You’ve been waiting for weeks for your package to show up in the mail. THE hottest game of the year finally came back in stock and now you have a copy of the crunchiest, heaviest hitting game of the year.
You already have three sessions lined up with friends – entire blocks of your weekend set aside to play variants of the game and get a real feel for it.
There’s just one problem.
After months of waiting, weeks of delays, and days of planning, you still have to learn the rules, and there are LOT of them.
This is the real board gaming horror for most gamers I know – probably one of the reasons I’m the guy who gets stuck reading the books, watching the videos and playing the solo variants to learn the rules before we all sit down to build our farms, plan our civilizations, or conquer Middle Earth.
Whether you’re a new gamer thoroughly intimidated by the 40 pages of rules in Civilization: The Board Game or you have twenty brand new games waiting to be played that haven’t hit the table because you’re never going to get through those rule books, I’m here to help.
At least as much as I can.
While the 7 tips in this article will certainly help you get more out of your gaming sessions by bringing more games to the table, at the end of the day, it’ll still come down to you actually sitting and reading those rule books. So be ready to commit before you read on.
- Empty the Box of Its Components FIRST – Everyone learns differently. Maybe you soak up the written word like a sponge, but if that’s the case, I can’t imagine why you’re reading this. More likely you’re a visual or tactile learner and a 30 page booklet doesn’t help in the slightest when visualizing the rules in play. If that’s the case, start by pulling everything from the box, punching the components, separating the cards and miniatures, and unfolding the board. Look at exactly what the book is referencing as you read to help yourself visualize these rules in action.
- Watch a 15-20 Minute Video Review – Video reviews are great (when done properly) because they show the components in action. A good video review will show a few simple actions in the game combined with sample scenarios while the reviewer talks. You’ll get a very basic idea of how the game is supposed to work, which acts as a good reference point while reading.
- Watch or Join a Play Through – For me, the easiest way to learn a game is to be taught by someone who has played many times before. That’s not always an option. If you’re the lucky guy who landed a copy of Caverna before most of the known world, there were few, if any, people nearby who could teach it to you. YouTube can help with this, and conventions are fantastic for quick demos and play through opportunities, so keep your eyes open for chances to learn.
- Create, Print, or Photocopy Quick Start Guides – Most good games have some form of reference chart or “quick play” card that shows the phases of play along with your options at each phase. If the game doesn’t, check Board Game Geek where I’ll guarantee an enterprising soul has created just that. Some games practically NEED that guide (Robinson Crusoe – I’m looking at you!)
- Setup the Game As You Read the Rules – It’s tempting to rip through the rules as fast as you can, but taking even just a couple of extra minutes can help immensely. There’s a reason people tend to learn better when handwriting notes than typing – that tactile sensation of creating the words with a pen or pencil makes them stick more permanently in your mind. By setting up the board, moving pieces and playing out scenarios on the board as you read rules about those actions, you’ll have a visual, tactile memory to call on when teaching the game later.
- Watch a Rule Walkthrough on the Bus/Train – It’s time consuming and there’s no guarantee someone has done the legwork yet, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find a solid YouTube walkthrough of the game. I recently watched Ricky Royal’s Box of Delight series of videos to learn War of the Ring. I didn’t watch all 14 of the videos (totaling a whopping 3+ hours), but the first 7 gave me everything I needed to learn the game and reference the book for additional rules.
- Enlist a Friend to Play a Practice Game – This is a lot like number 5, except with a friend (making it more fun). Instead of torturing your friends by teaching a game when you don’t know all the rules quite right, ask for a volunteer – someone who will sit with you and play through scenarios or even one big long tutorial mess of a game to learn the rules. Don’t worry about who wins or how the game plays out – just focus on learning (and breaking) the rules until you feel comfortable playing a tighter, fuller version.
There is no shortcut to learning the rules for a new game.
There are, however, some tips to augment the stodgy rulebook with its archaic technical jargon, and ensure you actually know the rules.
Better yet, you’ll be prepared for the litany of “what about…” questions you KNOW you’ll get while teaching.