Teaching games to new players

edited October 2009 in Story Games
In another thread, there were some links to articles by a 'Magic: The Gathering' game designer, including one with tips for teaching the game to new players.

Article in question is here, but the relevant stuff is below.

Aside from the Magic-specific references, I think this is excellent advice for teaching games to anyone who a) hasn't played the game before, and b) doesn't have a lot of experience/expectations for things like RPGs.

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#1 – Keep It Simple. As I mentioned above, the biggest mistake people make when teaching new players is to teach them more than the need to know to start. Once a player is invested, they are much more motivated to explore the game. Your goal when teaching is to give them just enough that they can start playing. A corollary of this rule is that you shouldn't teach a beginner with random cards. Carefully pick out what you show them to help keep things as simple as possible. If you feel uncomfortable building a deck, I highly recommend the Tenth Edition Theme Decks for teaching new players.

#2 – Start Playing Quickly. Speaking of which: Magic is a game. It's a fun game. That is the most compelling thing about it. This means get the cards in their hands and get them playing as quick as you can. Don't try to explain everything ahead of time. Get started and teach them as you play. And remember, don't teach them things until they need to know them. The greatest thing about teaching as you play is that you can explain things as they naturally come up. This greatly increases the chance of the new player grasping why a certain part of the game matters. They get to learn about it when it's relevant.

#3 – Don't Worry About Them Making Mistakes. Another common error is to correct every mistake the new player makes. Don't do this. If they have things slightly wrong, don't worry about it. The goal isn't to have them master Magic after one game. It's to give them a taste of what the game is about, to give them a positive first impression. Being constantly reminded why what they're doing is wrong doesn't accomplish this. In fact, it only reinforces the number one concern new players have: that they aren't getting it. Also, another mistake in this category—don't worry about teaching strategy in the first few games. Strategy isn't useful until you are ready for it. Frontloading it just makes the game see that much more complex.

#4 – Make Sure They're Having Fun. The goal of the first game isn't to get them to understand everything, it's to get them to have fun. Magic is a game. Games are played primarily because they are entertaining. If the new player isn't entertained, your chance of getting them to play again is practically nil.

#5 – Expand Upon What They Like. I have taught a lot of people how to play Magic. The number one skill I've learned is this: watch what aspects they are enjoying and then focus on those. If they are intrigued by the art, I let them look at lots of cards. If they are interested in the colors of Magic. I start explaining the color wheel. If they seem to enjoy attacking with creatures, I focus on that part of the game. The goal, once again, is to give them a positive experience with the game. Everything else will come if they choose to keep playing. And if they don't, it doesn't matter what they've learned.

#6 – Give Them Cards (Preferably a Deck). In sales, I believe they call this a "walk away." The best way to keep someone invested is to make part of it theirs. Don't just show them the game. Give them the game. One of Magic's strongest attributes is the "stickiness" of the cards. That is, they are fascinating to look at and touch. As a quick aside, one of the things I like to do when I start teaching is to first let them look at the cards, just give them some time to take them in. With only one or two exceptions in my fifteen years of teaching Magic, this has always led to the person being more interested in learning. Just make sure not to get bogged down explaining things that won't matter until later (see #1 above). My point is that teaching doesn't have to stop when the first game ends. By giving them cards, you are extending the experience beyond just the moment.

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