi-turn plan turns out to be irrelevant – for example, the first time I played Champions of Midgard I didn’t realise that my secret goal was about monsters killed on expeditions, not monsters close to home. Because it was a secret, I didn’t get to have a conversation that might have exposed my error. And I can’t fairly blame the guy who taught the game – I just happened to miss that particular point of terminology. I suppose he could have gone through all the secret objectives before they were dealt out, but that would have taken longer…

1 Like

This is why I, in general, ask if everyone would like to play open-handed for the first game. Now, admittedly, when you have a large deck of objective/recipe/etc cards and only a small percentage will be shown during a game, there’s no perfect solution, but if it comes down to relatively small quantity of iconography that needs to be addressed, I prefer to do it organically throughout the game and, in the case of “secrets”, opting to play open-handed. I often frame this as “this is our first game, so winning and losing isn’t as important as learning the game”


The first thing is to recognize that different players have different preferences. There are some players who like to jump in as quickly as possible and learn the rules as they go. There are some who can’t even make the first move without knowing all the rules. Most people are somewhere in between, but I like to ask the players what their preferences are.

Especially for complex games, I like to set the tone and expectations of the first game by saying, “This is a learning game.” If I remember, I give the option of “We can play a couple of rounds to get a feel for the game and then decide if we want to start over.”

When I teach, I will point out things to the newbies as the game progresses. For example, in Terraforming Mars, I will remind them about Milestones and Awards. I don’t like playing open-handed, but I will answer any and all questions they might have about what a card means or offer suggestions if they ask for strategic help.

I might skip some of the details about the end of the game and save it for when it is getting close. Again with Terraforming Mars, I won’t explain the “And once the last generation is triggered, we’ll play out everyone’s actions, then do production, and then you’ll have one last chance to build greenery tiles from plants,” until I think the game is in its penultimate generation.

I highly recommend that you only have 1 teacher. It can get really confusing if multiple people are trying to convey information. A little supplemental input from others is fine or even welcome, but when I’m teaching, let me teach, and if I’m learning, let me focus on one voice.


I will admit my life is easier because I don’t tend to play (therefore teach) games that have a lot of “I want to do X” “you can’t because Y”. Or at least that’s my perception – maybe V-Commandos has just as much of this as Brass or Antiquity, and I just don’t see it because I know the game better.


Gotta drop these in:


I agree in the most part, but sometimes one of two situations can occur:

  • you’re explaining a game and there’s one person there who Just Has To Get Their Word In and you need to manage that situation without being hurtful
  • you’re keeping quiet while someone else explains a game and they’re visibly struggling

…and in some cases these are both sides of the same situation!

I don’t think it’s fully desirable to have one voice at the expense of the others. Clearly you don’t want a free-for-all but there are good ways of managing that situation that I think are better than “no, I’m the one teaching, everyone else shut up”, such as:

  • if you’re explaining, give someone else the job of handing out the components, if someone else is teaching, start handing things out (but stop if the main explainer asks you to)
  • if you’re explaining, invite questions on a regular but not too regular basis; if you’re not explaining, and the explainer is struggling, ask leading but benign questions to get them back on track
  • if you’re listening to an explanation of a particularly tricky thing and you have some components in front of you, quietly set up an example

I get that some people learn best from a single person talking but I do ask myself to what extent that’s driven by collaborations being mismanaged rather than being bad per se. I also think that there are just some situations where asking everyone to shut up while someone else speaks is neither practical nor desirable and it’s good to learn some techniques for teaching collaboratively for when that situation arises.


In my experience as somebody who gets talked over a lot whilst I’m trying to explain rules, many people are unable to distinguish between “struggling” and “not explaining in exactly the same way that I would”, so this requires a bit of care.


In addition to this, make sure you know the rules before you teach the game!!


Fair point.


Perhaps these are the same people from your first point who just have to get their word in :laughing:

I particularly like this suggestion.


I think there is also something to be said about being a good learner! I try not to ask too many questions but will chip in with confirmations (i.e. so you’re saying if i do x, the effect is y, yes?) for particularly difficult to grasp bits. Otherwise, i prefer to just head straight in. I expect in any learning game im going to get spanked.


That’s why I did say that a supplemental input from others is “fine or even welcome.”

It’s really annoying when you’re trying to explain something and someone pipes in with “what about this?” or “Don’t forget about…” and interrupting your flow. Most of the time, it was something you were going to mention but some was trying to be “helpful” and instead makes things more confusing.


This annoys me often. Interrupting my flow and sequencing just makes the teach longer. I’d not forgotten it, it just wasn’t that rules turn yet and now the whole thing is more confusing for everyone now :disappointed_relieved:

If it’s brand new to me I used to practice beforehand. Otherwise it’s most of the things said here. Some key things such as don’t worry about the minutae until the overall picture is clear, and keep it less than 10 minutes. There’s not a boardgame which can’t be taught in person with a good audience in under 10 minutes. I game with a lovely chap who unfortunately can take up to an hour teaching a game, and has loads of interesting games I just don’t play unless I already know the rules.