One thing I keep coming back to when it comes to rulebooks and rules explanations, is that players need to understand what they actually *do* in the game.
This is often conflated with which rules they have to follow, or how an action is translated into the game's theme.
But the first step is knowing you have to play cards, or keep others from placing tokens, or combining actions, etc. It's only after understanding these core elements, that you can expand into theme and the limits set by rules.
@Georgios This is a good point. There's been a lot of times I've been giving a rules explanation to a game and am met with "But what do it DO? What's the GOAL?". I like what you're saying of basically "Here's what you want to do, now here are the guidelines for accomplishing that".
@RobBBGA We're thinking along similar lines here, yes. I think in order to grasp a game, we need to center the activity itself and then expand from there.
I often encounter explanations that start with what I consider details (hand limit, VP conditions, world building, etc) before talking about play itself.
@Georgios interesting! Maybe this is a ways of learning thing, because I feel like I'm the exact opposite. I can't retain the how till I've been told the why. First I want to know the theme: who are we, & what are we doing? Then I want to know how we win. Then, & only then, am I read for the mechanics.
@TimClare I think we may be talking about slightly different things here. The "how" or the mechanics are not the first step players need to take.
I am talking about framing the activity of playing the game, by anchoring it in real life actions. While I do think there's merit to your argument that people have different approaches to learning things; in this case I think we're not that far apart.
@Georgios ok! I may be misunderstanding your meaning. I do agree that players need a clear idea of what they will be physically doing - I suppose I was coming from my experience at Essen where rules explanations often went immediately into 'here are the 5 actions you can take in a turn' before explaining the theme & why those actions mattered. It was very hard to retain without having an organising paradigm 'you are master sculptors trying to create the greatest statues' or whatever.
@TimClare Exactly. I think we're on the same page here. It seems common practice to use theme as that organising paradigm, but I've found it often lacking as soon as the rules become slightly more complex or the theme too obscure for the players.
In those cases physical action seems to me the most reliable foundation to build on.
@Georgios thank you for taking the time to elaborate. Of course I guess different games can prove easier or harder to explain & that's not always linearly correlated to complexity so much as intuitiveness, similarity to previous games & synergy between theme & rules. Like most players can guess a big kraken will be a more formidable combatant than your starting fishing boat without being explicitly told the rules governing that.
@Georgios Makes me think of the way I teach games to new players. I tend to start with the ultimate goal (having the most VP, for instance) then doing a quick overview of the gameplay in reverse order (starting from the end). It gives a sense of what will need to be done to accomplish this "ultimate goal". Only then will I start explaining what needs to be done (draw cards, play cards, place miniature, roll dice, etc.), since the goal and the theme are already covered in the overview.
@jonathang To be honest I believe the secret ingredient to every great rules explanation is a confident, unflappable explainer.
If players trust you to guide them through any difficult situation during the game, they're more likely to overlook or push aside whatever it is that they haven't understood right now.
That said, an organising paradigm as @TimClare mentioned is very helpful.
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