This article is the other side of the coin to my blog post on teaching new players. If you're regularly teaching games to other players, it's likely that you have to teach them to yourself first. To try to make this process as easy as possible for you, I've put together some different ideas you could use to help when it comes to learning new board games.
Tip 1: Watch YouTube videos about it
The first thing I do when I want to learn a new game, especially if it looks like a heavy game, is watch a YouTube video about it. The difference between learning games where I've watched a video and games where I haven't has been pronounced. Not only do good videos give you a good idea of the basic rules, but they can also help to clarify points that wouldn't have been clear otherwise.
My top recommendation for rules videos is Watch It Played, by Rodney Smith. This is my go-to channel for learning a new game, and I'll also use it before I buy to get a sense of whether or not a game is for me. In the standard videos, Rodney runs through the rules of a game systematically, with visuals of the set-up and how to carry out the actions that he's describing. He speaks clearly and clarifies difficult rules - it's fantastic.
If there's no Watch It Played video for a game, my next stops are Rahdo Runs Through and Dice Tower reviews. Rahdo Runs Through doesn't go into as much depth with the rules as Watch It Played, but his videos do let you see a few turns of the games in action. In the past, this has been enough of a head start to help me grasp the rest of the rules more quickly.
Similarly, Dice Tower reviews tend to give you an overview of how the game plays, though not in a lot of fine detail. The advantage of the Dice Tower is they have reviews of practically every semi-popular game that's out there, so you'll be hard-pressed to find one they haven't covered.
Tip 2: Read the rules with the game set-up
Whether or not you've watched a video, I would always recommend reading the rules cover to cover if you have time. I know this can take a while for some games, but it's worth it. However, if you have the time and space available, I recommend going a step further when you read the rules and actually setting the game up as you read. This helps to put a lot of the rules in context. You can see the board and the pieces and start to get an idea of how they interact. You can also easily see if there's anything you might have missed in the rules if there's a component on the table that you don't remember reading about.
I'm quite a visual learner, which means that I learn much better if I can see things for myself (probably why I also find YouTube videos so helpful). I appreciate that some people can read a rule book and nail the gameplay first time but that's just not me. I'm willing to bet that there are others out there who think the same way.
A bonus to doing this is that the game's set-up will be much quicker when you first play with others because you'll know what things are and where they go without having to refer to the rules every few seconds. You can also make sure that all the components are present and correct and even store them in a different way if you're not happy with the organisation of the box.
Tip 3: Play through a couple of dummy turns with yourself
Another one for the visual and kinesthetic learners among you: playing a few turns by yourself is a great way to see if you understand the rules. You don't need to play the turns in an 'optimal' way - instead you need to explore different aspects of the game to check that you understand them. Try to get a feel for the turn structure, the actions that are available and the uses of the different components that the game has presented you with.
Doing this will not prepare you for all the questions you might be asked when you first teach the game, but I find that it gives you a much more solid grasp of the fundamentals. You can catch any mistakes that you might be making while you still have time to change them, rather than halfway through a game with three other people.
Tip 4: Test yourself on reminder cards
My final tip won't work for everyone and it won't work for every game, but it's another one that I find useful. Many games nowadays come with player cards that give a brief overview of rules or player boards with images depicting the actions available to them. These player aids are perfect 'test' materials for you as you're learning the game.
When you think you have a reasonable grasp of the rules, take one of the player aids and look through it. Do you know what all of the rules and symbols mean? Could you explain the game to someone if they only had the player aid in front of them? If, as you look through the player aids, you find that there are sentences or symbols that confuse you, you can go back to the rules for clarification on that specific detail.
This is the method I used for getting to grips with Scythe once I had the basics down and it did help me to catch some gaps where I'd skimmed the rule book a little fast or my attention had lapsed when watching the Watch It Played video.
Learning New Board Games
Hopefully everyone will find something helpful in at least one of these four tips. A bonus tip would be to check out our ever-growing "How to Play" section of our blog. In there you'll find in-depth guides on how to play some of the most popular games.
If you plan on playing your new game with other people once you've learned it, have a read of my related article that offers some thoughts on how to teach games to less experienced players.