Rule books today come in all shapes and sizes for board games. I have games where the rule book fits on a couple small cards, one easy to read sheet of paper or an entire novel. I generally find that long rule books can create a barrier that keeps new players from fully diving into the hobby. There can be a lot to learn, and it can seems like a frustrating task to sit down and read a small novel to understand how to play a game. That leads to the question, what is the best way to learn how to play a game?
I have learned the rules and taught people over three hundred games. Now, I am not sure that it makes me an expert, but maybe instead just makes me the gullible one in the group. When we play games I am always the one to teach the game…maybe because I am a teacher in life, maybe because I am the only one who has the patience for it. I have at this point devised a system for rule learning and rule teaching (but more on that in another post). I do however want to dive into how do I learn a game to be an effective teacher.
First things first, I am a visual learner. I like to see things being done. It helps me understand what I am reading. Before I even open the game box, the first thing I do is check youtube for a how to play video. My absolute favorite how to play videos are Watch It Played, honestly my heart sinks a little bit if I get a game and see that Watch It Played has not covered it yet. Rodney has a way of explaining games that is clear, and really helps me wrap my head around the rules and game play. Their production quality is just amazing, and I really appreciate what they do for the hobby. In the cases where there is no Watch It Played (and I eventually get over my moment of misery realizing this) I will then look at other channels. My back up channels are normally either Rahdo or Gameboygeek. I watch the entire video…twice. This helps me take the game in visually, and understand all the moving parts, set up, and flow of the game.
I do not stop there though. I cannot emphasize enough that just watching videos is a bad idea. Once I have watched the video a couple times I actually open the box and get out the rule book. I now read the rulebook without the video on, or any background noise. This helps me see the rules and understand if there are rules that the video did not cover, or taught wrong.
Finally, I watch the video one more time while scanning the rulebook. This may sound silly, but there is a purpose behind it. This final step allows me to put two and two together. If I do this I am able to see what steps in the game are at what parts in the rule book. When I hear something being discussed on screen, I try to find it in the rule book. That what if I have to reference the rule book during game play I am able to find the rule easily. No sitting for five minutes flipping pages to try to find a specific rule. I generally will know where all the rules are which will keep game play running smoothly.
Now lets be honest, do I do this for every single game I play? No. Of course not. Games like Tsuro or Muse that have less than a page of rules do not require this kind of in depth study. I can watch the video once, scan the rules and play. For larger games though, like The Gallerist, The Others: Seven Sins, and Scythe I found this method to be the most effective way to fully understand how to play the game, and it sets the foundations for also being a strong and effective teacher.