I play a lot of new games. This means I have to learn how to play games a lot. It’s a process I have come to dread. Sometimes, it can be relatively painless, but more often than not, it can be long, frustrating and fraught with pitfalls.
Particularly if it’s a heavy or complex game with lots of rules, it can require a lot of work getting to a point where you know all the rules well enough to be able to explain the game to others and correct people when they make mistakes.
Some of these ways will seem obvious, but one of the best ways to learn a game is still rarely used, although I am hopeful that this will change. Let me give you my Top 5 Ways to Learn a Game…
5. Read the Rules
[Thick Yorkshire accent] “When I wer’ a lad, this wer’ the only way to learn a game!”
Tried and tested, this usually works, but it puts you at the mercy of the person who wrote the rulebook. Unfortunately, a talent for explaining games clearly appears not to be a prerequisite in many cases. Some rulebooks are shockingly bad. They can be full of errors and confusing statements and very difficult to learn from.
The advantage of reading the rules is that (assuming a moderately competent author) you have read every single rule in the game and if someone asks you a question, the answer is in your head somewhere. Even if you can’t recall the answer immediately, you’ve usually got a good idea where it is in the rulebook.
4. Play it Solo
The trouble with reading rules and then trying to explain the game to others is that it relies on you remembering them all! Some people are obviously better at this than others, but I for one struggle sometimes. A great way to solidify the rules in your head is to play the game solo before playing it with others.
Depending on the game, this isn’t always possible and it’s quite time-consuming, but I usually enjoy doing this. Having the motivation that you’re learning the game to teach to others spurs me on. The only difficulty is that the solo rules can vary a bit from the multi-player rules so you have to make sure you account for the differences when playing with others.
3. Watch a Video
There are some great YouTube channels out there for learning to play games. Rodney Smith’s Watch It Played and Paul Grogan’s Gaming Rules! are great places to start if you’ve not tried this before. It’s much easier to watch someone else go through the rules while showing you the appropriate components than it is reading a rulebook.
The only trouble with this is that I find I retain less information listening to someone than I do if I read the rules myself. It also means if someone asks you a question during the game, you have no idea where in the rulebook the answer will be because you haven’t actually read it! So while I prefer watching a video, I usually read the rules if I can.
I’ve been learning to play Tainted Grail from Awaken Realms this week (which I’m loving by the way!). They have a quick-start guide that tells you not to read the rules. Instead they walk you through an introductory scenario that teaches you all of the basic rules of the game.
Setup is explained with clear diagrams and then you actually play the game by following the steps in the guide. You are presented with some decisions, but frequently they will tell you to go to this location and turn over that card. It’s very prescribed. However, it’s great for learning how to play.
They then instruct you to read the rulebook after you’ve finished, but because you’ve already played, you can skim over many sections because you already understand all the key concepts. I wish walkthoughs were more common because they work so well.
1. Someone Teaches You
Sometimes I am in the fortunate position where someone else learns how to play and then teaches me. This is by far the best way to learn. Primarily because I can ask questions.
This might be during the explanation if something didn’t make sense, but it could be while playing the game if I forget how something works. If I try to do something incorrectly, they’re also likely to stop me and point out my error. This obviously relies on you having someone who can teach games competently, but as long as you do, you just can’t beat it.
What’s your preferred method for learning to play games?