How to teach War Games

I have been asked from time to time, how do you do it? I run a little organization called The Wargame Bootcamp, there are only two of us and we travel to different game conventions, game stores, and game events to teach historical board games to anyone interested in sitting down for an hour or so to learn. So I do have some insights on teaching board games I would like to share.

First off, you have to be a good sport and point out what they are doing wrong and help them understand how the game works. This means going easy on them  during the game, this is NOT the same as letting them win (unless there is a Wookie evolved) What I mean is show them possibilities of moves they can make, point out mistakes, and be helpful. If their optimal move will mess up your plans, that is okay point it out and let them smash you, it’s just game and you can play again.

Teaching is not for everyone, there are some who don’t have the patience for repeating themselves twenty times reminding players about the same rule. Others just are too competitive and cannot help themselves. If you can you will have to set your drive to smash your opponents aside just for the first game, if you can.

I teach games by showing two things to start, the Sequence of Play and the Victory conditions.

First they want to know how to win, and / or just an idea of what they should be doing. Try to explain what objectives they should be focused on and point out some ways they can try to accomplish them.

Show them the Sequence of Play (SoP), I would quickly go over the SoP (they are not going to remember every detail anyway). Make sure they have an idea, but if they want to move on let them. Another important thing to remember is during the game explain the whole rule, not just want pertains to the situation. You will replete yourself… A lot but if you are diligent and keep the game moving it will payoff and they will have a better understanding of the rules. In fact every time the question what they can do in a situation comes up repeat the rule, and repeat the rule the next time it comes up, and the next… Repetition is the best way we learn, and I will say it one more time, you will repeat yourself a lot.

What I usually do is set up the game and run through common rules with the pieces set up show examples of tricky rules, movement, and combat. Show them on the board so they can see it, try to avoid the exceptions for rules at first, if you can talk about exceptions to rules during play (hopefully before come up in play if you can). Then set it back up and start the first turn.

One thing you have to accept is that you always get at least one rule wrong, and there will be times you’ll be called on it. Don’t take it personally and be magnanimous about it, I always say “sorry I got a bunch of different rules in my head and it hard to keep them all straight.” It isn’t just when teaching games, our game group gets rules wrong all the time, having fun the in important bit. I get a smile on my face when I see the flurry of email that happens after our game group get together’s, where the subject of the email always reads “We got this rule wrong.”

I can tell you from experience, teaching a game and playing are two different things and you want to give them a good experience so they will come back to play more, and tell others how good the game is.

If they enjoy the game they will want to play again and then you can stomp them all you want (see above about the Wookie however).

When I run The Wargame Boot Camp I am playing games I would not always pick to play, which gives me a better appreciation for all different types of games, and teaches me a bit of patience as well. I hope it helps me be a better rules explainer, though I doubt I will ever be as good as the other guy in The Wargame Bootcamp (Tim Porter). Always striving to get better at game teaching is goal I hope everyone will take up.

Happy gaming and stay out of my ZoC… And “Let the Wookie Win


One response to “How to teach War Games

  1. good intro to teaching wargames. For me, I like to give them a mission, take Rostov! But this is better for larger games with teamwork structure needed. And in an East front game rather than a ACW game 🙂

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