Learning a new board game can be cumbersome. Especially if you’re new to the hobby. All you want is to rip the plastic off the box, set up and get started, but learning a new game takes some preparation. I want to teach you some of my favourite tips on learning a new game.

Have someone teach you

If you’re lucky enough to know someone who knows the game already then now is the perfect time to invite them around for a game night. Playing is naturally the best way to learn and if you have questions you can always ask those teaching you. Hopefully they know the game well enough to answer any questions you may have. Of course not everybody is an expert at teaching other people, just like rule books aren’t always perfectly written.

I would also recommend that you check to see if you have a board game café in your local area. Board game cafés such as Snakes and Lattes in Toronto and Draughts in London are becoming increasingly popular around the world and loads of people have become new gamers due to their popularity. Meetup is also an option, as it’s quite possible that there already is an established gaming group where you live that is looking for new people to game with. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other gamers, we’re friendly bunch of people ready and willing to spread the love we have for our games.

Watch tutorial videos

When it comes to learning new rules YouTube is your best friend. I’ve spent hours upon hours watching reviews, rules explanations, playthroughs and unboxing videos. I usually start by watching these videos to familiarise myself with the components, the iconography and phrases used in the game. This way I already have a good overview and an understanding of how the game works before I move on to reading the rules. Here are my top three go to channels that specialise in rules explanations.

  • Watch it Played – This channel is hands down the best one in my opinion. Rodney Smith, the host, has over a hundred videos where he explains the setup and gameplay and shows you all the actions available.
  • Gaming Rules – Paul Grogan has helped many publishers and game designers to write the rules for their games. Therefore it’s obvious that he shouldn’t have any problems explaining them to you and thousands of others as well.
  • Rules Girl – This channel has incredibly well edited and concise videos that cover a variety of games. The best part? Most of the videos are 10 minutes or less.

Read the rules and set up accordingly

Of course you can’t skip reading the rules if you want to learn the game properly. I start by following the set-up instructions. Lay out the game board, organise and sort all of the components and store the player pieces together. Then I just read the rules page by page and look at the game board and pieces to realise where and how each action is executed. Sometimes I have to re-read some paragraphs and sentences if I didn’t catch them the first time.

Play through 1-2 rounds solo or with another player

Once I’ve read the rules I set up a two player game, or solo if possible, and just play a couple of rounds by myself or with my girlfriend if she’s up for it. It’s usually best just to start with a two player game to get a good grasp of how the game works. How each round and different phases flow. If you try to teach too many people at once without ever having played yourself you’ll probably find yourself flooded with questions that you can’t answer for certain, need to constantly check the rules and then possibly lose the other players attention.

When in doubt, check Boardgamegeek

BGG or Boardgamegeek is for board games as IMDB is for movies. It’s not the most user friendly nor does the UI look nice but at the top you can search for the game you’re learning. Just type in the name of the game, hit enter and you’ll get a list of games. Press the one that you’re learning and you’ll end up on that games dedicated page. There you’ll get a brief overview of the game. How long it takes, how many can play and the users of BGG rate the game.

Here I mostly refer to two features. The first one is files and more often than not someone has been kind enough to shorten the rules and make them more concise and have them all fit on one or two sheets of paper. Often you’ll also find Errata or FAQ’s that the publisher has released to explain the most common questions that may come up. To download these files you’ll have to be a member of Boardgamegeek.

The second functions are the forums. Once you click you’ll see a column appear on the left side and there you can find a Rules section. You’ll see numerous threads where people are looking for answers they haven’t been able to resolve by themselves. If you haven’t already found the answer to a rule or a situation you have in mind then this is the place to start. Publishers and designers are often active in this part of the forums and can help their customers by explaining and resolving what could have been clearer in the rules that came with the game.

Teach other people

Once you’ve gotten a good grasp of the game the final step to fully understand it is the ability to teach others. To cover the rules in a quick and clear matter often gives an insight in to how truly well you know the game. Those you’ll teach will probably have some questions and if you’ve done this process correctly you’ll be prepared to answer most questions. Besides, with more players it’s more likely that you’ll hit upon a situation that you’re not sure how to handle. No worries though, that’s all part of the learning process, you can just quickly reference the rules because it’s quite possible that you’ve forgotten a minor rule and you’ll find it quickly since by now you’ve already familiarised yourself with the rules. If you can’t find the answer I recommend that you and the other players do what you think is the most logical or fair in the situation and just finish the game. Afterwards you can look up the specific rule or situation to find the answer or see how other people handled the same problem.

I hope that these tips help and you’ll use them the next time you learn a new game.

What's your thoughts on this?

Magnús Gunnlaugsson

A Lord of Waterdeep, a Time traveller, a farmer, and a Kingdom builder. This worker meeple has done it all.