You bought it from your Friendly Local Game Store (achievement unlocked: buy local!), brought it home, and opened it up. You found the rules, punched and sorted the contents, and inventoried everything to make sure it's complete.
You sit on the cusp of a new playing experience. Pause and savor the moment. Imagine the fun and possibilities. There's laughter and good-natured ribbing, moments and memories waiting to be made. This is awesome. I'm glad you're here to enjoy it.
Okay, enough reflection. Now on to the game!
It starts with a framework
As I mentioned last week, the biggest key to learning a new game is going step by step to build a mental framework for everything you're going to do.
That frame gives you a place to hang all of the information you read in the rules. This is adult learning theory in action. It's how we grasp, organize, connect, and apply information. And it's going to help you learn your new game.
I'll take the overview for $100
The first piece of your framework is the game's theme and overview. What's the game about? What are you and the other players doing in the game? Who do you represent?
You probably have some ideas about this already from reading the back of the box, checking out reviews, or talking to the folks at the game store. Still, take a moment to read through the game overview in the rules.
Are you all giant movie monsters who want to smack each other, stomp stuff into the ground, and generally prove your might? Are you captains of industry who dream of an interconnected web of nationwide railroads? That info goes straight into building your frame.
In addition to reading the overview in the rules, you can always grab your favorite Internet-connected device and search YouTube for video overviews and reviews. They're great tools to get up to speed quickly on a new game. In particular, check out The Dice Tower (www.youtube.com/user/thedicetower), Watch It Played (www.youtube.com/user/WatchItPlayed), Tabletop (www.youtube.com/user/geekandsundry), and Fort Wayne's own Bower's Game Corner (www.youtube.com/user/blqonXBL).
Many game companies produce their own “how to play” videos, so check their websites for details. Mayfair Games (www.mayfairgames.com/video.php) and Fantasy Flight Games (www.fantasyflightgames.com) are particularly awesome for for this.
How to set up and win
With the general ideas well in hand, clear some space on your table and set up the game. The rules always include a step-by-step game setup process, so just follow that.
This helps you familiarize yourself with the game's components, plus you get a chance to connect the game's terminology with the physical pieces. That gives you experience with the game's vocabulary, which makes everything more understandable as you continue through the rules.
Setting up the game also helps you see where the game happens, whether it's on a central board shared by all players, in unique areas belonging to each player, or directly on the tabletop with no board at all. This all goes into your framework so the rules themselves will make more sense.
Next, I look for the part of the rules labeled “how to win” or something similar to that. I do this to get the goal of the game firmly in mind before I dive into the mechanics. Are we earning victory points, trying to have the most money, or simply being the last player standing? Knowing where you're going fills in another spot on your growing framework.
Pay attention to what causes the game to end, too. It might be scoring a certain number of victory points, reaching a particular accomplishment in the game, running out of cards in a deck or resources in a pool, or even something simple like “the game ends after four rounds.” It's vital to know how to win, but it's also pretty important to know when to stop, too.
Going through the turns
Finally, it's time to dive into the heart of the rules to find out what the players can do on each turn.
Everything leading up to this point focused on building the framework to understand the game's vision. Now you're putting the framework into action. You're plugging what you read in the rules into your mental framework about the game, connecting it to what you already know.
This is when phrases like “Ohhh!”, “That makes sense”, and “Now I get why they did that!” start coming into my brain (and sometimes out of my mouth, too). That's a sign you're making the connections and figuring out the details.
Going for a test drive
After setting up the game, reading through the rules, and figuring out how everything works, I strongly recommend playing a round or two (or three) by yourself.
This is the final learning step: Putting what you read into action. This cements your understanding and also shows you where the gaps are. (And it gives you a private place to practice away from any occasionally impatient audience members, not that your kids ever get impatient, goodness knows.)
After trying it by yourself so you feel comfy with it, it's time to teach the game to everybody else. And that's what we'll cover next time. Keep learning and have fun!