10 Tips To Run An Exciting Game Demo

Picure of parents playing a board game with their children used for the 10 tips for running a game demo page
On your next game night, use these 10 tips for running a game demo for your new players (image used with permission by Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain]

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Do you have a great game you'd like to try but are having a hard time convincing other's to play? Try these 10 tips to run an exciting game demo

On a fairly regular basis, people walk into my humble little shop, and have no idea what they are looking at. These days, games come in clam shell cases, or downloadable content, and require electricity. Board games? Card games? People still play those?

As a matter of fact, yes. Quite a number of people actually.

To the uninitiated, a place like my shop is like a foreign world. The games we have here don't flash, they don't go "Ping" and there are no jiggling polygons. We're not talking Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land either. If they’re going to have any clue as to what we sell here, they’re going to have to be shown what the heck ::Insert name of game here:: is. This is where a little demonstration comes into play.

Over the years, I've learned a trick or two about how to teach someone to play a game. It's important that when we are done the potential new customer has an understanding of what the game in question is all about and how it’s played. More importantly however, my job is to gain a convert. You with your gaming group are trying to create a fellow player, and I as a retailer, am out to create a customer.

Using this unique perspective on this topic, I've created this list of ten tricks I've come across over time that will give you a leg up on convincing someone to give ::insert name of game here:: a try.  Let's start with...

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1. "1"

"Brevity is the soul of wit"
- William Shakespeare

The average attention span, at least according to some studies which I won't site here because I'm not working on a thesis for crying out loud, is somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. Now, you can cram a bunch of info into someone's head in that amount of time, but for purposes of what we are trying to accomplish here, we're going to emphasize less education, and more interest.

Let us consider the back of the average game box. It's not covered in encyclopedia like paragraphs of information. There's a few paragraphs, and they're usually colorfully written, and chock full of adjectives like "Exciting" and "Realistic" and so forth. It's just enough info to catch your attention. This is where the "1" comes in. You have about 1 minute to explain a game to someone in such a way that you grab their interest.

If, after your enthralling synopsis, your potential new player is ready for more, we move to another time frame, "5", which I will address a little later. For now, there are a few other things you'll need to consider as you try to entice your audience with your wares, or that evening’s kitchen table entertainment. From the moment you have their attention, and throughout the entirety of the demo, you need to remember to...

2. Be Enthusiastic

“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm is contagious. Have a good time with this. Your potential player will see it, and key in on it. Heck, ham it up. You have an audience now, give them a lasting impression [editor's note-make it a good one though].

Another important point to remember, do not use...

3. Game Speak

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
- Albert Einstein

You- "When I have priority, I'll put the object on the stack, and when it resolves the game will then check to see if this static ability applies. In this case if it does, all instances of the trigger fizzle. Then, I'll pass priority, but since it's my turn, I'll get another action phase, but you'll have an action after I pass priority then as well."

Yeah, that.  It totally makes sense to you. You talk and talk, not realizing that the blank stare you are getting isn't one of absolute immersion, but utter confusion.

Please, don't be that guy. As a matter of fact, don't be this guy either...

4. Rules Lawyering

I've Had It Up To Here With You And Your "Rules"
- Unnamed character, The Simpsons 

When you break open your demo box, you should spend as little time as possible explaining the rules. You need to get dice in hand, cards drawn, pieces moving, or whatever it is the game you are showing off does. Remember, you've got a limited amount of time, make it count for excitement and fun, not a treatise on the first known Mesopotamian Audits.

"But if I don't explain the rules, how will they know how to play?" Well thanks for asking that, totally made up person who happened to ask the question I was prepared to answer. You teach them by remembering the following...

5. "5"

"You've got five minutes to tell me what I needed to hear"
- Lorrie Morgan

Remember that whole 15 to 20 minute thing I discussed earlier? We covered 1 minute of that time back in step one. Now we're gonna cover the next 5, which I also mentioned in step one. You've got 5 minutes to give them a quick run through of the game. This is the demo, and pretty much what the bulk of what the rest of this article is about...

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6. "I'll Go First"

-You, beginning of demo

By going first, you'll be able to set the tempo, show what the actions a player can take, and how the game progresses. Remember to keep it simple though. Do a minimum of actions. You don't want to confuse the new player. 

This here is probably the most important part of giving a good demo- Only let the players know what they need to know for the moment they're in. Don't bog things down with info. On every successive person’s turn you can add more game mechanics, and introduce more rules. Don't try to convey too many rules or ideas at any given time. Once your players get a chance to try playing or see someone using the rules as they know them up to that moment they'll be ready to take the next step.

Think of it like learning to run. First, you need to be able to roll over. Then comes the butt in the air push up. Before too long, you're using furniture to prop yourself up. Next thing you know, you're standing on your own. You lean your head forward, and you move your legs to stop from falling flat on your face. Suddenly, mom and dad's life will never be the same again.

Teaching rules is just like that. Each turn is the next phase in the demo's evolution. Remember, don't add too much at a time, because you want to...

7. Keep it moving

"Just keep swimming"
- Dori

You're going to need to Keep things moving. You know how to play the game. You know how the strategy of the game works. The thing is, just like you shouldn't get bogged down in the aforementioned game speak or rules lawyering, if you want a person to keep interest, you have to keep the action going. Mistakes will be made, and they can be corrected as you progress. You make the game exciting by making sure things are happening. If things slow down needlessly, you run the risk of losing your audience. Just remember...

8. You Aren't Playing The Game Yet

"Experience is the best teacher of all things"
- Julius Cesar

Remember to check your awesome database of knowledge at the door. You're going to do things that make no sense when it comes to winning strategies. You're going to see things that are obviously wrong being done by your new player. Unless it is against the rules, sometimes you're just going to have to let it go. Yes, you know the strategies, the tactics, the combos. However, the idea here is to introduce rules and mechanics, not show how good you are by utterly crushing your opponent.  Keep it all nice and simple. Keep progressing. Keep interest up. Let them absorb it at their rate, and be there as the wizened teacher watching their students learn. Let those new players play their game. You're gonna hold some win condition cards back. You're gonna fudge some dice. Speaking of fudging stuff...

9. "Let the Wookie Win."

-C3PO, Star Wars (the good one)

Not gonna lie. The first time I bounced this list off folks, this step was actually controversial. I guess I can see why. If you’re doing this as a part of your weekly game night, then you’re in this for the fun, and if fun is crushing scrubs, well so be it. I on the other hand, believe another particular dynamic will accomplish my desired end result better. I want the potential customer to have a good time and to have a positive experience. I personally think rubbing their face in the mud isn’t going to accomplish this. 

In order to facilitate this, I’m going to go ahead and give the victory condition to the new player. Let them experience the win. The next game, when you play them with all the rules, you can show them what it's like to open up on them with both barrels. That way, they get a good taste of what's what, then they spend the rest of their lives chasing that proverbial dragon trying to get their revenge victory over you. Finally...

10. "10"

"Always be closing"
- Alec Baldwin

You gave them a quick 1 minute synopsis ("1"). You ran them through a 5 minute demo ("5"). Now what? Time to seal the deal, that's what.

10 has a different meaning for me as a retailer than it does as someone showing off a brand new game to their friends. If you are going to your game closet to give an old copy of ::insert name of game here:: a try, this step, Step 10, is when you actually play the game. Hopefully the game demo was thorough enough that the game stoppages to address the rules should be minimal. Now you can progress into strategies and tactics as you and your fellow gamers play an honest to goodness knock down drag out game.

On the other hand, if you're like me and trying to make a sale, this "10" is around how many more minutes I have to drive the sale home-15 to 20 minute attention span, remember? This is where I can show off all the other bells and whistles that go along with the game in question, show them other similar games, and most of all, ask for that all important sale. I'm not doing charity work here after all.

There you have it. What can I say? Give it a try. You've got that old game you want to play, or that one you made oh so long ago but had no idea why no one wanted to give it a go, don't you? Try these 10 tips, and see if they work for you. Hopefully they'll get your gaming group's interest up enough to give the offering a real enthusiastic try.


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