If you are a veteran board game hobbyist, you will have learned a lot of terminology and mechanisms. You will instinctively know what a draw deck is and that you usually shuffle a discard pile into a new draw deck, if it runs out. The concepts of action points and turn order are going to be obvious to you. It will be second-nature to you that resources can be converted not only into each other, but also into victory points, which is another concept that you will understand. However, many of these terms will mean very little to someone who is new to our hobby.

Looking at board games through the eyes of someone who has only ever played Monopoly, Game of Life or similar is very refreshing. I had the opportunity to do this when someone from my regular games group introduced one of their friends to the modern hobby. It helped me reevaluate how I teach games, as well as the sort of games to choose for people who are just starting to explore what we tend to take for granted.


I have always thought that a lot of it is down to mechanisms. A lot of people will be familiar with roll-to-move, even if they don’t know that’s what we call it and even though they won’t know that there is such a thing as mechanisms. At the end of the day though, a lot of popular games have very few mechanisms, but use them to great effect. I often think that games that distil one or two mechanisms into their purest form are really exciting and interesting. If the game also uses mechanisms that are generally known to people outside of modern hobby games, it’s going to be a big success.

I mean, just look at the recent, but probably now long-forgotten, rise of roll-and-write games. Many of these used a couple of simple mechanisms in their purest form to great effect. A lot of people know how to roll dice and pencil in squares or draw lines, following some simple rules. After all, a lot of people know Yahtzee. So my point is, if a game has familiar mechanisms, it’s easy to learn. As a result, once you know one or two mechanisms, a new game that uses the same mechanisms, but introduces one or two more will be easier to learn.

I know it’s not quite as simple as that. A good rulebook or rules teacher help. If a game’s theme and setting closely mesh with the rules, it’s also a great help. So, yes, there is more to it, but I do think that you slowly teach someone new mechanisms, one or two at a time, instead of trying to get them to play a game that has half a dozen mechanisms that they’ve never come across.


Now, the new person joining us for a game was sort of thrown in at the deep end. After a two-player learning game of Nemesis, he felt ready to play it again in a three-player setup. If you have never played this Alien clone of a semi-cooperative, backstabby sci-fi game, let me say that there are a good few mechanisms that won’t be familiar to many people joining the board game hobby.

There is the concept of a hand of cards that you draw from a deck. There is the idea of having two actions on your turn, each of which will cost a different amount of points. You also have a discard pile, which you reshuffle into a new draw deck, when that runs out. There are decks of cards to decide if attacking an alien was successful, but the same cards have other functions as well. There is hidden information and movement. You can also craft items out of item cards. Anyway, there is a lot to take in and even for someone who is very familiar with modern board games, there is a fair bit to learn.

So it was no surprise that our new friend wanted to play Nemesis a few more times before trying something else, even though they are very keen to try other games. They felt that they wanted to explore this game a bit more and that’s a very good thing to do. I love Nemesis and happily play it many times more. However, by playing the same game over and over again, our new friend isn’t actually going to learn any new mechanisms.

objective cards
killing the crew with your secret objective

From Small Beginnings…

After all, they had already learned quite a few mechanisms from one game. It is going to be relatively easy for them to play deck-building games with the knowledge they had already gained. The concept of having a starting deck, from which you draw a specific number of cards, which you play for actions and then draw up again, shuffling the discard pile when necessary, was something that was now familiar to them.

I am actually really confident that we can introduce our new friend to a fair few games without too much trouble. The mechanisms that they now know will make that easier. If we choose wisely, we can teach them one or two other mechanisms with every new game. Then it won’t take long until they’re ready to tackle a much wider variety of games. They will have learned so much that new games will feel a lot less daunting.

In fact, once they reach a certain point, they will enjoy their first play of a game more as well. They will find it easier to actually formulate a strategy early on, because they don’t have to try and figure out what having a hand of cards means or that some actions are more expensive than others. There will be less overhead for them and they can dive straight in.

I’m really excited about this prospect. I am really enjoying rediscovering our hobby through a fresh pair of eyes. I can’t wait to see how our new friend learns new games. It will be interesting to find out what genres they like and if there are specific mechanisms they don’t get on with. It’s going to be an amazing journey to be part of.

How About You?

So I wonder if you have ever had the opportunity to rediscover the hobby by introducing someone else to it. What did it feel like? How did you go about teaching them new games? What sort of games did you choose and how did you choose them? Maybe you’re still early into the journey of exploring the many modern board games that are available these days. I would love to know how that feels. How do you choose games? Have you ever thought about mechanisms? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear how others feel about this topic.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Afternoon by DreamHeaven
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/6242-afternoon
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://www.patreon.com/dreamheaven


  1. Although entirely new players struggle to learn from rulebooks or videos, such people rarely come in contact with a modern game except through the mediation of a more experienced player — who can teach how to play.

    The onus is on us as experienced players to be thoughtful about which games to use as gateways for new players, so that we can teach them effectively and bring them into the hobby.

    And the onus is on us as designers and publishers to avoid cluttering up games with lots of unnecessary complexity that will impair teachability. Just because a new mechanism is “innovative” doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to include it.

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