//Tips for running demos

Tips for running demos

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:

  1. First off, I explain some basic things about the game (10 minutes)
    1. Some short setting information – the four factions, what has happened, etc.
    2. A little bit about each faction.
    3. A little more of the two fleets we are using.
    4. How the game is won in broad terms.
    5. The overall structure of a game turn
  2. Then I explain the most important parts about the rules, without going too much into detail (5-10 minutes)
    1. Battle groups and groups
    2. The basics of scan, signature, energy spikes and fire arc
    3. That different orders give you possibilities and limitations, but not much about the actual orders
    4. That there are multiple layers and a little about how they differ
  3. Next is explaining the fleets we’re using, again in non-game technical terms (5-10 minutes)
    1. What is the role of each ship in their fleet – what is it good for, what should it aim to do and not do.
    2. What kind of fleet are they facing and how it will play
  4. 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.
  5. 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.