Running game demos - Guidelines
Article updated: 2019.05.23
Wargames have strict rules, and some of them are not easy to learn. That's why is fortunate if you have someone who can initiate you to playing the game. This is the reason more experienced players do demonstrations (demos) of games they know and like.
I've collected some of my thoughts about running wargame demos for beginners.
Keep in mind that my tips are for organising the play of two beginner players. I'll indicate when I write about playing against the beginner in a demo.
Basics of running a game demo
Places to run a demo
- Gaming club: Take a look at your local clubs - if they play board games, wargames or role-playing games, they might be interested in your demos.
- Community center: Ask your local centers about their recommendation - they might like the additional programs you provide for them.
- Shopping mall: Take a look at local malls, and try to find out if it's ok for you to run game demos. Unless you look scary, they are usually neutral about it.
- Library: If you can demonstrate games without shouting, libraries can also provide space for you. Some of them might have gaming days you can visit.
- Gaming convention: This one is a no-brainer, but you should ask for a demo table long before the event, so the organizers can count with you.
Before you start your first demo, try the forces and scenarios you intend to use. Play with every force you wish to allow, so you'll know how to play with them.
Get your miniatures ready, have them on the system-specific base. The minis should preferably come from the manufacturer of the game, and be painted.
Try to use the most aesthetic scenery you have at your disposal to impress the beginners. However, make sure you use the most sturdy and durable ones, as they can get damaged during transport or the games. Having some adhesive putty or superglue around can help that too.
Have a good night of sleep before running a demo day. You'll need to talk a lot, socialise with the passers-by, and provide the most fun experience for the visitors. Having a six-pack of energy drinks prepared might also be a good idea.
Running the demo
Don't try to do more than one thing at once. A demo day might need more than one role for best effect:
Organiser: Someone who talks to the passers-by, asking about their preferences, finding the system that fits their needs the most, fast talking them to try the games. This role needs someone with social skills. Doesn't need to know all the rules of every system, but he should know enough to understand them, and to find out which of the currently run demo games would fit a visitors' need the most.
If he finds more than one people who are interested in the same game, he should introduce them to each other, and get the play started.
Demo player: Someone who plays against the visiting player. He shouldn't be so competetive that would make him feel bad for losing a game. He should be experienced enough to have a basic idea of the rules. He should accept the rules told by the Referee. He need not be extremely social, but he should be open enough to play games with anyone introduced by the Organiser.
Referee: Someone who knows the rules of the game, and knows about the scenarios that are being run at the event. If any question comes up, he should provide a quick answer that is close to the philosophy of the game system. Seeing the Referee browsing the rules for a long time can be disappointing for a newbie player, as it looks like the rules are too hard to learn.
When you are a one-man demo team, you need to handle all three roles at once, but not simultaneously. Take your time as an organiser - 10-20 minutes of talking between games - when you wander around, talking to people. Set starting times for the demos, and when you start your games, you need to focus on the play. Don't let passers by distract you. Don't let other people ask you about the rules as a referee Always concentrate on the job you are doing.
Running a demo against a player
You, as the organiser, play one of the forces. The other player gets a force to try.
- After the player chooses a force, you'll have a chance to choose a force that provides the most fun experience for the demo.
- You can let the player win. The players like to win, this will provide a more positive experience. There are some players however, who feel cheated if they find it out they have been set up for victory from the beginning. For these, try to make it look like it's a fair fight.
- You can play the game with a limited number of people in the timeframe of the demo.
- As you have to play the game, you'll have less energy to focus on introducing the rules.
Organising a demo between two players
The two players who'd like to try the game play against each other. They each get a force to try.
- You can have more players trying the game at a time.
- You don't have to think about your own moves, so you can focus on introducing and enforcing the rules of the game.
- One of the new players will lose the game. It's up to his mentality how will it influence his experience.
There are several types of demos you can run:
- Basics demo: A demo to show the basics of the game - moving, fighting, reaching victory. This is for beginners, who might never played any game yet.
- Advanced rules demo: A demo to focus on an advanced feature of the game system. For example magic, teleporting units, giant monsters, herd armies can change the game a lot. You show these changes to the player. It's better to have a chance to play both sides, so the player would get the idea how to play with these rules, and how to defend against them.
- Expansion demo: A demo to show the features of a game expansion. This is aimed at players who have already played the game.
- Difference demo: A demo to show the differences between two similar games. You should focus on those parts of the system that are unique, or differ from another game system, that the players have already played. For example, if the player knows Kings of War, a difference demo might show him how to change the facing of a unit, how to reorganize the troops in Warhammer games, as this part is missing from Kings of War.
Basic rules and additional rules
You should try to separate the rules that are the basic foundations of the game, and try to stick to those in the first game. The basic actions, like moving and fighting are usually among these rules. Take notes of these rules.
If you have finished the demo, and you still have time, there are no others waiting in queue, you can offer to play another game, now with some additional rules. Explain these rules, and show the players the units that can take advantage of these additional rules.
Tailoring the game
You can customise the game for a better game experience, but try not to change the action resolution rules.
Force organisation, victory conditions, the effects of terrain and scenery are up to you, but the action resolution is one of the points of every game that will become a factor for the player's decision to like the system or not.
Try to think of what would help you during a game if you were a newbie. Print those rules references, force lists, powers, so you can just give them to the players.
Before the game have the players understand some basic rules of wargaming. You can even have a printed copy for them to see.
- don't distract the other players
- don't touch, don't raise, don't move the miniatures of other players during games
- don't touch, don't raise, don't move the scenery or tokens during games
- don't touch the dice, that was rolled for a test, before the test is resolved
- don't eat or drink anything that doesn't beling to you, without specific permission
Choose forces and units from the basic set / basic rules. They can expand their games later.
Choose forces with the least special rules - preferably none of that. The best units are the ones with just the basic stats, without further complications. If you must have some special rules, try to choose ones that allow test modifiers or rerolls as those are the easiest to handle.
If there are no units that would fit these criteria, and you'd also have models of, create units by modifying the existing ones.
You should try to stick to the models that come with a starter set, if there are any, as those are the ones that players will most likely have easy access to. That way the player will have some experience with playing at least one of the forces he gets when he buys the starter set.
If there are no starter sets, choose forces that are popular, but have the least special rules, and play most like modern human armies, as most gamers who'll join your demo will have some basic ideas how a modern army works.
If you are the opponent in the demo game, you can allow some special units, that highlight the unique aspects of that force. You might even allow magic-users, but keep constantly reminding the players of his magical choices.
Number of units
In the demo army, there should be at least 3 units, so the player has some choices. There shouldn't be more than 5 units, so he wouldn't be overwhelmed.
Select one of the basic scenarios of the game that requires every player to take an active role. If possible, avoid scenarios where one side is defending against the other. If you are one of the players, than you can take the role of defender, but the newbie player has to reach some goal, as this will provide the most possibilites to get the feel of the system during play.
For Infinity, the Operation: Icestorm fastplay rules with scenarios that introduce the rules are perfect to teach the system. I recommend a similar approach to every publisher out there looking for an ideal way to do this.
The First Strike Starter Set for Warhammer 40,000 Ed8 also aims to create good starting scenarios, but those are very limited in scope and focused on Space Marines and Nurgle cultists, so it will require some work to tweak them for any other army.
If you have time for that, try to create your own scenario. If the players who join your demo have already played demo scenarios, they might feel bored to play the same scenario again. However, they most likely never played the scenario you've made, so it will be new to them.
The playing area
Having a large gaming board with nice scenery is good to get the interest of the potential players, but during a game the size can be distracting.
If you use a large board, come up with ways to limit the playing area to a small, managable area, that is easily recognised by the participating players.
Find some possible victory conditions that lets you finish the game in 30-60 minutes. Try to end the game as quickly as you can, so the players and bystanders don't get bored.
Victory condition ideas
- A fixed time: When the time limit is reached, try to find out which player is closer to the victory objectives. If the game uses victory points, the winner is the one with more points.
- A number of turns: When the turn limit is reached, try to find out which player is closer to the victory objectives. If the game uses victory points, the winner is the one with more points.
- Victory point limit: When a player reaches a certain point, he is the winner.
- Achieving a certain goal: Each player should have a goal that needs to be reached. They might fight for the same goal or there could be a specific goal for each force. When the first goal is achieved, the player who achieved it is the winner. For example having to hold the center of the playing area for 1 or 2 turns uncontested is a goal that is easily understood by the players.
- Wiping out the opposition: If there are no enemies left, the one still standing is the winner.
You can have a scripted game if you have time to think it up and prepare the game for your script.
Scripted play means you remove randomness from some elements of the game, and it works the best with games that use cards. You prepare your deck of cards, or stack of tiles in a way to show the most of the playing possibilities to the players.
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Warlord Games: Bolt Action Ready Reference sheet
TheBeastsOfWar: Bolt Action: How To Run A Demo Game: Tutorial video.
The Demo Gamers: How to run a Bolt Action Boot Camp Public Participation Game: Tutorial article about running demos, especially Bolt Action demos.
The Operation: Icestorm fastplay rules with scenarios that introduce the rules are perfect to teach the system. I recommend a similar approach to every publisher out there looking for an ideal way to do this.
While the cardboard fold-out scenery looks nice, if you use them, fold the buildings ready before getting to the demo. The time you spend on assembly takes away time from explaining the game.
Dwayne (for Game Nexus): How To Demo Infinity pt.1: Tutorial video.
|Running game demos - Star Saga|
|The Walking Dead: All Out War||Running game demos - The Walking Dead: All Out War|
|Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower||
What are you Painting now?: Warhammer Silver Tower Gameplay and how to run a demo: Tutorial video about running Silver Tower demos.
Advice from Nagy Máté Farkas (Dwalin):
|Zombicide Season 1||Running game demos - Zombicide|
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Bostian: Running demo games in public libraries: Tutorial article about running demos.
Chris Strecker (for PHD Games): Reasons to Not Run a Demo: Tutorial article. (2020.12.06: Offline.)
mirrored article on Coqui Hobby
The Demo Gamers: How to run a Bolt Action Boot Camp Public Participation Game: Tutorial article about running demos, especially Bolt Action demos.§
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What do you think of my guidelines about running wargame demos? What are your experiences? Do you have further ideas? Tell us in the comments!
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