You’re planning a COIN game night. Let’s say you have three friends coming over and you’re the only player who knows the game, or the COIN system for that matter.
But you’ve never taught it.
You want to get it right. You feel it’s your responsibility to make sure they enjoy themselves and the game, while learning it properly. Plus if your group ends up liking the game, it means you’ll get a chance to play it more often, right?
Teaching any game to 3 people at once can be challenging. COIN games are not more difficult than many games out there. But they’re less obvious. They’re different. You’re not sure where to start.
Relax. There is only one mistake you can make: not being prepared. And since you’re reading this, it means you’ve decided to avoid that.
Being prepared not only means that you have played the game at least a few times, with each faction, including the non-player. It also means deciding in advance everything that can be decided — there’s more than it seems — so that when the time comes you can jump right in.
Choose the right format
A few simple questions will allow you to make sure everybody agrees on the format of the session. How much time will you have? Does your group expect to play a complete game, or are they more interested in going through a learning tutorial (for instance, as suggested by Volko Ruhnke, a single campaign leaving out events and special activities)? Will they prefer to play openly, with you teaching along, or just want you to introduce the basics and then let them do their thing? For me open plays have worked well every time.
Choose the right game
Of course it depends on the skill and interests of the players. But generally, as I mentioned in a previous post, of the 6 COIN games published so far I think that Cuba Libre is the best possible choice to introduce COIN to new players. Small map, short deck, straightforward actions, clear goals.
Choose the right scenario
Cuba Libre doesn’t offer scenarios. But I find that the short game option (2.1 in the rulebook) is a good fit for a first session. Plus it leaves you with 8 extra cards that you can use for demonstration. I have never used the no reveal option (2.2) with beginners and never found that seeing the upcoming card causes a problem. But you know your group and will choose accordingly.
Choose the right factions
This is critical. Here again Cuba Libre is ideal. The Government is the most different faction in the game. And you, as the more experienced player, will play it. The beginners will play the three insurgent factions. Here’s why:
- The Government, with its own rules and its strategic position, is more challenging to play (see what happened in 1959!).
- You avoid having to give too many details about things like Aid or the US Alliance track.
- The insurgent factions are simpler and have a lighter overall rule burden.
- Since their basic rules are quite similar, you can target many explanations so that they apply to all insurgent factions.
- Since they share many mechanics, the new players will benefit more from watching the other insurgents play, keeping them engaged.
- Still, when you’re playing the Government, take great care to always explain every action you’re doing. What, how and why.
One player doesn’t show up? I would recommend that you play the non-player Syndicate. Its rules are quite simple and will not distract you as much as playing two “live” factions. Just make sure you’ve played it enough to be fluent.
Choosing the factions ahead of time brings another benefit. Each player can get to know his faction before the meet-up. They can read ahead of time the good role summary at p. 14-15 of the playbook (the design notes on p. 27-31 are more general, but quite interesting too). If you know that they won’t find it too intimidating, suggest that they also read the rules concerning their faction.
And if it’s all a question of getting in the mood, why not watch a documentary almost cut to be a primer on Cuba Libre: Cuba: The Forgotten Revolution (it’s available on Netflix, at least in Canada).
Do a Regular Setup…
Those decisions allow you to do the entire setup ahead of time as well. Trying to present and explain this kind of game to total beginners while sorting and shuffling cards, counting and placing pieces is, in my experience, needlessly long, error prone, and distracting to both you and your guests. You want each player to sit in front of his own pieces right away. Make them feel in charge.
… But Seed the Deck
The last thing you want is hitting a Propaganda round right at the start of the game. Or two Propagandas close to each other. To make sure that the first few campaigns will go smoothly, and that you control the rhythm, seed the draw deck.
Once I’ve shuffled all Event cards and split them into 4 piles, I take the bottom 3 or 4 cards of each pile and reshuffle them with the Propaganda card before stacking them. That way the Propaganda cards will be reasonably far apart, and everybody will have a chance to get the feel of a campaign before hitting their first Propaganda.
OK. Enough foreplay. You’re all sitting at the table with your friends, around the board you’ve set up. Now it’s time for the main course. Time to unleash the core rules on them.
Now’s where you do some heavy lifting — in order to remain as light as possible. You just want to state the base rules. But it still can sound like a lot. My advice: say as few words as possible, and when you do, use theirs as much as possible.
In Their Own Words
Presenting the game using language and concepts they already understand is a great way to keep things simple and fun. Think a little about your group’s mindset or gaming background. Like which gaming tribe they belong to.
Eurogamers. Players of heavy European (or American) style games shouldn’t have any problem getting into COIN (I don’t recommend initiating 3 casual or light Eurogame players directly to COIN). You can still flatten the learning curve though, by choosing your terms and examples appropriately. Fortunately the COIN system is rooted in Euro-style games. So it won’t even be a stretch to present the game in terms they’re familiar with.
Wargamers. You’re running a good chance that wargamers are familiar with Card Driven Games. If so, there is certainly knowledge you can draw upon. The COIN Event card mechanics are a simplified version of traditional CDGs. No operation points, no hand management. Also worth a try, highlighting military terms and events, since this is the way wargamers are likely to better understand key concepts. I have no experience initiating “hex & counter” grognards to COIN, although I have heard that it might not always be as easy as it seems. So if anyone of you can fill me in, you’re more than welcome!
The Need-to-Know Basis
The core COIN system is simple. Once you get it, all remaining information will snap right in. Unfortunately, those few core principles are not always obvious. Newcomers tend to first see details, background information and other minutia before discerning the idea behind them. As the game explainer your role is to shield them from such distractions, and bring them as quickly as possible to some higher grounds from which they’ll be able to see the big picture and make sense of it by themselves.
A quick example. Do you really want to recite all the preconditions, procedure steps and outcomes of a Rally operation? For sure, nobody will want to hear that. It will take forever, be too abstract and get buried by all subsequent explanations. I just explain that “Rally” is how they add pieces, and then move on (“March” is how they move, “Attack”, how they remove enemy pieces, etc.). During the game, when they want to add pieces, then I assist them going through the steps relevant to the current situation, nothing more. In my experience, that way new players learn very quickly to play by themselves.
That said, if you’ve done your part correctly so far, it should go very smoothly. Here is, as I wrap up, the outline of a typical presentation of the core system to beginners. Pick and choose what suits you best if anything. No matter how you present it, have a path, and keep it straight and clear.
The Game. What is this game about. How does it unfold. How do you win. Obviously there are many ways you can go about this. I generally use no more than a few broad sentences, making sure I mention that the game unfolds over several series of event cards called “campaigns”. That during each of those campaigns, players will typically play several turns. That they can win by having reached a certain amount of points at the end of any campaign. And that they earn points from what they do on the map.
The Map. Provinces versus cities. Terrain types will limit some actions. I gloss over the industrial centers for now, just mentioning that they are special zones earning points to some factions during scoring. I mostly introduce population and present control as a simple area majority mechanic allowing or denying actions, helping gain support. The importance of Support/Opposition. How they shift. How they multiply the population values. How they earn points on the track.
The Cards. Their four main purposes: timing the gameplay, determining turn order, offering additional special actions or “powers”, triggering a scoring round. I show a few sample cards (I’ve kept some handy), the icons of the player order, and the two versions of the event. Each event is mostly a one-time special action that can be chosen by an active faction instead of its normal actions. Dual Use. Momentum and Capabilities: long-lasting or permanent effects.
All Insurgent Factions. Piece types, role and value. Underground versus active as Visible/Invisible. The player aids, the action menu. The four main actions (operations): adding pieces, moving pieces, influencing the population (reducing Support, gaining Opposition), removing enemy pieces. Details kept for later.
Each Insurgent Faction. Who it is. What it is after. Where it starts on the VP track, where it aims to go, and what makes its markers move on the track. Its victory goals (how the faction wins the game). Its scoring (propaganda) goals (how the faction earns resources and avoids penalties during scoring). Its custom, facultative and generally free actions (special activities).
The Turn. When is their turn. What do they do on their turn. Why do they do it. The Card Flip. The player order. Choosing between their actions and the event. Most actions can be performed more than once. Their cost. Their associated special activities.
The Sequence of Play. Now that they know about the events and both kinds of actions, I introduce the SoP as a basic worker placement mechanic. Two factions per card. Eligibility. First, second eligible. How they indicate their actions using their pawn. Passing, how and why. Limited actions (LimOps).
The Propaganda. Scoring round. Once every 7-10 cards. The game may end there. Otherwise players gain resources, may have to move or remove a few units. All pieces become “invisible” again, all factions eligible. Here again, no need to go through the details of a Propaganda round, it will be much easier to explain while performing it.
The End. At the start of any Scoring round, if a player has reached its victory threshold, the game ends right away and that player wins.
There it is. That’s far from being the whole story, but it’s more than enough to start a game and have fun. The success of any game night will entirely depend on the particular group you’re teaching to. But the key ingredient to a successful first COIN game night will be how well-prepared you are. Give it a go!