Learning a New Game

I have talked about how to best teach games but I would be remiss to not talk about how to strategically learn a new game yourself.

Recently, I have taken it upon myself to try games outside my normal gameplaying comfort zone and now is a good opportunity to talk about my experience with learning games from the rule book and advice I can impart onto you. In this I will talk about what are the best ways to get the turns going, how to handle confusing/complex rules, and all the while provide some tips on how to play through your first game. Of course, some of the advice here depends on the kind of game you are playing and should be taken as rough guidelines.

Getting the Game Going

First and foremost, the best way to learn a game is to play it. There are several ways to get to this point including learning from someone, watching videos on YouTube, or by reading the rules. With any of these methods there are some key points of information: How are we set up at first?, How you win?, What can you do?, and What key rules should you look out for? The reason I picked these questions is because more of the key information can be gleaned from the answers and prompt any additional questions that come up specific to the game itself. If possible you should also have the rules next to you to help speed up any confusing parts.

If you are learning from someone, hopefully they have read the rules but the important part is to listen to their explanation: are they providing answers to the four questions? What parts are they leaving out/coming back to? It is important that you first start with the broad information and try not to become bogged down in the details at first. As you play you can ask questions and ask for points of clarification so don’t worry about learning everything at once. The benefit to this approach of learning from someone is that you will be playing the game almost immediately putting what you have learned into practice.

If you are learning from YouTube, try to find videos from after a game has been released since some rules may change slightly as the game is produced. Also have a copy of the rules handy so that you can follow along as the game is being explained. The obvious benefit is that you can pause and rewind the explanations as necessary so that you can understand more easily. The drawback, however, is that you may not be ready to play after getting the explanation and in some cases the explainer does not know the rules or misses a key rule (hence the need for the rules as a guide). As you go through the video see if it answers the four big questions: if they do then awesome! If they don’t then it is worth it to see the game play and to use the rulebook as a companion resource.

Finally, the last strategy for learning a game is to just read the rules. This is both the easiest to set up and hardest way to learn a game. The reason for this is that all you need to do is follow the instructions in that game. This can get bogged down with confusingly written rules or unclear verbiage but does not require anyone who has played the game before or an internet connection. To best learn from the rules I find that I need to read through it all first to grab the key pieces of information and then a second time to get the setup and basics firmly down and then to get your first game setup and start playing.  As you go through the game, you might need to refer to the rules more often than you would like but with everyone working to learn the game, you all will be on the same footing in terms of experience.

Dealing with Confusing Rules

Before beginning this section, I want to say one thing: writing rules is hard. It is difficult to clearly and concisely organize all of the complexities of a game into a format that is easy to read and understand and publishers have their work cut out for them and I want to talk about that in another post. All of that being said, rules can be overly complex or confusing and thus make a perfectly enjoyable game difficult to learn.

The first key thing that you should discern is why the rules are overly confusing or complex? Is it too much information? Is it organized weirdly? Is the wording is vague and unclear? If you take the time to understand what is confusing then you can start to work around the problem. With Vinhos for instance the rules are divided into a book that describes the setup and a book that describes one set of rules and a third that describes another set of rules. This was obviously an issue of organization and so I had to find the places that have the parts I needed to understand how to play and recognize the different needs the different books provided. If there is too much information just try to read for the large concepts and go into details at later reads of the rules (and/or games played). If there seems to be a lot of corner cases that the rules bring up, try to ignore them until they are relevant. Finally, when tackling confusing wordings, you should try to understand and agree on an interpretation of the rule(s) in question. If you are still confused then talk with people who have played the game before or use YouTube to clear up disputes over the rule(s) in question (or that are confusing).

Final Thoughts

For me, learning a new game is always exciting and a great learning experience. When learning a new game, no matter how I am learning I try to first gather the basic info to help me make good decisions and then try to fill in details as I go. Other players, YouTube, and (of course) the rules are great resources to learn from with their pros and cons. Try to see which approach helps you get to the table and playing the fastest because that is reason we learn games; to play them!

I hope that with these guidelines you can have an easier time learning new games and enjoying them. I hope you have a great morning and would love to hear what things you do to learn a new game.