I have now been running quite a few demo games and in September in particular I have run three. I have started to experiment a little with the form and come to a few lesson I will share with others, that might run demo games. Some might already seem obvious, some maybe less so.
My first demo games
What I did initially – when I was also still learning the game – was that I was very thoroughly going through all the relevant rules, the turn order, objectives, etc. first. This tended to approach an hour or more of me talking. While all players I have demoed for have been patient and interested, it was also clear that this was a very slow process. I have tried in the last couple of games to adjust this and now go for an approach where you much faster get into pushing some ships around.
To prepare, I create two lists. I am still working towards two “standard” lists for this, but have not yet found them. Since my painted fleets are Shaltari and PHR, I usually take the Shaltari as they are so unlike the other fleets, that I think they are the wrong place to learn the game. PHR can also be slightly difficult due to the broadsides, but are somewhat more forgiving given their high durability. I am currently using 800 points, but thinking of kicking it further down to 700. I dislike the initial fleets made out of one starter box as I think they are too small to give a proper feel of the game – I want four battle groups.
I also pick a scenario. I am currently using a variety of the “Take & Hold” where the center cluster is replaced by a medium, unarmed space station and the two side clusters are moved 2″ further towards the middle and are of medium size, rather than small, losing a commercial sector in the process. This gives enough width without introducing too many rules.
Playing the game
I follow roughly the following steps:
- First off, I explain some basic things about the game (10 minutes)
- Some short setting information – the four factions, what has happened, etc.
- A little bit about each faction.
- A little more of the two fleets we are using.
- How the game is won in broad terms.
- The overall structure of a game turn
- Then I explain the most important parts about the rules, without going too much into detail (5-10 minutes)
- Battle groups and groups
- The basics of scan, signature, energy spikes and fire arc
- That different orders give you possibilities and limitations, but not much about the actual orders
- That there are multiple layers and a little about how they differ
- Next is explaining the fleets we’re using, again in non-game technical terms (5-10 minutes)
- What is the role of each ship in their fleet – what is it good for, what should it aim to do and not do.
- What kind of fleet are they facing and how it will play
- Finally, we go about playing. (1½-2½ hours)
I strongly encourage them not to think too much but just try something and if they’re about to do something very foolish I’ll guide them in a better direction.
- After the first scoring (turn 4), we usually stop the game and talk a little about what would happen from here.
I have found, that I can do an introgame of 800 points in around 2-3 hours if the game is already set up.
Do’s and dont’s.
There are many things that I don’t do (anymore):
- Strategy cards. While they really change the game, they are also complicating things quite a bit, introduce a lot of new rules and are supposed to be kept secret.
- Explain all the special rules up front. There is no point in explaining them before they are needed.
- Explain the detailed combat rules up front. I explain them the first time somebody is shooting.
- Explain all the orders up front. I explain the orders as they become relevant, which usually means I explain standard, max thrust and silent running on the first turn and the others as they become relevant.
- Explain rules that are not relevant in the game like special rules for ships and weapons not in use, etc.
- Explain fringe rules that are rarely used (nuclear warheads, ramming, etc.).
What I do try to get around in each game is:
- How the orders and the alternate activation system makes for a very dynamic game.
- How signatures, scan, spikes and orders form the core of the system.
- How all types of attack function; bombers, close action weapons and “normal” weapons.
- How damage (including crippling and catastrophic) works.
- How launching troops work.
- How space stations and sectors differ.
- How victory points are scored.
Areas of improvement
I have a couple of goals, when it comes to demo games. I want to:
- Be able to give a complete feeling of the game in 1½ hours
- Have standard fleets prepared that support this
- Have a good standard scenario, that support this
I plan (and hope) to run many more demo games, so I think I will have plenty opportunity to refine this.