Teaching Games

Would You Like To Learn A Game?

I have taught hundreds of people how to play dozens of different games, often right after meeting them. This is challenging because everyone learns a little differently, and some games are quite complicated. It is easier to teach someone a game than to write the rules to a game, because you can answer questions and watch for feedback about how well they understand the game. I have found a few things to be particularly helpful.

Order of Explanation

Give your players information in the order they need to know it. First start with a summary of the game and the goal. When the goal is stated first, your discussion has direction. As you teach the game, players will imagine themselves playing it, and they need to know where they are going and how to get there. Even if the goal is simply to score points, and you will need a lot of explanation before players know how they get to score those points, you should still first tell them that they are competing to score the most points.

If there are overarching rules or elements about the game, they need to be mentioned next. In Bridge, you play with a partner but you cannot tell your partner what you have in your hand, nor can you tell you partner what to do. Once you understand that, then the whole structure of the game makes much more sense.

Then you lead the players through the game in the order of events that will occur and the decisions they will need to make. Players appreciate if you warn them about which decisions are hard, so they will not feel foolish when they have no idea what to do when they come up in their first game.

Answer All Questions

When a player interrupts to ask a question, always stop to answer it. Even if your explanation will answer it later, at least give them the short answer now. Some people, like me, learn best from asking questions, and you should help them out. Often a question asked will point to the fact that your explanation was not delivered in the best order. Players usually only ask a question if the teacher failed to address it and is already moving on to another topic.

Naturally you want to stop occasionally and ask if everything is clear. However, most people hesitate to admit being confused, so you need to ask the person who looks confused if you were unclear about something. It also helps to ask questions where the answer is not just regurgitation of the rules already presented. For example, when I teach poker, I will write down the order of the hands, from best to worst, and then I will present the players with seven cards and ask them to make the best hand they can with just five of them. This requires players to process the information, not just parrot it.

Show Enthusiasm

If you really like the game you are teaching, you will inspire enthusiasm in the people you are teaching. This cuts both ways: if you are teaching me a game you really like, I will be watching to see what things you like about it. If you really like the random elements, where novice players can often beat experienced players, then I know that I will not enjoy your game. Do not try to force a game on someone who is not interested, because you will fail. But if you are excited about a game and the player is excited about that kind of game, they will learn it faster and enjoy it more if you are energetic and encouraging.

Get started

Particularly if the game has a lot of rules or complexity, try to get the players started on playing as soon as possible, even if the first game is just a practice game that they will abandon. People learn best when doing, which is why they will imagine themselves playing as you explain the rules. That way they can learn by doing, even if just in their imaginations. Save them the trouble and get cards and pieces in their hands as soon as you can.

When I teach Bridge, I first teach Spades, which is much simpler and has many elements that players need to know before they can enjoy Bridge. Then I slowly change the rules, adding a rule each game, until the players are playing Bridge. I spend as little time teaching a bunch of rules at once as possible, and get the players playing as soon as possible.

Keep Track Of What You Have Taught

As you teach a game, you are watching the players learn, but you should also imagine that you are teaching yourself the game. Think about what rules you covered. You want to make sure that you do not skip anything that you, the teacher, already know, but that you, the student, have not yet been told. When I am teaching a game, and I stop and think for a while, my inner student is asking a question because he is confused, and I am sure that the actual students are probably also confused and need to know the answer as well.


Each time you teach a game, you learn better how to teach it. I am much better at teaching bridge now than the first time I taught it. Keep working on your teaching and you will have many people to play games with.