Do you find that your game group pulls a new title out of their satchel every week, ready to dig in to the hotness? Or maybe you’re this person? “The Cult of the New” as they’re called likes to play new games on a regular basis, constantly trying to discern their tastes and refine their collection. And it’s your job as a dutiful participant in game night to entertain them. After all, somewhere inside of every hobby board gamer is the desire to play as many different titles as possible. I’ve been on both sides of this table many times and while it’s easy to spot a poor teacher, a poor learner is much more common.
I’m not taking a shot at anyone’s intelligence or ability to learn a game, I’m talking about some facts, and some out-of-game behaviors you should avoid when learning a new game.
Fact: Your first game is a write-off.
Games are too finicky, too technical, and too mechanical to confront seriously on a first play through. This realization is key because it influences all of the other aspects of being a good learner; don’t overthink your turns (not the same as “play fast”), ask for advice, don’t get angry at the teacher if they missed or misapplied a rule, and don’t beat yourself up if you blunder. The common argument against this fact goes something like “well, I only play a certain number of games every (insert timeframe), I don’t have time to play games if not to compete.” It’s clear to enlightened hobby gamers that most strategy games can easily take twice as long as they should if new players or slow gamers are taking their sweet time every turn. That means that you could play twice as many games in that precious time frame you cited if you simply get on with it. And just because a game should be chalked up to a write-off doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to win. Of course, the opposite it true.
Don’t overthink your turns. Bad behavior: “Don’t rush me… I hate it when people rush me on my turn that makes it not fun.” Unfortunately, your deliberate nature is probably holding you back your first game. If you think you’re going to analyze the board state and identify the optimum play the first time you are setup to overthink it. How could you possibly find the best play if you haven’t even seen a game played through? And after all, finding a play you didn’t see before isn’t a measure better strategy or tactics — that title goes to the player that chooses the better play on the same basis of full rules and board comprehension as their opponent. You will never have that in your first play.
Good behavior: Find what you think it the best play you can in 30 seconds or less, take it, then be mindful of what everyone else it doing.
Ask for Advice. Bad Behavior: “No don’t tell me! It’s not fun if you tell me what to do.” When you know your first game is a write-off receiving advice or even asking for it is going to allow you to NOT throw away an hour or two off play time based on a blunder made early on. Learn at the level of your teacher.
Good behavior: “Ok, I’m not quite sure what to do here- what do you think?”
Don’t guilt the teacher if they missed or misapplied a rule. Bad Behavior: “Well I wouldn’t have gone there two turns ago had I known…” This pairs with etiquette for teaching that I’ll talk about in a future article, but the main point is pretty clear. In the cult of the new, rules are going to get misapplied and overlooked. If you want to keep gaming fun you need to accept that your teacher might miss a few details. If this is an unacceptable compromise for you, then by all means sit out and read the rules as opposed to getting a play in. I think you’ll be more successful if you play.
Good behavior: “Oh, ok. Is it cool if I take this back and do this instead? Doesn’t look like it affects anyone and I only…”
Don’t beat yourself up if you blunder. Bad Behavior: Realizing you’re probably not going to win, then being any manner of a dick about it. This is beyond a pet peeve of any serious hobby gamer. The end-game is often the most crucial, and technically & tactically important part, such that if one player compromises it then all players learn less. At any point in any game if a player discovers that they have “no chance” to win, the game is at risk of heading straight to hell in a hand-basket if that player has poor etiquette.
Good behavior: PLAY IT OUT. PLAY TO WIN. ALWAYS.
Just do it quickly.