How to Build a Game #10 Know How to Teach Your Game

This is going to sounds strange, but learn how to teach your game. When I started out on this game design path, I would spend hours working on game mechanics and more hours working on a playable prototype, I would take the game to my FLGS and get it in front of people only to have no idea how to teach my own game. I would have to struggle through telling my play testers what each part of the game did and how players were supposed to win the game, but it always sounded different to the way I taught other designer’s published games. Why?

Aidan and I talked about this after one of our first public play tests and we concluded that the problem is we are too close to the game to know how it should be taught. What we would need to do is pull back from the game and look at it like we had never seen it before. That doesn’t mean to go down the rules and say to yourself, that step makes sense, that makes sense and so on. We really had to fully remove ourselves from designer mode and spend time teaching the game to each other before we could teach the game properly to play testers.

Think of it like your first language, your game is your language that you have created in your own head. All the context and rules are intuitive to you and to no one else. You may know why certain mechanics are required to meet to experience you want to achieve, but play testers have no frame of reference and will have lots of questions along the way and we need to be prepared to answer them as if we could answer the questions of any other game we were trying to teach out buddies.

This is such and easy trap to fall into. We, as designers, get so excited to show our games to different people, we try and cover everything about the game when it might be better to mention the scoring portion and say “at this point we score and I will cover the details when we get there” rather than trying to cover the scoring portion before we haven’t even played a game.

Know how to teach your game quickly enough to start playing  and know what details can be covered in game.

If your game is fun, players will be more than happy to cover the details as you take them on this gaming journey.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

5 thoughts on “How to Build a Game #10 Know How to Teach Your Game

  1. Interesting read. I think a lot of modern game design can suffer from focusing too much on the nuts and bolts of the game versus just putting together a great product at the end of the day.

    There is perhaps a bit too much emphasis on mechanics this or mechanics that, when in reality elegant game design will work itself out regardless.

    • Thank you for the comment Nhan, are you a fan of building a set of mechanics and letting the play testers shape the game based on what they like and don’t like? Maybe the designers goal(in this design style) should be to maintain the desired experience while shaping mechanics during play testing?

      • I just think a lot of game designers, at least the amateurs/ones-in-training, try too hard. Now, I am not a game designer or anything, but I know what I like from my games. An interesting mechanic can stand on its own two feet, so to speak, when the rest of the other elements can complement one another for a great overall package.

        Just coming up with a mechanic by itself doesn’t do anything.

      • Anyway, I should probably elaborate. After reading what I replied with last time, out of context, it just makes it sound like I am being ignorant about game design.

        Long story short, I have a friend who (wants) to be a game designer. He is always telling me about this and that when it comes to game design mechanics, and he is always trying to be quirky for mere sake of it.

        However, some of the best mechanics out there in my book are generally straightforward, but they are brimming with nuances that are interesting.

      • Based on the example with your friends, that makes a lot more sense. Trying too hard to make a mechanic “different” can take away from the game and the experience.

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