Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Teaching In the Year of the Dragon

One of the things that sets board gaming apart from a lot of hobbies is teaching games. If you are into football (soccar) then you don't need to explain on-side rules to other fans. I was one of 3 people trying to teach In the Year of the Dragon (great game by the way), but the learner eventually gave up and just watched.

The rules are fairly simple. Pick one of seven actions (or pass) then hire one of nine people. You then have two "bookkeeping phases". Almost no thought required there. You resolve an event (which has and outcome almost purely determined by the actions taken earlier in this or another turn). And then score points (again based on things you've already gained).

Multiple victory paths was the tricky bit to teach. There are at least 2 viable ways to win In the Year of the Dragon. Going first allows you to a greater selection of actions (you have to pay to take an action from the same group as someone who goes before you), but the only way to go first is to ignore the best immediate point sources. There is also a scoring at the end of the game which highly favors players who went earlier in turn order (that's been the case in every game I've played so far).

So do you go for points now or do you hope that your points at the end of the game will beat the people scoring heavily now? If I knew the answer to this question then the game would lose a lot of its appeal. I don't think there is an answer to it. The order of events is randomly determined at the start of each game (which would make any memorized "opening" less than ideal.

So how do you teach a game without a simple ideal strategy? The learner grasped the rules quickly, but was just as quickly frustrated because the ideal move wasn't clear to them. Maybe the simple answer is that the learner doesn't like this type of game and no teaching approach would work.

Games without a simple ideal strategy are ones which I tend to enjoy more than mono-strategy games. The appeal of trying something new (even if I end up in last place) keeps me coming back to these games. Games which I'm thinking about for days afterward.

So after all that "analysis", I'm back at square one with no insight on how to teach multiple-path-to-victory games. I am sure this will happen again because of the type of game I tend to enjoy. If you have any suggestions feel free to drop me a line or mention it in the comment section.

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