Three Tips on Demoing Board Games

I’d like to share two three tips on demoing board games to people:

#1: Play the most basic game possible

Perhaps the game you want to introduce your friends to has some expansions that make your experience better, or there’s a higher difficulty mode. That’s great for people who have the lingo & pacing of the game down, but don’t introduce that right away.

Yeah, I know some of you will respond with “but that makes the game better!” Sure, it does. But if learning it is overwhelming or extra-difficult, then the people you’re introducing the game to will likely end their first time playing with a negative emotional context. And if your goal is to bring people into the game so you can play with them again, don’t do that.

Here are some magic words: “Okay, if you thought that was fun, wait until you check out what we’ll add next time.” Think of it like being a dealer; the first hit’s easy to get.

#2: Don’t be competitive

There’s a guy I’m acquainted with. Let’s call him Bob. What Bob does is find people to try new games with, explain some of the rules, and then play hard and win because of some obscure rule or combo that he didn’t explain.

He’s notorious for that. And it’s like being a cougar[1] looking for weak prey. There are people who don’t want to play those games now, and that’s lame. Don’t be a Bob.

I recall an experience at Gen Con many years ago, when the History Channel game Anachronism came out. The guy demoing it for me was a total ass, what we would today in this enlightened age call a “bro”. He seemed proud to beat me, a guy learning the game for the first time. I wrote him off as a cockbite, but I didn’t let it dissuade me from the game. (As gaming is research for me.) But others would. And that’s, again, lame.

Be open. Teach people the game throughout play, not just at the start. Get them closer to the same page as you, and then get competitive after that first game’s done.

#3: If you’re learning the game as well, be upfront about that

In the comments, Jesse pointed out a good thing that is worth editing this post from two to three[2] tips! :D

If you don’t know the game you’re playing, be clear that this is a learning experience for you as well. Let people decide whether they want in on that or not before you sit down to try the game. (For more, read the comments.)

What are your tips?

Add in the comments!

– Ryan

[1] Take your pick.

[2] And since the URL doesn’t have the number in there, I’m thankful for that accidental foresight.


13 Responses to Three Tips on Demoing Board Games

  1. I guess as a rule 0 – actually have a good enough understanding of the rules to explain them and talk about them in some depth. The fellow who taught my family and I Arkham Horror didn’t have a great grasp on the game, so it ended up being a horrible muddle and a bad experience, even though I did research later and found out it was exactly my kind of game.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Hah! Yes, though I don’t begrudge those who enlist friends to help learn a new game together. As long as that’s what’s being billed. Especially with a Fantasy Flight game that, you know, is well-known for the utmost quality & clarity of their rulebooks.

      (To readers unfamiliar with FFG: that’s sarcasm.)

      – Ryan

  2. Oh, yeah, totally, had it been billed as “We’re figuring out this game together,” it would have been good. Of course, my family would have demanded a week to read and discuss the rule book with a highlighter and key breakdowns of different opinions, rather than coming in wide-eyed. But we’re weird.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      This is so key, yes! I’ve edited the post to include this tip.


      – Ryan

  3. Ron Blessing says:

    Concerning rules, always lead with the goal of the game. If you don’t, you run the risk of the players missing much of your presentation while trying to figure out “what they’re supposed to do.”

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally. I often find myself stopping someone in the beginning of a teach if he’s talking about the engine and has yet to mention the goal.

      – Ryan

  4. Ezra says:

    The post still says “I’d like to share two tips” at the top.

  5. DR says:

    Another big rule I have when teaching new players is to go over the most common pitfalls in a game that new players tend to make, and also to give new players lots of warning before a game ends.

    So many new game experiences have been ruined for me because the teacher failed to go over basic strategies and proper end game mechanics.

  6. Ron Blessing says:

    One simple tip is to face the board toward the new players (or as close to that as possible. I got that one from Don Dehm at Pulp Gamer.

  7. Garret Narjes says:

    If the game is very strategic I don’t hold back on my choices but I explain them as I go and will try to give a few hints about what I’m doing beforehand. I’ll also give advice on what counters or mitigates my actions as well and the cost/benefit of doing so.

    If there is another experienced player, I like to showcase struggles between us to show those learning how things work, while still letting them make their own decisions. I particularly like this for games with concealed information, because they can ask us lots of questions without feeling like they’re revealing what they have.

  8. McNutcase says:

    Late to the party, but one tip that I picked up from my friend Kevin: Demo or play, not both. If you’re demoing, expect to run it like a GM; you’re not playing, you’re arbitrating as the people you’re demoing to play. That way, your expertise goes towards helping them be awesome, not stomping on their dreams.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I don’t always agree with that one. You can demo and play — it’s a skill. And sometimes you need to play in order to have the minimum number of players.

      But I will always happily step out and just demo if that means it’s a free seat for someone else.

      – Ryan