This is a handout I wrote for a presentation I’m giving to the local library. The speaking part of the presentation will make up for the details that it lacks, but I thought I would offer it up here for thoughts and criticism.
Board games provide us structure in a sometimes-chaotic world. We get to work through strategies to progress towards a desired goal, engaging our brains and helping to develop tactical and social skills. Success brings the rush of victory. The sting of defeat lasts only as long as it takes to start the next game. Our friends and family come together over a table to co-operatively save the world from plague, protect the king, or stop the ship from sinking. Or those same people come together to achieve mastery over each other, and maybe double-cross a few on the way.
We play games because they are fun. We invite and help others play games because we want to share the fun.
But we don’t always know what makes for a good game, a good fit for our friends, or how to instruct them in this particular brand of enjoyment.
What’s the Best Way to Share the Fun?
What makes a good game?
Good games engage their players from start to finish. Effective and balanced design keeps runaway victories rare and the players unsure of who will win right up until the end. They keep players in the game for as long as possible or eliminate them for only short periods. (Sometimes we need a break to get up and grab a snack, anyway.) Players make meaningful decisions in a good game, are not too exposed to the fickle folly of luck, or just hoping the other player doesn’t pay attention when you want to fill in that final X.
What makes a good game, good for you?
But a good game might not make a good fit for your group. Find out if this group likes to work together, be social, betray each other, or crush their enemies before them. A host who considers the experience, attention span, available time, and tastes will likely find something appropriate. Even then, it’s always a good idea to have a backup.
What’s the Best Way to Host a Game?
Learn the game
As the host, the players will expect you to have a basic understanding of the rules to impact to them. A number of resources exist to help. YouTube offers “How to Plays” and even play throughs of many games. Social media provides direct access to publishers, authors, and fan groups who can answer questions. Playing through a few moves solo may help convey a sense if how turns flow.
Prepare a cozy setting
A comfortable setting allows players to focus on the game and allows the host to express some creative flair. Players need access to snacks, drinks, restrooms, and power to plug in phones. While Deception: Murder in Hong Kong might call for Asian themed appetizers, but greasy fingers will damage game pieces. Noise and activity may distract gamers and the people around them. Finding a place where the two don’t overlap may help keep things running more smoothly.
Besides putting out beverages and “clean” snacks, setting up the first play of a game in advance will make it easier to start and allow guest to look things over. Quick reference cards give players something to read as an introduction to the game and before play begins. Many games ship with these cards, but an Internet search will unusually turn up something fan made. Giving the players a few moments to examine the game pieces and an easy guide to the rules provides them an opportunity to absorb the game and perhaps answer some questions for themselves before the first move.
Lead the players through the game
After making sure everyone’s had a chance to get a snack, a drink, and plug in their phones, take a moment to describe the game both thematically and mechanically. Let the players know how they can win and when the game will end. Recount the flow of the game and what a player turn looks like. If there aren’t any questions, take a moment to walk through other important mechanics and potential pitfalls.
Interact with the game throughout this narrative. Show the players what a resource token looks like. Pick up a meeple. Point to the locations on the game board.
Although the rules may offer a suggestion, consider taking the first turn. Describe your actions and considerations as you make them. Then guide the next player through a turn, and so on, and so on. As players get more comfortable with the game, take appropriate moments to explain deeper strategies.
The end of the game gives the opportunity to debrief. What did people like and dislike about it. Who won the “Play of the Game?” Figure out if they want to play again. If not, pull out a backup plan. Sharing fun is the goal, not beating a dead horse.
What are Some Good Things to Do After?
Getting feedback about the game over the next few days after a session provides players some time to ruminate on the experience. Taking the effort to follow up will help you decide if the game should join the regular rotation. It may also provide you with criticism about hosting the session and teaching the game you can apply to the next game night.