Usually I’m addressing those geeks that wish to host game sessions on tips about how to make an awesome experience out of them. Today I’m going to address a more generic type of public, those geeks who have to explain the rules of a new game. Okay, I see how 50% of my audience has logged out (thank you mom) so I’ll just go ahead and do what I came to do. Explaining game rules can be as hard as understanding them. You played a lot of games; you must know that it is not the same thing to explain the rules of Libertalia than the ones from Britannia. There’s no comparison. And don’t even get me started on RPG systems because we’ll have to close late today.
If you have a regular group it is possible that you already have that one person that usually reads the rulebook out loud and is in charge of revising them whenever there is a conflict of interests about the rules. I like to call them “The Bookkeepers”. If you identify yourself as a Bookkeeper, then you will already know most of what I will write about here, but if not, have no fear my dear, because you will learn it all by the end of the day.
So the first rule of the Bookkeeper’s Guild of is simple: always bring the book (a.k.a. the rules). I’ve seen it. It happens. People go around with their games all the time, now to this coffee place for a game session, now to this friend’s house for a gaming night, and back home to guard the game back in the collection. In this circuit it is a possibility to lose the rulebook at some point, or even a version of the rulebook. Once we had to play with the French rulebook because the one we needed was missing from the box. So, before packing, make sure you’ve got the rules with you. If you have a game that doesn’t include rulebook in your language, there’s usually an uploaded version translated by a fellow geek somewhere in the web, like the Board Game Geek site.
Second rule of the guild is to read it before you teach it. It just means that it is convenient to read the rulebook before actually having to explain it. If you do so, finding what you need to explain first is atually much simpler. Also, in this category we can include a “Watch it before you play it” rule. There are enormously talented people out there with a deep love for tabletop games who make videos explaining the rules or even with some game play on it. It can go from a very amateur level to a professional wish-I-worked-there level (for me that level is Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop). If you see it get played you will understand the rules better, and that will allow you to teach them better.
Third rule is to exemplify. That means to show what you are explaining instead of just reading it out loud from the rules. Usually, the same rulebook will have some graphic aid to help you understand it better, so I you recreate those examples with the actual game components it will help your group understand better what you are saying.
Fourth rule: find the exceptions. Almost every game has exceptions to its own rules. One of the most common usually is “if the text of the cards is in conflict with a basic rule of the game, the card has priority” or some variant of that. Identifying the possible conflicts will help you to solve them faster and better. You don’t want to have to stop a game for 25 minutes just because you are discussing which rules trumps which one. Unless you are deciding who gets to win, then you have my permission to go berserk on those geeks.
Fifth rule is the most important of all and is to make sure that everyone understood the rules. A lot of games have a mechanic in which the first move you make will determine a lot, and you don’t want anyone complaining about how they choose the wrong option just because they didn’t have the rules clear. Again, make sure that everyone understood the rules.
And the sixth and final rule is to have the rulebook at hand. Especially if it is your first time playing the game things will usually demand you to consult the rules every now and then, which means that you need it near yourself but also at a grabbing distance of everyone else, in case their strategy needs to consult the rules in private. Which brings me to the other half of the rule, and that is to guard the rulebook with your life. Never lose it, never break it and never spill Dr. Pepper on it. It’s your duty as the Bookkeeper to maintain its integrity and bring it back in perfect conditions. You can’t be a Bookkeeper without a book to keep, you lovable geek. So have it located at all times and never close the box of the game without first putting the rulebook in it. That book is the soul of the game.
And finally, remember the oath of the Bookkeepers Guild: Learn it, love it, live it.