Diagramming for Clarity


Post by: Grant Rodiek

A fundamental problem with every board game is that a game designer doesn’t ship with every copy of the game to teach it to customers. This is a difficult problem to solve before the advent of cloning or teaching droids.

If you’ve read my blog, you know that I believe very strongly that accessibility, or the lack thereof, is a key component to the growth or stagnation of our hobby. Therefore, today we’re going to talk about diagrams and how this very crucial element should be used to improve even the simplest game.

Every player learns to play your game differently. Some people like to read, some love to watch videos, others insist on being taught, and finally, some may simply be visual learners. Most likely, most people are a little bit of everything. Every designer has the budget and time to write clean rules — it just takes practice. Furthermore, every designer has the skills to create even the most rudimentary diagrams to illustrate even the simplest point.

Remember, a picture is worth 1000 words. And a picture paired with 1000 words is a far superior rules document. My goal for this post is to give you a variety of examples and cases from my own games and others to demonstrate how to use diagrams to improve your rules.

One Quick Note: Do not bother with diagrams until your rules are relatively stable. You’ll kick yourself if you have to constantly re-make the diagram to match your shifting rules. Wait until you’re at a point of relative stability, or a big moment (Con, pitch) to do it.

If you want to see my words in action, check out the Hocus Poker rules. They now contain diagrams for many aspects of the rules.

What should diagrams teach? Diagrams should teach anything that can be misconstrued with written communication. A board game rule booklet is a construction manual, a how to manual, and a trouble shooting manual all in one.

Construction Manual: For construction, let’s look to some of the best manuals in the business: Lego and Ikea. Without a single word, they teach people how to communicate elaborate, intricate things. Or, cheap plywood stools.

Therefore, a standard for game diagrams is how to setup the board and play space. Unless your game has a single deck as a component, this holds great value. Not only does it clear up any confusion surrounding the interpretation of the text, but it is your chance as the designer to show your players the ideal way to setup the game to maximize their space.


In the diagram above, I demonstrate how to setup the Actions and Spells. I provide context and examples for how the Mana and Rune tokens will be used. I give an idea for how players should sit, and remind them subtly that hands are private (face down). Finally, I show where to setup the square. This is all fully explained in text in the rules, but providing an image with captions really drives it home.

Use diagrams to demonstrate how precisely to setup the game so that there are no questions from your players on whether they read correctly.

How To: There are some standards in games that don’t need visual backups. Shuffling, for example. Then again, Pandemic, which I consider a standard setter for accessibility, has a diagram that shows you how to hold cards in your hands (in the first edition, at least)!

Here: Just go read Pandemic’s rules.

What do I want you to take away from this? Pandemic uses a visual to help explain every single choice you can make in the game. They tell you how to move your pawns, what cards you spend to cure, how you remove cubes, how to travel. All via diagrams. I assure you that a large part of Pandemic’s main stream success is how difficult it is to screw up your play experience. People hate feeling stupid. This is one of the reasons they don’t play board games. Pandemic does everything it can to ease this.

For Hocus Poker, we created diagrams to cover a few things with which people might have confusion, each shown below: Paying to activate spells, creating a hand, and tie breakers.

Each of these is backed up with a text explanation, but each is intended to drive home things that should be relatively simple.

The key element we’re trying to communicate in the diagram immediately above this is that you stack your Mana and that you do so above the Spell cards. The text explains the finer points, but driving home visually what it means to “stack” is really key.


Here, we used this snapshot of a game to outline several points. One, a player’s possession and that it includes both their hand and shown cards. We also wanted to highlight that players can build hands using their possession and the Square. Thanks to a tip from a reader, we used blue and red outlines to note one example player’s hand from another. Finally, this helps reinforce that some hands are better than others.


For this last one, we’re explaining the tie breakers. You see three hands in the third image, each a pair of 2 matching cards. The first tie breaker is that 11 is better than 3. That knocks out Merlin. The second tie breaker is that the best Arcana card in ties wins. Morgan is the only one with an Arcana (the 11 of Hexis), so she wins.

One thing you hopefully noticed in both my examples and the far superior Pandemic ones is the sense of context. The diagrams are not just useful for teaching a single item, but multiple items wrapped together in context. Every diagram is an opportunity to teach a new thing and remind the player about another thing they just learned.

The Trouble Shooting Guide: We use diagrams to teach players to setup correctly. We then use diagrams to teach the basics. Diagrams should then be used to teach the difficult stuff.

One thing I like about the rules for Horus Heresy is that within their diagrams, they not only show you what you can do, but what you can’t. Check out the movement diagram on page 22.

If you’ve ever tested a game, you know that immediately after you or your rules explain what a player can do, players will ask if they can’t do something. I have mixed feelings on how to solve this. If your rules specify everything a player can’t do, the document will soon grow to 300 pages. However, diagrams are a great way to highlight the most often asked issues.

In Battle for York, players are allowed to completely abandon a region on the board. This is different than Risk. Therefore, I used a diagram to show that you could move all your units and therefore subtly teach that, yes, it’s okay to leave a territory naked.

In addition to edge cases and examples like the ones above, diagrams can be used to demonstrate written rules whose implications may not be immediately clear. For example, in Sol Rising, activated Units can Move, Attack, Change Formation, and Activate Abilities in any order. However, players who have played Memoir ’44 or Summoner Wars may think they need to move first, then attack. OR, they may think that they can attack, then move, but they need to do them entirely as a chunk. Not true!

Therefore, I used diagrams to show an activated Squadron moving one space, attacking, then moving the remaining two spaces and changing formation. This would have been a cumbersome and easily misinterpreted paragraph in the rules booklet. But, as a captioned image, it illustrates the point perfectly.

How should you create your diagrams? You have so many tools at your disposal! Google Drawing is FREE and is really fantastic for creating simple diagrams. Their tools let you create simple shapes, like cards, very quickly. And, you can import images to use as well. You can also setup your prototype and take a Photo using a smart phone.

You may laugh, but it’s possible to even doodle something on pen and paper, then scan it into your rules. You’d be shocked to find what a square with an arrow can teach your players.

What are your favorite examples of diagrams in rules? What are some tricks you’ve found useful for crafting diagrams? What did I get wrong? Share it in the comments below.

A Haunting Truth


Post by: Grant Rodiek

The Polish government has a group called The Institute of National Remembrance, created in 1998. As an American, I must say the frank openness and purpose of the Institute is just incredible. Its role is to make known the history of the Polish people, which is often a grim truth, share the archives and secret records collected by the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, and educate the polish people.

I’ve always been an avid student of history. I know all too well what my history books taught me, or more often didn’t. Knowing there is a government agency whose entire job it is to discuss these things is just incredible. I’d love for such a thing in America.

This is a blog about games and game design, though. Thankfully, the Institute of National Remembrance has the foresight and knowledge that games are an incredible way to teach. Yesterday, I bought Queue, also known as Kolejka in its native Polish.

This game was created to entertain, but also teach people about the absurdity of a centralized economy, how it failed the Polish people (and others living in the Eastern Bloc nations), and what it was like to live in a nation where obtaining common household goods and groceries people like me take for granted wasn’t always easy.

Put simply, it is a game about waiting in line for groceries.


My copy of Queue, waiting for me to learn.

The game’s presentation is humble, and I mean that in the best of ways. It is clean and almost silly, as it features actual propaganda imagery, cartoons, and goods from the time period. It is lovingly crafted, right down to the fake coffee stain on the back of the board. Everything is top quality.

I haven’t played it yet, nor have I finished reading the rules, but I’ve begun and the game has already greatly interested me. It has affected me and I want to know more. I wish I taught a history class so that I could have my students play.

I’m an American, as is most of my readership, so I’d like to bring up the topic of how we as designers and Americans can inform, learn, and entertain with aspects of our culture other than our wars. This is already being done by others.


Academy Games released Freedom: The Underground Railroad last year. In it, players act cooperatively as abolitionists trying to bring down the institution of slavery. I’m a big fan of Academy Games and accolades for the game have been numerous, but I must admit the topic makes me so uncomfortable I haven’t been able to purchase it yet. This is very heavy stuff. In their review, the normally funny Shut Up & Sit Down reviewers only made a single joke about how they didn’t feel comfortable making jokes.

I am curious that if a game can be made about the institution of slavery, can one be made about something as dark as The Trail of Tears? This was the government sanctioned act of forcibly relocating and killing many Native American tribes as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The experience and game could revolve around trying to survive under such hardships. Gaining food, shelter, and dealing with the oppressive conditions. It could also focus on the results at the end of the trail. How can one begin anew after such a trial?

A game could be crafted to tell the story of Japanese-American Internment during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the government forced over 100,000 Japanese-Americans to live in internment camps due to fears of sabotage and treachery. These people lost their homes, their belongings, their businesses, and their status in our culture.

Perhaps the game could be about finding happiness in the camp? Or rebuilding life after the war and camp life? The important thing is to teach about the hardship and struggles in a way that is interesting for players.

Something slightly less dark, that nonetheless had a questionable impact on the world, would be how the United States and its allies split and divided the world following the end of World War II. Many new nations were created and merged. Many were split and divided, not among cultural lines, but often arbitrarily, geographically, or as a result of political bargaining. Take a look at how this has affected Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia — pretty much every part of the world with combatants.

Players could play as members of the new Security Council, each with interests, each with a task and awkward duty of defining the new countries of the post-war world. This could even be a challenging Legacy-style game. What will be the repercussions of your decisions? What can you learn from them?

There are also positive elements to our history. Let this not be purely doom and gloom. The Marshall Plan helped rebuild war-torn, devastated Europe. Without it, World War III may have emerged from the ashes of a desperate and downtrodden people.

What about the desperate struggles of Hoover and Roosevelt during the Great Depression? What about the innovative, ridiculous, and sometimes unlawful moves to fix the greatest economic calamity our nation has ever faced?

Volko Ruhnke and his COIN (counter-insurgency) series of games let players live and experience history that is sometimes still happening. It is thought provoking and even painful.

What about how immigrants throughout our history have contributed positively to our culture with their cultural contributions, industriousness, and voice? The love of my life is a Cantonese-American and my great grandparents immigrated from Germany. There is an interesting story there and I want to know more.

What about the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr and the NAACP to stand up against oppressive laws throughout the United States in the middle of the 20th century?

My point, is that history is grand, dark, deeply important, and it affects our lives every day. I believe we often simply look to our wars and military conflicts for inspiration. As a result, we’re missing an honest, frank, and enlightening look at the decisions that made our country what it is today, for better or worse. I think there is a great wealth of inspiration to be found and once I’m finished with my current crop of designs, I’m going to try to do something with it.

Games can be more than just games. They can be fun, insightful, and thought-provoking.

What story would you tell with a design? What element of our history would you investigate?

Posted in Blog | Tagged , history, kolejka, poland, polish history, polish institute of national remembrance, | 3 Replies

New Ways to Teach

Post by: Grant Rodiek

The single greatest barrier to entry for board games is learning to play the game, or put another way, reading the rules. This is a tiny, niche hobby that when compared to other forms of spending one’s time is merely a spec on the landscape.

Consider a potential gamer’s alternatives, and by alternatives, I mean alternate ways in which they can spend their time.

  • A movie is ready to go. You show up, pick a film, and passively enjoy.
  • Televisions is ready to go. You select a channel and passively enjoy.
  • A book is ready to go. You open it and actively enjoy.
  • A video game requires learning (sequels and copycats aside), but it interactively teaches you. Ideally, you are also having fun.
  • Facebook is constantly updated with things to see and do. It is fairly mindless and easy to appreciate.
  • Browsing the Internet is a semi-active, sometimes subconscious trawl through the depths of human depravity and accomplishment.

A board game requires you learn the game, sufficiently to teach it, then learn to play it. Even if you are taught, you must still actively listen and learn. Personally, I enjoy reading rules and learning games. But, I’m a freak exception in this regard. For many people, learning a new game feels like work. Why work when you can watch TV, read, or play Candy Crush?

Innovations in teaching players our games are the single most important way to grow our hobby. There have been several lately that I wanted to gather and bring to your attention.

Video Tutorials: A few folks have done this very well, notably Plaid Hat Games and Watch it Played with Mice and Mystics, or Van Ryder Games and Ryan Metzler with If I’m Going Down. This is a great trend that matches consumer habits and really gives folks an alternative way to learn. Everyone learns in different ways, so forcing people to read, and read only, isn’t always right.

The back of the box for Theseus mentions this.

The back of the box for Theseus mentions this.


The front cover of the Mice and Mystics rules.

Videos can be easily found by putting a big notice on your game cover, either a simple graphic or a QR code. Don’t snicker! They can be useful.

You may not have the budget to hire someone, but using a smartphone video camera and open source or low cost software, you can make something. With zero editing and only two takes, I created a walk through of my prototype Battle for York. Were I to spend just a little more effort, I could use the $6 iMovie editing app to arrange scenes better, then I could overlay Voice Memo audio with better camera shots.

What I’m trying to get at is that if you are serious about making your games more accessible, you don’t have an excuse.

Learn to Play manual versus Reference manual: Fantasy Flight has begun a new rules tactic where they ship two booklets with each game. Battlelore 2nd Edition is one game to feature this.  One teaches the players how to play the game. This book focuses on the initial experience and minimizes edge case and one-off explanations. The second booklet is an index for quickly answering rules questions (ex: how does movement work when I am out of money?) and goes deeper into more complex and less common rules.

This accomplishes quite a few things.

  • It services the needs of the first time player. It presents a smooth, narrative of learning. It is A to Z service as far as most people need to know.
  • It services the needs of the experienced player with quick, simple check ups.
  • It makes the rules seem shorter. Don’t believe me? Joel Eddy noted how short the rules were in his recent Battlelore 2nd Edition review. People notice.
  • It eases the burden on designers from teaching everything at once.

To continue with this last point, have you ever explained a game to a friend, only to have him hold up a hand and say “just stop, I’m full.” There’s a point where people can’t learn any more, so even if there are more rules, they are finished. I hit this 2 weeks ago explaining City of Remnants. On my second play with another group of friends, I completely changed my strategy. I simplified it and told them the basics. As the game progressed, I revealed more details. No problems.

There are a few twists and variations on this premise.

  • X-Wing Miniatures Game offers first game, quick start rules. They are dead simple and exclude over half the game, but they can be learned very quickly and get the point across.
  • Conflict of Heroes and Earth Reborn both offer layered, teaching rules. Both games are scenario driven, so much like video games, they introduce a few mechanics, have you play the scenario to drive home the point, then teach a few more rules.

Use Cards to Teach Exceptions, not the Rules: This is one of the great benefits of using cards, but it bears repeating. If you have a game where the rule book conveys a few simple, systematic rules, then you use your cards to convey exceptions, you will generally have a smoother game experience.

I was playing Blockade at GenCon with a publishing contact. At one point we were discussing a kamikaze mechanic (no longer in Mars Rising for a few reasons) and whether it should be a rule, or a card. The publisher stressed emphatically that it should be a card. “There are already so many things to learn and keep in my head. Why add this one that is only used conditionally?”

He had a point. If you have an exception to the main, an “if then” (which should arguably be avoided regardless), a rare occurrence, or something similar, consider using a card to help people learn the game more easily.

1812: The Invasion of Canada and Summoner Wars are two good examples of this.

Solo Variants: It can be intimidating for some to learn the game and teach it to friends without having tried the game. Some folks are visual learners, or learn by doing, and a rule book just won’t cut it. No matter how good the booklet, it’s just not how their mind works.

Consider adding a solo variant to your experience, or a puzzle mode that uses the pieces and mechanics in a fresh way, or perhaps just create a 20 minute teaching walk through game.

Folks may roll their eyes, but how difficult would it be to craft a 30 minute challenge for your game for only one person to enjoy and learn? If you love your games to be brain burners, here’s your chance to craft one.

  • Earn N of a resource using only 15 workers. Teaches resource management and manipulating the resource economy.
  • Earn N points in 3 rounds. Teaches the importance of scoring and how to win.
  • Conquer this region using only these troops. Teaches tactical formations and using units sparingly.
  • And so forth…

Ultimately, you can seek to give your players a helping hand to learn and stumble in the privacy of their own living room before standing before their friends.

Fully Illustrated Turn Examples: This may seem like overkill, but providing a fully illustrated game play example for your players is another way to reach different learning types.One of my recent purchases, Theseus, devotes a few pages in the back of its rule book to walking new players through a game, step by step.


This is relatively simple to execute, assuming you can afford the book space.

Add Rules as you Go: As far as I know there’s only one example (so far) of this, but Risk Legacy is brilliant in that more of the world, complexity, and rules unlock as the game progresses.  As the game has been out for quite some time now, below, I’m going to SPOIL some of the mechanics. NOT the story, but the mechanics.







Here are some of the mechanics:

  • A drafting mechanic is introduced to let players vie for starting territory, starting units, starting resources, and order of faction selection. Introducing this later is good in that it spares new players the complexity, but also doesn’t force them to make choices they don’t yet fully understand.
  • New factions are introduced that offer new mechanics, specifically ones that take advantage of the modified state of the game board.
  • Factions gain new abilities. All begin with 1, which is relatively simple to understand. Over time, they gain many new abilities that are easier to learn.
  • Cities are quickly introduced, which provide an alternate incentive for gaining troops, as well as a tactical decision regarding gaining and defending territory.

Creating a legacy-style game is intimidating and difficult, but consider finding ways to add complexity over time. This example is, of course, very similar to Conflict of Heroes, which uses scenarios to introduce complexity.

What are some of the other innovations in teaching rules that you have seen lately? Share in the comments below!

How to Teach Your Game


Post by: Jay Treat

While few teachers get the respect or compensation that would support this claim, teaching isn’t easy and it’s not something most people can do well without some training. And yet, you can’t get people to play games with you—or sell your game design—if you can’t teach them how to play it. The good news is, unlike flying a plane, teaching isn’t an all-or-nothing skill and you can teach even if you’re not an expert. The bad news is, teaching a game poorly falls somewhere between boring and frustrating, which reduces the chances those players will let you teach them more games in the future. And certainly doesn’t qualify as putting your best foot forward when trying to impress a publisher.

I can help.

Teaching, like so many things, is all about empathy. The more you can put yourself in your students’ shoes, the better you can teach them. It’s all about knowing what they could understand, what they do understand, and what questions they’re keeping to themselves. If you know all of that, you’ll know what to explain next and, if you know your students, how best to explain it.

I wrote about a few methods to become more empathetic that I recommend you check out before continuing. Some of them are pretty out-there, but these methods are directly applicable to other aspects of game design, and life in general:

  • Compartmentalization
  • Self-Assimilation

You might also check out Games to Play to Become a Better Game Designer, a geeklist with several entries that will help you become more empathetic, and thus, a better teacher.

As with everything, there’s no one right way to teach. Duh. What I share now is my method, what makes sense to me, and what seems to work in my experience.

Start at the Top

Starting with details, in medias res, is disorienting. It can be a powerful tool for storytelling, but the point of teaching a game is understanding, so we want to start from a bird’s eye view. What is this game about? “It’s a trick-taking game with spies” and “It’s a cooperative game where players are trying to escape a crumbling space station under attack from aliens” are good starts. “You’re bidding not to take numbers” is not.

The first two take advantage of things the players already know to jump-start the process. Players know what trick-taking games are, and they know what spies are, and they’re already starting to imagine the combination and building expectations. If what you tell them next fits those expectations, you’re going to see a lot of nodding heads and the rest will come fairly easily.

I’ve had more than a few games explained to me that made no sense until the teacher was finished and someone asked, “Wait, is this game… cooperative?” Men assume unknown people are male, people assume the “Spot” you’re talking about is a dog, and gamers assume your game is competitive. It’s what makes a game different that you need to call out immediately, because everything you leave out or save for later will be filled in with default assumptions until you do, and that can seriously throw people off the scent.

No Thanks! is a game where players are trying to keep their scores as low as possible by guessing what the breaking point is for each number card that goes around. You spend a limited personal supply of chips to avoid taking a number, but eventually you’ll run out of chips and be forced to take whatever comes your way. The only way to get more chips is to take a number card (all of which are bad, but some are much worse than others). Each turn, you’re evaluating whether you’d rather pass on a card or suck it up and take it now to improve your future standing. In essence, “You’re bidding not to take numbers…” but that statement only makes sense now that you’ve got the big picture.

Get to the Heart of it

You’ve got the very high-level concept of the game in place. Players are looking at the game components and starting to predict how they relate to that, how they might be used, what kinds of things they’re going to get to do. Now is when you hook them. Give them the heart of the game. Tell them what makes the game tick; how they’re going to be spending the next hour.

“Each player shares one of the six factions vying for control of the city with another player. Each round, you’ll have to work with one of your opponents in order to score. You’ll deploy agents from all the factions, trying to play the ones that are good for you when they’re best for you, and the ones that are bad for you, when they’re least bad. Scheming, collusion and manipulation are your bread and butter.”

“The space station has been messed up after the alien ship neutralized it with their lasers. We’re trying to navigate the twisted wreckage while we look for the escape teleporter. We’ll need to open these tech modules to find it, and our Mechanic and Engineer will be patching the station up to form rooms so that we can access them. We’ve got to be quick, though, because one of the station’s systems fails every turn and aliens are boarding from these four locations. The Marine is the only one that can fight them back. And its up to the Smuggler to go outside in her space suit to access the modules we don’t have time to rearrange. We’ve got to work together or we’re all doomed, and so are our families back on Earth.”

What’s the Point

Explain the goal. If it’s simply to earn the most points, say that. It may be obvious, but it’s too quick not to say when the alternative is confusion.

With all these high-level items laid out, you can explain turn structure, the component lexicon, and any other must-know items in whatever order feels natural.

Turn Structure

Assuming players take turns (if it’s real-time, you should’ve mentioned that in the introduction), are there rounds and phases? Is there a strict phase structure, or can players do different things at different times? Overview the whole structure before detailing any one part.

“We take turns individually until someone wins. On your turn, you can research, build, or research and build.”

“Each round will have three phases. The first phase is upkeep where we all move our bits along this track. Next is the action phase, where we’ll each take one of three actions in turn order. Finally we resolve conflicts. If the game hasn’t ended, we start a new round.”

Notice how I don’t describe the individual actions just yet. Think of it as if you were looking at a map of america on the computer, and it’s loading in via nine chunks in a 3×3 grid. Would you rather see Alaska load in full detail first, down to the smallest roads and such before you see Montana or Oregon, or would you rather see the country’s full outline and all the states first before you start to see more and more details as they load? You might prefer the former if you already understand the layout of the country and are looking for the path between Skagway and Victoria BC, but players learning a new game don’t have that layout in their heads yet, nor would they even know to look for the game’s Skagway at this point.

Component Lexicon

There are a few games whose pieces are so few or so self-explanatory, you don’t need to explain what they are, but most games require a little show and tell. “These cubes are resources, the meeples are workers, the red number on the cards is ‘power’ and these three symbols indicate whether the card’s animal, vegetable or mineral.” For games with a large dictionary of symbols, like Race for the Galaxy, what each and every symbol means is the last thing you want to teach your players, but you still want to give them the basics. “Each card can be played for its cost or discarded to pay the cost of another card. The hex shows how many victory points it’s worth in play. Down the left side are abilities that will trigger during different phases of each round.”

For Dominion: “These are victory point cards which you’ll earn during the game and will determine the winner at the end. These are action cards; you can only play one action each turn normally. These are gold cards which you can combine to buy new cards. All of them have a cost, here, and an effect/value here.”

The Rest

Once the only layer left is the nitty-gritty details, share them.

Or don’t, depending on how nitty and/or gritty they are.


Abstract games are harder to learn because all the rules are new, and will seem arbitrary at first. Games with a strong theme (more specifically, games whose theme is integrated seamlessly into the rules) are easier to learn because you’re not learning new things, you’re just mapping old things together. If humans move 1 space each turn, but horses move 2 spaces, players will remember that because they already know that horses are faster. Dissonance will make learning even harder than arbitrary rules: Humans are size 3, but faeries are size 5… makes no sense; everyone knows faeries are smaller than humans!

While teaching a game, the rules and theme are already in place, and you have no control over how resonant they are, but you can capitalize on resonance to help you teach. Why can’t monsters heal while occupying Tokyo? Obviously they’re on full-rampage and there’s no time to sit and relax for a while. If you offer that bit of flavor, that window into the game-world, while explaining this seemingly arbitrary exception, more players will understand and remember it.

Omit Details

Sometimes a friend asks if you’ve heard from Bob Shmacky and you’re like, “Who’s Bob Shmacky?” and he responds, “You know. Bob!” And then you instantly know he’s talking about your mutual friend, Bob. If he had just said ‘Bob’ in the first place, there would have been no confusion, but the extra detail triggered your brain to expect him to be talking about someone new.

You may be tempted to explain a detail that’s relevant to what you’re talking about now to get it out of the way. Perhaps you’re explaining the flow of the game from setup, to the round and turn structure to the end of the game, all chronologically. While there are players who refuse to start playing a game until they know every rule, no matter how small, most players would rather start as soon as they have the gist, expecting for the rules they just heard to “click” once they’ve taken a turn or so. You can reiterate how things work as they come up in the game and then explain the little details and exceptions. Most people need hands-on practice to internalize a concept, and most need some amount of repetition of explanation. This method does both.

Ask for Questions

The surest way to make sure no one asks you questions, and that at least some of your students remain confused about something, is to imply that only stupid people would need to ask questions. That sounds like something you’d have to actively do and easy to avoid, but just the opposite is true. If you don’t explicitly ask for questions, or if you tie questions to misunderstanding, or if you look at a specific person when you ask, you’re doing it. Try to phrase it in a way that suggests of course there are questions. “What did I miss?” “Can I clarify anything?” “I went through combat pretty quickly. Was anything unclear?”

An Example

From start to finish, here’s how I might explain The Last Planet.

The Last Planet is a tactical tile-laying game with a StarCraft theme. Each player is one of three alien races that just discovered the last inhabitable planet in their war-ravaged galaxy. You will establish your presence on this planet by building outward from your starting base. Each tile represents a structure or unit you can build. They have a cost to build and you can only build a tile if it fits against a piece you already have. These worker units will help you gather resources from these natural resource areas, so that you can build your army and conquer the planet.

On your turn, you’ll gather resources first, then adjust or advance any number of tile chains, and finally resolve combat. In the first phase, take one mineral for each base you own, and then each of your workers can take any resource from a natural resource area it’s touching.

A ‘chain’ is one or more tiles in a line, not counting your base. In the second phase, you can adjust the outermost unit of each chain by rotating it against the next piece. You can advance a chain by buying a new tile that fits and placing it at the end of the chain (and you can create new chains by attaching it to your base). You can also advance a chain by picking up the unit at the start of the chain and placing it at the end, but that breaks the chain from the base which means you can’t buy new tiles at the end of that chain unless it’s reconnected to your base.

When you’re done moving your units, we’ll resolve conflicts in groups. Choose any group of enemy units that overlap your own to handle first. The effects of combat are simultaneous, but the order you resolve dice rolls in could affect your choices. Choose one of your units and decide which of its attack dice you’re rolling against the enemy units its touching. Then your opponent will do the same and so on, until every unit in the group has attacked. For each die result against a unit that matches its defense, it takes one damage. Remove each unit that’s taken as much damage as it has defense.

You win when all your opponents’ bases are destroyed. You may concede at any time; remove all your pieces from play when you do.


I’m pretty sure it’s harder to teach how to teach games than to teach games, so I’m confident there must be questions. What do I need to explain differently or in more detail? Did I skip something important? Do you smell contradictions I can try to clear up?

How do you teach games? I’m sure my perspective is neither the only perspective, nor the best. I hope you’ll share yours below for the benefit of the other readers.