Thursday, 6 December 2012
An evening recently passed saw me teaching and playing a game of 7 Wonders with some friends. After an early description of the game, and as I was running through of the rules I reached a point in my explanation where I felt I was over-cooking the dish, so to speak. At some point, unforeseen by myself in the moment, I had crossed a line where suddenly it would be easier to learn in play than via an ever lengthier set of instructions. This led me to thinking about games that can easily be over-explained.
Some games are quite simple, however deep they are the actual process of playing the game is straightforward enough to make the learning of the game relatively easy - even something that can happen while actually playing the game. Such games can be things like Make N Break - a basic dexterity game, through to ‘deeper’ games, such as Blokus, and Hey, That’s My Fish. In both these latter games the rules are very simple, but there is also some key understanding that needs to be expressed about the nature of the games, both quite brutal and aggressive despite their seemingly benign and simple nature. All of this is easy enough.
There are also games that seem quite simple, and that ‘in play’ are quite straightforward affairs, but which require some more complex explanation due to twists in the mechanisms or most commonly, because of a convoluted scoring system. In practice it would be very easy to ‘start playing’. However, due to complexities in game symbols, the interaction of mechanisms or in scoring, the game teacher sometimes feels obliged to provide a more thorough explanation - after all, no-one wants to feel like they failed to relate some important aspect of a game they teach.
In these games, where there is both a real simplicity in the way to play, and an aspect to play that can seem convoluted on first blush, it is easy to over explain; to make a game appear more complex than it actually is. I felt this way with my explanation of 7 Wonders, where the nature of some scoring cards (the science cards), require some special mention. I’ve also felt this way about Poison (Baker’s Dozen), and Samurai, both of which have rather convoluted scoring systems, despite very easy game play.
It’s an interesting dilemma, because the instructor wants to dually make sure that the game can be played fairly and in full knowledge, but doesn’t want to over-burden new players with minutia that can be expressed in-play. Some aspects to a game need to be known from the beginning, because they impact the way a player interacts with the game mechanisms - such knowledge informs the choices players make, some are just detail that can be added as the game progresses. I suppose a good teacher will recognise the difference between the two and strike a nice balance between expressing those rules and pieces of information that needs to be known, without reading through every word of the rules themselves. I crossed that line the other night, I hit ‘that’ point, where actually playing the game would make the experience of learning it more simple, and where my explanation was only starting to make the game appear more complex than it was in practice.
It’s easy to get carried away in a rules explanation, to start nicely and wind up, before you realise, in a discussion about the game author and their penchant for complex scoring mechanisms or such. I think next time I’ll try and stick to my usual script - what does a player do on a turn, and how do they win the game. Any especially complex or important points of note after that, and then onto the game - and we’ll learn the rest as we play... easier said than done!