So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Lessons

Yesterday, I got in the car and started listening to one of my favorite gaming podcasts, On Board Games.   In this particular episode, the hosts, Donald Dennis and Erik Dewey, were talking about teaching games with their guest, Giles Pritchard.  It was a pretty amazing coincidence to me, since I had an interesting teaching challenge this weekend at our gaming group.  Back in April 2011, I wrote about not being prepared to teach 7 Wonders, and I actually put it away rather than ruin the initial play experience for my gaming group.  I was teaching a new game at our monthly meeting on Sunday and once again wasn’t prepared, but in a way that caught me completely off guard.  Playing the game is one thing; scoring is another.

[As a complete aside, I really have to endorse not only the On Board Games podcast, but also Giles’ blog, Castle by Moonlight.  These are great resources for those interested in gaming at any level.]


We started off playing a couple of filler games until everyone arrived.  Afterwards I announced that I was teaching China (a fantastic game I will review soon).  I have never played the game, but I often end up teaching games that I have never played before.  It’s unavoidable, since I don’t get to other groups or conventions to play games with experienced players.  The game play is straightforward in China, literally taking only a few sentences to explain.  Normally, explaining the game play is the hard part; it can be very difficult to explain the various phases and options the player has on their turn.  Let’s use Monopoly as an example.  If you are playing strictly according to the rules, the player rolls the dice and moves their token.  From that point, they either: a) pay the owner of the property; b) buy the property; or c) do nothing.  Option a) is dictated if the property is owned.  If the player chooses option c), the property is put on auction, and there is a set of rules for that.  Of course, all of this goes out the window if the player lands on Chance, Free Parking or one of the other places on the board that have their own set of rules, too.

The scoring for Monopoly, however, is simple; there isn’t any scoring.  The winning player is the last person standing when everyone else has been eliminated.  Many games, and nearly all of the games our gaming group has played, have relatively straightforward scoring systems.  A few others are an exception, like Carcassonne, having a relative scoring element as one part of the whole score.  In Carcassonne, scoring farms is relative to how many completed cities touch that farm.  In China, nearly all of the scoring is relative.  That’s the difficulty in explaining the rules.  That’s what I wasn’t prepared for.  How much you score in a given province in China is relative to how many pieces other players put in the province.  That tension between gaining points and possibly giving away points forms the strategy.

I probably should have seen this coming.  I have trouble teaching Carcassonne precisely because of the farm scoring.  Instead, I fumbled around with an explanation of scoring on Sunday.  Fortunately, the other players were willing to play anyway, and after a first “learning game” we played a game with everyone understanding all of the rules: both game play and scoring.  It’s not that the scoring is hard to understand; it’s just hard to put into words.

In teaching the game I learned a lesson.  In the past, I would teach a game by first introducing the game’s theme or story, giving the game objective in story terms, giving the game objective in terms of the rules, and then explain what a player did on his or her turn.  Along the way, I would explain the various game components.  Explaining the scoring was simple enough that it just worked out in explaining everything else.  In China, that’s just not going to happen.  Explaining the scoring will need its own focus, and will probably need to include examples as I teach.  I will need to work a little more on my teaching technique.

It's Your Move!




  
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