Game Talk is a series of articles about many aspects off gaming meant to provoke discussions about the tabletop gaming hobby. Perhaps you agree, or maybe you don’t. Either way we want to start some talk here on Initiative : Tabletop and the articles will draw from all of our opinions and experience with the hobby.
Being a game reviewer means I have to learn a lot of new games on a constant basis. While some games share mechanics with others in the same genre, it’s not always easy to pick up a game and run with it. Especially difficult are the big Euro games that have tons of pieces (looking at you Terra Mystica and Caverna). Not all gamers learn to play games the same way, and many have their own preferences when they pick up a game for the first time. As I was picking up a game off of our review shelf to learn recently I started wondering what other players preferred when it came to learning a new game, which prompted the idea for this post.
The way I see it, there are two different ways to learn a game: solo or in a group. I prefer the group method, and I’ll explain why later. First I want to take a look at the solo method. This method is quite straightforward, and usually just involves you reading through the game’s rulebook from front to back in order to learn the game. There are a couple of variants on this method, but it usually plays out the same way. Some gamers will open the game’s box, take out the rulebook, and leave everything else in-tact. Perusing the rulebook, they’ll familiarize themselves everything it has to offer. There’s a lot of information to take in, and it can be quite overwhelming.
The variation here is when you use the rulebook and walk through the steps to play through the game by setting it up and actually playing it through using the book. This method is sometimes used in a group setting as well, but I still consider it a solo method because there’s one person usually reading the rulebook during play.
I’ve tried learning games this way, and while I can pick up some games and run with them I find myself a bit flooded with information sometimes. The rules sometimes just don’t seem clear enough and it usually ends up with me reading the same part of the rulebook numerous times. Some people are visual and can pick up on the images and rules without trouble, but for others it can just lead to confusion.
That’s why I prefer the group method. By this, I mean I prefer to locate someone who knows the game I’m about to play and basically let them teach the game to me. I find that when people teach me how to play a game they paraphrase the rules in a much easier-to-understand way than by reading them right from the rulebook. Not only does it help me learn the game by playing it, but it can be a really fun time that usually ends up in making new bonds.
Of course someone could argue that this method becomes a problem when you don’t know anyone who knows how to play the game you’re looking to learn, and this is true. When this happens you mostly have to resort to going solo. So, while the group method doesn’t always work in every situation, I personally feel like it’s a much better way to learn a game. Having people with you to help with rules questions, clarifications, and specific situations when playing the game makes the process much more streamlined and fun. When I learn a game by playing it with a group and having someone teach me I feel like I could buy the game off the shelf and take it right home to play.
Everyone has their own opinion, however, and there very well could be more methods of learning games out there. That’s why I decided to write this post. When it comes to learning a game, what do you prefer? What methods do you think work better than others? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment!