From the Game Room: Learning a New Board Game

swimming pool with stainless steel ladder

Learning how to play a new board game can be intimidating, but there are a variety of ways to learn: from the rulebook, from another person, or from online sources. 

Learning from the rulebook and other game materials

Learning how to play a board game via the rulebook and other materials included with the game is a straightforward way to learn. Learning by reading the rulebook can be enhanced by breaking out the game’s components and trying out the rules in simulated play while you read. 

Many games include other materials to assist in the learning of the game, including player aids, tutorials, playbooks, quick start guides, or programmed instruction. Player aids are cards or sheets which list the key rules and/or the sequence of play, designed to be a quick reference at the table during game play. Some games have information printed on the board itself as a player aid. 

Tutorials and playbooks walk you through a practice game (or part of a game) to teach you the rules as you go. Quick start guides similarly get you into the game quickly without having to read through the whole rulebook beforehand. 

Games that include programmed instruction include a sequence of scenarios or modes of play in which you play a simplified version of the game first, then add rules each time you move through the sequence, learning the full rules in several steps. That way, a complex game is learned in manageable chunks over a series of plays, rather than all at once. 

Lastly, some board games have companion apps (produced by the publisher or by third parties) to augment the game play, and these may include a tutorial or may otherwise be used to help learn the game. 

Learning from another person

Learning from the rulebook and game materials is not everyone’s idea of fun. One of the best ways to learn is to have someone who knows the game well teach you, and even better, play it with you. This could be a friend or family member, a member of your game group, or staff at a board game café or friendly local game store. 

Whoever teaches you can answer questions you may have in real time as you learn, and/or point you to where you can find the answer in the rulebook. If they play the game with you, they may also help you with some tips or strategies that are not included in the rulebook or other game materials. 

Learning from online sources

In these days of physical distancing, you may not be able to learn from another person face-to-face. Luckily, there is a wide range of board game resources to be found online, including how-to-play and playthrough videos, reference sites such as Board Game Geek, videos explaining board game terminology and principles, and blogs and videos explaining tips and strategies.

How-to-play and playthrough videos

A how-to-play video explains the rules of a game, as an audiovisual version of the rulebook. It’s the closest equivalent to having a friend teach you the game. A playthrough video depicts a person or group of people playing the game, usually explaining what they are doing as they go, but not necessarily explaining the rules in detail. 

In our game room, one of our favorite games is Splendor. Even before buying the game, we watched short videos on Splendor from The Rules Girl and 3 Minute Board Games to get a quick overview of what the game is about and the gist of the rules. Then, we watched Rodney Smith of Watch It Played explain in depth how to play the game. In my opinion, Rodney’s the best in the business in explaining how to play a game: he’s very thorough and speaks clearly. Jon Gets Games also posts board game tutorials, typically also with a playthrough, so you get to learn the rules as he plays through a game. Our Family Plays Games also posts playthroughs of games in a fun and friendly way that can help you learn how to play. 

Board Game Geek is a great resource

Another key resource for learning about games and how to play them is Board Game Geek, which is the IMDb of board games: a database of board games, with game specifications such as the number of players, the playing time, and the recommended age for players. It includes written reviews, photos of the game components, links to videos, lists of favorite games, forums, rules clarifications, and more to be explored. This is a great place to go if you are curious about a game and want to find out more about it. The BGG page for Splendor, for example, lists several written reviews, links to review and how-to-play videos, other games that fans of Splendor may also like, and much more. 

Learning board game terminology from Kidsplaining

Many of the reviews and how-to videos you will find on the Internet use jargon that may be unfamiliar for people new to board gaming. If you are new to modern board games, I highly recommend the Kidsplaining YouTube channel for their series on board game basics, walking you through board game terminology and principles. 

Tips and strategies

Once you have learned the basics of how to play a game, you may want to up your game from videos with tips and strategies. For most modern board games, you can find written posts or video tips to playing well or specific strategies to aid in your success. My Board Game Guides posted a blog and video covering strategy for Splendor. Another example comes from the Board Game Strategy blog. 

Happy gaming!