The largest barrier to entry in our hobby is this: board games must be learned before they can be played. Therefore, they must first be taught. This means that the teacher is a large part of this barrier and, really, the only part that is variable. You can have a bad teacher, which raises the barrier to entry. Or you can have a good teacher with lowers the barrier of entry. So when it comes down to it, what we really need are good teachers. They are the ones that can lower this barrier of entry to new people.
Teaching a game is no easy task. First, the teacher must learn the game in a way that enables them to thoroughly and effectively teach it. Then they must accurately communicate the abstractions and concepts of the game to players with varied gaming experience. Despite this difficulty, we must approach teaching as one of our most important duties as board gamers if we want to see this wonderful hobby reach as many people as possible. This means knowing how to effectively learn and teach a game should be in our tool box.
Let me share a personal story that highlights the need for good teachers and the affect bad teaching can have.
When I was first getting into hobby games I didn’t have people to play them with so I invited those close to me (sister, wife, and brother-in-law) to join me in playing Settlers of Catan. None of us had played Catan before and most of our experiences with board games had been the Risks and Monopolies of the world. So I did the logical thing and unboxed the game and tried to learn and teach it at the same time. Not a good idea. The game turned into a disaster of me constantly looking up and reading rules throughout trying to keep the game moving. We stopped (we did not finish) the game after about three hours.
A three hour game of Catan isn’t the worst part though. No, the worst part is that it has taken almost 10 years to undo the damage to these new players. Games I wanted to play were not high on their priority list after this incident. It did not deter me and I kept pursuing my hobby. They now play games with me but it has taken quite a lot to get rid of the taste of that Catan game. Learning new games is still something they are somewhat averse to.
This was my fault. I was the one who wanted to play these games so it was my responsibility (unbeknownst to me at the time) to learn the game in advance and be able to concisely explain it in a way that new players could understand. I have learned and taught many games since then and fortunately I am getting better.
Our first experience with a game is what determines if we are likely to play it again. For a new gamer, their first experience playing hobby games will determine if they come back to these kinds of games at all. We must commit to being good teachers if we want to see our hobby grow and reach new people. We, the teachers, are the gatekeepers to those with no easy entry point to the board gaming hobby. Please don’t flog those trying to enter like I did. They probably won’t come back.
One of the purposes of this website is to equip gamers with the tools they need to effectively teach games to gaming veterans and new gamers. Like anything worth doing it will take hard work to become the teachers we need to grow our hobby. Consider this your calling to learn to be a better teacher.
Originally posted on BoardGameTheory.com