How to Quickly Explain a Game to New Players
A step-by-step guide for your next game night
Playing board games is a lot of fun. Especially with family and friends. Yet, there’s always this one annoyance: explaining a new game to first-time players. I’m sure you’ve encountered that yourself on many occasions as well.
In a way, playing a game that is hard to understand is like using an application that hasn’t been designed well. It just doesn’t feel right. It causes you to feel frustrated and angry. It is not the way you want your fun game night to go.
As a UX designer, it is my job to design solutions to these complex problems. In this case, you are the designer and the people you play with are your users. Now, keep in mind that solutions have to be usable and valuable for the user.
By taking the time to explain the game in a structured way, you enable your players to use the game well, without any problems, right away. That’s value right there. Here’s how it works.
1. Explain the goals and winning conditions first
Start by explaining the winning conditions first. The most important thing for every player to know is the goal of the game. Answer this: what do I need to do to win?
Usually you will have to collect, grab or destroy something. Here are a few random winning conditions that you could encounter.
- Be the first player to gather 14 victory points.
- Take your opponent’s king piece.
- Out of a 100 players, be the last player standing.
This will help get players into the right mindset. Once you state the victory conditions of your game, your players will almost immediately start to think of ways to achieve said goals. They will look at the board, cards, or screen to see where they can gather points, survive the game, or think of a certain strategy to win the game.
Pro tip: Try and make a comparison between the game you’re about to play and a game your players already know. This will give your players context. Context will lessen the gap to the new game.
2. Game mechanics second
Goals and winning conditions, check. Up next are the game mechanics.
Once you know what you need to do to win, you will need to know how to do it. This means that we have to take a deep dive into how the game works. In other words, the game’s mechanics.
Let’s take a look at what game mechanics are:
“Game mechanics are mainly used to describe how players interact with game rules and other formal properties such as goals, player actions and strategies and game states.”
Interactions with goals, player actions, strategies and game states, according to this research paper.
Now, goals are a part of the game’s mechanics. Even though this is the case, you should explain the goal first. The goal is your entry point to the entire set of game mechanics. Understanding the goal helps you give the other game mechanics context.
Most people start explaining a game by going into examples of specific cases without talking about the bigger picture first.
However, if you want to explain a game in a way that everybody understands right away you will have to focus on the bigger picture first.
Let’s use Mario Party as an example. You win a game of Mario Party by collecting the most stars out of all contestants. That’s the winning condition.
Now for the game mechanics. Mario Party is a turn-based game that consists of a number of rounds. Each round allows players to take their turn and ends with a mini-game. During the game you can earn coins that you in turn can spend to obtain stars. The winner is decided after a number of rounds you select before the start of the game.
One short paragraph of text to explain the basic game mechanics of a very big game. Not too bad!
This covers just the basics, of course. Once you have explained the mechanics it is time to fill the gaps of the game by moving on to the contents of the game.
3. Finally, the contents of the game
Explaining a game to new players is like building a house. You start with the fundamentals on which you can continue to build. Now that we have those fundamentals in place, it is time to finish our house by adding content.
If we go back to the Mario Party example we used previously, this is the point where you can start to explain the details and situational specifics.
You can explain what all the different spots are and what happens when someone ends up on one of them. You can explain how the shop works and what duel minigames are.
Usually, this is the starting point were people start to explain a game. You can talk about card colors, their type, and what they do all you want but it will not make sense if you did not explain goals and mechanics first.
Do a test run
Explaining a game before you play the game only brings you so far. To get a real feel for the game and discover every nook and cranny, you will need to play the game.
Your first-time players might feel a bit insecure about starting the game. To help them out, you can do a test run. This could be anything from playing a round with open cards and thinking-out-loud to playing a shorter version of the game.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to pause the game. Allow your players to ask questions if something is still unclear during the game. This way you learn by playing, which is perhaps the best way of learning something.
Explaining something in and of itself can be difficult. Just imagine how difficult explaining a complex game could become.
You can make it easier for yourself and the players by taking a structured approach to how you explain your game. Start with explaining the goal of the game, followed by game mechanics and content.
Make sure your players understand by allowing them to do a test run and ask questions during the game. This is how you explain a game in a way that everybody will understand right away.
Good luck and enjoy your next game night!
Designer & consultant. Working on providing designers the tools they need. Join the Designer’s Toolbox at https://bit.ly/jointhedesignerstoolbox