Oh Lucy... You got some 'splanin' to do!
Obligatory nostalgic TV reference out of the way, I'll get on to the meat of this blog post. It's about teaching games.
In the past I have been referred to as "good" at explaining games. I used to take a lot of pride in that, and I actually put some thought into the process of teaching a game - there are definitely good and bad ways to go about it. If you explain things in the right order, and if you give the right amount of information each step of the way, then you can get through the explanation of even relatively complex games fairly quickly and get to the point where players get to actually play the game (which, incidentally, is where they really learn how to play anyway).
More recently I haven't taken as much care in my game teaching. Perhaps due to fatigue (I teach a lot of games nowadays, and often times it's the same one over and over, and in the noisy, distracting environment of a convention at that), or perhaps for another reason (which I'll get into shortly), sometimes I feel like I just don't have it in me to carefully peal away the layers of a game, revealing the magical and interesting inner workings that the players are about to explore.
One thing I've noticed more and more over the last few years is that the job of teaching a game feels a lot more like a chore. Rather than fun and exciting, teaching games has become laborious and tedious - and it's not just me who thinks so. By way of example, today on BoardGameGeek I read a post about Noblemen which mentioned an hour long rules explanation. In the comment thread, the OP said (in re: the length of the explanation):
Much of the hour was taken up by questions - how many points usually win in a five player game? Do the Follys have to be surrounded to score? Are there different ways to acquire men at arms? Are there advantages to placing men at arms on one type of land structure rather than another? Explanation of the cards took a while, as each new player wanted to see the cards. During the game I did not completely understand the point system, i.e. how points are scored using chapels, castles, and palaces, how influence is calculated, etc., but the rules do give examples. Everyone was seeking to understand the basics of how the game was played, as well as what it took to win, how you could foil your opponents, and beneficial moves or courses of action. With the many variants, an hour was not overly excessive.I replied (as you'll see if you read the thread) that this does an extreme disservice to the other players trying to learn as well as the game itself as players may have a bad experience due to jumbled or lengthy rules explanation.
I've seen this type of thing more and more in recent years, perhaps it was always the case and I was simply more tolerant of it before, or perhaps people have literally become more difficult to teach a game to. I don't really know why that would be, but it's certainly something that's come up. I was discussing this exact phenomenon with a friend after last week's game night, and how it applies to certain people locally.
The BGG user who commented after my post in that thread said it well: "When I'm explaining rules, what part of "shut up and listen" is so hard to understand?" Maybe that's not polite, but frankly when 1 gamer is constantly burdened with the onus of reading, digesting, and then explaining the rules to a game, maybe I should worry less about being polite and consider who is doing who the favor. Hint: the people being spoon fed a summary of what is often a poorly written or translated rulebook are NOT the ones doing anybody a favor.
I don't know who reads this blog, and whether those people are the ones who have to learn all the new games the hard way and then teach their friends or not. But as a public service announcement - when someone is trying to teach a game, let them teach it. Do not interrupt with questions - if they're a good teacher they'll either answer your question by the end, or give you a chance to ask it later. Pay attention - do not space out or have a side conversation, and then complain later that you didn't hear some critical rule. In fact, for the benefit of everyone else at the table, maybe don't have a side conversation even if you aren't going to complain later!
The less people distract and interrupt the game explainer, the quicker you'll be able to start playing the game, and the better than rules explanation will be!
Luckily, this phenomenon is not universally true. I had the pleasure of explaining some games over the holiday season to various friends who are literally a joy to teach, because they're genuinely interested in learning the game, and they don't end up presenting road blocks to the teacher. If it weren't for people like them,I'm not sure what'd stop me from throwing in the towel and letting someone else be the game explainer.