Tips for Teaching New Players – AH:CG

A question I see popping up a lot on Reddit, Facebook and the FFG Community Forums is “do you have tips for teaching new players”?  So, in order to aid your new player experiences, here is a section containing tips and other advice to ease new players into taking the role of an investigator.  Please keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list and we’d love to know what works for you or if you just feel that something is missing.

  • Always keep in mind the following: the best way to learn the game is by doing, and have patience for your new players!  Let your friends move the cards/tokens needed, draw chaos tokens, draw their encounter cards, etc.  Not only will it help them learn, but those tactile sensations are one of the best parts of gaming.  Doing things for them will take away some of the fun, but most of all, they won’t learn how to handle the game themselves.  Be there to help and answer questions, but don’t make decisions for your fellow investigators.  Let a new player be the lead investigator.

  • Another main point to keep in mind throughout is not to explain everything right away.  Do not bother explaining keywords like “Hunter”, “Peril” or “Retaliation” until they appear during game-play.  The idea is to jump in and learn as you go.  Again, the best way to learn is by doing.

  • You, the teacher, should know the game exceptionally well if you’re going to teach a new person.  I encourage giving players access to the “Rules Reference” and having them look up keywords when they ask what they mean, but for the game to flow along properly, you should be a living copy of the rules.  If you’ve played a couple campaigns, this shouldn’t be a problem.  However, if you’re still in the learning process yourself, I recommend to just use the “Learn to Play” guide, and start from scratch.

  • Lay out your investigators and let your new player look through them and decide who they like the best.  It’s very important that your new player is invested in their character.  If you have more than one new player, let them all pick first, and then choose someone who compliments them.
    Exception: Do not let new players play Lola (The Actress), contained in the Path to Carcosa box.  Playing her well requires experience and understanding exactly why you picked the cards you picked, when to switch roles, what to switch to, etc.  If someone is really interested in her, use her as incentive to learn the game first.  If they can’t decide or you want to keep things extra simple, give them Jenny if you have the Dunwich Legacy box.  All her stats are 3’s, she can do a bit of everything, her story is compelling, and her ability is easy to digest.

  • There are a couple of handy cards in the core set that show the turn order on one side, and available actions on the other.  This should be with your new player or near them at all times.

  • Start with “The Gathering” as it is the most simple and straight-forward scenario there is.  I like to read the introduction in the campaign guide right after I do the initial set up (place the Study, Act deck, Agenda deck, etc.), which leads very nicely into reading the Agenda 1a and Act 1a cards.  Then, make sure your new player knows the object is to advance the Act deck according to the specified objective, and the Agenda deck advances over time and it’s bad.  Generally, the investigators have failed if the Agenda deck reaches the end.

  • To keep things simple the first time, give new players a starter deck.  If you’re not using a starter deck contained in the “Learn to Play” section of the rules, then it is highly recommended to either build a deck for your new player friend.  Make sure they understand that Skills and Events are typically one-shot actions, and that Assets stay in play.  Point out the resource cost as well.  However, it’s important to keep explanations very brief and concise.  You’re going to overload them with new information if your explanations are not simple.  Do not explain exactly what cards do – they will learn that as they go.Having players shuffle their decks and draw their starting hands.  Make sure they know if they find a weakness to set it aside for now, and draw another card.  Then have them mulligan.  I found this easy to explain by comparing to Five-Card Draw Poker.  If you discard 3, you draw 3.

  • Once you’re ready to play and your new players understand the overall objective, have your players “prepare” by playing any useful assets.  This will teach them about how to play a card, and that it costs an action to do.  If one of their assets is “Fast”, explain what that is.  When there aren’t any left to play, or they cannot be afforded, teach them about the location details.  Have them investigate to learn what a skill check is and how it works.  This is the only turn you should hold their hands through the game-play.  After this, get out of the way and let them do what they think is best.

  • I like to start on Standard difficulty.  I think Easy is too easy to learn the finer nuances of how to react to different situations, especially when/how to buff skill checks.  I find that you learn the real value of certain cards/builds when victories are hard fought.  However, if this new player in question is new to board/card gaming in general, it might be best to stick to Easy because there’s a lot more to teach than just AH:CG mechanics.

  • Let your new players make mistakes!  Don’t overturn game-play decisions they make, but do teach them about how to improve or what else could have been done after they make their choices.  If they fire their .45 Automatic at some Rats, then so be it – but tell them why they didn’t need to after.  The full weight and consequence of actions should be felt by new players.  This is not to be cruel, this is to help them learn.  Personally, my wife and I played each “Night of the Zealot” scenario several times before we could complete them very well, if at all.  We also both found the first investigators we used didn’t fit our respective preferred styles of play.  Those times when things don’t go your way are often the best learning experiences.

  • If you’re teaching more than 1 person to play, it might be a good idea to sit out playing and just facilitate the game-play.  Be there to answer questions about rules/mechanics, but don’t tell them what they should do, only what they could do.  If you only have the core set, and there’s 3 of you, sit out and teach the 2 newbies (then get more cards!).

  • Keep in mind there are 3 main lessons taught by design in the core set campaign.  “The Gathering” teaches the basics.  “Midnight Masks” is a struggle to do everything, but “not losing” is better than a “perfect” clear.  Time is short, unlike “The Gathering”, but it’s not necessary to clear the whole cultist deck.  A big takeaway is that it’s often better to resign than let the Agenda reach the end.  “The Devourer Below” shows that previous scenario results and resolution decisions made have an impact on later scenarios.  Make sure your new players understand, especially on “The Midnight Masks”, that it’s ok to not have a perfect run.  It’s ludicrously hard to do so on “Midnight Masks”, even on Standard.  Everything has to go your way, and it rarely does.

  • Many people, including myself, encourage major emphasis on the narrative aspects of the game.  Read all the story bits, Act cards and Agenda cards – not just the game-play info the flavor texts as well.  Demonstrate that the clues are just symbolism for important information gathered, and could take many forms.  Really driving home the narrative and RPG-like elements of the game is a huge hook for most people, especially if they don’t have a background in card games.  Additional help can be gained by setting the atmosphere with some appropriate music or even just having a drink.

Hopefully these tips and advice help you get your new players interested in diving deeper into the mysteries of Arkham Horror: the Card Game! If there’s anything you think is missing, you want to clarify or just have other general feedback, we’d love to hear it in the comments below. Thanks for reading and good luck Around the Black Abyss!

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