Ok, now that you’ve gotten a few board games to start your collection, you’re thinking (as one commenter put it): “Chips. Salsa. Board game.” Simple as that, right? Well … maybe. Some of your newly-acquired games are going to take a little more effort to learn than, say, Life*. So unless you want your first game night to be a yawn-inducing session of “Excuse me while I look at the rulebook again,” here are a few tips to make sure there is a next game night.
First things first: Unbox your games. This may seem pretty obvious, but games like Monopoly and even Risk with all its little bits didn’t require much more than pulling off the shrink wrap and maybe tearing open a few plastic baggies. If you wait until game night to open your copy of Settlers of Catan, you’ll spend the first ten minutes punching out cardboard bits instead of settling Catan.
Next up: Read the instructions. Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re worried about your geek cred. Even the latest issue of Wired advises: “Never read the manual first.” But I’ll borrow the old, outdated Oldsmobile slogan: this is not your father’s old, outdated board game. Don’t make your gamers sit there while you read the rules to them. Don’t hold everyone up while you flip around, looking for that one rule you know is in there somewhere. Believe me, I’ve done it myself, and nobody appreciates it. Read through the whole thing once and make sure you understand the game before you invite people over to play it. Which leads us to…
Set it up. Hey, you’ve got it all opened up anyway. Take a look at the “setup” portion of the rules and lay everything out. Learn where things go. The less time it takes you to get everything ready, the sooner your game night can get going.
If you need to: Get some help. I rely very heavily on the community at BoardGameGeek.com for everything from turn order reference cards to simplified versions of the rules. Look up a game and scroll down to the section labeled “Files” and you’ll see a cornucopia of resources. (I find it’s a good idea to hit the “Hot” link to sort everything by the number of “thumbs-up” the files have received.)
Of course, now that you’re all prepared, you still need to be able to communicate all these new rules to new players. My advice? Don’t jump around from topic to topic: spell out the objective, give a rough overview of gameplay, and hold questions for later so you don’t get off-track. Some games can be explained quickly before you play; others will make more sense as you play, so jump right in. And, as with anything else, practice! The more games you teach, the more comfortable you’ll get.
After you and your friends have played a lot of games, you’ll be able to explain rules by referring to other games. (For instance, Puerto Rico is a lot easier to understand if you’re familiar with its little brother San Juan.) Also, as your gaming group gets more experienced, they may be more interested in joining you for the preparation, but if you’re just getting started you don’t want to bore or intimidate them. A little extra prep time on your part can really pay off.
Above all: have fun!
*If, however, you actually prefer games in which you basically let the dice make decisions for you, mix it up a bit with The Game of Redneck Life. Politically incorrect? No. Hilarious? Yes. But, seriously, you make more choices in a game of Pass the Pigs.