Teaching the Dance in Apiary
When Stonemaier Games announced Apiary, its new worker placement game about futuristic bees in space, I was all over it. I loved the theme, the highly paintable queen bee miniature, and the prospect of a flexible worker placement system.
I’ve had a couple of chances to play the game since it arrived, and Apiary delivers on all these counts. But it also came with a welcome surprise: a teaching guide to lead new players through the rules and get them into their first game. It boils down the essential rules and puts them in a sequence designed to make learning easy.
This isn’t the first time games have provided teaching aids. Roleplaying games almost always include introductory rules and scenarios. Starship Troopers essentially invented the tutorial game. And Apiary’s big brother Wingspan now features a “Swift Start” that leads players through the first few turns before turning them loose to finish their first game. But this teaching guide is one of the first times I’ve seen a document designed to help me teach other players as quickly as possible.
It’s a clever idea, and as the person who usually teaches new games to my group, I appreciate the consideration. But does it really work?
The Teacher Teaching Himself
I found one area where the teaching guide was very successful: it taught me the game. I was already familiar with the basic ideas, but having everything set out in a concise way was a real help when I played a solo test game. Everything I needed was in the guide, and I was able to play through a full game without ever cracking open the main rulebook. That’s an achievement for a game as complex as Apiary.
However, the guide was less successful when I taught other players at game night. It was helpful in organizing my approach and giving me an idea about what topics to talk about in which order. But my habits as a teacher weren’t really compatible with the words on the page. I like to maintain eye contact with players while using my hands to point out features or play through examples. That’s already dividing my attention two ways, and I found that I couldn’t manage a third area of attention. And while the teaching guide is short and sweet, there’s still a lot of text and I couldn’t retrieve useful information from it at a glance.
Maybe with more practice, I can make more effective use of the guide. And it might help if the guide itself were simpler — more Ikea-like, providing visual examples and reminders of key information. But in the end it seems like the most effective teaching tool is still knowing the rules cold and practicing your some patter ahead of time. I’m a little disappointed that the guide wasn’t more helpful, but I still appreciate the noble effort on Stonemaier’s part. And hey, the players loved the game, whichthere are 3 fewer people that I’ll have to teach next time.