I adore board games. As a young child I played a lot of board games with my family, but as a teen, I got more into video games and board games took a back seat. More recently, however, Fiona and I have been discovering a whole world of really cool board games that we never even knew existed, thanks to sites like board game geek, and local board game groups that we go to. I love the mental challenge, the pleasant, relaxed socialising and most of all the game design inspiration I get from studying how these games work.
Being a total newbie to most of the games I've played recently, I've had to go through the process of leaning a new game quite a few times. Now, I'm not much of a quick learner, and I think that learning new games is probably a skill that one can get better at with practice. I imagine the more new board games you play, the better you get at learning the new sets of rules and adopting the appropriate strategies. But from my experience of trying to learn new games, I've noted a few things that I've found can help make things easier for newcomers.
Sum up the nature of the game in a sentence
Giving new players a very brief summary of what the game is all about can really help give context to the explanation of the rules you're about to give. Ideally this should explain the core activity that the game revolves around - perhaps making reference to other, similar games if the game is clearly based on them. A summary of Monopoly might be that you travel around the board, buying property in the hope of taking all the other players' money. This simple overview helps put into context why you might be rolling the dice, choosing whether to purchase a street, or handing over rent to another player. A bad place to start might be discussing the game's setting, or explaining that the player has the choice of one of six different metal playing pieces, as these concepts have no bearing on the overall game experience.
Describe rules before strategy
A lot of people, when describing how to play a board game, will go off on a tangent talking about the best strategies to go for while playing. For example, if explaining Monopoly, they might explain that properties can be bought and then immediately launch into describing which are the best properties to go for, when to trade them, the best times to build houses on them, and so on. The problem here is that without understanding the rules of the game as a whole, a newcomer cannot start to put your advice about strategy into context. It can take a while, even after the game has started, to really discover in a hands-on way what the implications of the game's rules are. And only then can a new player start to understand what the optimal strategies within these rules might be.
Don't use all the addons
The owner of the board game will most likely have played the game many times already. Perhaps they have played the game so many times that it started to get dull, and they decided to buy an addon to the game which introduced new rules, new mechanics, new goals. Perhaps they love the game so much that they also played this expanded version of the game until it got boring, and purchased another couple of addons to keep things interesting. No doubt the fully expanded version of the game is far more entertaining than the original base game, especially to the owner. However, for a newbie, trying to take in the whole expanded set of rules can be unnecessarily taxing. It's best to start with the simplest version of the game and introduce new rules on subsequent plays, so that new players can pick out and fully appreciate the game's core rules amongst the other noise.
I know from experience that explaining the rules of a board game to someone else is more difficult than you might think, but hopefully these points from a struggling newbie can help. I'll certainly keep my own experiences in mind next time I'm explaining to others how to play.