You’ve signed up to playtest your game at an Unpub Mini or Protospiel event or local board game convention. Or, maybe you’re taking it to the First Exposure Playtest Hall at Gen Con. You have a limited time slot – maybe 60 or 90 minutes. You have players sit down to play your game. You start explaining the rules of the game and then 30 minutes later you realize your players still haven’t started playing yet. This is a problem.
One of the hardest parts of running a playtest for your game is explaining the game in a way that is simple, easy to understand, and gets the basics across quickly.
Your ultimate goal when you’re running a playtest is to get your players playing your game so they can give you feedback. The playing and the feedback is the most important part. But, first they have to learn how to play the game. Which means, you have to explain the game to your players.
I think it’s best to limit your rules explanations as much as possible and get people playing the game as quickly as you can. Your players shouldn’t have to sit through 30 minutes of explanation before they get to play the game. You don’t want to spend half your playtesting time slot explaining the rules. And your players don’t want to sit through that much explanation either.
To help with this, I’ve come up with a simple fill-in-the-blank script you can use to explain your rules to players during your next playtest.
Game Teaching Script
This is (game name).
You are a (thematic role the players are taking on in the game – farmer, wizard, castle builder, winemaker, etc.).
In this game, you are trying to (ultimate goal of the game, thematically).
To do this, you need to (rough outline of how the goal is achieved).
On your turn (or during each round), players can (brief list of actions you can complete on your turn, including how to interact with other players).
Ideally, this should take five minutes or less to go through. Then, you can continue to explain the rules and other nuances while they are playing the game. Encourage players to ask questions and help them out through their first round of turns.
Here’s an example of how this script might go, using our new game, formerly known as The Council of Adventurers, but has had a theme change and doesn’t have a new name yet.
This is unnamed crop rotation game.
You are a farmer during the British Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century when rotating crops each season became popular.
In this game, you are trying to earn 15 points by winning contests at a local agricultural show for your crops. You may also forgo the prize points and sell your crop at the show for money, which can be used to buy new field cards to plant new crops and upgrade your fields.
During each round, starting with the round leader, players each choose a contest to go after, roll their die, then count up how many of the crops required they have in their fields plus their die roll to see if they achieved the goal of the contest. If the player did, they choose to take the points or the money. If multiple people have achieved the same goal, the player who contributed the most crop to achieving the contest has first choice. Only one player can take the points, but multiple players can choose to split the money. Players can also choose to cooperate on contests and combine their crops to complete the goal of the contest.
After the contest portion of the round is complete, starting with the round leader, each player has the option of buying new crops from the market to upgrade and rotate their fields. Place the new crop cards in your player board tableau. Then, the leader card moves to the next player and the next round begins.
I wouldn’t necessarily read this verbatim, but this would be the general outline I would use if I were explaining this game for the first time to new players. I would have the game components set up and would show briefly how you place cards in your tableau and point to the various other components as I mentioned them. From this I think players could get started. And then, I could explain other details that come up along the way.
There are also some things you shouldn’t explain while you’re teaching your game:
- Strategy. Let your players figure out the strategy on their own. This is an interesting thing to look for from playtesters when they’re playing your game. What strategies did they use to play and win the game? Maybe they’ll come up with something you never even thought of (which could be good or bad), but if you prompt them with strategies, they’ll just play that way and it won’t be a very informative playtest for you.
- Individual cards or components. I wouldn’t read individual cards or instructions that are already written on components of your game. Players can read them for themselves and ask questions if they have them. Going through each card is just going to take too long and players will get bored before they even start playing the game.
- Special cases. “If this happens, then you have to do this.” “If there’s a tie, then you do this.” Most of these kinds of special cases won’t happen in every game and if they do, then you can explain what happens when it happens. But again, it’s not important for an overview, intro level of teaching the game.
Get players playing. That’s what they’re there to do and what you’re there to see. Use the most of your playtesting time, especially if you’re at a playtesting event where you have a limited time slot for your game. You need to explain the basics quickly, get them playing and into the game, and then have time for feedback at the end. Don’t spend all your time explaining every nuance of your game or you’ll never actually get the feedback you really need.
What do you think? Do you use a script or outline to explain your games to new players? Am I missing anything in the outline? Take a minute to fill in the blanks of the script with your game information in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your game!